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Comment on cloaking from a SE


Mikkel Svendsen

7:00 pm on Oct 2, 2000 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

As product manager of the largest Scandinavian search engine I would like to add my comment to the recent discussions regarding cloaking. I have been working with the issue from both sides of the table – as moderator at search engine forums, SEO consultant and now as product manager of a large search engine.
The real problem with cloaking is that there is good and bad cloaking. I prefer to call the right way “personalized delivery” and the wrong way “cloaking”.

If you use personalized delivery to protect your code, and to serve relevant information to each search engine independently, then I have no problem with it. In fact, we welcome it. The more relevant targeted and correctly build web pages we can crawl the better – our users will get better results.

But ...!
We will do anything we can to fight bad cloaking – people trying to manipulate our index. We will not tolerate that. We will do anything we need to protect the quality of our product – our life.

Detecting cloaking or personalized delivery is not difficult but working out what is right and what is wrong is indeed not an easy task.

So how will we do this? I am not sure yet and if I knew I wouldn’t tell exactly how but I have a few ideas ... ;)

One of the things I believe we will need to do very soon is to detect who is cloaking and who is not. That’s step one. We could then make a note on every one of those sites and put them on a special list for manual, automated or semi automated analysis to find out what is good and what is bad cloaking.

I don’t think we would be able to check every page all the time so the analysis would only be based on small samples. So bad cloaking would still be able to pass through but at least we would catch some of the bad guys.

This way it would not be so risk-free to cloak anymore – at least not in our search engines.

Basically, if you use personalized delivery the right way then you will have no problems with us but if you do bad cloaking the wrong way then we will do whatever we can to stop you - ban all your sites or give them an extremely low ranking factor.

Only target your pages to relevant keywords. Do not use personalized delivery unless you really know what you are doing.

I don’t expect to run into any serious problems with major SEO companies. They all want to run an honest business and only target relevant traffic for their clients. They can’t afford to do it the wrong way. If they do we will get mad at them and their clients will end up with low quality visits. So I don’t believe they will.

In fact, I will not only let “the good guys” use personalized delivery but I will go into a direct dialogue with the most professional ones of them. They know a lot about search engines that we can benefit from and I will help them do what they do even better. Helping the “good guys” is my way of trying to stop the bad ones.

I will speak at the IMS2000 seminar in Stockholm on the 26th of October and hope to bring some new exciting tools and statistics with me that I think you will all find useful in your hunt for more relevant traffic :-)

Mikkel Svendsen

8:48 am on Nov 16, 2000 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I don't agree - and I am running a large SE :)

Claoking has NOTHING to do with bride I must say. It would be if it was the SE taking money to rank pages better without telling anyone (I believe AV once tried that, remember ...?).

... And once agin I must emphazise that cloaking is NOT what gives you good ranking - good content, high linkpopularity and well writen HTML is still what will do that for you - cloaking just help you taget and protect your work.


11:30 am on Nov 16, 2000 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

The majority of spammers are "too lazy" to go through the effort required to ip/ua deliver content. It requires work, and most take the easy route.. It is so hard to prosecute anyone online, that the majority of spammers don't even try and hide "stolen pages".. If their domain get's banned by an SE, it's just $15 US for another one..

The majority of individuals that IP/UA deliver, are professionals that either:
1. Don't want their research stolen
2. Have client's that don't want their content altered


2:19 pm on Nov 16, 2000 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

<<...It would be if it was the SE taking money to rank pages
better without telling anyone...>>

Actually, I was only referring to the "temptation" offered to spammers by cloaking being similar to that offered by bribery. People with low/no ethical guidance always seem to find a way to take the "good" from society and use it for their own "not-so-good" purposes, which usually requires a crack-down on all parties, whether ethical or not. Example: One morally-challenged airline pilot gets caught using drugs, and now ALL airline pilots will be required to take random drug tests until the end of time, even though the "positive" rate is barely measurable. All have to suffer because of one dufus.

It just seems to me that society is always punishing the vast ethical majority for the sins of the unethical few.

<<... And once agin I must emphazise that cloaking is NOT what gives you good ranking - good content, high linkpopularity and well writen HTML is still what will do that for you - cloaking just help you taget and protect your work. >>

This seems to be the heart of the issue. As long as SEO's view cloaking in this light, there is no problem. But there always seems to be that 1% out there that tries to use good things for bad purposes.


<<...the majority of spammers don't even try and hide "stolen pages">>

Just so I'll know, do you feel the majority of cloakers are doing so for higher rankings, or to protect code? I, personally have no idea.


Mikkel Svendsen

9:43 am on Nov 18, 2000 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Part of my work trying to run a good SE is getting rid of that 1% :)

But instead of fighting the bad people I'd rather help the good ones. The effect will be more or less the same. I think that the resent discussions here have come up with a number og good ideas on how to improve relationship between professional SEOs that do not spam and SEs.


1:15 pm on Nov 18, 2000 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member


It's a one -> two punch.. I don't know anyone that does SEO, "NOT" to achieve higher rankings.. :)

Once those higher rankings are achieved, nobody wants the code that got them there, replicated by other entities...


1:15 pm on Nov 30, 2000 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I think what it comes down to is the basic phylosophy of the firm that is submitting pages and getting them indexed into the search engine and not the technology. The big SEOs, who use stealth the most, are focused on quality, as they have to be.

SEO is an expense that is usually one of many marketing costs that a site has, but is often one of the hardest to justify. Because it's so relatively 'new' (in offline terms), people don't know what to think. They use tracking codes, redirects and scrutinize server logs to track visits and see what these lead to. They want to see conversion on the traffic they recieve.

Let's apply this to a Darwin-type model. If a big SEO, with all of it's technology, were to spam engines, all this would do is bring irrelevant traffic. When a person types in a search term, that's what they want, and if that site isn't that, they leave. Plain and simple. This would kill the conversion rate, the client would get upset and drop the SEO firm.

Only the firms that bring the most qualified traffic survive because they please their clients most. If not, they never even make it to being a large firm. Only the large firms, for the most part, have the time and resources to use techniques like 'cloaking' because of the high maintainence and server demands. And, if at any point they start spamming, they die because they just killed their conversion rates.

So, to restate my point, these firms using most of the 'stealth' and such HAVE TO provide the most relevant material to survive, and therefore can't afford to spam. If not, they go away.

This stuff is almost by defination exactly what search engines where made to provide: the most relevant results possible.



4:55 am on Dec 28, 2000 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

This discussion has been extremely interesting. I can't help but toss in a couple of points:

First, anyone paying an SEO is paying for performance. The SEO that delivers high-quality, targeted traffic from relevant keyword searches, is the best SEO from the customer's perspective. There is no good reason for the SEO to "spam" the search engine, because their customer doesn't want that. There is every reason to cloak, because they've spent years perfecting their art.

Second, spam policing is going to be a problem for a long time. SE's make the effort to eliminate a high percentage of the spam, what they can get rid of automatically. It's not worth the effort to manually check on spammers, just to get from 98.5% spam-free to 98.6% spam-free. Unless there's major abuse happening, a search engine can't afford to look into every individual case.

Asking users of the SE to serve as spam police is just an invitation to chaos. Witness the horrible fights at Go.com over "Go Guide" ratings in unpopular categories, that won't deliver more than a few clicks a day at most. Or the number of people who send dozens of emails a week to Open Directory editors. We'll see the SE's gradually refine the definition of spam for their own purposes, based on what their algorithms can handle.

The engines that give you a higher rating based on inclusion in ODP, Yahoo, or Looksmart already have a pretty strong spam filter in place - the people who put those directories together.


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