Google Caught Cloaking and Keyword Stuffing?

71 comments
Thread Title:
Google Caught Cloaking - Keyword Stuffing Titles
Thread Description:

A short while ago, Threadwatch member Adam_C discovered what for all appearances seems to be Google pulling dirty SEO tactics on it's own pages and thus going against it's own guidelines in an effort to rank highly within it's own results.

Cloaking
Cloaking is covered in Google's guidelines as something strictly not to do:

  • Don't employ cloaking or sneaky redirects.

Although there is some debate within the SEO industry as to what exactly cloaking is, in it's simplest form it is showing one page to search engines, and a different page for users - much of the debate hinges on intent.

Here's how Google define it in the Google Webmaster FAQ

The term "cloaking" is used to describe a website that returns altered webpages to search engines crawling the site. In other words, the webserver is programmed to return different content to Google than it returns to regular users, usually in an attempt to distort search engine rankings. This can mislead users about what they'll find when they click on a search result. To preserve the accuracy and quality of our search results, Google may permanently ban from our index any sites or site authors that engage in cloaking to distort their search rankings.

Keyword stuffing
Keyword stuffing is, as you might expect, the practice of stuffing a page with the keywords you wish to rank for - without off page optimization it's worse than useless, but combined with incoming links, and cloaked to appear normal to visitors (they see a nicely worded page, search robots see the kw stuffed page) it can be highly effective.

So where do Google come into this?

If you look at this Adwords page on Google you'll see at the top of your browser, the title:

Google AdWords Support: How do I use the Traffic Estimator?

That's what normal visitors like you and me will see when visiting the page.

Now have a look at Google's cache of the same page - Notice the change in the title? It now reads:

traffic estimator, traffic estimates, traffic tool, estimate traffic Google AdWords Support ...

You think they want to rank for traffic estimates? I'd say they did...

Update: In the comments of this post, fishyking points out that the keyword stuffing has been done globally...

If true, what are the implications?

There is much debate around the way Google handles cloaking, in fact, many webmasters and SEO's feel thier is a need for a change in Google's official policy, but that's probably a discussion for another day.

For now, the implications are simple - If Google can do this on it's own pages, why can ordinary webmasters not? Google's keyword stuffed, cloaked title would be hard to describe as anything other than an SEO tactic not so much frowned upon, but full on hated by the Search giant itself.

Unless they can pull something out of the bag on this regarding an explanation, i'd say they've just been caught red handedly doing one of the very things they ban websites for, and consistently tell webmasters on forums and blogs not to do.

Comments

Phew...

Adam_C, thanks, very, very interestin' catch!

I've closed the other thread in favor of a new one with some explanation for less informed readers - i can't see how they could explain that one and wanted as many people to understand it as possible

Cheers

You can confirm this with telnet

Their page is serving up different content if the user agent is googlebot. When you view the cache, you are seeing what googlebot saw. The parent poster is spreading mis-information. This is not the a feature of the google cache that is adding the keywords to the title of the page. It is google adsense that is spamming the google search index.

telnet adwords.google.co.uk 80
GET /support/bin/answer.py?answer=9653&topic=65 HTTP/1.0
host: adwords.google.co.uk
User-Agent: Googlebot/2.1 (+http://www.googlebot.com/bot.html)

...

traffic estimator, traffic estimates, traffic tool, estimate traffic
Google AdWords Support: Why do traffic estimates for my Ad Group
differ from those given by the standalone tool?

...

And without googlebot:

telnet adwords.google.co.uk 80
GET /support/bin/answer.py?answer=9653&topic=65 HTTP/1.0
host: adwords.google.co.uk
...

Google AdWords Support: Why do traffic estimates for my Ad Group
differ from those given by the standalone tool?

...

parent poster?

>> The parent poster is spreading mis-information

You mean Nick? *lol* (methinks above is quoted from slashdot :-)

Gotcha Goog! Nice one, Nick :

Gotcha Goog! Nice one, Nick :-)

Oooh, naughty

Now had this been Yahoo! they would have already been publicly talking in a pragmatic way about how you need to do some stuff in certain industries, blah blah, but *whiter than white* Google - oops!

