Google Renewing Efforts to Unmask ‘Cloaked’ Sites

by James Barry from internet marketing

There has been a lot of recent buzz on leading SEO news sites about Google re-focusing its efforts to fortify its anti-cloaking tactics. (“Cloaking” is decidedly black-hat ‘bait-and-switch’ manouevre that redirects a search engine’s e-bot indexing program to a different, seemingly legitimate, site than a user clicking on a link would be directed to.)

Google’s Matt Cutts twigged the search engine literati to Google’s renewed anti-cloaking efforts with his recent Tweet that: “Google will more at cloaking in Q1 2011. Not just page content matters; avoid different headers/redirects to Googlebot instead of users.”

Granted, Twitter forces us all to mangle our grammar, but the point is clearly made: the search leader is going to focus more resources on what seems to be an old, but evolving, SEO tactic that is clearly “out-of-bounds.”

As Search Engine Land’s Barry Schwartz notes, “cloaking “is a clear violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines, which define the ‘black-hat’ tactic in the following terms:

“Cloaking refers to the practice of presenting different content or URLs to users and search engines. Serving up different results based on user agent may cause your site to be perceived as deceptive and removed from the Google index.”

As Schwartz observes, Google already seems to do “a good job with detecting cloaking of different headers and redirects, and of course cloaking content.” Yet as he also notes, the Matt Cutts Tweet has caused a perceptible online stir regarding what was meant by the Tweet, and what has put the “cloaking” burr under Google’s saddle.

My speculation is that the message about renewed anti-cloaking efforts may be related to McAfee’s report on Threat Predictions for 2011. The Los Angeles Times reports, not surprisingly, reports that McAffee is forecasting a surge in unethical/cyber-criminal activity surrounding the shortened URLs utilized by social media platforms, particularly Twittter. Google may also be concerned that these shortened URLs “can easily mask and lead users to malicious websites.”

The L.A. Times reports that, “(m)ore than 3,000 are shortened per minute.” That kind of surge in online activity, with its potential for SEO skulduggery, is sure to gain the attention of Google’s web cops. There’s an old saying: “Build a better mousetrap, and some damn fool will come up with a smarter mouse.” Or, in this instance, a mouse that thinks its smarter than the other mice . . . as well as the cat!

James Barry is a freelance writer who covers internet marketing and related topics for, a Toronto-based firm offering a full product line of SEO services.