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Google Caught Cloaking and Keyword Stuffing?

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A short while ago, Threadwatch member Adam_C discovered what for all appearances seems to be Google pulling dirty SEO tactics on it’s own pages and thus going against it’s own guidelines in an effort to rank highly within it’s own results.

Cloaking
Cloaking is covered in Google’s guidelines as something strictly not to do:

  • Don’t employ cloaking or sneaky redirects.
  • Although there is some debate within the SEO industry as to what exactly cloaking is, in it’s simplest form it is showing one page to search engines, and a different page for users – much of the debate hinges on intent.

    Here’s how Google define it in the Google Webmaster FAQ

    The term “cloaking” is used to describe a website that returns altered webpages to search engines crawling the site. In other words, the webserver is programmed to return different content to Google than it returns to regular users, usually in an attempt to distort search engine rankings. This can mislead users about what they’ll find when they click on a search result. To preserve the accuracy and quality of our search results, Google may permanently ban from our index any sites or site authors that engage in cloaking to distort their search rankings.

    Keyword stuffing
    Keyword stuffing is, as you might expect, the practice of stuffing a page with the keywords you wish to rank for – without off page optimization it’s worse than useless, but combined with incoming links, and cloaked to appear normal to visitors (they see a nicely worded page, search robots see the kw stuffed page) it can be highly effective.

    So where do Google come into this?
    If you look at this Adwords page on Google you’ll see at the top of your browser, the title:

    Google AdWords Support: How do I use the Traffic Estimator?

    That’s what normal visitors like you and me will see when visiting the page.

    Now have a look at Google’s cache of the same page – Notice the change in the title? It now reads:

    traffic estimator, traffic estimates, traffic tool, estimate traffic Google AdWords Support …

    You think they want to rank for traffic estimates? I’d say they did…

    Update: In the comments of this post, fishyking points out that the keyword stuffing has been done globally…

    If true, what are the implications?
    There is much debate around the way Google handles cloaking, in fact, many webmasters and SEO’s feel thier is a need for a change in Google’s official policy, but that’s probably a discussion for another day.

    For now, the implications are simple – If Google can do this on it’s own pages, why can ordinary webmasters not? Google’s keyword stuffed, cloaked title would be hard to describe as anything other than an SEO tactic not so much frowned upon, but full on hated by the Search giant itself.

    Unless they can pull something out of the bag on this regarding an explanation, i’d say they’ve just been caught red handedly doing one of the very things they ban websites for, and consistently tell webmasters on forums and blogs not to do.

    Discuss at Threadwatch…

    Nick Wilson is the publisher and founder of Threadwatch.org.

    Threadwatch is a group blog, or forum if you prefer, focusing on Marketing and Related Technologies – News and discussion for those that make their living on the WWW – Register here to participate.

    Google Caught Cloaking and Keyword Stuffing?
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