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A few weeks ago, Brent Payne made a post about “whitehat cloaking” and changing your content based on referring website. He asked for some feedback on Twitter, causing some follow up discussions. I had a few people asking for examples about how to do this. In this two part post, first we’ll look at some theory about why would you want to do it, under what circumstances, and how to do it without angering the Google Gods. In tomorrow’s post “How to Conditionally Change Your Content,” I’ll give you some ideas about how to implement this.

Let’s talk about the high level strategy items first. Why would you want to serve different content to different users:

  • Social media traffic is advertising averse, so show them fewer ads and more social oriented content
  • Search traffic can be goal/purchase oriented, so try to serve them content designed to help you do that
  • Direct traffic can get the full brand treatment designed to build subscribers, regular visitors, or a sense of community

To use a cooking metaphor, I’m not serving each of these people a different meal, but I’m varying the seasoning to suit my guest’s individual tastes. Let’s get past the superficial. What are some things you could do differently for, say, social media traffic? Under most situations, social media visitors don’t click adsense, banner ads, and that sort of thing. For social media traffic, your best outcome will be getting them to link to your page, vote/retweet your page, or visit other pages. What you want to think about is how you can change your content to help you meet those goals.

With Google’s announcement that site speed is a factor, many savvy webmasters opted out of third party buttons and began to use smaller, lightweight, on-site graphics. While this helps with site speed, it doesn’t help with social engagement. If you want more social interaction show bigger buttons up top, especially the third party buttons with active vote/tweet counts. I would remove as much advertising as you could. I would replace this with graphics or sections featuring other social content. If you use tags to isolate your social content it would be easy to pull out using a DB query. How about showing your most popular or most emailed pages. Rather than showing a social media audience 25 pages of your top 25 list, consolidate all of the content onto one page.

What about search traffic? How can you change the content to better suit their needs? In some cases you may want to remove content like the sidebar, making your pages more like single page squeeze pages. Of course this will depend on the page content like, say, a product page. You may want to be more aggressive with advertising placement if you run an adsense or affiliate website. You could also vary the advertising a bit. I’ve spoken before about using tags to target your advertising, but why not use search query terms as well. If someone came to your website searching for [cheap mexico vacations], normally you would just serve them ads about cruises, hotels, or vacation packages to Mexico. However, if you trapped for search queries containing the word [cheap] you might also want to mix in some value based vacation advertising.

While there are some advantages to doing this, there are some pitfalls as well. This type of behavior makes for a more complicated website to maintain and run, so make sure you have the resources for the long haul. Secondly you have to be concerned about the search engines and giving the appearance of cloaking with ill intent. The more dramatic the main content is from one version to another, the more likely it is to upset a search engine. For example, if you serve a 1,400 word article to direct traffic, a 700 word trimmed down version to search traffic, and a 400 word version to social traffic, you are taking some risks. I would make sure that search engine bots get a version that is very close if not identical to the version that users coming from a search engine will get.

In the next post I’ll walk you through some of the steps on How to Conditionally Change Your Content from a programming perspective.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Rob Hughes

This post originally came from Michael Gray who is an SEO Consultant. Be sure not to miss the Thesis WordPress Theme review.

Change Your Content Based on Traffic Intent

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