How do I make sure my location pages don’t get a Google penalty, I hear you say.
Users that have read my previous blog on the size of local search know that 46% of all search is now local. But how to you take advantage of the local search channel and avoid getting a Google Doorway Page Penalty?
Tip 1: Google see location pages differently within its algorithm…sometimes!
We get asked about Google penalties and location pages a lot as Google is very good at telling you what not to do, but not very good a telling you exactly what you need to do. They also regularly update their guidelines and advice, so often what was relevant a few years ago is now out of date. However, over the past few years, Google have released snippets of information on how their algorithm for location based search works and how you can structure your location pages to ensure they rank well organically and do not cause you a doorway page penalty.
Back in 2015, John Mueller of Google shared on a Google Webmasters Hangout that Google see’s location pages differently and therefore the same penalties that an eCommerce site may get for doorway pages are not relevant for location based content.
A major catalyst for Google treating location based content and pages differently was the launched the Hummingbird update in 2013. Hummingbird brought with it a sea-change in the way Google was trying to interpret user queries by translating semantic search. In layman’s terms, Google wanted to ensure if could decipher location based search key terms like best thai restaurant near me, rather than display results for the best places for people to live in Thailand or other irrelevant information, one of the many reasons why Google see location based content differently.
Knowing that Google see’s location page differently gives you the licence to create specific location pages to target different areas and geo-locations for your product or service. Using schema mark-up code, including reviews and featuring unique content about your service or product in the areas you serve customers are a great ways to start your strategy to target local search by making your content location specific.
Tip 2: Structure Your Pages So They Are Not Classified As Doorway Pages
So you know Google see’s location based pages and content differently, but how do you avoid the trap of a doorway page penalty. When you read the Google Guidelines doorway pages, there are actually three factors that Google look for in determining whether a page is a doorway page and taking one element of their policy alone can be miss-leading:
– Having multiple domain names or pages targeted at specific regions or cities that funnel users to one page
– Pages generated to funnel visitors into the actual usable or relevant portion of your site(s)
– Substantially similar pages that are closer to search results than a clearly defined, browseable hierarchy
A key point of information is the intro paragraph on the Google guideline page states: “They are bad for users because they can lead to multiple similar pages in user search results, where each result ends up taking the user to essentially the same destination. They can also lead users to intermediate pages that are not as useful as the final destination.” Therefore, the very nature of your location pages must be to provide all the answers a customers needs to make their purchase decision on that one page. So a thin page with very little content that’s not really relevant to your category, together with an address or phone number is going to look like a funnel page. Its going to look even more like a funnel page if the primary objective is to send the user to another contents page.
Tip 3: Quality of Content Makes A Big Difference
OK, so you know the structure of what the page needs to look like to avoid a Google Doorway Page Penalty. But what do you feature on the page itself? Googles own content quality guidelines state:
-Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
-Don’t deceive your users.
-Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
-Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.
Every page of content you create has to have the user at the forefront and should be written in a way to answer most of the immediate questions someone would have about your service or product in a specific location. To help you write the copy, its always a good idea to interview 5 people and asked what questions they had about your service or product, and make sure these are included in the page contents. Not only page structure, but your contents on the page will define whether it gets seen as a doorway page or not by Google.
Do you have more questions?
My goal in writing this article was to have a resource to point people to when they had basic questions abut local search and how to ensure you never get a penalty. In talking to companies large and small everyone ones to avoid a Google penalty, but with a methodical and thought out local search strategy, it should never be a worry.
Do you have more questions about location based apges and avoiding a Google penalty? If so, I’d be happy to address them in the comments. I also would love for those of you who are experienced with dealing with local search strategies to comment as well.