Do as I Say, Not as I Do

About a week ago a lot of bloggers were up in arms about Yahoo of all people committing a bit of cloaking.

When things like this happen, sometimes it's just a reminder that nobody's infallible, even those who set the guidelines against which many marketers work.

However, sometimes it's something else. With the complexities of search, advanced work sometimes comes down to consciously committing certain acts that would otherwise normally be flagged as worst practice. N00bs should note that "Do as I Say, Not as I Do" comes up in search marketing from time to time, in association with this.

Take for example this image. It's from this page from the site of SMX, the new event series kicking off next week in Seattle.

Looks like a classic mistake: text as an image needlessly, right?

Wrong. It's not walking out on a weak limb to assume this most likely a very conscious site building decision.

The giveaway is in the site itself, and who it's catering to: Advanced search marketers. So of course, the team building this site wouldn't be caught with their pants down doing something like this. Calling them on it would be like the first-year music theory student who struts into class one morning proclaiming

I found a mistake that Bach made!

only to find the professor's reply is

Bach was one of the people who pioneered and wrote what eventually became the rules. What you found was not a mistake, but part of that process playing out.

Having this bit of text as an image helps preserve a bit of confidentiality and/or juice exclusivity. Unlike how content related to speakers and sponsors is presented, it helps avoid passing casually content love between the SMX brand and those of the attendees.

Simple, subtle, effective.

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Khipu-pooing Mainstream Media

It would hardly be fair and balanced for me to keep touting the virtues of reading Wired without also pointing out occasional errors as I see them:

In "Untangling the Mystery of the Inca" they say...

Type 'baseball' into Google and its spiders will race over the Internet, look at links, and spit back that is the 11th most useful site for you and is the 22nd.


This makes it sound like search engines are on-demand botnets or something, and it's wrong. Search engines are constantly updating their caches of sites, i.e. taking an ongoing snapshot of the Web. Their crawlers are a critical part of this, and they can be attracted to sites by actions taken by Webmasters in some ways, but they work by their own clocks as far as users are concerned. Their behaviors are proactive, and they check on sites at depths and intervals in accordance with sites' content change frequency, inbound link popularity and other factors. Users are served information based on what search engine indexes (made of caches) determine to be relevant returns, but engine spiders are not reactive dogs who fetch the live Web whenever users query their masters for information (bonus points to anyone who remembers Lycos perpetuating this by implication back in the day).

This is why we have tactical options like cloaking, which is about getting something into the search engines' caches that differs from what human visitors are shown.

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Cloaking & Google Zeitgeist

A week or two back an example of cloaking came to my attention. I'll share it to give a real-world illustration of the tactic while I had a chance, and should revisit it as things just got a little more interesting here.

A non-technical definition of cloaking would be "showing your human visitors anything different than what you show the search engines." Traditionally the engines vehemently forbid cloaking, and are known for never being hip to discussing its sensitivities or details even hypothetically (to the frustration of White Hats). They're also reputed for banning ("de-listing") sites from their indexes upon catching such violations of their policies. There are several tactics in SEO considered verbotten, and cloaking's always been one of the most notable.

This recent discovery was per, one of the companies out to cash cache in on the rise of online video. As one can see from the caches of them in Google, Yahoo and MSN what they're doing is turning off their "Family Filter," which normally defaults to On, whenever SE spiders crawl them. This is to get as much of their content indexed as possible, and it's working: One could also note some of what they're getting into their Supplemental Results on Google for example.

I'm sure MetaCafe's stance is something a-la

A robot by its nature can fall neither below nor above age 18 so can be let at the lot of it.

I've been lightly tempted with taking a similar stance on certain White Hat AV(age verification)-sensitive projects before, but haven't bothered giving it much consideration yet for lack of machine-readable content on them.

Companies who were temporarily banned from Google in the past year included BMW. However another well-known brand, The New York Times, made news in 2006 for "acceptable cloaking." To my knowledge this was the first time such an allowance happened and got decently publicized, from a Search Marketer's perspective at least.

What's interesting added irony here with MetaCafe is that they also just made Google's Year-End Zeitgeist list, which in itself probably deserves a post (being a classic example of just how constantly people search on domains that they, uh... may already know how to get to directly, actually 🙄 . Watch for a potential opinion poll on how much of this is misguided laziness incurring extra clickage vs. something else).

This is some of the "gray" area that doesn't get put into official documentation by the engines (yet?) that exists all the same.

For cloaking, the plot thickens.

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Based out of Northern California, is a bl.og dedicated to the advocacy and study of high-impact, data driven marketing disciplines and related concerns: Analytics and Data Mining, Marketing Automation, Integrated Advertising (targeting, retargeting), Demand Generation and Lead Nurturing, Social Media / Social Engineering (Crowd-hacking) and the new PR, Privacy, Security, CRM, SEO / SEM, CRO, ROI... more TLAs (three letter acronyms) than any sane person's daily lexicon should include.

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