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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Does Google Allow Cloaking When They Like the Site?

Google’s Matt Cutts is on debunking duty lately – everything from “Google is in bed with the CIA” to “the Google Toolbar indexes your page” – but there’s one big rumor that hasn’t been touched yet; Google is unfairly allowing some websites they like to get away with cloaking, a tactic they say go against their basic quality principles. Cloaking basically means that the site will present something different to the search engine than to the user, causing really confusing search results (which show a snippet that will not appear on the page you click on – dozens of people here agreed this sucks).

Now, there are many sites which illustrate how Google doesn’t always catch cloaking, but that’s not the point... the point here is that the site in question is WebmasterWorld – try searching for e.g. php-based cms, and check the results – a PageRank 8 site we know is known to Matt Cutts and Google, if for no other fact then that Matt Cutts links to it from time to time. And also, there may be many pervasive reasons why it makes sense for WebmasterWorld to use this tactic; again, that’s not the point, I wish them all the best (it’s a cool webmaster board!)... but it’s still against Google’s webmaster guidelines, so, let’s have the same rules for everyone in the purportedly rather neutral (US*) Google results.

*Needless to say that many non-US results aren’t very neutral to begin with, the Google China case being the most obvious example.

Update: Technically, this may not be cloaking because the registration page is on a different URL than the content page. However, Google in their webmaster guidelines specifically also warn of using “sneaky redirects”. To end users, it’s all the same: sometimes they are not seeing the text from the result snippet on the page they are being redirected to, causing a search result that sucks, and Google so far doesn’t do anything to prevent this. [Thanks Phil Craven!]

Update 2: Google and WebmasterWorld have reacted on the debate.


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