Matt and the Cloak of Confusion

34 comments

Matt Cutts made a post earlier this weekend about cloaking, trying to clear up some confusion about the issue A quick word about cloaking

Cloaking is serving different content to users than to search engines. It’s interesting that you don’t see all that much cloaking to deliver spam these days. If you see people doing spam, they tend to rely on sneaky redirects (often via JavaScript) more than cloaking. For example, a blackhat might make a doorway or keyword stuffed/gibberish page plus something like a JavaScript redirect to go to a completely different page.

Hower 100+ comments later it's pretty obvious things are more confusing now more than ever. Danny chimes in with some suggestions for clearing things up

Danny Sullivan

First, Matt — enough. If your guidelines don’t already say it, get them updated to say that “In SOME cases if there’s cloaking — especially cloaking that’s not authorized — Google might ban a page or sites.”

There are times when Google wants to allow cloaking. No, Doug — cloaking is NOT always bad. There are times when a search engine may be perfectly happy showing a user something that is different than what a spider saw. I’ll leave it to Google to decide when this is the case, the right qualifiers immediately defuse the entire “they’re cheating — you aren’t being fair” stuff that continues to come up.

Second, people have been saying more and more they dislike seeing content show up in search results if registration is required. Skip the “is that cloaking or not” argument here (I think I ended up agreeing it wasn’t last time we had this go around). It’s damn annoying. I ran a subscription site once. I would have loved an easy mechanism to feed those pages to Google without giving away the content to users. So let the registration people in. And then make sure those types of pages are clearly identified. And let searchers choose to disable seeing these pages in the search results, if they want.

Matt — I’m begging here. Don’t let this end as another case-by-case type of thing. Another argument over cloaking, covering the same issues we’ve had for years, it’s doing my head in.

Comments

"Best Practices for Publishers"

I see Matt mentioning "Best Practices for Publishers" too!

Which could be an updated and improved version of the current "Webmaster Guidelines".

Do No Evil My Ass

Either interstitial login/captcha is OK across the board or not, which means the NYT, CNN and others besides WMW would be on notice.

The only point I kept trying to make which fell on deaf ears is WMW doesn't require everyone to login, only those in big scraper and botnet areas. Others get 100% free access to the site without interruption.

If Google can tell you to stop doing things that are designed to stop attacks that bring the server down, then many shops will just close their doors instead of continuing to fight a no-win scenario.

Don't forget it was only a year ago Matt posted telling people how to login to WMW for FREE, so this isn't a new issue:
http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/how-to-sign-up-for-webmasterworld/

You have to ask yourself, why bring it up now, a year later?

It doesn't pass the sniff test.

only those in big scraper and botnet areas

I often get told to login when clicking through links in the SERPS to WMW.

Besides, having a reason to cloak does not mean it is not cloaking. Google have to allow all, deny all, or say that they will allow some and provide the acceptabiliy criteria. Do the latter and the whole issue dissapears...

"The only point I kept

@incredibill

"The only point I kept trying to make which fell on deaf ears is WMW doesn't require everyone to login, only those in big scraper and botnet areas. Others get 100% free access to the site without interruption."

I've been forced to login almost eveywhere I travel in the world. Seems like HUGE net he's casting to me.

BS

Why does webmasterworld get to cloak right and left with impunity but everyone else is held to a differing standard?

BS example 1

BS Example 2

I suggest that Google either gives a clear cut direction on this.. or ban it.. or allow it... pick one...

Give it a name

Problem: Cloaking is bad
Solution: Call it something different

There are plenty of legit reasons for selective delivery of content. The three most important factors that make it legitimate:
1. Intent
2. Extent
3. The size of your brand

Just like anything SE/SEO their are gradiations of what is acceptable. Stay on the safe side, or at minimum be able to defend your actions without looking like a money-grubbing shill if something you're doing gets deemed unacceptable.

please forgive link drop to my own site - for once I couldn't resist<

LOGIN != CLOAKING

Interstitial Logins are NOT cloaking as the user will see the same content after supplying the name and password.

