Hidden doors can be exciting.
And discovering a key that unlocks a mysterious door is even more thrilling.
But that's not always true when we come across a website with URLs that act as hidden doors.
Those hidden doors, also known as doorway pages, stop us in our tracks—much like a mysterious key would.
But they're not as enticing.
In fact, they're pretty frustrating.
And if you have doorway pages on your site, they could be wreaking havoc on the fantastic SEO strategy you've otherwise got in place.
Because anything that's frustrating for your visitors can cause your rankings to suffer.
In this guide, I'm sharing how to find out if you've got these hidden doorway pages on your site, and a quick and easy way to remove them—so you can avoid a nasty Google penalty.
What are Doorway Pages?
Before we dive into the details, let's cover exactly what these mysterious pages are.
Doorway pages are URLs that point people to a different page than what they were originally looking for (i.e. their final destination).
If you're Googling "women's shoes," you'd want to find a women's shoes category page that contains products for you to browse, right?
A doorway page would stop you in your tracks, meaning you'd go from Google to a page that says something like "click here to browse products" (with a link to the women's shoes category page you'd originally expected).
In other words, you have to go through the doorway page to get to the page you actually want.
Knowing that, it probably won't come as a shock to learn that doorway pages rarely contain valuable information.
So Why do SEOs Use Them?
Doorway pages are usually used by shady SEOs in an attempt to rank for multiple keywords.
Using my example above, the main category page (or final destination) might be optimized for "women's footwear," whereas the doorway page would be optimized for "women's shoes."
But search engines—including Google—use latent semantic indexing. They're smart enough to know when similar keywords mean the same thing, so you can target multiple, similar keywords on a single page and still rank for all of them.
Doorway pages can be used to take up more real estate in the SERPs, too—especially if they're spanned across several domains. This can be attractive to black hat SEOs who want to push out their competitors.
URL1.com, URL2.com and URL3.com might rank for the term "women's shoes." But if each of those were doorway pages, they'd point to URL4.com/womens-shoes, which actually contained the products.
That means the doorway pages would take up three valuable spots in the SERPs.
But Google has come a long way since the days when doorway pages were an effective SEO tactic.
Doorway Pages Don't Work for SEO. Here's Why
That's a hefty statement to make, especially in the SEO world where no rule is really set in stone.
But it's true: Doorway pages categorically do not work for SEO today.
They're Bad for User Experience
Ah, those two words that every reputable SEO expert plans their strategy around: "user experience."
User experience plays a huge role in Google's algorithm, and it's a huge ranking factor. Sites that don't give a good user experience don't rank highly.
Because Google's aim is to show the best, highest-quality and most relevant results for a user's search query. But if they're pointing their searchers to doorway pages, that doesn't quite fit the bill.
Doorway pages don't show information immediately.
Instead, they pass searchers through unnecessary link chains, like: Doorway page > Product page > Category page.
There's no need for the doorway page, and I bet you'd be frustrated if you landed on one.
Am I right or am I right?
Google Penalizes Them
Because of the importance Google places on user experience, they rolled out an algorithm update that penalized sites using doorway pages back in 2015.
In a statement, Google said:
"Over time, we've seen sites try to maximize their 'search footprint' without adding clear, unique value. These doorway campaigns manifest themselves as pages on a site, as a number of domains, or a combination thereof.
To improve the quality of search results for our users, we’ll soon launch a ranking adjustment to better address these types of pages. Sites with large and well-established doorway campaigns might see a broad impact from this change."
So for the sake of everyone visiting your site (whether they're in human or robot form), you'll need to banish these doorway pages if you want to see your SEO performance soar.
How to Safely Remove Doorway Pages and Avoid a Google Penalty
You might think you don't have any doorway pages on your site, but the fact is that many site owners can have them without even realizing it.
Archive, tag and author pages can all rank in the SERPs, and these pages act like doorway pages because they don't show information immediately—they lead visitors to other pages on your site instead.
Location pages can also be considered as doorway pages if they don't provide unique value and are simply used to capture traffic.
But if you're panicking at the thought of having doorway pages on your site that you're completely unaware of, don't worry.
It's not too late to toss these pesky pages in the trash and avoid landing yourself a nasty penalty.
Let's look at how to find and remove these pages, as well as how to prevent them from being created again.
How to Find Doorway Pages on Your Site
You can easily discover doorway pages just by looking at your keyword ranking report in SEOptimer.
It'll show you all the keywords you're currently ranking for, as well as which pages on your site are ranking for those keywords. The goal here is to check every page that's ranking and make sure that it's a "final destination" page.
Simply navigate to the Keyword Tracking tab to find this:
Click on your website or add it if you haven't done so already. Then, scroll down a little more and you'll see something like this:
This is your entire keyword ranking report, and details which keyword each page on your site is currently ranking for.
Then, show the keywords you're ranking for in position 50 or above by sorting the data according to Position.
These are the pages you should focus on first, since they're the most visible to Google searchers.
For each entry in your list, go to the URL in the "Page Ranking" column:
This will take you to the page on your site that's ranking for that keyword. Look at each page closely and ask yourself: Is this a final destination page?
(Remember: By "final destination" page, I mean the page that you'd want to land on if you searched for that keyword in Google. Not the movie—it doesn't need to have a photo of Tony Todd on there.)
- If it's not a final destination page: It's a doorway page. You'll need to get rid of it.
- If it is a final destination page: It's fine. Most regular category pages, product pages and blog posts will fall under this umbrella.
You'll need to do this quick check regularly as your rankings will change constantly. I recommend adding it to your quarterly to-do list so you don't forget.
How to Remove Doorway Pages Quickly and Easily
Luckily, if you found any doorway pages in the previous step, removing them is simple.
For each page you want to get rid of, first use a tool like Redirection (if you're on WordPress) to point the doorway page URL to the correct final destination page URL:
Then, delete the original doorway page.
This makes sure that anyone trying to visit the original doorway page will go through the link redirection chain to the correct page, preventing them from landing on a pesky (and downright annoying) 404 error page.
If there are pages on your site that you don't want to delete such as archive and tag pages, you can simply block Google and other search engines from crawling and indexing those particular pages in your robots.txt file.
That way, they can remain on your site, but won't get picked up by search engines or rank in SERPs.
You can also prevent yourself from unwillingly creating doorway pages in the future.
For each new page you're publishing, simply ask yourself "is this a final destination page?" for the keyword it's optimized for.
Don't press publish until your answer is yes!
Safeguard your site against Google penalties by identifying doorway pages, banishing them from your site and making sure users can't land on them.
Remember to double-check every page you create has value, target similar keywords on a single page to cater to LSI algorithms, and focus on user experience above everything else.
I can't wait to see your final destination pages when they crop up in my Google searches!