I recently found out that especially my forum pages are loading slowly (it doesn't feel like it for me, but google's webmaster tools mentions 5s and more).

I was wondering if this could be because user's avatars? The avatars are not hosted on my website, and some users have animated gifs or needlessly large images (>250KB).

Would it be a good idea to not load avatars when a search engine visits my website? I know they will then be missing from google's cached pages, but will it speed up my website, and perhaps improve my page's ranking?

  • 1
    I've had this problem in the past, we ended up simply banning animated gifs and imposing a size limit as @johnconde suggests. The slow page loads were actually hurting us with users more than the search engines. Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 0:01
  • I wouldn't serve pages without the avatars while your not doing it to try and trick googlebot to increase your rankings like BMW in Germany did which was cloacking what your doing isn't in my opinion you wouldn't be banned. What you should do like @toomanyairmiles suggests is set limits on the avatar size. Maybe consider integrating with Gravatar and let them handle the limits
    – Anagio
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 9:55

1 Answer 1


If you hide these from the search engines you risk being banned for cloaking. Cloaking is when you serve different content to the search engines for the explicit purpose of manipulating your rankings which is exactly what you would be doing by hiding these from the search engines.

If these avatars are so large and hurting your page loading speed then it's also hurting your users' experience, not only the search engines. You should consider dealing with the real issue which these excessively large avatars. Make it a rule that avatars can only be a certain size or smaller and block any that are too large. Then both your users and the search engines will be happier with your forum pages.

  • Exactly. Cloaking is the absolute wrong way to go about what's inherently a usability problem. You should always be more concerned with your human users' user experience, not the search crawler's user experience. After all, Google only cares about webpages loading slow because they don't want to send searchers to slow webpages. So this really isn't any different from other cloaking techniques that also try to present a more enticing version of a webpage to search engines than what users actually get when they click the link. Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 0:57

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