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SERPs lost and message in Webmaster Tools says it's doorway pages
Uncle_DK




msg:4360611
 4:54 pm on Sep 9, 2011 (gmt 0)

Today we received messages in our webmaster tools account, for all but 1 of our 20 domains, indicating that Google considers them doorway pages. We have also lost all of our SERP's for those sites.

Each of these sites is unique in the sense that they cater to specific categories of sporting goods, however they do have product crossover (some sites more than others) and the structure of the pages are very similar. As an example, [one] site sells only snowboard gear, but many of those products are also on our our general sporting goods store, which is also the one that did not get dinged. Each site has it's own cart and checkout and we do not push users from one site to another. We also do not use any 301\302 redirects across domains. We have been operating like this for many years without incident until now.

Our questions are, why has Google dinged us for doorway pages and what is the best (and fastest) way to fix this problem.

We are considering trying to change the pages on each site to make them more unique or possibly using cross domain canonicals. Can some please advise?

[edited by: tedster at 12:39 am (utc) on Sep 10, 2011]

 

tedster




msg:4361348
 12:34 pm on Sep 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

Doorway pages are pages that only exist to rank and then feed traffic to other pages. They have little value of their own, and they often are orphaned. Almost no one links to them. Does any of that sound familiar?

Uncle_DK




msg:4361367
 1:08 pm on Sep 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the reply tedster. Actually no, all of our sites are complete ecommerce sites that do not send traffic off to others. All though they often have cross-over products, they also typically provide category specific content. There is really nothing "doorway" about them except that they do use the same product data on product detail pages, so I could see an issue about duplicate content, but not doorway.

tedster




msg:4361372
 1:30 pm on Sep 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

How about javascript or php redirects - meta refreshes, trying to capture traffic as it tried to exit, anything that might look sneaky to a machine algorithm?

walkman




msg:4361383
 1:47 pm on Sep 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

@Uncle_DK
are they full featured sites that can easily stand on their own?

If you don't have 'gateway pages' (and only you know for real, we don't) 20 sites probably seemed too much to Google and maybe thought that you're trying to exploit a domain name match, interlink or whatever. Just a guess.

But Google has been going after people with many sites, not that it's illegal but usually quality lacks when one has dozens and dozens of sites.

And using one WMC account for all is probably not a smart idea, I have heard that they check the entire lot when they suspect one.

Planet13




msg:4361401
 2:28 pm on Sep 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

Firstly, is it possible that you could post the text of the message that you received in your google WMT account telling you they were doorway pages?

Secondly, prior to the penalization, how much traffic did the "general sporting goods store" get in relationship to the other niche specific sites.

How strong is the branding of your general sporting goods store compared to the individual niche sites?

How does the backlink profile of the general sporting goods store compare to the other sites?

If the product photos and descriptions on the niche sites are the same as on the main site, they might have been in competition with one another anyway. It's possible that setup may have been hurting your rankings for some specific products.

It may be a better idea to 301 the appropriate pages of the individual niche sites to the main sporting goods store. We know that google is giving more and more love to "brands" and to be honest, in your other promotional activities, it is going to be easier to promote one larger store than to promote 20 smaller stores.

I am just saying there is a possibility that google is dong you a long term favor / giving you a hint about what they want you to do by dinging your niche sites.

Uncle_DK




msg:4361536
 7:19 pm on Sep 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

walkman: Thanks for the reply and advice. Yes they are full featured and stand on their own. They actually are the sites we spend the most effort on and have (had) the best SERP's. Our general sporting goods site does not have good rankings (obviously because it's so general).


Planet13:
Thanks for the help and the inquiries.
Here is the message:

Dear site owner or webmaster of example.com,

We've detected that some of your site's pages may be using techniques that are outside Google's Webmaster Guidelines.

Specifically, your site may have what we consider to be doorway pages - groups of "cookie cutter" or low-quality pages. Such pages are often of low value to users and are often optimized for single words or phrases in order to channel users to a single location.

We believe that doorway pages typically create a frustrating user experience, and we encourage you to correct or remove any pages that violate our quality guidelines. Once you've made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.

If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.

Sincerely,

Google Search Quality Team


Our general sporting goods store does pretty well because it's our oldest, but a couple of our niche ones are far superior in rankings and sales. Backlinks are best to our niche stores because we work on them the most.

