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I'm not sure exactly what these "filler pages" are called, so I couldn't do a proper search.

If I have a business, say a plumbing/heating company in NYC, and I created these HTML pages:

New-York-City-plumbing-company.html
Manhattan-plumbing-company.html
Brooklyn-plumbing-company.html

New-York-City-heating-service.html
Manhattan-heating-service.html
Brooklyn-heating-service.html

and the content for each page type was the same, except the name of the city/neighborhood changed, i.e.

<h1>[Neighborhood] Plumbing Company</h1>
<p>description of plumbing service</p>

<h1>[Neighborhood] Heating Service</h1>
<p>description of heating service</p>

Would this be helpful, harmful, or neutral in terms of SEO? I'm a little afraid Google might see that 95% of the content is the same, minus the name of the neighborhood, and punish my site for it.

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That sounds like a really bad idea. This clearly is just for the sake of manipulating your search results. That's a big no-no. –  John Conde Mar 10 at 19:17
    
@JohnConde what if the content for each page were different? Different images and text so that < 50% of the text was reused? –  andrewtweber Mar 10 at 19:18
    
That's a grey area. I'd advise against it as it isn't worth risking a ban or penalty. –  John Conde Mar 10 at 19:20
    
@JohnConde Thanks. Too bad, I thought I was being really clever! –  andrewtweber Mar 10 at 19:28
1  
@andrewtweber One of the great things about the search results from google now is that it displays local business from google maps. So in this case, if you have a physical location, creating a listing on google plus / maps would help you out greatly trying to achieve what you want. Search for "plumbing" and you'll see results from the maps. Create a listing here google.com/business/placesforbusiness see a –  guisasso Mar 10 at 19:53

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Google has a specific guideline against creating filler pages. They call it "doorway pages".

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.

Therefore, Google frowns on practices that are designed to manipulate search engines and deceive users by directing them to sites other than the one they selected, and that provide content solely for the benefit of search engines. Google may take action on doorway sites and other sites making use of these deceptive practices, including removing these sites from Google’s index.

Some examples of doorways include:

  • Having multiple domain names targeted at specific regions or cities that funnel users to one page
  • Templated pages made solely for affiliate linking
  • Multiple pages on your site with similar content designed to rank for specific queries like city or state names

Note that their last example specifically matches the example that you gave.

If you can tailor the site experience for users from these specific neighborhoods, then it doesn't sound like a bad idea to me. You would have to:

  • Get content that would be interesting specifically to the targeted users.
    • feature testimonials from customers in that neighborhood
    • put information that is specific to that neighborhood such as any delivery charges
    • give deals, discounts, or coupon codes that can be used by customers from that neighborhood
  • Differentiate the page from other neighborhood pages
    • Make sure that a significant portion of the content on each page is unique to that page (more than half)
    • Make sure that the portion that is "above the fold" looks different from page to page
    • Pictures specific to each page can really help
  • Avoid funneling users to a single other page.
    • Avoid phrases like "click here to continue to our home page"
    • Ensure that there are multiple links, forms, or calls to action on that page, similar to how your homepage is built.
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Nowadays, it sounds like a terrible idea. Please be aware of:

  1. Using keywords in URL is old-fashioned and more spammy than helpful for SEO
  2. Reuse content which is present in several pages will most probably lead to a penalty by search engines

Here are tips to optimize your site:

  1. Create your homepage with a <title> and a <h1> like Plumbing and heating on New York City (the best keywords for this page)
  2. Create a good page to optimize the Plumbing keyword and another for the Heating keyword
  3. Sign in to Places for business from Google and optimize your page with keywords (pay attention to respect guidelines)
  4. Sign in to sites which present local businesses like Yelp
  5. Leave some good comments from blog about New York City by posting a link to your site
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