|I assume this isn't cloaking.|
Trying to fly right
...but it never hurts to ask.
I've been contacted by a website that wants to do a co-branded version of my webpage for their users. One approach I am kicking around is to detect the referring URL, drop a short-term cookie, and show the user a page which is formatted with the look-and-feel of the referring Web site, complete with links back to that site which emulate their various menus.
For users who visit the same page through non-cobranded means, I would show my normal Adsense-based (i.e., "bread and butter") layout.
My motives are pure, and I'm assuming that this approach would not cause search-engine heartburn or be mistaken as an attempt to cloak, but I wanted to get some feedback from the wiser among us to make sure I'm not missing something.
I don't think this type of thing would get you into any trouble.
I'd keep the bots out of the "skinned" sites using robots.txt just to be safe.
Hmm...if there's a risk as SEOMike suggests, then I'll need to re-think my cobranding business model. If I "noindex" the "skinned" versions, then aside from brand recognition (not a bad thing in itself, of course) there really wouldn't be much inherent payoff to me to offer cobranding as an option, and I'd probably need to charge for it.
Part of the logic of offering free (albeit selective) cobranding would be to increase the site's footprint, but the cobranded versions would not be generating ad revenue, so they could in effect cannibalize my existing ad revenue if I'm not careful.
The robots.txt is a non-issue because the URLs will be the same.
You can't exclude the co-branded URLs because they are the same as the main URLs. Also, for the same reason, there are no duplicate content issues.
This also isn't really a SEO related cloaking issue since the content will be basically the same, the main difference being layout/graphics.
The only way this would be an issue for search engines is if you did use redirection instead of cloaking (note the semantic difference, it's important), because then you would indeed be using different URLs and might have duplicate content issues. In that case, you would exclude the co-branded URLs.
Right, this would not be a case of redirection. Almost all the content (with the exception of a few ancillary results pages) occurs on the index.php page, and even the other pages would keep their identical URLs.
Obviously, a robots.txt could not be used selectively, although meta tags with nofollow/noindex could, but it sounds like this is not necessary based on what volatilegx is saying.
The content in most cases would be essentially the same, although I was considering giving co-branding partners the option of excluding certain elements that weren't as relevant to their particular users, and the order of the elements could be rearranged based on the co-branding partner's preferences.