Stefanie Olsen had a great News.com article out yesterday talking about how National Public Radio is turning its audio content into textual transcripts in an effort to gain better visibility with search engines.
Unfortunately, the same technique appears to be putting NPR in the position of cloaking content, something that got WhenU thrown out of indexes at Google and Yahoo earlier this month with much publicity.
Google has long warned against cloaking, showing its spider content that a regular user can't see. NPR's method of showing transcripts does exactly this, as the longer version of this article for Search Engine Watch members explains in more depth.
I'm waiting for comment from Google about this and will update when that comes. The company confirmed a relationship with NPR in the News.com story, so they are likely aware of the cloaking that is happening.
As a searcher, I'm actually glad the method is being used. It does mean I'm more likely to find audio content of interest. Moreover, I can listen to that for free via the NPR site.
As a search engine marketer, I'm not so thrilled. I'm well aware that many other companies would like the ability to feed Google content in this manner. In addition, they have just as compelling arguments as NPR about having good content that isn't adequately indexed by the Google crawler. Unfortunately, they're denied the privilege of feeding relevant material just to Google's crawler.
What about Yahoo? Anyone can enjoy the same benefits that NPR has, the ability to cloak content when relevant, through Yahoo's content acquisition program. Non-profit organizations are offered this for free. Commercial organizations have to pay, making use of Yahoo's trusted feed program.
For more background on cloaking, and especially how paid inclusion programs have allowed it, see my article from last year, Ending The Debate Over Cloaking. For more on multimedia searching, including the challenges it poses to search engines, see our Multimedia Search Engines page.