The search engine marketing feature, “Helping the needle out of the haystack” (MW May23) was a welcome and well-informed update on the Search Engine Marketing industry. However it was a shame to see that the article did not help to clarify the confusion that surrounds the issue of “cloaking”. Cloaking is the practice of showing one page to a search engine “crawler” or “spider” when it automatically visits your website, and showing an entirely different page to human website visitors. The goal is to artificially boost your site visits through the content that is displayed to search engines, rather than the real content on display to site visitors.
Often called the “food technique”, the connotation being to feed spiders that visit your websites, cloaking is outlawed by most search engines. Google explicitly forbids the use of this technique and promises banishment from its index if companies are found to be using cloaking. With Google having about 22 per cent UK audience reach, using cloaking is like playing Russian Roulette with your URL.
The term “Alias Page” is a registered trademark of NetBooster: it is specific to its search engine optimisation methodology. It is not cloaking at all, because the same page content is shown to the search engine as to the visitor. Alias Pages are formed to improve user experience and to help search engines read content that may be unreadable or inaccessible under normal conditions. It is a legitimate and ethical technique, because neither the search engine nor the consumers are deceived about site content.
If you own a website that operates on the periphery of the law (the most common cases being o
nline gambling and pornography), then cloaking is probably a technique that you may use to promote your website, as we heard at the Search Engine Strategies conference in April. However, if your website is intrinsic to your brand and organisation, do not consider it.