Google Vows Renewed Look At Cloaking In 2011

Matt's Cloaking TweetThe head of Google spam fighting team, Matt Cutts, has tweeted that Google will be looking more at cloaking in the first quarter of 2011, perhaps with more clarification of what exactly cloaking is.

Cloaking, which is against Google’s webmaster guidelines, is defined by Google as follows:

Cloaking refers to the practice of presenting different content or URLs to users and search engines. Serving up different results based on user agent may cause your site to be perceived as deceptive and removed from the Google index.

Matt’s tweet read:

Google will more at cloaking in Q1 2011. Not just page content matters; avoid different headers/redirects to Googlebot instead of users.

Honestly, I thought Google already did a good job with detecting cloaking of different headers and redirects, and of course cloaking content. But I guess I was wrong. It is hard to tell exactly what Matt meant in the 136 characters he posted on Twitter. It is leading to a lot of concern in a WebmasterWorld and Cre8asite Forums threads.

So if you are doing any cloaking and getting away with it, I guess you may have to be on the lookout.

Postscript From Danny Sullivan: Over the years, Google has (in my view) redefined some things that would have been considered cloaking in the past to be acceptable, such as its First Click Free program. This has lead, again in my view, to some confusion. For some background on this, please see:

Personally, I’ve long wanted Google to take a less technical approach to examining cloaking (and whether it should be banned) and rather more one of intention. That would help with cases where people end up innocently cloaking and getting penalized, as Google had to penalize itself last year:

Meanwhile, one thing that’s been long on my follow-up list is whether the system that Perfect Market uses to list pages specifically for Google and send people from Google to those pages is cloaking. I wrote about this in more depth last year in my Search Engines + Newspapers: Perfect Market’s Delivery System Aims To Please Both story.

My view was that it was cloaking, since something special was being done just for Google (regardless of whether users saw the same thing coming from Google). Cutts was away on vacation when this came up, and we’ve just not had a chance to connect further on this since then. I’m on vacation myself now, but I’ll follow up on this after the New Year, as well as more about what else Google may be planning in terms of cracking down on cloaking.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | Google: Web Search | SEO: Cloaking & Doorway Pages | Top News


About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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  • Jaan Kanellis

    Besides Google First Click what is the best way to get paid content indexed in Google without using cloaking?

  • Peter Gregory

    Just a heads up but your link to webmaster world is broken

  • William Cross

    Jaan, without using First Click Free, there is no way besides cloaking that I know of.

  • Joel Krigsman

    We’ve noticed that Google is ‘capturing’ 302 redirects – probably in an effort to stop webmasters abusing users (302′s will stay in the SERP so can deliver traffic to undesired pages). Not sure if it’s part of this combatting cloaking thing.

    See the second half of this blog/video:

    Results are very inconsistent so far. Has anyone else seen it?

  • Humphrey Bogart

    So, for websites that require a login or subscription to access full content, is first click free program the only way to avoid cloaking? I assume allowing google to index full content but 302 redirecting non subscribers to preview content would be considered cloaking.

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