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What, if anything, SEs choose to do about discovered cloaking is
another question entirely. I won't take chances just to find out. -Larry
I'm going to be cloaking for various browsers but not search engines. I feel that if my site really sucks so bad that no one can find me, then it's my job to fix my entire site, not just how a search engine sees it.
I would not go so far as to for example send only special items for say Gecko, Opera, KHTML (while we all know we HAVE to for IE right now).
I think any search engine that really cared about if a page was cheating like larryhatch said would not care too much about say sending something for IE versus everyone else. By running two spiders you're only opening up a powerkeg...what if I send IE code and the second spider is looking for cloaked pages using an IE UA? I think it would be best that such a spider would resort to using an abnoral Firefox UA for example, say "Firefox/0.7.4". Therefore most people would just assume it's some Firefox build (I don't recall that far as I think I started using FF around 0.8ish myself). I've seen bots use Safari builds but the list on the MAC site is incomplete.
Ethically you have more to gain by not cloaking. If you can get your site to degrade nicely in say Opera, IE, and Netscape 4 then really there should be no reason to cloak.
Another PLUS for cloaking which I will eventually post here when version 2.7 of my personal site enters serverside development will be how to serve NOTHING to a blank UA as 99% of them tend to be listed in spam lists.
It's a fine line and I think as long as one is perceptive enought to walk fine lines within reason and not get all emotional I suppose then do what you think is most ethical.
As for cloaking itself, there may be good and innocent uses.
There may be reasons for labelling cans of corn "peas" and vice versa.
Maybe somebody wants to make succotash. Nevertheless.
Blatant potential abuses loom so large and obvious that I won't even consider cloaking.
Pretend YOU are a search engine, Google say.
Your regular crawler finds one version of website.com.
Your secret TEST spider finds quite something else.
What would YOUR first impression be?
"Ah, This guy is just trying to enhance the public browsing experience for the benefit of all.."?
Now it comes time to rate green-widget sites in the SERPs.
Ten sites look pretty much as good as one another, but two of them cloak, the other eight don't.
You are trying for the best SERPs out there.
How would you rank the two cloaking sites with respect to the others? -Larry