Dispelling the Myths About Doorway Pages

With some people, you mention the term 'doorway page' and they shudder. They say, 'Aren't those bad now? I heard somewhere the search engines don't like them anymore.' However, this is only HALF true.

The truth is that representatives at some search engines do not like the TERM 'doorway page' because some Web marketers have abused the concept and degraded the search experience for their users. In particular, search engines do not like pages that 'lack significant content.' That's why some Web marketers have started giving other names to their doorway pages such as 'informational pages' to avoid the perception that doorways lack significant content.

However, as soon as enough people start using the term 'informational page,' then that term will be perceived as bad and they'll move onto a new name. Meanwhile, Web novices are bombarded by an ever changing and ever growing list of Web marketing terminology. Fun huh?

The key here is to understand what a doorway page is, at least as we’ve always defined it. A doorway page is quite simply any page that is designed to appeal to a given search engine so that it will rank well. The term 'doorway' refers to the fact that any page a visitor travels to from the search results to your site acts as an entrance, or doorway to your Web site. This could be your home page, but quite often it is another page. Does this mean that page inherently has little or no content on it? Of course not. It means it was the page on your site that was the most applicable to the user’s search at least from the search engine’s point of view. In fact, do a search on any search engine. Essentially, every page you find in the top 30 is an example of a doorway page if you ignore pages not ranked on page content, like directory listings.

It's important to understand that there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to design your page so that it will be liked by the search engines. In fact, most of the search engines have tutorials with basic tips on how to create a good page. AltaVista, famous for it's anti-doorway page propaganda, has an extensive tutorial on how to make AltaVista-friendly pages and even how to improve your rankings.

Therefore, no matter what the prevailing myths are about 'doorways,' they are not inherently 'bad.' In fact, failing to optimize your pages for a search engine will only create pages that the search engine does NOT like to see. Ironic huh?

What *is* bad is when you either purposely or accidentally break the rules of a search engine. This can happen whether you're consciously creating a doorway page or not. So what are these rules?

Unfortunately that is a moving target. That's why we deploy software analysis, a page critic, in conjunction with our services. A page critic, as many of you know, analyzes your page and compares it to the latest known search engine rules and tells you things you need to change to be search-engine friendly. Why do you want to be search engine friendly? If you're not, you will not rank in the top 10 to 30 matches and nobody will ever find your site, at least not through the search engines.

What kind of things do the search engines NOT want to see? This varies somewhat by the engine, but in general the major things are:

1. Do not optimize for keywords that are not directly related to your Web site's content. This might seem obvious, but some Web marketers and even some positioning agencies still abuse this rule.

2. Do not repeat the same keyword too many times on the page. How many times is too many? The Page Critic can give you specifics on this for each engine.

3. Avoid using the same color text as your background color.

4. In general, avoid redirects and meta refresh tags. There can be valid uses for a redirect such as when your Web site has moved to a new address and you wish to automatically redirect the user to the new site. Therefore, the search engines are cautious about banning a Web site for simply using a redirect.

What many of them don't like, however, is when you try to serve up one page to the search engine to index and another page to the user doing the search. This technique removes the ability of the search engine to rank the pages according to their own ranking algorithms. Sometimes this is referred to as page cloaking or IP redirection. If they catch you doing this, you could be banned.

5. Avoid duplicating content. Some engines have spiders that will look for duplicate or near-duplicate content on the same Web site or across multiple Web sites. When they find it, they may ban both sites or flag it for human review.

6. Last, but certainly not least, search engines want to see quality content that their users will find valuable. Unfortunately, quality is often subjective. However, there are baselines you can follow such as putting yourself in your customer's shoes.

What I believe contributes to a negative perception that doorway pages are bad are poor optimization techniques by Webmasters. Ideally, one should optimize a site by taking existing content rich pages and fine-tuning them according to what the search engines want to see. This is often easy for Web site owners who have a mastery over their site's subject matter. However, trouble comes in when a Webmaster or a consulting company starts throwing together sentences and paragraphs just to fill space. They may not have a clue about how to write good marketing copy or what the Web site is really all about.

The key is does the page 'sell' the visitor on your product or service? Does it look professional? If not, people will click-away from your site as quickly as they arrived. Therefore, if you put someone else in charge of optimizing your Web site, make sure a skilled marketer evaluates these pages for quality and professionalism. If you don't, you may be scratching your head at why the visitors arrive but they don't buy anything.

The basic concepts behind designing a Web site that sells itself are:

  • Conceptualize your web site.
  • Observe rules for writing effective web copy. Please review the "White papers" for "11 Rules for Effective Copy Writing".
  • Make your site easy to navigate

In conclusion regarding doorway pages, apply the concept of a doorway page since you must have search engine friendly pages to be found. However, if you e-mail questions to the search engines, avoid using any search engine marketing terminology whether it be doorway pages, gateway pages, hallway pages, or even 'informational pages.' If you're reporting a problem with your listing, describe how correcting it would benefit their users. The search engines care about providing relevant search results to their users, but they are not necessarily concerned about how you as an individual rank. Keep that in mind and you'll be better equipped the next time you communicate with them.

Note: The information presented here adapted, under license agreement, from FirstPlace Software.