In Defense of Search Engine Cloaking

In SearchDay #33, I wrote about "cloaking" -- 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, cloaking is the classic "bait and switch" technique applied to the web.

The major search engines take a dim view of cloaking, for obvious reasons. If they catch a site using IP or agent delivery, most search engines will ban it permanently from the index. So it's a risky tactic for webmasters to use, even if they feel it's justified.

Reader Len Ferns disagrees with the search engines' policies on cloaking. He writes:

There is a very good reason for cloaking and for
redirection and it has nothing to do with deception.

A real example.

The province (or state) amalgamates a town and it's
surrounding area into a new town name (and supplies
money for a new webpage). The town already has a web
page with a well known .com or .net etc. The reeve
wants a new .net or .com domain for the new website,
but he wants a slow transition to the new name because
of all the political flack.

So he wants the both domains to work and bring up the
same page. (The new page put where the old site was. It
really is the same place.) The old name is for those
who already know where the site is, and the new name is
because people are starting to get used to the new
name, and the province wont pay if the new name doesn't

That's two domains pointing to one site (and they are
still... basically the same place). How else do you do
that but cloaking and redirection?

There is nothing deceptive about it. It's completely
legitimate and done as a public service to the past and
present... But the search engines figure they have
every reason for every action... all figured out. And
there is no way of reaching them to mention what you
are trying to do.

They educate you to believe that the engines are
morally correct to demand a large amount of content
right on the index page, like efficiency is some kind
of morally correct goal, rather than a way to
justify quickly done content-rich visual garbage!!!

The heavy-info index page may be content rich, but it
is stylistically bankrupt. I would not read a book
with all the content on the front cover. So, why
would I beat people over the head on my opening index

I realize search engines do these things because of
their own technical limitations and their lack of
vision, but surely they should revamp and try to stop
limiting the Internet.

Do anti-cloaking policies limit the Net? Are the engines pushing "morally correct" design standards on to the web community? If you have another opinion, use the feedback form and sound off. I'll publish the most interesting comments in a future issue of SearchDay.

Feedback Form
Be sure to put "Comment on cloaking" as the subject.

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.

FAST Gets a Facelift

Super Searcher Gary Price writes, "Last week Danny Sullivan in Search Engine Watch mentioned that some changes to AlltheWeb.Com were coming. These changes are now online and ready for you to try.

"First, the home page has received a makeover along with the search results page now providing direct links (where applicable) to related content via other FAST search indexes. This new feature is called the "side bar". For example a search on "James Taylor" includes a "side bar" with links to image and video content. Likewise, a search from the FAST Pictures database will also contain top ranked results from the text database.

"Gone from the home page is a pull-down box to limit your search to "all the words", "any of the words", or "the exact phrase". In its location is a menu to limit your search to a specific language. Also the results page now contains a link to a "offensive content reduction" filter.

"Finally, FAST will now provide "search tips" with "suggestions on how to improve your search". These new features, along with several others, can be turned on and off via the search customization page. Also overhauled is the Help page."

From The Virtual Acquisition Shelf & News Desk

Paid Inclusion Program, Other Changes Coming To FAST
FAST Search is launching a trial version of its paid inclusion program this month. Called "PartnerSite," the program guarantees that submitted pages will be included in FAST's web index.

Search Headlines

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

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.