Will redirecting users from a ranking page to a better matching page for the search query hurt?
 by Casey Markee

Will redirecting users from an already-ranking page to a page that's a better match for the search query hurt my site?

  • One of my client's homepages is listed on page one of Google's search results for a competitive keyword. However, my client's site also has a different page that's a better match for this keyword. My idea is to parse the referral URL for this search query and then send the visitor (who would otherwise land on the homepage) to the better page. Can you think of any search engine problems that this could cause?

Answer: Even though your intentions are pure—you're attempting to offer visitors the most relevant page—Google will likely view your methodology as cloaking.

Google's Webmasters Guidelines specifically warn against cloaking by saying:

"Serving up different results based on user agent may cause your site to be perceived as deceptive and removed from the Google index."

Note that Google's statement includes the word "may." It has been our experience that Google enforces this rule selectively. In other words, it depends on extenuating circumstances such as who you are, whether anyone complains, and, possibly, your intent. So, the real question is: Are you feeling lucky?

Technically, what you are proposing — parsing a search query and redirecting visitors from a currently indexed URL to a different page — is considered cloaking by Google's strict definition of the term. So this could very well be viewed as a violation of Google's Webmasters Guidelines.

In our opinion, we don't believe it's worth taking the chance on a client's site (or your own). Google could assess a penalty and drop your client's homepage from page one of the search results. It's even possible that Google could drop the entire site from their index for cloaking. Unfortunately, and all too often, Google doesn't consider your intentions. We recommend you seriously factor in this consideration befo...

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