Quickfix Cloaking for Googlebot is High Risk Practice

By Michael Dorausch, D.C.

While attending SMX Advanced in Seattle last week I listened to a presentation by Hamlet Batista who suggested that White Hat methods of cloaking could be beneficial for my website (at least that’s how I interpreted it). I liked Hamlet, and I think he was well intended in his presentation.

Listening to the presentation and seeing the slides on the screen I began thinking about a problem we’ve long had at Planet Chiropractic involving our classified ad system. The scripts that we used to display advertising URLs were never optimized for search engines and it’s one of those things on the website I know should be taken care of, but had not yet set aside the time to do so.

White Hat Cloaking
The concept made sense and I began taking notes, all the while thinking this could be the solution to the current problem I was having. One of the real world examples made was quite similar to my situation. Not only did I have incredibly long search engine UN friendly URL strings, there were session IDs attached to each of those strings, making the URLs really ugly and quite unlikely they’d be indexed. A typical advertisement could result in a URL string (shown below) which is over 200 characters in length.

230 character url string
SEO unfriendly URLAfter the presentation my thought was I could make some modifications that would deliver a different result to the search engines verses on page users. The practice was well-intentioned and not intended to trick, so it should be “white hat.”

Sounded good and I made some notes to contact someone after the event to see about getting something like that accomplished. Later that afternoon Matt Cutts spoke and I got to see everything from a different perspective.

According to Matt, this type of cloaking was in the “highest risk” category as far as Google was concerned which could result in my site being removed from the index (not my goal). It’s a good thing I stayed around until after lunch to hear his talk.

My (chiropractor mindset) take away after his presentation was this…

Band-Aid versus Wellness Long-Term-Care
Ultimately, there is a problem with my site that should be fixed if I want it to perform better. Matt was suggesting that webmasters should focus their energy on fixing problems for the long-term versus utilizing risky Band-Aid like techniques.

I’m not an expert on mod rewrites but after taking the time since last week to look more closely at the scripts I think we can make the following changes.

https://planetc1.com/cgi-bin/cs/cs.cgi
would become…
https://planetc1.com/classifieds/

https://planetc1.com/cgi-bin/cs/cs.cgi?action=showsub&Category

=All:+Chiropractor+Practices+for+Sale&Variable=realestate.variables&

SubCategory=&Session=48481bc34e1142f9
would become…
https://planetc1.com/classifieds/chiropractor-practices-for-sale/

https://planetc1.com/cgi-bin/cs/cs.cgi?action=show&Category=

All:+Chiropractor+Practices+for+Sale&Variable=realestate.variables

&SubCategory=US&Session=48481bc34e1142f9
would become…
https://planetc1.com/classifieds/chiropractor-practices-for-sale/us/

https://planetc1.com/cgi-bin/cs/cs.cgi?action=detail&AdNumber=20974

&Category=All:+Chiropractor+Practices+for+Sale&Variable=realestate.variables

&SubCategory=US&Position=4&TotalCount=499&Session=48481bc34e1142f9&

FirstPage=&LastPage=20
would become…
https://planetc1.com/classifieds/chiropractor-practices-for-sale/us/practice-for-sale-north-county-coastal-20974/

The five digit code at the end corresponds to the ad number which would provide a unique identifier for each post. I think this could work as an option as well.

https://planetc1.com/cgi-bin/cs/cs.cgi?action=detail&AdNumber=20974
would become…
https://planetc1.com/classifieds/20974-practice-for-sale-north-county-coastal/

I think those look a lot nicer than what’s currently being displayed and this scenario keeps me from worrying about whether I should be concerned about the cloaking methods initially suggested. Now to find someone that can help me complete this project without breaking the site.

2 thoughts on “Quickfix Cloaking for Googlebot is High Risk Practice”

  1. Hi Michael,

    It is sad we didn’t get to chat at SMX. As you know, I didn’t get to finish the presentation. Please check my blog for the full presentation slides and my notes. You will see that I planned to talk about the risks and the particular scenarios where white hat cloaking is the only option.

    I was careful to talk about a proprietary system that you are not able to fix. If you can not alter the system to remove the session Ids, etc. your option would be to replace it. I am sure you can think of many cases where the client would not be happy with that.

    As Danny mentions in a recent article, Google is drawing a hard line on this, but they know of many high profile sites doing this type of cloaking and are turning a blind eye. Their actions are understandable, though.

    It is always good to know all your options and understand the potential risks.

    Cheers

  2. Thanks for visiting Hamlet, thought you were a good addition to SMX Advanced. The great thing that came out of this for me was I found this was something I could fix, should fix, and am working to fix. Appreciate all you are doing to assist in educating others on search.

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