Google Doorway Page Algorithm Update: Facts You Need to Know
On May 16, 2015, Google announced they had updated their definition of “Doorway Pages.” The update, which has been rolling out during the last few weeks, will be an ongoing algorithm with data refreshes that occur more often than the previous Penguin and Panda algorithms. According to Google, sites affected by this update might see a “broad impact from this change.” This has caused quite a stir in the travel vertical, so I wanted to take time to address public concerns regarding this update.
Here’s what Google’s Webmaster Central Blog had to say.
In Google’s Search Console Help (formerly Google Webmaster Tools Help), Google provides a bit more detailed information about the update.
So What IS a Doorway Page?
I’m going to start with Google’s help file for Doorway Pages and come back to the questions provided in the Search Console Help. With that in mind, let’s dive right into the bullet points provided in the Search Console Help file.
1. Having multiple domain names or pages targeted at specific regions or cities that funnel users to one page
The easiest way to provide an example of this is to highlight sites that have lost rankings since this update began rolling out. Andrew Shotland shared screen shots in his Local SEO Guide blog post about Doorway Pages.
As you can see in the screen shots, Google has interpreted many of the directory sites as sites with doorway pages and their average ranking drop indicates such. (Organic traffic share decreases in SEMRush as organic placement decreases). So we can be confident that directory sites have doorway pages. In addition, some directories like the Yellow Pages have multiple domains that all lead to the same set of results within the directory, sometimes even on different domains and this also fits the definition provided above. Eg: Yp.com, Yellowpages.com, etc.
2. Pages generated to funnel visitors to the relevant portion of your site(s)
This can be taken several ways, and Google has chosen to be quite legalistic and vague with their choice of words in explaining this, so I’m going to break this statement down piece by piece.
Taking the plain meaning of the words, this would indicate dynamically generated pages, which tend to have little to no intrinsic value in and of themselves.
“…to funnel visitors to the actual useable or relevant portion of your site(s)”
Taking the plain meaning of the words used here, this would indicate that the pages in question aren’t relevant to the actual search query, aren’t useable in relation to the actual query being searched nor do they serve as an intermediary landing spot linking to relevant pages on your site or another site.
When taken as a whole statement, this description seems to indicate Doorway Pages are pages dynamically generated or manually generated (don’t ask me why someone would choose to do that manually), that are not conducive to a direct action on the part of the searcher based on their search intent or do not lead to a useable page (useable in light of the searcher’s intent).
3. Substantially similar pages that are closer to search results than a clearly defined, browseable hierarchy
The easiest way to explain this aspect of the guideline is to provide an example of a page that fits this definition.
If the intent of my search was to book a hotel in Dallas and Google provided this page of results in the SERP set, it won’t get the job done for what I was attempting to do. There are no visible phone numbers, there are no booking buttons in the list of hotels and there is no logical order or hierarchy for sorting or managing the list of results. It is only when a user clicks into one of the numbered listings on the page that the site provides any concrete information about the listed hotels, such as booking links or phone numbers.
What does any of that have to do with Doorway Pages on Directory Sites?
With directory sites, most of the pages are dynamically generated with similar to identical content regardless of the specific search or area searched. The site structure is designed around Doorway Pages. If I search for hotels in Dallas, TX or hotels in Addison, TX, the odds are that I’m going to get a very similar list of hotels, but the page will be dynamically generated to speak to the searched city. It isn’t until I click through a bit deeper into the site that I find contact information, company descriptions and more, also known as the actual hotel listing information I wanted to make a decision.
Andrew Shotland has an excellent example of this in his blog article from March 16, 2015.
With the Doorway Page Update, Google has taken these category style pages which are typically dynamically generated pages that provide little to no value, and lowered their placement in the SERP set.
How will this affect my hotel’s vanity website?
As long as you aren’t spinning content, dynamically generating nearly identical content solely for the purpose of customizing another page for the query searched or creating directory style category pages that require a user to click deeper into your site for the desired result, you really don’t need to worry about this update.
Hotel vanity websites are not doorway pages. They provide unique value to the user, unique content and in-depth information about the hotel, the local area and attractions, high-quality imagery and allows the user to make an informed booking decision, all with easy access to the hotel’s secure booking system. HeBS Digital and Leonardo have excellent articles discussing this aspect of the topic at length and why hotel vanity sites often outperform the brand.com sites in SERP.
Still not convinced that hotel vanity sites aren’t Doorway Pages?
This is data from one of our branded vanity site clients. As you can see in the screen shot below from the Google Search Console, the vanity site’s average rankings actually improved after the Doorway Page Update, moving up nearly three full positions on average site-wide.
This is about as clear an indicator as you can get that Google doesn’t view hotel vanity site as sites with Doorway Pages.
What about the questions Google provided in their Webmaster Central Blog about Doorway Pages?
This has been addressed quite in-depth by Nifty Marketing in a blog article that can be found here. While no one outside of Google can say for certain how these questions apply to hotel vanity sites, the general industry consensus is that hotels with vanity sites can answer “no,” vanity sites will not be penalized with this update.
Who should be concerned about the Doorway Page Update?
Obviously, directory sites should be concerned! They’ve seen a dramatic decrease in average SERP position after this update. Sites that style themselves after directory sites should also be worried. This includes OTA’s like TripAdvisor, Booking.com and Priceline that feature dynamically-generated, doorway page, category-level listings for all of the hotels in a certain group, but they should not be concerned about the hotel-specific pages linked from these category pages.
This also includes quite a few of the major hotel brand corporate sites. These can feature hotel category pages which function as doorway pages to the actual hotel pages of their site. Don’t expect to keep seeing the Brand category page for “hotels in Dallas” ranking in the SERPs for that search when Google believes the actual hotel pages on the corporate site themselves are a better result. For the rest of the Brand.com sites that use a similar structure, beware! If you see a drop in your rankings, check to see which pages have fallen out of the SERPs. Odds are that those affected are the pages which mimic directory site structure.
My hotel doesn’t have a vanity website. What can I do to increase traffic and revenue?
If your hotel doesn’t have a vanity website and you’re seeing a decrease in traffic and revenue, you need a vanity website! They are a great way to reduce OTA commissions, target market segments that are not fully recognized by the brand’s website for your hotel (eg: Leisure &/or SMERF guests), and distinguish your hotel from the one across the street (even if they’re the same brand)! If you need help, Valet Interactive can build a vanity site for your hotel! Request a proposal online for free.
Need further proof to see what we can do?