Subscribe to our newsletter

Get the State of Digital Newsletter
Join an elite group of marketers receiving the best content in their mailbox
Help us understand what topics we should be writing about!
We would like to help you get the best content for your role
* = required field
I want the...

What alerts do you want to receive?

What topics do you most like to read about?

Google’s not so Phantom Update


A few months ago (March) Google made clear that Doorway pages might be getting some ‘heat’ with an upcoming update. And whenever Google announces something like this, many webmasters hold their breath and watch the rankings.

On Thursday the 7th of May Search Metrics updated their data. The biggest losing site (aside of ones that have been moved) was Voucher Cloud, equally this week nearly all of the largest voucher websites have seen a decline. This even includes Google’s VC funded vouchercodes.co.uk. Before we go any further, this isn’t an ousting story, but an exploration of why.

See the drops, shown below in Search Metrics:


The Theory

Voucher Code sites are notoriously, badly structured – with lots of cross links between retailer pages, they nearly all lack a clear categorized manner to navigate from the homepage to any retailer within the site.

On the 15th of March, this year Google announced there was an update coming relating to Doorway pages, Google Webmaster Guidelines were also updated at the same time. The blog post, located here, suggests webmasters ask themselves a multitude of questions regarding their own website to determine whether it might be affected.

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?

Well the retailer pages are an integral part of the sites user experience. So we can safely say they are essential. The site would not be a site without them.

Are the pages intended to rank on generic terms yet the content presented on the page is very specific?

Again a voucher site is after very specific voucher terms such as ‘asos discount code’, ‘asos voucher codes’ etc etc. No issue of going after very generic terms.

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?

YES! Not on every site, but a lot of sites present vouchers and offers in the categories pages, on the homepage and as ‘other relevant deals’ in each retailer page to.

Are these pages made solely for drawing affiliate traffic and sending users along without creating unique value in content or functionality?

They are for drawing affiliate traffic, but they do add value usually. I.e. the consumer saves some money on a purchase.

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?

Yes! Now this is the main fall down for many voucher sites. Yes they appear as islands, because Voucher Sites populate categories with offers and yes, those offers link to the retailer they are related to. But is every electronics retailer, clearly linked from the Electronics category – no. So there is a lack of structure within these sites.

Yes they are difficult to navigate to for the reasons mentioned above. Yes there are links to such pages form other pages within the site.

Although it may not be intentional – by not having a clear category > sub category > retailer structure, I speculate that these sites have been hit by this update finally rolling out.

How to Fix

Fixing these issues fortunately is very straightforward:

  • Make sure every retailer is linked from a category, or sub category. So you could easily navigate to any retailer using the path “Home > Category > Sub Category > Retailer”.
  • And also having a breadcrumb trail, throughout that demonstrates this hierarchy of content, with the use of schema mark up also.
  • If you can’t list all your retailers, paginate and use a meta robots noindex,follow after the front page along with rel next and prev.
  • I’d even suggest going as far as no longer displaying any offers/deals in the categories, but just a paginated merchant list with logos and intro text.

At the moment, both VC.co.uk and VC.com have these categories – but only link a select few merchants at any given time. The key is being able to navigate to all of them. In the instance of VoucherCloud, they then also link out to hundreds of thin pages e.g:


In this instance – the offers are repeated on unique pages, which are also duplicated on the merchant page (a separate Panda issue). As you can see from the breadcrumb, the Retailer doesn’t belong to a specific category making the site appear very flat to Google.

VoucherCodes.co.uk is different again, with a much cleaner site, but suffering with the same issues. All Voucher Sites cross link to other related merchants using widgets like this:


Which is fine and of course even important to bolster internal links to smaller brands, assisting them in ranking. However without the clear category structure I’ve repeated pitched throughout, added with this type of linking the sites really fall into the “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?” criteria.”

What are your thoughts?

Featured Image Photo Credit: paronsuren via Compfight cc



Anthony Shapley is a Freelance Digital Marketing Consultant, based in Southwest England, with 7 years experience working on some of the UK’s most popular websites. Follow him on Twitter.
  • I think it is unfair to say the “not so phantom update”. Whilst i absolutely agree that the example you give is the result of doorway pages, there have been a hell of a lot of ecommerce sites hit over the last few months, which utilise no doorway pages whatsoever. Google has now confirmed there has been a major tweak regarding how it analyses onsite content.

    • sharithurow

      Maybe…Google is not clear in defining what a “doorway page” is and is not.

      There is a legitimate need for brand pages on commerce sites, as many online shoppers do filter by brand. I observe this on department store sites a lot.

  • sharithurow

    The main problem with that site is an unclear architecture and corresponding navigation system (in addition to substandard content and mismanagement of duplicate content delivery).

    Please keep in mind that a clear, good architecture is not always a strict hierarchy.