I’ve been spending a lot of time on the road, speaking at conferences and talking to marketers and business owners, and I’ve been having the “content” talk far too often lately. You know, the one that’s almost as awkward as sitting down with your kids to talk about the birds and the bees, but where you’re talking to a business owner and telling them that their last SEO agency duped them.
For some reason, more than ever before, it seems like most business owners (and many marketers) are equating content with SEO. It’s like suddenly, the only thing that matters is content, content, CONTENT. If multiple pages aren’t added to the site every month, then obviously, no SEO has been performed.
Hopefully, everyone reading this knows that the “content, content, CONTENT” play is way off-base. The problem is that most business owners don’t know, and many of us aren’t doing a sufficient job of educating business owners to show them why. If there’s a huge disconnect between what marketers know and business owners believe, we’re all going to have problems keeping clients.
So this month’s edition of Greg’s Soapbox is calling out the “content, content, CONTENT” play and showing why overloading on content is a bad strategy.
Lazy local content pages are usually doorway pages
In most cases, the local content play involves the monthly addition of “location” targeted pages to a website. Yes, this is a legitimate strategy when done correctly, but, in practice, most of the time the pages created are simply doorway pages. They’re thin pages without any useful content with the sole purpose of ranking in local searches.
Google calls those doorway pages and actually penalizes sites for using them. Yep, this is old news — the penalty rolled out in 2015 — but I’m seeing a resurgence of doorway pages in local SEO over the past few months. If your site or your potential client’s site has a ton of pages that aren’t included in any menu, and they’re all basically the same page with different cities listed on each iteration, you’ve got doorway pages.
Let’s look at the official Google support docs that talk about doorway pages:
Doorways are sites or pages created to rank highly for specific search queries. 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.
Here are some examples of doorways:
- 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, browsable hierarchy
Google’s early 2015 announcement about the Doorway Page Penalty is even more specific:
- Is the purpose to optimize for search engines and funnel visitors into the actual usable or relevant portion of your site, or are they an integral part of your site’s user experience?
- Do the pages duplicate useful aggregations of items (locations, products, etc.) that already exist on the site for the purpose of capturing more search traffic?
- Do these pages exist as an “island?” Are they difficult or impossible to navigate to from other parts of your site? Are links to such pages from other pages within the site or network of sites created just for search engines?
Since most of the low-quality local content pages clearly fail these questions, alerting business owners to these pages — and the possible penalty for having them — can go a long way toward helping them understand why continuing to push content pages out every month can be harmful.
It’s simple: are the pages there for humans?
If you’re a car dealer, and you’ve got 25 pages on your site about the 2017 Ford F-150, with each one targeting a different city, then you’re probably in bad shape. It’s likely that none of the pages are on your main menu, or even within one click of a main menu page. The pages probably all have the same photo of a truck and only a few sentences about how you sell that truck in that particular city.
Do these pages provide any value at all for an actual human? Absolutely not.
Even if you rewrite the content 25 times, they’re still useless. Sure, they’re not “duplicate” pages, but they’re repetitive pages. They all say exactly the same thing, only with a different city mentioned. There’s zero value there.
When you’re writing content for your site, or when your SEO agency is writing the content, you have to ask yourself if the content is being added to make your site better for users — or just to show up in search engines. If the thought process is “This will help me show up in searches in that city,” then your thought process is wrong.
You’re not going to gain more visibility in searches in other cities simply by adding a few lazy pages to your site. Period.
How many pages do you really need?
Many business owners I talk to ask the question, “How many pages do I need?” and the answer is simple. You need however many you need to answer your customers’ questions.
Simply adding 10 pages (or 15 pages, or 20 pages) of content a month won’t make your site any better than adding only a few poorly designed location or product pages.
In fact, your site will be infinitely better if you only add one or two quality pages every month. Once you’ve got your site where you need it, you don’t even need to keep adding pages! If you’ve decided to add 15 pages a month to your site, ask yourself where that number came from. Why 15? Why 20? What’s the strategy there, and what questions will you be answering?
Local SEO is not only content. Many of the factors that affect your local SEO success don’t even live on your website.
If you want to target other cities, it takes much more than creating a few repetitive location pages. For a detailed plan of a better way (involving content pages, blog posts, social media, and link building), check out my post from the summer of 2015 about Local Content Silos.
Let’s all work together to educate business owners (and wayward agencies) and stop the local content vomiting once and for all!
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.