If you have multiple templates a user can choose from on a site (like a forum), and you offer Google Bot a "lite" skin, is this considered cloaking? Or is this considered okay?

The actual content remains the same, though the exact definition of "content" by Google seems questionable.

  • Why are you doing this? Is there something you think you will gain? Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 12:03
  • @DisgruntledGoat I see a lot of forums do this, especially that of vbulletin. And the gain would be resource saved on both sides.
    – Grumpy
    Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 10:22

2 Answers 2


Using Multiple Themes is not Cloaking.

Its rather common the likes of forums have multiple themes and some sites will even use a lite version for Googlebot to save on resources. I would not be concerned at using agent based templates at all since the content itself remains untouched.

What Google determines cloaking is anything that is used to hide from Google to manipulate search results in one way or another. Such as:

  • Cloaking Links
  • Cloaking Urls
  • Cloaking Content (With no way of accessing this content/element i.e javascript display:block from display:none.)
  • Cloaked Redirects
  • Cloaking Affiliate Links
  • This is somewhat inline with my current train of thought, but at the same time, fee like it's something I want it to be true. Google's video with matt cutts on cloaking gives an example by hashing although clearly states it's not just simple hashing. But he's not entirely clear on this, which is why I came to ask here.
    – Grumpy
    Commented Feb 16, 2013 at 10:24

It is cloaking it the lite skin is not the same default skin that you offer new users. Googlebot wants to see exactly what a user coming in from Google search is going to see. If you choose a different skin based on user agent, then Google may automatically detect this and penalize you. They sometimes make requests using a normal browser user agent to test for cloaking.

Regardless of whether or not it is cloaking, you may not want to use a different skin for googlebot. The contents that googlebot fetch are used to create preview images for your site. If you use a lite skin for goooglebot, your site won't look great in the preview.

  • 2
    Your concept may be true that Google want to see exactly the same as expected visitors there is tons of sites doing this without any slaps. Take VBulletin sites for a prime example, some of these forums use the lite theme for user agent bots and even they bypass the registration required for reading more than 5 posts. Some Forums you even see Googlebot online due to the fact these forums detect Googlebot with different rules. This contradicts your beliefs that the same experience should be offered since many top ranking forums do this. Not saying your wrong or right thou its debatable. Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 14:01
  • Just because they haven't gotten caught yet doesn't mean it isn't against Google's policies. I've heard similar arguments for paid links before penguin hit: "Everybody is doing it, if you don't you are letting your competitors win." Giving googlebot content that you require users to log into see is definitely cloaking. ExpertsExchange got penalized big time for doing that. Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 14:56
  • Bybe does raise a good point, much of SEO is about risk management. Taking risks can lead to big returns -- or disaster. When it comes to Google, intentions sometimes matter a lot and may get you a pass. On the other hand, automatic algorithms often don't care about intentions at all. Cloaking isn't about right or wrong, its about staying in the good graces of Google by following their rules. Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 15:47

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