(Philipp Lenssen and I started talking about cloaking in a corner of the web, and I figured it would make sense to talk about cloaking in a separate post. Consider this a me-typing-this-quickly post, but better to get something down than to not get a chance to talk about it.)
Here’s the recent timeline of Philipp Lenssen talking about cloaking and WebmasterWorld (WMW) as I see it:
– Philipp wrote this post in late November: http://blog.outer-court.com/archive/2006-11-28-n23.html
The basic point was that if you searched for [php-based cms] and clicked on the #1 result (which was WMW), you would get a registration page rather than the page that Googlebot saw.
– I didn’t have the cycles to deal with it right then, but earlier this year I made it clear that WMW would be removed if it met the definition of cloaking when I tested it.
– I believe the administrator (Brett) of WMW made code changes to the site so that WMW would not be considered cloaking.
– I recently tested with the example Philipp originally mentioned. I did a search for [php-based cms], clicked on the #1 result, and got the same page that Googlebot saw with no registration page.
Those code changes address many of concerns I’ve heard regarding WMW (that users who click on the results don’t get what Googlebot crawled).
So I consider Philipp’s November article acted on. Philipp’s December post about it (http://blog.outer-court.com/archive/2006-12-13-n85.html) cited the same search for [php-based cms], so I consider that acted on as well.
I believe that takes the timeline up to February. I’m aware of two other posts Philipp did on this topic, both in February. The first is http://blog.outer-court.com/archive/2007-02-05.html which says that if you go to http://www.webmasterworld.com/forum44/1287.htm that you get redirected to a registration page. When I tried it just now, I got the actual page with a “Welcome to WebmasterWorld Guest from (ip address)”. The question I’d look at for this report was if you typed this url into Google, and then clicked on the result–does the user receive the same content that Google saw?
The other article that I’m aware of is http://blog.outer-court.com/archive/2007-02-20-n47.html where Philipp states that sometimes Google allows sites to go against our webmaster practices. But that statement includes an asterisk; the disclaimer at the bottom of that post is “WebmasterWorld doesn’t always show the registration page; they sometimes show the content that was available in the snippet.” As I understand it, that disclaimer acknowledges that some of the time, WMW gives users what Googlebot crawled. When I get a chance to tackle Philipp’s most recent report, I’ll be looking at consistency: when a Google user clicks on a search result at Google, they should always see the same page that Googlebot saw. It will take me a little time to check out, because it’s a report of behavior that often meets our guidelines (e.g. cookies, referrers, IP addresses might all come into play), but I do intend to investigate this issue when I get the cycles. I won’t consider this issue closed until I have the time to investigate how consistently the return-the-same-content-as-Googlebot-saw behavior happens; it should happen for every click from a Google search result.
To sum up, we did take action on Philipp’s questions about WMW. I consider the issue in a much better state now, in that most (all?) Google searchers get the identical page to what Googlebot saw. But I still consider Philipp’s February posts open for investigation, and I will get to them, in the same way that I tackled Philipp’s first two posts about this.