Google’s Doorway Algorithm Update

April is shaping up to be a pretty impactful month when it comes to Google Algorithm updates with two important updates. First, on April 21, Google will officially start counting mobile-friendly factors as part of its mobile ranking algorithm, meaning 2015 might actually be “the year of mobile” as industry professionals have been clamoring for years.

Second, Google has announced it will be cleaning up its algorithm for doorway pages in order to improve user experience.

In all honesty, the search industry doesn’t really know how to react to this impending doorway algorithm update for a couple of reasons. Some clamor includes, “How is this news? Hasn’t everyone stopped doing this years ago?”

The biggest problem is in the wording itself. In true Google fashion, it has remained as elusive as possible about what it is specifically looking at to determine if said doorway page was created intentionally for search traffic and not user interest.

Google’s Brian White says it is targeting sites that have tried to “maximize their search footprint without adding clear, unique value.”

In theory, of course I can get behind that. If you’re not providing value, you shouldn’t be ranking for a keyword. Enough said. But I have a problem with the first part: Since when is maximizing your search footprint a bad thing?

My goal as a digital marketer is to make my website as marketable as possible to all subsets of my target audience. We’re fighting tooth and nail nowadays for just a sliver of our audience’s attention, so if I can create an experience that positions my site to be seen by people who may not normally have seen it, why is that a negative thing?

Yes, I am taking what he said out of context, but only because the rest of the sentence doesn’t help provide any sort of clarity. How does Google define value? Sure there’s the obvious that we know from previous algorithm updates – bad grammar, duplicate content, scraped content – but they don’t discuss it further as it relates to this update specifically.

Even the five questions Google suggested to consider when determining if your page could be considered a doorway page didn’t help give much light to worrying webmasters. How does Google define “usable” and “relevant”? If the page actually is an island and doesn’t have any internal links pointing to it, would it not rank in the first place?

So as SEOs, we’re left scratching our heads when stakeholders and clients undoubtedly come ask us what this means for their site. We’re left with those seven dirty words that we’re forced to say all too often: “We don’t really know what Google means.”

Now, of course, you can read the definition of doorway pages and make some pretty accurate judgment calls.

One obvious target are the multi-location businesses that have created pages that talk about their services in each of the cities offered, i.e., “cleaning companies in Macon” and “cleaning companies in Milledgeville.”

But maybe let’s say you don’t even realize what you’re doing and accidently created these “doorway pages” without even realizing what they are.

If you’re guilty of doing this, either on purpose or accidently like Rae pointed out, the mad dash to remove or noindex all of those pages probably crossed your mind: “We don’t know when it’s coming, so I’m just going to eliminate the problem now. Problem solved.”

Maybe, but I’m of the ilk that Google will be able to tell you’ve removed all of these pages suddenly, and instead of preventing the algorithm from affecting your site, you’re just giving Google a signal that you’re guilty.

Also from Google’s Webmaster Central Blog:

“For example, searchers might get a list of results that all go to the same site. So if a user clicks on one result, doesn’t like it, and then tries the next result in the search results page and is taken to that same site that they didn’t like, that’s a really frustrating experience.”

The other side of things is that the “new thing” everyone is talking about in search is how your whole goal now is to own the entire SERP, both for branded and non-branded search queries.

Is the impending Doorway Algorithm Update going to change our strategy? Is owning the SERP really causing that poor of a user experience? Assuming you’re actually providing different, unique value based on that given query, no I don’t think it is, but we’re back to talking in circles here: How subjective is Google going to be?

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