We really don't want to abandon our multi-site strategy. Customers like shopping on category specific sites and they tend to rank better. However there is always a fair bit of crossover product because many items are appropriate for all (think, sunglasses, clothing, accessories etc). We work hard to make each site content rich with unique articles, blogs, videos etc.

[edited by: tedster at 8:18 pm (utc) on Sep 12, 2011]
[edit reason] switch to example.com [/edit]

walkman




msg:4361544
 7:32 pm on Sep 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

Looks to me like they're telling you to consolidate them in one site.

Planet13




msg:4361665
 12:03 am on Sep 13, 2011 (gmt 0)

Hi there, Uncle_DK:

Thanks for the response.

I am surprised / pleased to hear that at least they EXPLAINED the reason to you. While what they did sucks, at least you know what their thinking was.

And you aren't cross-linking them to each other (or the main site), right? And only SOME of the products appear on more than one site?

I can't offer any advice, because your operations are much more sophisticated than I have had to deal with.

the only thing I could suggest is to possibly bring your case to the google webmaster tools forums and hope that a googler checks in and helps out. I don't know how likely that is, but it is possible.

but I would just suggest that with all the changes we have seen with google lately, I wouldn't be surprised if this is something of a harbinger of things to come.

I hope this helps but would definitely get a second or third opinion before doing anything.

walkman




msg:4361682
 1:17 am on Sep 13, 2011 (gmt 0)

I think Google wants you to have one site, and that sucks since you have killer domain names. (I looked at the site before it was removed. It is a 100% legitimate site in all aspects--as far as the user sees.)

trakkerguy




msg:4361693
 2:42 am on Sep 13, 2011 (gmt 0)

@Uncle_DK - Is the same message I received when they hit 6 of my sites on July 28th, and 2 more a few weeks later.

Although you don't specify, I am guessing you have the same -50 penalty. Do you see your former top ranking keywords now showing your sites around #50 or lower?

Like you, my sites were standalone stores that sold a subset of the products on my main site (which didn't get hit).

Google has really stepped up the use of manual penalties to weed out sites, and like always there is collateral damage.

Some of my sites could be seen as thin and didn't provide much value other than a good store, so I can understand a little why G thinks they should be tossed out and made to pay for adwords, but there is a pretty fuzzy grey line there IMO.

Anwyays, I did submit a reconsideration request for my best site 10 days ago, but no luck so far. I would suspect you might have better luck though.

Sgt_Kickaxe




msg:4361695
 3:02 am on Sep 13, 2011 (gmt 0)

I wonder if this is tied to Google's tracking of social networks. My Google account tells me I am connected to over 500 people, 499 of them I don't know, 475 of them now banned accounts by Twitter, none of them added by me.

Why would someone go to such lengths to get "connected" with my twitter (and thus Google) account but never send me a message and what did they do to get banned?

Not completely related, I know, but maybe it is. We'd have to know more about how google is using social signals to be sure.

P.S. if ANYONE knows how to delete "connected" accounts in your google profile I'm all ears, the instructions tell me to get rid of the "connections" themselves, ie disconnect the links, but the accounts are a)banned and b)not mine but they are still registering...

I'm considering unhooking Google completely and starting from scratch, adding just what I have full control over.

Planet13




msg:4361698
 3:43 am on Sep 13, 2011 (gmt 0)

Well, this whole thing smells rotten to me...

the thought that you could start a niche specific site, do well with it, start another niche specific site, then some more, and then get penalized for it is... well... quite frankly stupid.

If I wanted hockey skates and a new graphite stick, then I would much prefer to see niche hockey equipment sites than a large "sports" site.

One other question: Are you possibly using the same google pay account for all the sites (assuming you take google pay / google checkout / whatever it is called)?

tedster




msg:4361703
 4:10 am on Sep 13, 2011 (gmt 0)

I agree that it smells rotten - that is IF we've got the analysis right. I'm not certain that's the case.

Over the past year, I've come across this inscrutable "doorway page" message a couple times, and it hasn't seemed to apply very well in two of the cases. Especially the "some of your site's pages..." part. My first reaction was that they had a new algorithm and it was misfiring.

