Cloaking is out there and is practiced by thousands of Web sites out there. Where does Google and the other engines draw the line between acceptable cloaking or non acceptable cloaking?
A few weeks ago, Ben Edelman released information on WhenU and how they are using cloaking to beat the engines. Soon after, Google and Yahoo manually did something about it.
Today, Danny Sullivan reports on NPR is using cloaking. Will Google and Yahoo do something about this case? How does it differ?
Well NPR is using cloaking to provide contextual information to the search engines on audio files. The audio files, that otherwise would not be indexable by the search engines, are transformed into text transcripts and served to Google only. Google reads the text version of the audio files and when someone does a search on a related topic to the audio file, NPR comes up in the results. The results look like the following, notice "And with us now to discuss Google's financial standing is ..."
But when you click on the result, it takes you to a page with the ability to download the audio file and contains no such text version of the transcript.
Danny gets into the pros and cons of this method of cloaking. I won't tell you exactly what he said, but if you are a paid subscriber to SearchEngineWatch, it makes for a nice read.
Andy Beal also spoke on this matter, "He [Danny Sullivan] comes to the conclusion that NPR is effectively using the spam technique, cloaking. But, I [Andy Beal] would argue that perhaps NPR converting its audio into text is no different that including ALT tags on images or tagging Flash content."
Either way, we need the search engines to come up with a clear acceptable cloaking policy. There is no doubt that cloaking can benefit the end user, the legendary SEO named fantomaster was a huge advocate for the use of cloaking to benefit the searcher. This is my call out to the search engines to make a stand and come out with a clear, defined policy. This does not have to be a war between the Search Engine Marketer and the Search Engine Provider, we can work together. Can't we?