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SEO Website Audit

High Rankings Advisor: Cloaking Is Always A Bad Idea - Issue No. 041

January 29, 2003


*Introductory Comments:
---->   My Special Report Is Almost Ready

*Search Engine Marketing:
---->   Will Switching Servers Ruin Rankings?

*This Week's Sponsors:
---->   Domain Plates
---->   FAST Job Opportunity

*Guest Article:
---->   Why Cloaking Is Always A Bad Idea

*Other SEO News:
---->   Beware of Fake Yahoo UK Email
---->   LookSmart Posts First Net Profit

*Stuff You Might Like
---->   Search Engine Visibility

*Sound Advice
---->   Gaining Rankings by Making Sense

*Advisor Wrap-up:
---->   Need A Free Optimization?

~~~Introductory Comments~~~

Hey everyone! Sorry for neglecting you last week while I was in South
Dakota.  My presentation went well, and even better than that, I had
so much plane and airport time that I was just about able to finish
off my "Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" special
report.  It's basically my presentation of the same name, all fleshed
out in ebook format.  I started it a long time ago, but got bored and
busy with other stuff and kinda forgot about it.  For some reason this
past month I started to get tons of requests for it in my inbox, which
prompted me to finish it off. I still have to put the finishing
touches on it and have it proofed, but hopefully it will be available
to purchase in the next week or so.  I'll let you know next issue.

Got a great issue for you today, so enjoy! - Jill

~~~Search Engine Marketing Issues~~~

++Will Switching Servers Ruin My Rankings?++

From: Matt Granfield

Hi Jill, I'm an avid reader of your newsletter and your tips have
helped us get some great results for our website -- keep 'em coming!

Anyway, I'm writing because we're about to move our website to a new
server and I was wondering if that's going to affect our search engine
rankings at all? A lot of individual pages in our site come up for
various searches in various search engines and I'm worried we might
lose those places if the site is on a new server.

The structure of the website will be exactly the same, the domain name
will be the same, and all the pages will have the same names but will
anything change if the site is in a new location at a different IP
address? If the site is offline for a day while the DNS and things go
through will that affect our place in Google?

