Have you been creating pages on your law firm website that don’t offer clear, unique value? If so, you might be vulnerable to a new Google ranking change intended to target doorway pages.
With the web going nutty over the announcement of the mobile-friendly update, less attention has been paid to another update.
On March 16th, Google announced an update on doorway pages. I suspect that many of you have little to no idea what a doorway page is or whether your site has them. So, let’s walk through some examples and learn how to avoid this potential nastiness.
What is a doorway page?
Doorways are sites or pages created to rank highly for specific search queries. They are bad for users because they can lead to multiple similar pages in user search results, where each result ends up taking the user to essentially the same destination. They can also lead users to intermediate pages that are not as useful as the final destination.
Here are some examples of doorways:
- Having multiple domain names or pages targeted at specific regions or cities that funnel users to one page
- Pages generated to funnel visitors into the actual usable or relevant portion of your site(s)
- Substantially similar pages that are closer to search results than a clearly defined, browseable hierarchy
A couple things to note about this definition. First, while they’re called “doorway pages,” notice that multiple domains targeted at specific locations count. They don’t have to be just pages on a single site. Second, notice their description as pages that read more like search results. Hmmm, doesn’t that sound a lot like directories?
Andrew Shotland seems to think so:
And then there’s this:
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.
Might be a good time to short Yelp.
Which makes a lot of sense. Many of us had hoped that Pigeon would have been the update that brought actual local businesses back to the top of local SERPs. Unfortunately, at leas thus far, it seems to have had the opposite impact.
In the last several months, the legal SERPs that we track have shown major legal directories making huge gains. If the doorway page update ends up hitting directories, we would expect to see some major flux in their visibility. As of this post, directories are still dominating.
Even if this update becomes significant, there is, of course, a chance that Google gives these major directories a pass.
Does your law firm website have doorway pages?
Enough about directories. You want to know whether your law firm website is at-risk of being hit by this update. Per Google, ask yourself the following questions:
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?
Here are some specific examples of doorway pages on law firm websites that I regularly see:
- Geo + Practice Area + Lawyer Pages – It used to be a very popular practice to churn out permutations of every city, practice area and lawyer keyword that lawyers could think of. So, law firm websites would include pages like /chicago-personal-injury-lawyer, /chicago-personal-injury-attorney, /desplaines-personal-injury-law-firm, etc, etc.
- A bunch of substantially similar domains – Another popular tactic was to do basically the same thing at the domain level. While some firms have been working to “clean this up,” there are still many firms that are using multiple geographically-specific domains with slight variations. This is right in the cross-hairs of the doorway page update.
- Rogue category & tag pages – Another old-fashioned SEO strategy was to go crazy with post categories and tags. Most of these are pretty useless and duplicate. For example, if you have a practice area page for “car accidents,” you probably don’t want to have your “car accidents” post category indexed too. While it might be useful to visitors, it doesn’t add much additional value in search. Add “noindex” meta tags on these.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t have location pages for your offices. Just make sure that you follow Google’s guidelines for location pages for local businesses.
Think about the information that your visitors are likely to want to know. Information like:
- Where your offices are located.
- What times are your offices open.
- Your offices phone numbers.
Also, make sure that your location pages have the appropriate structured data markup (i.e. local business & attorney schema).
We’ll be keeping our eyes-peeled over the next weeks and months to see how this doorway update is impacting the legal SERPs (if at all). If you’re worried about whether or not you’re running afoul of the doorway page update, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We’re happy to give you our opinion.