How to Spot Search Engine Spam: Doorway Pages

  |  March 15, 2004   |  Comments

Is the SEM firm you’re considering on the up-and-up? How to tell if it’s spamming and if it’s been nailed by the major search engines.

The search engine marketing (SEM) industry is teeming with unethical practitioners. Does your site need a number-one position in Google? They’ll guarantee that position. Don’t want to change your site but still want top positions in "natural" search results? No problem. Unethical search engine marketers will create doorway pages or mirror sites to redirect traffic to your site.

The problem with using doorway pages and mirror sites is search engines consider these practices spam. If you or your SEM firm violates the terms and conditions set forth by both the human-based (Yahoo directory, Open Directory, Business.com) and spider-based (Google, Inktomi, Teoma) search engines, both your site and the SEM firm’s site will be penalized or banned.

If you don’t know how to spot a spam doorway page, here are some general guidelines.

Doorway Page Characteristics

Doorway pages come in all shapes and sizes. Some are very easy to spot. They’re often computer-generated, text-only pages of gibberish. If human visitors viewed the page, they wouldn’t purchase from the company. The page is ugly and nonsensical.

Yet some doorway pages are very, very attractive and difficult to spot. They’re designed to visually blend in to a Web site. They have graphic images and navigation schemes. The content contains complete sentences, paragraphs, even reasonable calls to action (CTA). Spam doorway pages aren’t necessarily computer-generated. Staff at SEM firms can and do write doorway page content.

Indications your SEM firm might be creating spam doorway pages:

  • Doorway pages often reside on an SEM firm’s server under a different domain, not as a part of your own site.

  • Doorway pages are often redirected from the SEM firm’s server to your Web site. Once search engine software engineers detect the doorway pages, SEM spammers abandon that domain and put the doorway pages on another one. It’s a cat-and-mouse game.

    Caveat: Unethical search engine marketers sometimes remove the redirect and claim the spam doorway pages are no longer spam. If pages are created deliberately to trick the search engines into delivering inappropriate, redundant, or poor-quality search results, they’re spam. With or without a redirect.

  • Visitors don’t see the same page search engine spiders do. In other words, one doorway page is presented to search engines, a different one is presented to visitors.

  • Listen for any phrase that resembles "instant link popularity." Even if you don’t change your site, unethical SEM firms may build hundreds, even thousands, of doorway pages that point to your site to artificially boost link popularity.

  • Doorway pages are often created for individual search engines. They can be created for each search engine in different languages.

If you’re concerned about your SEM firm’s integrity, you can always visit the search engines and read their terms and guidelines (URLs listed below). If your SEM firm does anything that remotely violates their terms, don’t hire the firm.

Information Pages

In November 1998 at the first Search Engine Strategies conference, I introduced the concept of information pages in my presentation, "Designing Search-Engine Friendly Web Sites." My colleagues Detlev Johnson and Marshall Simmonds and I came up with this concept earlier that year.

The primary goal of an information page is to provide useful information to your target audience. Examples of information pages include tips, set-up instructions, FAQs, and glossaries. Your target audience determines what information is useful, not the SEM firm.

Information pages reside on your Web server and are a natural part of your W site. In fact, links to information pages tend to be in the main navigation scheme.

Even though spam doorway pages can also reside on your server and be a natural part of your site, doorway pages can be detected by looking for hallway pages. A hallway page is created specifically to link to doorway pages. A hallway page sounds like a modified site map, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, a hallway page is exactly that -- a modified site map that links to doorway pages.

Information pages do not redirect to a page with different content. With information pages, visitors often click on the link in the SERP and land on the Web page that gives them the precise information they were searching for.

Site visitors and search engine spiders always view the same information. Though there are many legitimate uses for cloaking, many doorway page companies use cloaking to hide spam doorway pages.

More Red Flags

Can doorway page companies take the characteristics of information pages and make spam pages? Absolutely. They do it all of the time. As I said, detecting and eliminating search engine spam is a cat-and-mouse game.

Since many unethical SEM firms know the phrase "doorway page" might not close the sale, they come up with other names for spam pages. Here’s a partial list:

  • Attraction pages

  • Mini- or microsites

  • Satellite sites

  • Magnet sites

  • Channel pages

  • Shadow domains

  • Directory information pages (DIPs)

  • Search engine entry (SEE) pages

  • Advertising pages

One way to determine if you may be dealing with an SEM firm that spams is to search for the firm’s Web site on Google or another spider-based search engine. If the site is no longer in the index, it was probably banned.

Searches I like to use on Google are site:companyname.com, inurl:companyname.com, and link:companyname.com. If you don’t see pages from or links to the SEM firm’s site in the index, then that site’s under a spam penalty.

Bottom line: Informational pages don’t violate the terms and guidelines set forth by the search engines.

Below, the links for you review. Bookmark them. As spammers find more creative ways to spam, these guidelines will surely evolve.

Want more search information? ClickZ Search Archives contains all our search columns, organized by topic.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shari Thurow

Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.

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