Catching Up with Cloaking

August 3, 2006

Topics: Search Marketing.

The title of this post is, for lack of a better phrase, a joke. Really, there is no catching up from a month away from search engine news. I’ve done my fair share of prioritizing and I’m still left with a mountain of extremely interesting writing to read and the firm knowledge that more will be published tomorrow. As I said, there is no catching up.

So, rather than attempting to catch up, I’m just going to jump directly into the present. I’m reading posts which I really want to read; but making no attempt to actually cover the entire month of news. It’s a lost cause!

So what’s interesting to me today? Well, in a bit of a change from my usual fare, I’m currently reading a very interesting post on I Hate Google.org. I Hate Google.org is a SEO news blog run by one of the more well-respected and well-known "black hat" SEO experts around – Dan Kramer. He’s an expert on the black-hat method of cloaking a website – and his Definitive Guide to Cloaking is well worth reading.

The article is thorough, and discusses in detail the many valuable uses for cloaking. Cloaking is not, by itself, an "evil" technique. It has applications which are ethically questionable when it comes to search engine marketing; but it also has applications which are useful and helpful. Google itself makes use of cloaking methods when it automatically re-directs a European user to the most appropriate edition of their index.

Dan provides a great quote about the ethics of cloaking:

Cloaking ethics are a hot topic on many webmaster discussion forums. On one hand you have arguments by so-called "white-hat" webmasters who say we have a responsibility to tell the truth about our websites to search engine spiders. On the other hand you have "black-hat" webmasters who say they are only trying to keep their competitors from seeing their optimized HTML. Search engines have made their stance clear as mud by forbidding cloaking and then allowing it in some cases.

The ethics question has become thoroughly muddled, I think, because of the black/white dichotomy it’s usually presented in. Cloaking is not wrong – what is wrong is delivering different content to a human visitor than to a search engine. Delivering different content to a German search engine than to an English human, on the other hand, should be just fine – as long as your German visitors are seeing the same thing the German search engine is. I think that the most important question is what you, as a site owner, are using cloaking to do – and I highly recommend reading through Dan’s article to understand more about what it is you’re doing, and where you could be putting your business at risk.

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