Search Engine Cloaking: The Controversy Continues

In SearchDay #46, reader Len Ferns wrote in defense of cloaking, taking issue with the search engines' policies on the issue. Many of you responded with thoughtful comments of your own. Thanks to everyone who responded -- here are some of the more interesting reader responses to Mr. Ferns.

Gord Gemmell
Having had limited success with the search engines when trying to deliver relevant content, I personally do not see what all the flap about IP Delivery is all about. I think that the search engines have a right to do what they wish with their sites. After all, what would you do if somebody or a large body of people tried to deceptively alter the results of your website?

Robin Nobles
Cloaking solves problems created by many design issues, and it allows you to give the engines what they want to see (simple, text-based pages) and give the users what they want to see (a beautifully designed site). If done correctly and legitimately, there isn't a single thing wrong with a cloaked page, and that's the truth. In the past, some of the engine reps have even admitted that they know that there are certain instances when cloaking is needed.

Like doorway pages, cloaking has gotten a bad name, which is regretful. My philosophy is, rather than ban these strategies, let's concentrate on doing them correctly and being above board. When it comes right down to it, we're all after the same thing: relevant results.

Mike Hembrey
I totally understand Len Ferns' position. Our product lines (for the visually impaired) are the result of the merger of three companies, each with a separate web identity. If the spiders ignore redirects, a visually impaired (a.k.a. blind) person misses the opportunity to evaluate products that may help them become employed in the "mainstream". However, I believe the "home" page -must- relate to the underlying core of the web site. Otherwise, a child typing "Winnie The Pooh" could conceivably end up on adult (a.k.a. porn) sites.

Jill Whalen
I don't get why cloaking needs to be involved in this situation. Why not do what everyone else does? That is, park the new domain at the same IP address as the old domain. This should simply solve the problem as stated, and not cause a problem with the search engines. Many sites that choose a new domain name do this without a hitch (my own site included). I think you're making things much more complicated than they need to be.

John Billian
More often that not the main reason people cloak is to SPAM. Show the engine one page stuffed with keyword rich text while showing the public something else. This is the reason Search Engines look down on cloaking and rightly so. Basically for every 1 case that Len pointed out there's probably 100 that fall into the SPAM category so it's probably a good idea for the SE's to hold on to their no-cloaking stance.

George Crissman
Properly developed web sites -- those that follow the HTML definitions established by the World Wide Web Consortium -- are exactly the types of sites that rank well in the search engines. Misusing the HTML causes a low ranking ... and attempting to increase the ranking with cloaking fails to address the real issue: poor use of basic HTML tags.

The need for cloaking comes from a lack of skill in creating documents using HTML and associated standard technologies. The search engines have a good point in resisting cloaking, but they are too gracious to come right out and say "Your need to cloak is caused by poor site design."

Amy Engler
A site I'm working on is about to be re-architected and redone. It is very large -- thousands of pages. But so many of the pages have already been registered with search engines and indexes, and hundreds of other sites link to many of the pages. What does one do in this situation, besides redirects? I can't think of any efficient way to contact every search engine, index and site to inform them that page URLs have changed.

Shaun Ricci
Clearly there are legitimate cases to use cloaking. However, more often than not it is a technique used by ourselves to draw traffic. The search engines must draw the line somewhere, if they start to look at every cloaking case separately this would take forever, and would cost money (I don't want to pay higher submission prices).

"Digital Ghost"
There are ethical ways to use cloaking. If you have a page that ranks well and wish to hide the source from prying eyes cloaking is one of the few options that works. Cloaking also allows you the freedom to create a perfectly optimized page for the search engines while maintaining the design integrity of a site.

The problem is, webmasters will not remain responsible. Rather than use a technique to improve the overall quality of the web, webmasters will exploit every technique they find until the search engines find a way to eliminate the exploit. Sadly, since cloaking is effective, it will be abused effectively.

Original Article: What Search Engines See Isn't Always What You Get
Cloaking is a technique used by some webmasters to deliver one page to a
search engine for indexing, while serving an entirely different page to
everyone else -- in short, the classic bait and switch technique applied
to the web.

SearchDay #46 - In Defense of Search Engine Cloaking
Search engines with myopic vision are limiting the Web by enforcing politically correct and stylistically bankrupt policies, according to one disgruntled SearchDay reader.

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.