In one of the cases where we got that message, there was a penalty but it was removed a month later with NO changes to the site... mostly because we couldn't find anything to change. In another case, there never was any penalty. In yet another case, one that I just heard of (so my analysis isn't as complete), it seemed to me that the penalty they got was related to other factors and not the "doorway page" issue that the message talked about.

There have been a number of confused webmasters posting in Google's Webmaster Help Forum about the doorway page message, but I have not seen a Google rep chime in -- nor I have I seen any consensus in those threads.

So I'm not (yet) willing to take on the conclusion that having sites in more than one niche is a practice that's under the Google gun, and they're using the "doorway page" excuse as their weapon of choice. For me, the jury is still out on that particular leap.

Planet13




msg:4361719
 4:51 am on Sep 13, 2011 (gmt 0)

So I'm not (yet) willing to take on the conclusion that having sites in more than one niche is a practice that's under the Google gun, and they're using the "doorway page" excuse as their weapon of choice. For me, the jury is still out on that particular leap.


Thanks for the voice of reason, tedster, because if google WERE punishing sites due to them having the same owner, then that would probably result in webmasters performing a massive slash and burn of their pages and sites.

dstiles




msg:4362123
 9:15 pm on Sep 13, 2011 (gmt 0)

> massive slash and burn of their pages and sites.

Or at least as likely: blocking googlebot and all its foul ilk.

Not long ago google forced us to spin off new sites when they killed international traffic with their "geo-location" rubbish. Now the surmise is they may be telling us to reduce the number of domains? Hah!

Uncle_DK




msg:4364238
 1:24 pm on Sep 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

Hello Everyone,

Thank you all for the feedback. Sorry I have not had a chance to reply back earlier. We have been scrambling all week to get 1 of our sites ready for reconsideration.

@trakkerguy. Yep, we did receive the -50 penalty just as you describe.

We have decided to start with our inline skates site and here is what we have done:
1. Canonicaled our outlet section (sale.#*$!.net) back to our www pages.
2. Removed all duplicate products from our other properties, including the general site.
3. 301'd a complete site as it was a subset of this site's product
4. Changed up our product data and our templates on each site a bit to stop them from being so cookie cutter (to a comparison tool anyway).
5. Removed all references to our general sporting goods store including all resource\image calls to that domain.


We continue to consider canonicalizing all pages to the appropriate page on the strongest domain, however we feel that would be abandoning our natural search strategy for those domains which in essence means abandoning a successful business strategy. This will also take some time to develop and we are running out of that since we do 50% of our annual business in the next 3 months.

Previous to this penalty, this inline skate site ranked #1 or #2 for most of the appropriate keyword phrases for over 2 years (and rightfully so relative to our competition). Several of our other properties had even better SERP's in their respective categories so we are trying to take any chances on this reconsideration.

We will be submitting this site for reconsideration today and I will post back here on any news. Thank you all again for the excellent feedback and support.

Panthro




msg:4364293
 3:37 pm on Sep 19, 2011 (gmt 0)

Will be interested to see if there is any response. I wonder if it wouldn't be easier to just start from scratch with the same strategy.

robdwoods




msg:4413289
 11:11 pm on Feb 1, 2012 (gmt 0)

I'm obviously coming very late to this thread and I've been dealing with the same issue since late last Aug.

@Uncle_DK what do you think may have been the factors that tied the sites together? Same IP, Whois info, analytics IDs, AdSense IDs, webmaster tools accounts, etc.?

We have been successful in getting one site out of the penalty. I'd be interested in whether anyone else has managed to recover any of the sites that were hit.

jsherloc




msg:4413613
 6:42 pm on Feb 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

Holy crap, stuff like this is seriously scary...good lord. I was reading up about this happening to SEVERAL folks, more so recently as others have mentioned.

I don't understand how a company can have an entire department(s) to optimizing and grouping accounts for webmasters (adsense, wmt, analytics, etc), but those same tools offered by the company could possibly DIRECTLY tank your web properties when used together if you perhaps start ranking for "good" keywords with several different sites using those Google tools.

And all of this could then be occurring outside of the fact that your sites could very well be the "relative" best results for those specific search queries? What if you have teams of writers and want to cover different personal angles/approaches in a specific niche by using different websites? Things just get more clear every day in the internet marketing world I tell ya.

@Panthro, I'd probably agree with you judging by some of the things I am seeing lately

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