The forums were ablaze not so long ago outing FTSE/Fortune bigwigs [*] for this kind of thing, never thought I would see Google hoisted by its own TOS petard

* http://www.threadwatch.org/node/1437

Who's going to turn them in?

http://www.google.com/contact/spamreport.html

* Misleading or repeated words
* Cloaked page

Well, I hate to put a downer

Well, I hate to put a downer on this but given there's a section: "Search Adwords Support" it seems likely that these are intended for that specific search feature and accidentally crept live. i.e. it's like the reverse and that these few pages are an indication of not cloaking :)

Don't seems very logical

Well, I hate to put a downer on this but given there's a section: "Search Adwords Support" it seems likely that these are intended for that specific search feature and accidentally crept live.

The internal search also sees the cloaked titles, but making it because of that reason would be pointless, since, as far as I see, all the keywords that are stuffing the titles with are also present in the actual copy, and so those pages would be returned for an internal search anyway. And it doesn't return so many results to be of importance to place certain page above the others.

Tee heee there are two identi

Tee heee there are two identical versions except for the title. One in http: and the other in https:

Now all you webmasters go off

Now all you webmasters go off and do what we tell you, while we do whatever we please ...

UA Cloaking

I was a bit unsure what you meant in the beginning as my firefox UA is set to Googlebot, but when checking it in IE it makes completely sense. :D

Holy crap!

User agent cloaking? Can't someone approach them and explain how to do things properly?!

Wow.

Scum-ware and cloaking....

Danny

As i removed Danny's trackback from the closed post, let me link to it here:

Fishyking, nice discovery, i've added that to the original post, and thanks again Adam_C - that was a truly beautiful find heh....

Thanks

Looked too good to be true. Posted, then had went into a 2.5 hour meeting.

Come of it to see that it looks genuine. Very funny indeed.

quick search of google and yo

quick search of google and you'll find lots more
try
site:adwords.google.co.uk/support/

I don't want to spoil the fun...

...but we'll have to wait for a new cache fresh date.

wtf? site:adwords.google.co.

wtf?
site:adwords.google.co.uk/support/
has just stopped returning results

Danny's post says

Quote:
It could also be that the title previously said this and has since changed. The cached version of the page is dated March 6 as of 5AM GMT. The difference between the cached copy and the current one was spotted on March 7. It is possible, unlikely but possible, that the page was changed within a day and that the Google spider hasn't yet caught up with it.

That's incorrect. You don't need to look at the cached copy to see this. You just have to open the live page with your user-agent set to emulate googlebot. In other words, this is clearly not a case of a title tag being changed and the cache not having the current data.

The search Danny links to, fo

The search Danny links to, for which this page comes up on top, brings up very different results on MSN and Yahoo. Is it possible that G is only cloaking the page for their own spider, so that their own page will rank better on their SE? That wouldn't be quite as bad as spamming the other search engines.

Pints

Does this mean that Googleguy will have to buy Fantomaster pints next SES? ;)

Googlebot only

It's a simple check of the user agent string for "Googlebot". Just use the User Agent extension in Firefox and switch between your default and a Googlebot user agent and the titles will change. No checking of IP addresses (so they don't owe Fantomaster anything!), just a simple, blatant, amateur bit of cloaking for their own spider.

Does this change anything? Th

Does this change anything? They're still the daddy and they'll still ban you if you do it.

If it was just for Google

Cant they fudge their own search results without resorting to this? (they have been accused of manual fixes in the past) so this must be not just for Google serps?

Implications

Interesting implications if they have actually cloaked for visibility, whether it's in their engine or not.

Why choose cloaking if other options are available? Maybe those options aren't available? Maybe it was just laziness (which sends a message in itself about how effective cloaking may be seen to be)?

does this change anything?.?.

Probably the amount of current employees will decrease if it's an internal affair. hehe.

Kind of solidifies the cloakers point of view. If Google cloaks then obviously cloaking has it's advantages.

