Have you ever clicked on a link from Google that took you to a page that offered little value? Were you forced to navigate to the correct page yourself? Well, you probably just landed on a doorway page. Doorway pages are a poor SEO tactic, and unfortunately, home improvement and remodeling contractor websites are some of the worst offenders.
What are doorway pages?
Doorway pages are low-quality, thin-content pages that offer little value to visitors and serve the sole purpose of boosting a site’s SEO. They typically will have a low word count (which can indicate low-value), are poorly written, have a very low number of pageviews, and/or have little-to-no organic traffic, links, shares, conversions, or engagements. Also known as portal pages, jump pages, gateway pages, entry pages, and by other names as well, they merely act as a doorway (thus the name) to funnel searchers to relevant sections of your website. This contributes to poor user experience, ultimately hurting your website’s SEO.
Doorway pages act as a barrier between users and the information they ultimately want. Google has said this isn’t just impacting on-site browsing, it’s also disrupting users’ experiences. If a searcher lands on a doorway page and fails to find the information they’re looking for, there are two likely outcomes – they’ll become frustrated and bounce or they’ll become frustrated, continue down a rabbit hole of links for a bit, and likely never return to your site again. In either scenario, the user has a poor experience. In 2015, Google publicly announced that it was continually working on ways to minimize the impact of webspam, including doorway pages.
Why user experience is important for SEO
In 2011, Google released a significant update to its algorithm called Google Panda. The purpose of the update was simple, “to lower the rank of low-quality sites or thin sites” and to rank higher-quality sites towards the top of search engine results pages (SERPs). In 2015, Google rolled out RankBrain, the machine learning component of its algorithm. Since then, the search giant has made a bigger effort to show more user-focused and user-friendly results. As a result of the updates, webpages built for the sole purpose of capturing specific search queries or funneling users, which contribute to poor user experience, would no longer rank as well. Doorway pages aren’t a new thing, either – they’ve been around for a long time. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago when they were not only good but rather effective.
Doorway pages and SEO
In order to understand why doorway pages grew to be such a popular tactic, you need to understand how the internet used to work. In the early days of the internet, it was entirely possible to add a keyword (and a number its of variations) to a page and have it rank well. The more keywords included in a page’s copy, the better it would rank. This became known as keyword stuffing.
The above image shows an example of what a keyword stuffed page may have looked like. For the sake of conversation, let’s assume that the keyword is “red widgets.” In the old days, Google would see the keyword “red widgets” featured eight times throughout the text. So, the page clearly must be about red widgets and thus would rank high for that search query.
Doorway pages and contractor marketing
Using the same concept, marketers began creating doorway pages to target specific search queries. For many home improvement and remodeling contractors, this meant creating and publishing tons of low-quality service area landing pages. For example, they would create separate pages for “Bathroom Remodeling in Raleigh”, “Bathroom renovation in Raleigh”, “Bathtub contractors in Raleigh”, etc. in hopes of capturing these searchers.
The above image shows an example of doorway pages commonly found in the home improvement industry. A siding contractor may have their physical office located in Raleigh, but provide service throughout the entire Triangle area. In order to capture customers searching for vinyl siding in Apex, Chapel Hill, or Wake Forest, they would create doorway pages. These pages are typically identical aside from a few changes to the service and city name.
A number of big marketing agencies have made a living off creating service area pages targeting specific city queries. Unfortunately for their clients, they’re being sold on a big fat lie. At FatCat, we’ve inherited a number of clients with established areas served pages and found that those pages, in general, rank poorly and fail to convert. Keyword stuffing and doorway pages were effective a decade ago. But today, these tactics are ineffective at best and penalize your site at worst.
The conundrum about service area doorway pages
The issue facing remodeling contractors, as noted above, is that they nearly always serve an area larger than the town their business is physically located in. Unless you have a brick & mortar location (and, as a result, can verify a Google My Business listing), it’s incredibly difficult to rank for a local search query. And, as we’ve just learned, creating city-specific pages to funnel searchers is a bad idea. John Mueller, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, even responded to me directly verifying my question.
With all that being said, let’s take a second and go back to Google’s official definition of a doorway page. The first sentence states “doorways are sites or pages created to rank highly for specific search queries.” If you understand SEO and internet marketing, even a little, this line is a bit of a head-scratcher.
As Adrian Cojocariu from CognitiveSEO perfectly said, “We all know that almost every page on the internet that ranks highly on a specific search query has been created to rank highly on specific search queries. The internet, search engine optimization and Google would not make sense otherwise.”
It’s also important to remember that Google is a for-profit business, not a service provider. Their guidelines are only that, guidelines. This isn’t to say that you should blatantly ignore suggestions made by the biggest search engine on the planet, but just note that their advice is not always in your best interest.
Okay, so what are my options as a contractor?
If you are a contractor and currently have a number of service area pages on your website, you have two main options. But before choosing either option, you need to conduct an audit of your service area pages. You can do this a number of ways, but I like to use Ahrefs’ Site Audit tool. First crawl your website, export a list of your URLs, then sort and organize your service area pages by city. From there, pull the number of ranking keywords and organic traffic over the last year for each URL using Ahrefs and Google Analytics. The reasoning behind performing an audit is to make sure that you’re not removing a page that performs well. Also, if you have multiple pages per city, it makes sense to update the best performing page (more on this later). At this point, you’re left with two options:
1. Remove all service area doorway pages
Now that you have a list of doorway pages you’d like to remove, the first step is to redirect these URLs to another page. This could be your homepage or a particular service – it’s best to point them to the most relevant page. If your site runs on WordPress, there’s a handy plugin called Redirection that is super easy to use. Once you’ve redirected the doorway page URLs, you can delete the old pages. Redirecting prevents users from landing on a 404 (error) page.
2. Consolidate (if applicable), revise, and make sure they offer clear value to users
The other option is to revise and update your doorway pages. This requires more work, but if done correctly, can be a big boost to your website’s SEO. If you have multiple pages per city, for example, “Roofing Contractors in Raleigh”, “Siding Contractors in Raleigh”, “Decking Contractors in Raleigh”, the first step is to consolidate the information into a single page. Using the data you collected during your mini-audit, you can choose which URL to update and which to redirect and delete. However, sometimes it makes the most sense to create an entirely new page if the URLs are too specific.
The key to this method is to make sure that you are providing users with valuable, unique content. Adding reviews, pictures, and anything else city-specific can help to create unique content. If a user searching for “Bathroom Remodeling Raleigh” lands on your page that lists all of your bathroom remodeling services offered in Raleigh, the benefits of working with your company, city-specific reviews and pictures, and a contact form, does that provide value? I would argue yes.
With either choice, by deleting/removing low-value doorway pages, it makes your site more efficient for Google to crawl and condenses SEO authority to more important pages i.e. your service pages and relevant blog posts.
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