Don't be confusing human authentication with cloaking, it's just ignorant.

Login and Paid Subscriptions

i don't have an issue with login screens, but I do have an issue with paid content. I know when trying to fix a computer problem I encounter a certain "experts" site constantly in the SERP's and to get to the data I've got to pay, which I'm not doing just on principle. For me 'baiting' me in and only showing me the answer if I pony up with a credit card number is 'deceptively different content' and fits into the 'evil and bad cloaking' bucket, and yes that includes the new york times.

NY Times

The Times no longer requires a login. Could that be a result of the cloaked-content-is-unfair discussion?

it's all about intent

>For me 'baiting' me in and only showing me the answer if I pony up with a credit card number is 'deceptively different content' and fits into the 'evil and bad cloaking' bucket, and yes that includes the new york times.

Yeah, I'm with graywolf on this one.

LOGIN = CLOAKING (mostly)

Any time that the login process requires money or personal data of any sort it IS cloaking.

To be able to say it is not cloaking it would have to be nothing more than a capcha to negate bots - i.e. NO gain at all for the site owner. Show ads, links to your other sites or contents, ask for details, ask for money etc etc and you are cloaking for a REASON - and that is bad.

[edit] Bill, you know your stuff. Is a login process required to prevent bots etc? What is the absolute minimum that would be required to protect the content?

The issue on the design of

The issue on the design of the landing page or sign-in page then comes up. Is it all right to have a "well designed" page that looks like you need to pay to view the content for the average user but have a well disquised free access link? In essence using google's free results as your preview page? There are plenty of easy ways to give the user a free preview and then the up-sell within google's guidelines.

And I'm not buying the whole bad-bot defense at all, it's part of doing business on the web, everybody else deals with it within the rules so should they. If you don't want your content stolen write it down on paper and bury it in your back yard, then again your click through rate may drop a bit. As far as them bad bots chewing up bandwith and slowing down the system, get a better plan, DP and others don't seem to have a problem with it.

The whole debate should not be whether or not to call it cloaking, who cares? call it Nevada or Bill for all I care. The real debate should be whether indexing of subscription based content should be allowed for everybody or nobody.

cache available

> have the cache available to Google

You and the other .00002% of the people that know this aren't the targets, ukg.

.00002%

We tend to assume that everyone has modestly proficient web skills. The NYT makes the opposite assumption, in fact, they literally trade on the knowledge that the charge card is more expedient than learning for themselves. So, the sub-question of this thread becomes "Who does G serve, de-facto partners and those proficient enough to take care of themselves on these issues, or John Q?"

"Common sense isn't as common as you'd think. --unknown

Logging in is not cloaking!

That is outragous to say that logging in is cloaking.. So because on threadwatch you have to login to post the 'post field is cloaked' ?

common people!

Not quite the point TF

Logging in to access content that the SE Bot has access to, and shows in the SERPs, without logging in, is the point :)

>>For me 'baiting' me in and

>>For me 'baiting' me in and only showing me the answer if I pony up with a credit card number is 'deceptively different content' and fits into the 'evil and bad cloaking' bucket, and yes that includes the new york times.

>Logging in to access content that the SE Bot has access to, and shows in the SERPs, without logging in, is the point

Exactly. I'm reminded that to the NYT, PII is a currency, too.

In short, gimmee what the bots get or get out of the serps.

In short, gimmee what the

In short, gimmee what the bots get or get out of the serps.,

well said in a nutshell.

"gimmee what the bots get or

"gimmee what the bots get or get out of the serps"

You mean Google Inc. haven't paid to become registered members of all of these sites?

;)

The NYT at least gives you

The NYT at least gives you access to about 5 full articles through the SERPs before redirecting and only displaying an abstract. Much more user friendly, especially if you keep dumping cookies.

The WSJ just slams you with a "Subscribe" and a 4-page reg form (credit card required, of course).

what pisses me off

is when cloaking and the use of the NO Cache tag.. so when you get to the page the snippet you read is not on the page.. GRRRRRRRRR

Dave

..

