Developer Martin Splitt puts light on what constitutes cloaking.
“Can you go into more detail what is considered as cloaking and what’s not? Where’s the gray line?”
Cloaking is simple terms is showing different content to users and different content to Google bot when they visit your website.
“Where’s the grey line I can’t do much in terms of giving too much detail for that. But fundamentally cloaking means misleading the user. That means if I see a Googlebot is requesting my website and say this website is about kittens and butterflies and then when it’s a user going to that website (instead of Googlebot) having… like an online drugstore or trying to sell knockoff products, so something like that.
That would be very much against the intention of the user, and that would not match what we would show in search results if the user searches for cute kittens or something like that. So that’s very, very clearly cloaking.”
Showing Slightly Different Content To Google-Bot and Users is Okay
Splitt spoke about how different content is suitable for Googlebots and users. He also revealed details about device capabilities.
“What isn’t cloaking is if my website content is slightly different. Because we all know that with responsive web design, we might have slightly different content, to begin with. On a mobile phone I might only load one product instead of ten products… and then have the user click through multiple pages or something like that. That’s not cloaking. That’s just slightly different content depending on what the browser can do or what the device capabilities are, that is fine.”
You Should Not Mislead A User
Some publishers question whether they are unknowingly misleading users who are searching for something on Google.
“If you show slightly different content for Googlebot than for real users like notification or a pop-up that doesn’t show when Googlebot comes in that is mostly fine.
Unless it is like a pop-up that has ninety percent of the content in it and on the actual page it is only an image; then we are again like… uhmmmm… does that still fall within like the user sees what the user expects or what we saw as Googlebot? But generally speaking, as long as you’re not misleading the user you’re definitely on the safe side. What you shouldn’t be doing is you shouldn’t be misleading your user.”
Here is the video of Webmaster Hangout session:
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