I'm sure this is a problem that affects every Webmaster at some stage,
and I was wondering if you could shed some light on it...?



~~~Jill's Response~~~

Hi Matt,

My server just had a major upgrade so I essentially went through the
same thing recently.  It's a real pain in the neck to move all your
files over and get your scripts up and running.  I totally understand
why you do not want to have to worry about your listings at the search
engines on top of everything else.

The good news is that generally a server move shouldn't affect your
rankings.  I've changed servers many, many times over the past eight
years, and it's never been a problem with the search engines.  Even if
your site is down for a day (and there's no reason why it should be)
it still shouldn't affect your rankings.  There's a slight chance that
the search engine spider will come crawling during the downtime, but
most of them won't just give up after one try.  If your site is down
for a few days or more, you do run the risk of having the engines
assume your site is gone for good.  Be sure to work closely with your
old and new hosts to minimize any downtime.  All of my server moves
have been accomplished without any downtime whatsoever.

There's only one possible glitch to the above scenario, and it's kind
of a freaky one.  I've heard reports lately that Google can be very
late to update their own DNS information.  This means they can come
crawling to the old site for a while after the move, because they
still think the domain is at the old IP address.  When this happens
and there's no site there for them to crawl, you MAY be removed from
their database.  When Google finally updates their DNS info, they will
find your site at the new server, and you should get back into the

Because of this strange quirk, you might want to try to keep your site
alive at the old IP for at least a month or so after the move.  I
don't really understand why Google's DNS should ever be out of date,
but it's something to keep in mind during your server switch. If you
can't keep your pages alive on the old server for a while, then all
you can do is hope for the best.  Most likely, everything will be
peachy keen.  After all, people switch servers all the time with
relatively few problems.

Good luck!



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~~~Guest Article~~~

++Why Cloaking Is Always A Bad Idea++

Our guest article today is one that is near and dear to my heart.  I
asked my friend Alan Perkins to write it for me because I was sick of
seeing prominent people in our industry saying that cloaking is "okay
under certain circumstances."  In reality, many who have made that
statement were not really talking about cloaking at all.  For
instance, in an interview I published here last year with Stephen
Baker from FAST </issue004.htm#seonews1> he
said, "Cloaked pages may be okay depending on their intent."  But
guess what? Turns out he was talking about trusted XML feeds, not

Unfortunately, too many people misuse the term "cloaking."  Even Danny
Sullivan has referred to XML feeds as cloaking, and so have many
others.  As you will learn from the following article, trusted XML
feeds are NOT cloaking, nor are many other content delivery methods
that some people call cloaking.  Once you understand what cloaking is
and isn't, you'll hopefully agree that cloaking is *always* a bad

So without further ado, here's Alan...

Guest Article
Why Cloaking Is Always A Bad Idea
By Alan Perkins

All the search engines say "don't cloak" in their Webmaster FAQs.
That's pretty clear advice, isn't it?  But wait. Why should the search
engines dictate how we create our sites?  And don't search engines
themselves cloak - if they can, why not us?

What Is Cloaking?

To answer these *apparent* contradictions, you need to know what
search engines mean when they say "don't cloak."  They all mean the
same thing, which Google defines as follows:

"The term 'cloaking' is used to describe a Website that returns
altered Web pages to search engines crawling the site. In other words,
the Web server is programmed to return different content to [a search
engine] than it returns to regular users, usually in an attempt to
distort search engine rankings."  (See:

So cloaking is something a server is programmed to do only when it
sees a search engine robot visiting the site. It's called 'cloaking'
because it involves hiding the content people will see, and
substituting it with content designed to rank higher in the search
engine results pages (SERPs).

Search engines have a problem with cloaking because it makes a mockery
of their ranking algorithms.  These algorithms rank pages partly
according to what people will see on the page.  When this information
is deliberately withheld, the algorithm cannot do its job. Cloaking is
the ultimate form of invisible text - nobody sees it, not even by
viewing the HTML source code.

Personalized Content Delivery Is Not Cloaking

One reason why there's so much debate over whether cloaking is okay or
not, is because there are other techniques Webmasters use on Websites
that some people call cloaking, when in reality, they're not cloaking
at all.  Remember, cloaking is *only* showing one thing to people, and
another thing to search engine robots.

So, what about all these other things like geo-IP delivery, secure
content or personalised delivery?

Cloaking is none of these things.  Cloaking is *only* an application
that exists to hide content from the search engines.

Here's a quick rule of thumb to help you understand what cloaking is
(and more importantly...what it isn't)  - if you need to know a search
engine's IP address or some details from its HTTP request (e.g., its
user agent name) in order to deliver content, you are probably
cloaking.  If you don't need that information, then you are certainly
not cloaking.

XML Feeds Are Not Cloaking

In the last couple of years search engines have introduced XML feeds -
a way of automatically submitting hundreds or thousands of pages to
some search engines, while providing extra information about those
pages that does not appear on the actual pages people will see.  Some
people describe these XML feeds as cloaking, but they are absolutely
not cloaking.  They are XML feeds that are sanctioned by the search
engine -- that's all. If you are delivering an XML feed to a search
engine, then of course the search engine knows about it.  You are not
hiding anything from them, and therefore, you are not cloaking.
Cloaked content is almost always HTML, not XML.

Cloaking Is Not A Technology But An Application

Another thing you hear about cloaking is "cloaking is only a
technology; technology is passive - it's the application of technology
that makes it right or wrong."  Let me clear this one up too.
Cloaking is *not* a technology.  Cloaking is the application of other
technologies to do as I've described above.  The other technologies in
question are things like IP delivery and user agent delivery, which
are passive technologies.  They have many applications other than
cloaking and are not wrong or bad in and of themselves.   Cloaking is
an application, not a technology.

Cloaking Is Deceptive Advertising

I am against cloaking, as defined in this article, because cloaking
amounts to deceptive advertising in the search results.  To illustrate
this, I'll draw a quick comparison between cloaked content and
pay-per-click (PPC) advertisements.  Both offer ostensibly the same
thing: the ability to improve a page's position in the search results
without changing the content that searchers see.  The difference is
that PPC advertisements are clearly labelled as advertisements.
Cloaking achieves a similar result, but it involves using deception to
obtain a commercial advantage.  And, of course, the cloaked pages are
not clearly labelled in the search results because the search engine
did not know they were cloaked!  So cloaking amounts to using
deception to obtain an unlabelled improved position for commercial
advantage - deceptive advertising.

Relevancy Makes No Difference

Another question you may have is what if the cloaked content is
relevant?  Does that make it okay?  Relevancy makes no difference.
PPC ads are relevant too (they are often checked by editors to ensure
this) but they still have to be labelled as advertising.  An FTC
investigation into a complaint made by Ralph Nader's CommercialAlert
confirmed this last year.  (See:

Cloaking Is Always A Bad Idea

Hopefully you now know what cloaking is and what it isn't.  You should
also now know why some people (and search engines) think it's a bad

The way to improve a page's position in the search results without
paying for advertising is to 1) make sure the search engine spider can
find and index the page, 2) improve the content on the page, and 3)
improve the positioning of the page within the Web as a whole.  You
never need to cloak. A perceived need to cloak usually indicates a
more fundamental problem with a site.  Solve that fundamental problem
and you will probably improve your site for your visitors.  A better
return on investment -- for less effort!

Alan Perkins, Co-founder
e-Brand Management

[Jill's comments: Alan has been a leader in the fight against search
engine spam for many years.  Google reps often quote his white paper,
"The Classification of Search Engine Spam"
during the "Spam Police" sessions at the Search Engine Strategies

As a side note, when I first read Alan's paper many years ago, I
didn't agree with it completely.  In fact, I seem to remember
vehemently arguing against parts of it in a search engine forum.
Interestingly enough, I read it again a few weeks ago and found myself
in absolute total agreement with everything he wrote.  I assumed that
Alan must have changed it over the years, yet he told me that he
hadn't.  So if the paper hasn't changed, then what did?  Hmm...maybe
Alan has me hypnotized or something! - J]

~~~Other SEO News~~~

++Beware of Fake Yahoo UK Listing Review++

A few weeks ago, a couple of my loyal subscribers from the UK
forwarded an email to me that appeared to be from Yahoo UK saying that
they needed to pay 199 to have their annual Yahoo listing review.

Since Yahoo UK has no annual review fee, they thought that Yahoo was
trying to pull something on them, and thus asked me about it.  (The
U.S. Yahoo does have an annual review fee, but not the UK Yahoo.)  On
the surface it appeared to be an official Yahoo email.  However, when
I saw that the review fee also included a Google Web directory
listing, an Open Directory submission, an AltaVista directory
submission, plus "tips and advice on your current site, mistakes,
metatags, title and description" -- I knew something was fishy.
There's no way Yahoo UK would provide all that!

What was really sneaky is that this slimy company used a free email address, which could easily be mistaken for a Yahoo
rep's email address.  Upon notifying Yahoo via email, my sources
received the usual canned Yahoo response.

Turns out our old friend Barry Lloyd at MakeMeTop also got ahold of
this bogus email.  He and his right-hand man Andy decided to
investigate further.  Below is what Barry told me.

"We were first made aware of this on January 13th.  Upon reading the
email we were initially taken in as anyone else would likely be. Upon
looking closer, I saw the term 'independent agent' and 'Intermedia.'
It struck me as strange that Yahoo would use an independent agent to
review sites. Next warning was the email address -- it was a standard
Yahoo email subscriber address (albeit with a very clever name), but
not the form of email address you would normally get from Yahoo.
These are always addresses -- not or

"Andy decided to call the number, which results in you having to leave
a message along with your phone number, Website address and fax
number. Within 15 minutes we got a call back.

"Andy wrote at the time, 'Just got my call returned. These people are
obviously pretty serious. They claimed to have a relationship with
Yahoo, and pretty much stuck to what they say in the email -- stating
the review was not essential -- and saying that if you didn't take the
review then you wouldn't automatically be removed from the index.'

"We then emailed Frazer Lee, the lead surfer at Yahoo UK, who replied
almost instantly stating they were aware of it and would deal with

So everyone, please beware! If you've already received the email, I
suggest you discard it immediately.  If you were tricked into signing
up for the service, you may want to see about getting your money back.
Hopefully, none of you fell for this apparent scam.


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++LookSmart Posts First Net Profit++

Looks like *some* people are using LookSmart listings, as they're
finally starting to make money!  You can read about their first profit
ever here:

I also found out this week that LookSmart had ended their partnership
with the scumware program eZula some time last year.  That's great
news because programs like eZula unwittingly steal everyone's traffic
by diverting it elsewhere.  As I mentioned last time
</issue040.htm#seonews1>, many big
companies, including Lycos, Overture and FindWhat are advertising with
Gator, another scumware program.  Dakota Smith, VP of Marketing at
LookSmart, assured me that they were through with eZula and had no
plans to partner with Gator.  Nice to hear some good news on the
LookSmart front for a change!

Dakota also told me that they'll be rolling out some new reporting
tools for their customers at the next Search Engine Strategies
conference, which will be in Boston, so stay tuned!

~~~Stuff You Might Like~~~

++Search Engine Visibility++

Shari Thurow of Grantastic Designs has just published her book,
"Search Engine Visibility."  We're not talking ebook here, but a real
paperback book that you can purchase at a bookstore.  I had the honor
of reading a copy of it before it was published, and found it easy to
understand and well written.  The publisher even put a quote from me
on the inside cover!  After browsing through it again last week, I
feel that my quote really sums up the book nicely (saving me from
having to write another review now!).  So here's what I wrote:

"Many people think that creating a Website that can be found in the
search engines means you have to forfeit a great looking design.
Others believe that search engine marketing is all about tricking the
engines and fooling directory editors.

"Shari Thurow's 'Search Engine Visibility' explains in clear, concise
language why this just isn't so!

"Today's Internet search engines and directories want to see the same
thing as your site visitors -- a Website that clearly states what it
has to offer.  Shari's done a great job of putting her years of
designing search engine friendly sites into words the average
Webmaster will understand.

"Search engine marketing takes one giant leap forward with this book
that spells out exactly what you should do (as well as what you
shouldn't do) to achieve long-term Website success."

You can purchase this book at any bookstore, or if you want to order
it online, please use my Amazon affiliate link here:

Happy reading!

~~~Sound Advice~~~

++Gaining Rankings by Making Sense++

Here's the link to this week's Sound Advice audio tip:

~~~Advisor Wrap-up~~~

Wow, what a jam-packed issue!  I actually had lots more to tell you
but am running out of time and space.  I do need to let you know that
for the March SES conference in Boston
<> I'll be heading up a new
session called "From Start to Finish."  Shari T. and I will be taking
an audience member's site and optimizing it right before your eyes.
However, in order to make the session work, we need a site to
optimize, and we need it in advance.  So if you have a fairly small
site that needs optimizing, AND you believe you can make it to the
conference, please email me at  Yo
u'll have to pay for your travel and accommodations, but you'll get a
free pass to the conference, plus free optimization of your site (at
least a page or two).  So send those sites in!

Next issue I'll try to have more info on this and other conference
sessions I'll be doing.  I should also have some info on the Atlanta
half-day seminar I'm planning to do sometime in May.  Please don't
email me about this one yet, as we're still in the planning stages at
the moment.  I promise to let you know all the details of it once it's
worked out!

If you're in the Rte. 495 area of Massachusetts next Tuesday, Feb. 4,
come hear me speak at EMC in Hopkinton!  You can learn more here:

Catch you there or in the newsletter! - Jill
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