One of my clients, a conference calling company called Powwownow, has been doing really well in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for the last year. They have now expanded and started doing business also in the US. The UK site had two domains powwownow.co.uk and powwownow.com, now that they have a US website we have transferred the .com domain to their US website.
BUT it’s never easy is it? The US site is still ranking very high in the UK SERPs and the UK website is nowhere to be seen. As this whole site is about conference calling, all the ‘dial-in’ numbers etc are for US users (of course) but the problem is that UK users keep on signing up on the US site (freakin plums!!). In fact 30% of the UK traffic was being misdirected to the US site. So my client wanted to do geo targeting using IP detection and re-direct people with UK IP addresses to the UK website.
My first thought was; “feck no, that’s cloaking”. But my client was adamant that this was the only way we could bypass the problem whilst the .co.uk is getting some link juice and climbing the SERPs. So I sent out a few emails to some of my very helpful SEO friends (thanks Todd & Scott), and here is what I have learnt about the world of cloaking…..”it’s a BIG GREY area”….It’s all about intent. Which is hard enough for people to figure out, what the heck does a robot know about your intent?? It’s a bit like saying you don’t want to invite that girl in accounts to your party, as she said something in “that way” and looked at you funny…..
Ok let’s start with what we do know:
Definition of Cloaking: “cloaking is where you display different content to the search engines than you do to the user”
What Google says about cloaking: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=66355
Why it could be considered cloaking?
Because the googlebot would have spidered and indexed the Powwownow US site, whilst the user (if based in the UK) gets re-directed to the UK site from the SERPs. Although, nothing is as it easy as it seems, the example is technically cloaking, but if we look at the “intent” is it still cloaking? I’m sure we can all agree that the search engines primary goal is to give the best user experience as possible, and display the most relevant result to the user. Right? Now, Powwownow is not trying to deceive the user or search engine, they are simply trying to direct the user to the right place. If a person in the UK are looking for a “conference calling service” and the US site pops up in the SERPs, surely that’s not the most relevant result? And it is not “misinforming” the user as the service is the same, it just have different phone numbers to call. So is it or isn’t it cloaking? I say no, what’s your opinion?
What would make sense (and for all I know could be what actually happens) is that the sites that gets flagged as cloaking, will be manually reviewed on an intent basis. But then again this could be a ridiculous amount a day (as the evilgreendonkey is now freelance…). Matt Cutts, any comments?
Other posts about cloaking, that is worth a read: