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developed several websites for the sole purpose of ranking
All of the above is manipulative and that is what Google has been targeting.
That is one way to solve the problem of links causing a possible penalty, if that's the problem. But that leaves another potential problem in place. It perpetuates the issue of a network of sites for the purpose of directing traffic to another site. Not considered a recommended tactic either.
Doorway pages are typically large sets of poor-quality pages where each page is optimized for a specific keyword or phrase. In many cases, doorway pages are written to rank for a particular phrase and then funnel users to a single destination. Whether deployed across many domains or established within one domain, doorway pages tend to frustrate users.
...Some examples of doorways include:
•Having multiple domain names targeted at specific regions or cities that funnel users to one page