When tasked with the mission to get your company’s website to the top of the search engine results, it can be down right confusing just trying to understand which methods work, which don’t, and which could have serious repercussions for your business.

The following advice will begin a series of articles that will take a look at the more questionable methods that are currently used to obtain prominent search engine visibility.

Over the next few weeks, we will cover some of the more notorious optimization techniques such as cloaking, hidden text and keyword stuffing to name just a few. Today, we begin with the most controversial and the most debated, doorway pages.

A doorway under any other name is still a doorway. Doorway pages, gateway pages, doormat pages, pathway pages are just some of the names used to describe the same technique; building a page for the sole purpose of gaining top search engine positioning and creating traffic for a website.

The variety of aliases for a “doorway page” provides a clue to the ethics of such a page. By using a different name, the doorway creator (be it the webmaster or SEO) hopes to persuade the website owner that what they are doing is most definitely not a doorway page. But, to paraphrase a well know saying, if it looks like a doorway page and smells like a doorway page then, you guessed it, it’s a doorway page.

What is a doorway page?

Now that we have clarified the different names that are often applied to doorway pages, lets explore exactly why a doorway page can be bad news for any website that utilizes them. First of all, lets look at the definition of a doorway page.

Inktomi, one of the world’s largest providers of search engine results offers a great description in their Content Guidelines:

“[Doorway pages] are pages created deliberately, to trick the search engine into offering inappropriate, redundant or poor-quality search results”.

This is a great “catch all” description of a doorway page, as doorway pages rarely follow the same format, but all have the same desired outcome.

Doorway pages are typically only created to inflate the search engine ranking of a website and are rarely built with useful content or the user experience in mind. Their sole purpose is to provide a page that can be filled with keyword rich text and multiple links back to the main website. Often these pages are not part of the main domain and simply float in cyberspace waiting to attract an unwary search engine spider and force-feed it the inflated content.

A doorway page will often have no graphics, as these would not benefit the optimization of the page, and would use various large fonts and bold text in an effort to highlight the targeted keywords. In essence, a doorway page is spam, and will more than likely lead to more harm than good.

So why are doorway pages spam?

So why is a doorway page considered by many to be spam? If it is so unethical, why do many SEOs still utilize this method? Two great questions that I am often asked when discussing doorway pages with website owners. So lets look at the answers.

First, a doorway page is spam if it’s sole purpose is to manipulate the search engine results without any effort to provide useful content to the visitor who unwittingly lands on it. Some people will argue that a doorway page can be attractive and informative and therefore not spam. I typically respond by challenging the creator of a doorway page to make the content of the actual website attractive and informative rather than building unnecessary pages.

Search engines do not want to spend their time spidering, indexing and inevitably, removing a doorway page from their database. There is no need to create a doorway page, when you can work with the pages of the main website to increase the relevance of that site and consequently improve it’s search engine ranking.

Why are doorway pages still used?

Now let’s look at why many webmasters and SEOs still utilize doorway pages in their optimization efforts. There are two common reasons why doorway pages are still used.

The first reason is that creating a doorway page is quick and easy compared to optimizing the actual website you wish to benefit. Many SEOs have software readily available that, with the touch of a button, creates a keyword dense doorway page ready for uploading to the Internet. With this quick and easy method, it is far cheaper for anyone, webmaster or SEO, to create dozens of doorway pages each designed to increase the traffic of the benefiting website.

Many SEO companies struggle to be profitable in a competitive industry and therefore take the easy route of creating doorway pages. They know that they can make a very good profit if they never actually have to take the time to review the main website and spend hours determining what type of optimization would work well for that particular content.

Like an athlete that takes steroids, they want quick success and are too lazy to put the time and effort into obtaining legitimate results. Unfortunately, like a pumped up Olympian, they run the risk of being banned or penalized for using unethical techniques.

The second reason that doorway pages are still used, is less about laziness and greed but more about ignorance. Before doorway pages were used in proliferation by adult sites, who wanted to trick a searcher for “computers” into visiting their smutty content, the search engines did not look on their use as spam as they do today. Doorway pages were tolerated and for many years provided a lot of success.

Unfortunately there are still a lot of webmasters and SEOs that have not moved with the times and still believe that doorway pages are effective and safe. I have even spoken to webmasters in charge of obtaining search engine ranking for their company’s website, who have admitted that they simply do not know any other way of optimizing a website, other than creating multiple doorway pages. The “rules” of search engine optimization are constantly changing and many companies simply cannot keep up with what’s considered acceptable and what’s now classed as spam.

The Search Engines' View

We have already touched on Inktomi’s view of doorway pages, but many other major search engines have the same tough stance. As many SEOs will claim that doorway pages are not spam, it is important for anyone considering using doorway pages or using a company that implements doorway pages, to hear it direct from the horses mouth.

Here is what the search engines have to say about the use of doorway pages:

  • Google: “Google does not encourage the use of doorway pages. We want to point users to content pages, not to doorways or splash screens.” Content Policy

  • Fast/AllTheWeb: “[we will] exclude Page spam documents from our index or at least disregard links from it when computing static rank” Spam Policy

  • Ask Jeeves / Teoma: Defines doorway pages as “Fabricated pages designed to lead users to other web pages” Spam Restrictions

  • AltaVista: “Trying to fool search engines into including pages that don't truly match queries, or ranking marginally relevant pages very high on result lists, is one form of spamming”. Combating spamming

Avoid the doorway to disaster

Using doorway pages to enhance the search engine ranking of your website, will not benefit your company in the long-term. While it is tempting to use doorways to gain quick results, inevitably the search engines discover the pages and ban them from their index. Worse still, if you or your SEO create multiple doorway pages, all pointing back to your main website, you run the risk of your own website losing all positioning or being banned completely.

Whether optimizing your website yourself or employing the services of an SEO, the best thing you can do to improve your search engine ranking is to start with the content of your own site. Creating doorway pages to increase your performance will lead you to nothing but disaster.
July 16, 2002

Internet marketing consultant Andy Beal has provided online marketing advice to thousands of companies including, Motorola, NBC, Lowes and Quicken Loans and is a trusted resource for The Washington Post, LA Times, Dow Jones, NPR and CNBC. Andy provides consulting services on search engine optimization, business blogging and online reputation management. Read his blog and request a free consultation at Marketing Pilgrim.

Search Engine Guide > Andy Beal > The Doorway to Optimization Disaster