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An Ethical Alternative to Doorway Pages

Definition: A doorway page is content created specifically for the purpose of garnering high placements in the search engines.

Issue: Google makes the following specific recommendation: Avoid "doorway" pages created just for search engines or other "cookie cutter" approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content (http://www.google.com/intl/az/webmasters/guidelines.html).

This article addresses the issue of doorway pages, proposes an acceptable alternative and offers some insights into the basic principles of search engine optimization.

To frame the issue of doorway pages it is important to understand why content is so critical to search engine optimization. In order to do this we need to step back and take a look at the search engines themselves:

? Google, Yahoo, MSN, and all other search engines want to provide the same thing: A prioritized list of links that point to most relevant web sites satisfying the users search criteria.

? Relevance is defined as the "best content" with the "best fit" to the user's search. That's a search engine's value ? providing efficient access to the information a user wants when they want it.

? The search engine that does the best job of delivering the largest quantity of the most relevant results attracts the most users.

? Obviously speed, ease-of-use and "marketing" impact popularity but in the end the quality of the results counts most.

The best way for you to get long-term results is by "partnering" with the search engines. Partnering means recognizing and supporting the value-proposition that the search engines provide to their end-users:

? Provide lots of highly relevant content

? Follow accepted (i.e. ethical) search engine optimization principles

Is there an alternative? Sure, like many situations there are always short cuts and quick fixes that purport to let you "game the system." Instead of partnering with the search providers you compete with them. By "compete" I mean all the effort (and dollars) expended to chase their constantly evolving algorithms and artificially increase your site's rankings. These techniques may get you short-term results but many are considered the equivalent of "spamming" and could get your site de-listed. From a search engine providers point of view, anything that gets better results for sites with inferior content (and fit) is compromising their product and is temporary until they tune their algorithm so that it correctly ranks your site (down).

One of these shortcuts is the use of "doorway pages." The rest of this article discusses the use of doorway pages and recommends an alternative approach.

What is a doorway page?

Doorway pages are pages of content that have been specifically designed to achieve high rankings in the search engines. They are often used by websites that don't have an abundance of content within the main pages of their site due to technology issues or design conflicts. They can be an effective tool for garnering short-term placement in search engine rankings when used appropriately, but doorway pages have been abused by websites for many years, to the point that they are frowned upon by search engines who now attempt to exclude them from their result pages.

What does a "Doorway Page" look like?

A doorway page appears as if it was built specifically to attain high search engine placement, and offers little value to searchers. It often has the following characteristics: o A lot of poorly written content, with an abundance of hyperlinked phrases in the body text

o Copy that is stuffed with lists of keywords

o Zero (0) in-bound links from other parts of the website Example: you build a doorway page named "targeted-keyword.html," but do not link to this page from any other part of your website. Google assumes no in-bound links exist because this page is of little value, and you want to hide it from regular visitors to its site.

o A "redirection" that automatically loads a new page once the doorway pages is accessed

Bottom line: A doorway page stands alone from your website, and offers little value to searchers

If any of those characteristics exist on the page, and if a number of these pages are created within a single website, Google is likely to discount their value, or worse, ban the site.

If doorway pages are inappropriate then what is a better alternative?

The "essay page"

An essay page, on the other hand, is integrated into the main website (although not into the navigation structure). It offers real value to the searcher because the content is relevant and well-written. It often has the following characteristics:

o Clean HTML coding with an HTML design similar to that of other pages of the website

o A lot of content, with several hyperlinked phrases in the body text

o Several in-bound links from other parts of the website

Example: On the solutions page, you hyperlink the phrase "targeted keyword," to the targeted-keyword.html essay page.

o Quality content that offers real value to the searcher

Bottom line: An essay page is a natural extension of your website. For all intents and purposes, it is integrated content more than it is a doorway page, because it expands on a certain subject.

Will you benefit from using essay pages?

Essay pages used effectively can be good solutions when a site's navigation does not support the addition of content, or if it would be difficult to develop valuable content to include within the main navigation. If this is not the case I recommend that you add additional pages of content (which will provide more benefits than essay pages), while enhancing the user experience.

Summary and Recommendation

The creation and proper integration of additional content is critical to the ability to achieve consistent top 10 rankings on the most targeted keywords. Essay pages can be valuable when a website cannot be easily scaled to include more content through the main navigation structure. However, the first priority should be increasing content as much as possible before resorting to essay pages.

Over time, your more sophisticated competitors will compete for placement by incorporating significant content, and by implementing important search engine optimization features, not by using essay (or doorway) pages.

If you've adopted an aggressive "doorway page" strategy, it's possible (and maybe likely) that a competitor would report it to Google. If Google determines that you have violated their "rules," you could be "de-listed".

As a result of the risk that doorway pages pose and the benefits integrating additional relevant content provides, I strongly recommend the approach of reevaluating your navigation structure, and adding additional pages of relevant content if possible. From a search engine ranking point of view ? content is not king, but relevant content sure is.

Scott Smigler has been an evangelist for a serious, ROI-based focus on the online channel since he founded Exclusive Concepts in 1997. Exclusive Concepts provides integrated online marketing strategies, Internet brand consulting, search engine marketing campaigns and results-oriented web sites for hundreds of clients that range in size from small ecommerce firms to public companies.

Visit Scott's website: http://www.exclusiveconcepts.com

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