Repositioning the Doorway: Part 1

You know the drill. Two doors confront you. Behind door No. 1 is online marketing nirvana. Behind door No. 2 is a salivating lion that hasn’t eaten in days.

The search engine optimization (SEO) community confronts a similar dilemma. It’s at a crossroads and must choose which of two distinct paths it will follow.

So where is the SEO industry headed?

Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that the SEO community has not only opened the wrong door, it’s already going down the wrong path.

There is good news, though: It’s not too late to turn back.

Doorway Pages

In life, metaphoric doors open if you do the right thing. Here are a few things the SEO industry should consider to ensure it’s on the path to prosperity in the new year. Let’s start with doorway pages, or doorways.

A lot of confusion and many myths surround doorway pages. In truth, doorway pages are not the root of the problem in the industry, but they’re a symptom of a larger problem.

I believe that the merits of the SEO industry are being overshadowed by industry-wide inconsistencies. Doorway pages are a case in point.

The SEO industry is divided not only on whether to use doorways but also over the actual definition of what a doorway page is. If the folks in the SEO community can’t agree on something as fundamental as doorways, how can they ever convince prospective clients of the legitimacy of search engine optimization?

Put yourself in the client’s shoes. An online business decides it’s time to hire an SEO specialist. It confers with a number of seemingly credible SEO consultants. These prospects are going to be confronted with a choice that splits the optimization community right down the middle: to use or not to use doorway pages.

It’d be simple if credible SEO companies said one thing and dubious companies said another. But that’s not the case. Respected SEO companies are polarized regarding doorway pages. Some say they’re important; others advise against using them. Still others bristle at how their peers define a doorway page.

The result? Prospective clients are turned off. Doors are closing.

One thing SEO specialists agree on is that doorways are created to increase the odds of a site turning up at the top of search results. Beyond that, views become distressingly divergent.

Differing Views

On the essence of what a doorway page is, one of the industry’s most visible and respected voices, Shari Thurow, says the following: “Most doorway pages need to be cloaked because they often contain only a few lines of HTML text. Many doorway page companies create thousands of pages with only a few lines of text and submit those thousands of pages to the engines. Doorway pages definitely pollute the search engines’ databases. The main goal of doorway pages is to get a ranking without any other consideration. Doorway page people and cloakers are in it for the money…”

On the other hand, there’s FirstPlace Software, makers of the award-winning and much-heralded WebPosition Gold software. It defines a doorway as “a page on your web site that you have optimized or fine-tuned to rank well on a certain keyword. Since people end up finding your site through these pages, they act as ‘doorways’ to your site… Search engines do not have a problem with doorway pages as long as you follow their various rules.”

Jill Whalen, who comoderates the Rank Write Roundtable, lambastes the use of doorway pages altogether. In her article “The Myth of Gateway Pages,” Jill argues that pages rank highly “because they are filled with great content.” Not because of doorways. Jill goes on to critique doorways by adding, “The main thing typical gateway pages do is create clutter in the engines. If you already have a web site, and it’s more than one page, then you have your own built-in, natural gateway pages. Each and every page of your current site is a doorway to the rest of your site.”

Let’s try Paul J. Bruemmer, the CEO of Web-Ignite Corporation and a ClickZ columnist. He says the following about doorway pages: “When designed and used properly for content-relevant linking, doorway pages are no different than any other web page or subpage of a web site. A ‘doorway’ or ‘subpage’ can be linked to a specific web page or location, either IP cloaked, Java redirected, meta-refreshed, or with a visible ‘click here’ link. Neither the ‘doorway’ nor the technology nor the delivery method are the problem. It’s the design and linking of irrelevant or disingenuous key phrases to any web page with the intent to mislead (bait and switch) a viewer that is the core problem.”

All very interesting. But all very different.

A Problem, and a Solution

Who do we believe? What does this disparity mean?

For one thing, it means there’s a problem. And the problem’s not only restricted to doorway pages. There are other inconsistencies. Unless these inconsistencies get resolved, that hungry lion behind door No. 1 is going to have the SEO industry for dinner.

Fortunately, there’s a way out.

In fact, if we adopt one simple principle, we’ll be able to reposition the SEO industry in a much more positive light.

It boils down to one word. And that word is “standards.” Setting standards isn’t a new idea. Nor is it without controversy. But I’ll continue this discussion next week, when I’ll tell you what Danny Sullivan, the Internet consultant and journalist who created Search Engine Watch, wrote in 1998 about standards.

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