Friday 20 March 2015: Google announced this week it will soon implement a change to its search algorithm to penalise websites that use ‘doorway pages’ and multiple domain names to increase their rank in search results.
In summary, this means businesses that use keywords to rank similar content on multiple domain names or pages under one domain will be penalised.
This is a major update from Google and will have huge implications for domain name and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategies.
Savvy businesses needn’t fear, however. If you are using new Top-Level Domains like .melbourne and .sydney, there are some simple steps you can take to ensure your website has the best possible chance to rank highly in search results.
Google described the new changes as an attempt to penalise sites that “try to maximize their ‘search footprint’ without adding clear, unique value”.
Sites utilising this technique are often referred to as ‘doorway pages’, which Google classify negatively based on their impact on end users:
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.
What doorway pages look like
Using the example of ‘Freddy’s Skip Bin Hire’, Mr Stewart explains that the company has built several web pages under various suburb names and essentially replicated the content on each, replacing the location name. This has led them to create almost identical sites such as ‘Skip Bin Hire Waverley’ and ‘Skip Bin Hire Earlwood’.
Using this technique to essentially ‘trick’ Google into ranking your site is the type of strategy that will be targeted by this update, as Mr Stewart explains.
“If your site has created pages purely to rank for a particular key phrase… the chances are you could be smashed by this update.”
Will .sydney and .melbourne domains be penalised?
There is an extensive list of factors that impact a website’s SEO ranking. As Mr Stewart explained in an interview with AusRegistry last year, domain names are one of “over 200 signals” that determine your rank in search results, but by no means the deciding factor.
“There’s a lot of misinformation about the importance of domain names in search. There’s no doubt that if you can get a domain name with a good key word in it, you’ve got a good chance of ranking better than someone that doesn’t, but it’s only one signal.”
A major factor that can and does heavily influence search ranking is content. Using local domains such as .melbourne and .sydney solely to rank for your business in Melbourne and Sydney is not enough – local domains offer an opportunity to create valuable, localised content targeted to a particular geographic audience.
As Mr Stewart describes, “Google wants to makes sure it only displays results that are going to be relevant to the search done by the user.”
Meaningful content, he explains is the best way to ensure Google takes notice of your site.
“This obviously gives your site more content that Google can rank, but Google can also see that your site is active and updated frequently. In terms of ranking, Google sees sites like these as ‘worthy’ of sending its users to.”
Can you still register multiple domain names?
This latest change for Google could mean a real shake-up of search rankings for those trying to ‘beat the system’ and use doorway pages to boost their traffic.
The key factor now will be value to the user – if you can offer meaningful and relevant content across each of your domain names, there should be nothing to fear from this update. Local domain names can still provide a dedicated portal for content that is targeted to a local audience and therefore “worthy” of Google’s attention.
5 steps to avoid being penalised by Google’s search update
- Use your .melbourne and .sydney domain names to offer localised content and valuable information for those in Melbourne and Sydney.
- Find and update pages on your website with duplicated content – or prepare to see their search rankings suffer.
- Build a content strategy that will ensure your sites remain up to date and are frequently being populated with current, relevant information.
- As Jim Stewart suggests; “look at what the number one result is doing, and do it better”. Consider what value your competitors are offering and up the ante.
- Don’t be afraid of registering multiple domain names. Holding a portfolio of domains is not a search sin – just be sure you are using them to add value, rather than trying to trick Google.
For more detail on how you can use .melbourne and .sydney domains to add value to local customers, read ‘How to use a local domain for your brand’.