?Regardless of what any of us think, the boys at google are the ONLY people that can define what cloaking truly is inside the google SERP, and you’ll notice all the nice folks at google go out of their way not to define exactly and technically what cloaking is.

“Don't deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as "cloaking."
Source: google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35769

Now I would hope that Matt and the rest boys and girls at the plex will decide that what wmw and some other sites have been doing (no matter what you want to call it) is deceptive, unfair, annoying to users and only being done to improve these sites income.

In my mind this issue is really simple, these sites want to maintain their search ranking but want to restrict their content to only paid or registered users.

In my opinion allowing sites to continue to do this is simply not fair to google, the google users or to the other sites in the SERP that do share their content with google and the general public in return for a listing in the google SERP.

Brett Moves in to Spin

Pre spin post on Bretts blog...
http://www.webmasterworld.com/robots.txt

Google Rulez

Good discussion, but is it worthwhile? Whatever Google allows publicly will be exploited, and the "answers" sites that Graywolf mentions are a prime example. It's cloaking -- and it makes for poor quality serps. Google cannot allow it unless it is registered (like a business partner thing) and thus can be managed.

That Matt post is nothing but a warning to WMW, no? Matt claims he's lacking cycles, but one of these days he's going to look hard to see if WMW is consistently seeing Google referrals or not. It took me at least 9 seconds to test for myself, from two locations so I can see Matt's problem. Someone needs to add another 9 minutes to his work day.

The Times no longer requires

The Times no longer requires a login.

True, you can read anything published the past week or so.

But for archived content, some is open to all, some you need to log in, and for some you need to open your wallet.

As for the cloaking or not discussion, at least the Times does allow the searcher to reach five full article from the SERPs before asking for a log-in or a credit card.

>NYT login

>NYT login

Doesn't NYT pass an url variable to, say, Google News that lets you access it when clicking from there? I'm assuming (don't know for sure) that once the article is archived and indexed using the straight url the login shield goes up.

Not sure exaclt how they do

Not sure exaclt how they do it, RC. There are a couple of different layers of access even for the free articles so it gets a bit too confusing for my muddled mind to figure out.

NYT login

There is a parameter you can add to get in to the NYTimes as a freebie.
Dave Winer uses it.
Oh, ok, it seems to be on a 'partner' basis
http://www.scripting.com/2007/02/09.html shows a link, and it has a
partner=rssuserland
value on it.

>Partner Yeah, there are a

>Partner

Yeah, there are a few of those around. Yahoo I think is yahoorss (or similar) etc. But not all partner parameters give you the keys to the vault.

What we don't want to see ..

.. is freebie content for those in the know. We want to see everyoe have the same access to the content.

Lets see content as it was supposed to be - displayed in Google and available to view.

Ok people, pay attention

Even if the content is free registration or paid registration, as someone researching a topic I'd like to be able to find it no matter what. It's up to ME, not Google, to decide whether or not I should register or pay for the content.

A couple of simple additions to robots.txt solves the problem:

User-agent: *
Subscription: /articles
Paid-Subscription: /archives

Then Google can add a couple of options to the user preference settings page to include subscriptions or paid-subscriptions in the SERPS.

End of problem.

user preference settings page

Fine with that - as long as the default is 'no' :)

different content or different code?

I asked Stephan at his post about good and evil cloaking and Danny when he had his rant and both still owe me an answer. I am tempted to post the same comment at Matt's blog, but I don't' want to get him into trouble because of duplicate content hehehe.. kidding.

The question what is meant by "content". Show different "content" to the user than to the search engines. What if I show the same content, but different code? Evil cloaking - Site Ban? Good Cloaking - Everything Peachy?

Anybody? Personal experiences would do. If you got a site torched because of it, it's obviously evil cloaking in Google's eyes. :)

..

John Andrews said;
>"That Matt post is nothing but a warning to WMW, no?"

If I were Brett, I would take it as such. Matt is a nice guy, I don't think he is used to or very good at threatening people, yet.

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