I learned a valuable lesson recently (yes, just one)…most things in life are not about intent, they’re about reaction.
My mouth once again got me into trouble last week, as I said something that was interpreted totally differently than I had intended. However, I can now easily see why it was, unfortunately. Considering my first post for this blog was about knowing your audience and relating to them in terms of their culture, this was a mistake that I should not have made but I have definitely learned from it.
In much the same way, intent is difficult to determine in what you do on the web. Everyone’s favorite Viking (and if she isn’t, she darn well should be) had a great post about ip redirection, and the intent issue was a big one with that. She asked if the engines would see geo-targeting as cloaking even if that wasn’t her intent. Let’s say Google does, for some reason, see this as cloaking and they ban you. You can appeal it, let them know what’s going on, and potentially get your site relisted. This is like your chance to explain that you weren’t intentionally being rude when you said something wrong though. What if it’s too little, too late? The damage is done.
Think about the times when you’ve argued with someone over which keywords to market. Your client thinks that people search for one thing but your keyword research shows you that actually, they don’t, but they do search for THIS one. We don’t always know best, even when we think we do. Both of you have completely different ideas on what the right thing to do is based on your perspective. The client can’t see that your keyword choice is better because he is so completely certain that his 25 years in the industry has made him an expert. You’re looking at simple data. One choice may bring in visitors, one may do nothing at all. The data may be flawed. You may market the keyword well but the site doesn’t back it up enough to get a conversion. Your client’s choice may have been the best one after all…
Everyone has intentions that may be fine and dandy, but there are always problems when you’re seeing something from one side. I don’t think it’s truly possible to map out every possible reaction in your mind, but you need to come as close as you can. You need to think about how, no matter what you think you’re doing, you might inadvertently do something a bit different than you’d intended. Google might think you’re cloaking a site in order to manipulate the SERPs but all you wanted to do was stick the content where the bots would find it due to poor site design. Your system administrator might not understand that you thought programming an infinite loop for a site on a major production server would be an amusing way to wait for your next conference call to start. For the record, I do not recommend doing that because really, it’s only funny for about one minute. Learn from this (and please don’t try and get a job with anyone who builds elevator systems.)
Before you engage in anything that is even the slightest bit open to misinterpretation by anyone or any engine, spend some time analyzing all major potential reactions, good and bad and everything in between. If the likely scenario is in your favor, go for it. If you aren’t sure, think a bit more before engaging in what you’re doing. Otherwise, you could seriously regret it. Your site could get banned, your page might not display in IE, you could lose a good friend, your mom could actually read your blog and realize that you didn’t like her cookies, and life could get a lot more complicated.