Upcoming Google Algorithm Update – Say Goodbye to Doorway Pages

Google announced yesterday that they will soon be releasing a ranking adjustment to address the prevalence of doorway pages and warns “sites with large and well-established doorway campaigns might see a broad impact from this change.”

Brace yourself – big things are coming. Due to the pervasiveness of spam within legal, we’re predicting this may be a bigger shakeup than Pigeon (which really only hit spectacularly flagrant local spammers) or even the upcoming mobile change.

Wait, what’s a doorway page?

In the words of Google, “doorways are sites or pages created to rank highly for specific search queries. They are bad for users because they can lead to multiple pages in user search results, where each result ends up taking the user to essentially the same destination.”

Don’t confuse doorway pages with landing pages. Landing pages provide useful, relevant information to the user whose purpose is to get users to do a certain action. Doorway pages contain irrelevant information whose only purpose is to get users to the site.

If you’re not sure if your site is full of doorway pages, Google created this handy dandy list of questions you can ask yourself (or your SEO):

  • Is the purpose to optimize for search engines and funnel visitors into the actual usable or relevant portion of your site, or are they an integral part of your site’s user experience?
  • Are the pages intended to rank on generic terms yet the content presented on the page is very specific?
  • Do the pages duplicate useful aggregations of items (locations, products, etc.) that already exist on the site for the purpose of capturing more search traffic?
  • Are these pages made solely for drawing affiliate traffic and sending users along without creating unique value in content or functionality?
  • Do these pages exist as an “island?” Are they difficult or impossible to navigate to from other parts of your site? Are links to such pages from other pages within the site or network of sites created just for search engines?

What does this mean for the legal industry?

Our guess? Big things. Although the most typical culprits of doorways are large brands and franchises, the legal industry is not only notorious for spammy SEO tactics, but also for trying to act like large brands and franchises.  Andrew Shotland of Local SEO Guide summed it up nicely when he said: “This update may be no big deal, but when I see Google use the phrase “broad impact”, I tend to get a bit paranoid.”

Our guesstimates of what might be coming:

  • Legal is rife with low quality spammy directories with nothing but doorway pages – highly possible that this adjustment negatively impacts law firm sites that rely heavily on doorways for links. (And there are tons of these sites.)
  • Lots of law firms have successfully implemented doorway pages across multiple domains. They are going to get hit – expect a reshuffling of website traffic at a rate legal hasn’t seen in a very long time.
  • Possible changes in the structure of the two remaining large legal directories directories, Avvo and FindLaw.

This may also be the long awaited fulfillment of Google’s move away from the directories and towards the small businesses that populate those directories. Of course, this has been our prognostication ~2 years and we’ve been wrong so far, but, fingers crossed.  (Think we’re crazy? We’re not alone in this sentiment — in his coverage of the doorway update, Shotland goes so far as to suggest shorting Yelp.)

Hasn’t Google been rather busy lately?

Yep. If you’re wondering if there’s something in the water at Google lately, you’re not alone. They’re penalizing doorway pages, implementing mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal in mobile search, putting everything in the knowledge graph, releasing all sorts of new tools, and more.

However, doorways aren’t a new thing, so it’s about time Google addressed the issue. Matt Cutts, infamous head of Web Spam at Google currently on leave, wrote about crappy doorway pages back in 2005. As in, the 2005 that was 10 years ago. (Note: its a good read if you’d like to see the primary spokesperson of a billion dollar company perfect the implementation of the word “asshat.”) Plus, all of Google’s actions have been consistent with their mission to provide more helpful, user-friendly search results.

Regardless of the impact of the update, we’ll keep you posted on the fallout. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got high hopes this one will be nicknamed Platypus.