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Monday, June 19, 2006

New York Times and Cloaking

Search Engine Watch reports that The New York Times website is using a blackhat search engine optimization technique called “cloaking,” which makes a site send different content to the Googlebot as it does to human visitors (a technique Google explicitly frowns upon*). When we search for friedman, we’ll see the phrase “... Friedman is doing the same sort of pandering as the politicians he is criticizing when ...” in the snippet to the second result. But this phrase isn’t appearing anywhere on the page (or in the page’s meta description) when we click on it – instead, we get a redirect and the message “To continue reading this article, you must be a subscriber to TimesSelect” (a message which, in turn, cannot be found in Google when searching the NYT site).

Danny Sullivan writes:

Isn’t this cloaking – serving different pages to a search engine and an individual web browser? Yes, it is.

Although both Google and Yahoo warn against cloaking, [Marshall Simmonds, SEO worker for NYT] says both companies are aware of what the Times is doing, and apparently condone the practice.

“They want the content, and they’re very interested in displaying it,” says Marshall.

Whether or not this is cloaking I can’t tell as I don’t know what the NYT shows to Googlebots at this moment. Accessing the page posing as a Googlebot user agent returned the same temporary redirect to the “please pay” page when I tried. And as the NYT disallows Google to show a public cache of their site, we don’t know what Google saw at the time of indexing. So there’s a chance the page changed in the time between it was indexed and now, but if that’s not the case, then this is indeed cloaking – and worthy of a Google ban for The New York Times.

*Quote Google’s webmaster guidelines: “Don’t employ cloaking or sneaky redirects.”

[Thanks Manoj Nahar.]


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