Says to me

That cloaking is legitimate. Actually, just cloaking for GoogleBot ;O)

I have a 100% track record G

GG just incase you see this. If you wanna cloak right I'm your man. Never been caught and probably never will get caught. Been cloaking in your index for 2 years +. If you'd like a resume just let me know ;D

From the other side

It certainly doesn't make me feel better about cloaking. It makes me feel much worse about G, both for the hypocrisy of seeing them do it, and the fact that you'd think they'd know how to do it a little better.

On second look, it makes me w

On second look, it makes me wonder if it is a joke. It is done in such a sloppy manner...

sloppy?

Cloaks aren't ment to look pretty :) I wish we could find more internal optimization. I would say look at what they changed and ask yourself? Why did they optimize that particular area? It's Google optimizing for Google. This is just like reading an insiders guide.
*off to look for more Google cloaks.

Setup

I've been wondering along similar lines grnidone, it's amateur to the point of being ridiculous...

two scenarios spring to mind:

  1. Someone has been hired to optimize internal pages and it was a poor, poor choice of appointment.
  2. They have some bizzare reason for doing this and waiting for it to be discovered - what reason that might be is quite beyond me.

I think the first is far more likely. Yahoo employ SEO's so why not google?

"poor, poor choice"

You would think that they would make sure they got someone good.

Or perhaps they would be so keen to keep it a secret that they did it internally with the closest skills to hand.

Cough *ethics* Cough

er... has anyone mentioned this yet at ihelpyou or highrankings?

Im aware that this does not apply to all that frequent those forums (i frequent both of them regularly :) but there are some, doug heil at ihelpyou and iforgethisname at HR spring to mind, that must be devastated to see this...

Google huggers the world over are in deep shock, the sanctamonious pointing out of the G$ 'guidelines' at every opportunity will never again have quite the same impact (if it ever did...)

Huggers

If there were any huggers, they stopped hugging when AutoLink (Ought-to-link?) was released.

Hmm I just found something

Probably not much but it would put a manual update of the page within the last couple of days. In the current document there is a misplaced font tag. In the cache dated Feb 25, 2005 17:56:03 GMT. the font tag is placed correctly.

Since my version of FF won't work with the old useagent switcher extension. I can't get a live view of the googlebot ua version of the site. Can someone go in there grab the source as gbot and drop the source in dreamweaver. If the font tag is misplaced then the cloak has been tampered with in the last week. Ooooo :) Did that make sense???? lol

No excuses...

But they may have (hopefully!) done this for easier indexing for their 'search adwords support' function. They've just taken the most popular queries, and cloaked them right up the top to help clueless adwords users find the most relevant information.... Hang on! That's always been my excuse. ;-)

So does this mean now that simple UA cloaking is the way to go? All those constantly updated lists of IP addresses were a waste of time?!

Easier indexing ?

Don't know about that. If you query each of:-

traffic estimator, traffic estimates, traffic tool, estimate traffic

Only the first (the one Danny links to)and the last get any ranking anyway

Sorry, meant for people searching here

https://adwords.google.com/support/?hl=en_US

Not that it matters, if they can't sort out their own site search and all that...

re: easier indexing

close but no cigar. Combine google or adwords with the keywords and you have the rankings they were optimizing for. It's a technique I've seen before. instead of saying google/adwords traffice estimates, google/adwords traffic estimator. you just do traffic estimates, traffic estimator, Google... Adwords ... This kinda confirms that whole theory.

Just found a load more

Do a search for site:adwords.google.co.uk and look through all the results, there are many occurences of the same thing.

Titles like:

cancel, cancel account, cancellation, canceled, cancelled ...

disabling, disabled, disable, poor, low, "not good", reactivate ...

click-through rate, click through rate, ctr, click-through-rate ...

An internal balls up?

Added

You have to click for 'repeat the search with the omitted results included' starts around page five.

hilarious

In the original thread i think the link was to a query on Google UK: http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=traffic+estimator (#2+3)

There, the results seems to be changed now. On google.com i still see it at #1

original

Correction to my post above. I found the original: http://www.threadwatch.org/node/1773

The original query is not "traffic estimator" but traffic estimate and results are at #1 and #2 for me (they might be #2 and #3 for you depending on your location)

Sorry Nick

Quote:
er... has anyone mentioned this yet at ihelpyou or highrankings?

