This week, a story came to my attention that I don’t hear too often. It seems there’s some buzz around the real estate industry that a fairly well-known website is participating in cloaking.

If this news is true, it could mean two things: They did it on purpose, in which case Papa Google will swiftly ban the real estate site from its index. Or they did it unknowingly, meaning they have a very naive SEO specialist working for them and will still have to answer to Papa Google.

So what, exactly, is cloaking – and why does it irritate Google so much?

Cloaking is the practice of serving a different version of your website to the search engines than you do to the end user. When the practice first started, there was a much larger gap between what looked good to the end user and what looked good to the search engines. So cloaking seemed like the perfect solution – not to mention, mighty tempting. But it was quickly, and rightly, deemed a black hat and spammy practice. Google specifies in its webmaster guidelines that if they suspect you of cloaking, they will remove your site from their index.

To hear that a prominent website could be cloaking is surprising. An experienced SEO specialist knows that it is a deceptive, outlawed, and, frankly, lazy technique. There are so many legitimate ways you can optimize your site for both search engine and visitor usability these days. I hope for this real estate site’s sake that the allegations are false. But if they’re true, they should start shopping for a new SEO guy.

[Ed. Note: Staying on Google’s good side can mean more traffic, more customers… and more money in your pocket. Of course, building a successful business involves a few other details. Learn how you can get insider advice from expert business builders right here.]

After graduating from Florida State University in 1997, Alexis got started in the golden age of the Internet marketing industry working agency-side where she performed everything from search engine optimization (SEO) to web analytics to media buying for several clients. She then took her expertise client-side managing SEO and pay-per-click (PPC) efforts, as well as other print and interactive marketing initiatives for companies in the financial and software industries.

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