How Do Doorway and Startpages Differ?

    July 5, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

There’ve been some fine lines walked lately by Google’s Webspam team. Not too long ago, it was paid links reporting, and now the line is between startpages and doorway pages. The definitions are quite similar, but Google says it’s all about intent, which makes the argument reminiscent of the art versus indecency squabbles of the past.

How Do Doorway and Startpages Differ?
How Do Doorway and Startpages Differ?

The debate begins with the Irish branch of Google’s Search Quality Team and a posting about how to create good startpages, which, says Selina and Jos, have been popular in the Dutch market for some time.

They define a startpage as:

…a webpage with a lot of links about a specific topic. The startpages are hosted on a startpage domain and each separate startpage is maintained by an individual webmaster. The links on startpages are usually ordered by categories related to the topic of the page. Besides hyperlinks, startpages often contain text, animations and pictures.

But hang on a second, says InformationWeek blogger Thomas Claburn in a blog post titled "Is Google’s Spam Fight a Sham?", a title just begging for a response from anti-webspam commander Matt Cutts, who we’ll get to shortly.

"In practice," writes Claburn, "a doorway page looks like…well, a Web page with a lot of links about a specific topic."

And Google has been highly punitive of doorway pages, as they have historically been used for spamdexing the search engine to manipulate search results. Claburn also questions AdSense for Domains, which is the topic of the latest Google lawsuit, labeling the practice of putting ads on parked domains "a spam service."

Cutts responded with a blog post on the subject, the snarky tone of which comes just short of calling Claburn a major tool. (He doesn’t call him that, of course. See: Cutts’ Guide to Corporate Blogging.)

"I had a bunch of spam-related work to do this morning," writes Cutts, presumably wiping the sweat from his brow in mid-knee-bend, "so I just dashed out a 15 minute reply."

"It makes sense that you’re not familiar with start pages; they’re much more common in Dutch. That’s why the second half of the post was in Dutch. Over half of Google’s traffic is from outside the U.S., so it’s only natural that we communicate about quality and spam in other languages — I believe we’re the only major U.S. search engine that does so.

"Google provides guidance in lots of non-English markets about individual practices in that market. For example, link exchanges are more popular in Polish and French than in English. I wouldn’t expect you to know that, but we pay attention to spam trends in lots of different languages, employ algorithms to counter webspam, and additionally try to communicate with webmasters and site owners to prevent spam in the first place."

If you’re not familiar with Southern US language nuances, that was a polite way to say "kiss it."
He also delves into the AdSense for Domains issue, too, which you can read at the blog. 

To be fair, on the surface it does seem the two would be difficult to distinguish via technical definition. But just like on the issue of decency, one might know spam when he sees it. Spam emails, spam blogs, spam comments, are almost universally simple to distinguish from the real deal, and that’s what the issue sounds like here too.

On the original Webmaster Central post that brought these questions before the court, Selina and Jos spell out startpage guidelines that will keep them from being tagged as webspam. They’re actually quite similar to Google’s guidelines in general:

1.    Create content for users, not search engines, with no hidden text, using full sentences instead of keyword strings.

2.    Keep content on-topic, using anchor text with every link that is relevant to that topic.

3.    "Don’t create startpages out of commercial intent or for the sole purpose of exchanging links. Of course there is nothing wrong with trying to monetize your startpage, but a page with only banners and affiliate links is not the best user experience and therefore not recommended. The same goes for startpages that are created as part of a link network."