I had to play big girl at the office today, and then play chauffeur to my son, etc. I saw the beginnings of this thread at one point in between, but didn't have a chance to mention it at HR. I really assumed somebody else would have by now! I just started a thread at HR as this really is pretty funny, imo!

So we have Google as scumware, Google as spammers, they have no place else to go from here!

heh..

Jill, it's deader than dead out there right now - it's as if everyone is asleep except for here, in this thread :)

I actually asked a mate in IM if it was a public holiday in US today heh..

Will check the HR thread in the am.

I guess I need to get me a new UA string...

I tried it with the original gbot 2.1 one and that didn't work :-)

But this truly is Google in teaching mode.

Or Y.A.Confusion, placing emphasis on something that doesn't really work that well...

more than just a title giving it away

I just got an html page of the cloaked content. The font tag is placed correctly in the body text of the cloak and incorrectly in the regular page. Stupid since the body content is exactly the same in both cloak and non cloaked pages. You'd think G could afford a good cloaker now a days???

One wonders

How much more they can do to f*ck up their reputation.

*Thank you* for a good laugh.

*Thank you* for a good laugh. I needed it. :)

It doesn't get much more amusing than this

They should have at least hired a good SEO to get it right!

What a Gong Show. Autolink, n

What a Gong Show. Autolink, now this.

Can't wait to see what pops outta Google next month.

What is the fuzz? They do wha

What is the fuzz? They do what they have to do to rank well - and so they do .... Like the rest of us. Welcome to the club, Google! LOL

lol

big boys always get away with it hehe

I really tried not to do this....

It is interesting that DaveN goes to Edinburgh for a surreptitious meeting with WhoKnowsWho but certainly is fed with alcohol. A week or two later, it seems from evidence that Google is found to be cloaking.

Is this a coincidence? I think we should be told :-)

eurotrash

let it go mate ... I will be back in edinburgh this year :)

DaveN

Reported

haha, both Alan Perkins and MakeMeTop have reported the spammy pages to Google! LMAO!

starts at around msg 9

Good work lads!

Googleguy? Oh Googleguy what are you saying about this?

Or have you run away with your tail between your legs?

only appear in links

Cache of "month spending" google

These search terms have been highlighted: google
These terms only appear in links pointing to this page: month spending

You think G also link spams their own content on hidden pages that don't appear in the index?

too bad

- that slashdotters don't read TFA... uhm -post. The people posting in the /. thread just don't seem to get it.

Perhaps we should mention again that it's a simple User Agent cloak, as mentioned in the original thread: Googlebot sees one thing, browsers another. Ah, i found one after all..

Interesting...

Interesting that many of the /.'s question whether this is really an issue at all.

In which case, let them try user-agent cloaking on their own sites, and see what interesting response they get from Google.

Miserable Failure: Search Engine Optimization

Apparently, Google employs some of the SEO tricks that it discourages - namely, keyword stuffing in titles. I don't know that this is their largest issue, however.

Google operates in the "high precision, low recall" arena; their algorithms are s...

Speaking of sloppy coding/cloaking

Maybe those of you who do this sort of thing can clue me in -- is it common to have carriage returns within tags on cloaked pages? If you check the source code, it's in there, right between the spammy part and the rest of the title tag.

Having said all that

The correct response when spotting a fellow webmaster with their pants down, exposing their unmentionables for all the world to see, is to drop them a friendly email pointing out the "mistake". Just saying.

Not to say it isn't funny, runs a close second to convincing the wife that cliff notes is America's most proflific author.

fellow webmaster

That they aint.

Google Engaged In Cloaking Its Own Pages?

Threadwatch has a nice catch that this page from Google on AdWords traffic estimates looks different from the cached version recorded by Google's spider. In particular, the HTML title tag of the page humans see says: Google AdWords Support: Why...

Played Down

Being played down in BetaNews now...

eWeek

eWeek Story

Seems they tapped Danny, or Jupiter issued a press release - lots of talk about Google's cloaking policy in general...

Google: Do as I say, not as I do

Google was caught blatantly violating the same rules it'll ban websites from its index entirely for. It professes to dislike keyword stuffing (the practice of including every possible search term you're trying to land high in the hits for in...

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