Shimon Sandler

Cloaking An Ecommerce Site

While at adtech in NYC, I was speaking with my friend Greg from BOTW. I told him about an interesting SEO case I’m working on. Here’s the situation:

I have friends who shutdown their ecommerce website every Friday afternoon to Saturday night for religious reasons. As orthodox jews they are forbidden to transact any business on the Sabbath. They don’t just disable the ecommerce piece on the shopping cart. The entire website shuts down. Similar to a butcher who hangs a sign on his store, “Out to Lunch”. I know of one other ecommerce site that does this also.

So, these guys asked me if shutting down their site hurts their SEO efforts. Like, if the Google spider comes to the site, and it is shutdown, does it hurt them. Answer; yes.

So, my thought is to use Cloaking during the period of shutdown. Anotherwords, if a human being comes to the site, they see the “Out to Lunch” sign. If a spider comes to the site, it can crawl the entire site. The site will be open to the spider, but not to humans. However, as we all know, cloaking is risky business.

This type of cloaking seems like it should be permitted because it is not being done to fool Google. It’s not spamming the engines. But, before employing this SEO strategy, I think we need to get the approval ( or disapproval) of Google.

I wonder if Matt has ever had to deal with this situation?

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Comments

  1. Very interesting situation. Shimon, if you get an answer to this one … please let me know somehow. Thanks.

  2. Take a look at http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2006/08/all-about-googlebot.html
    “If my site is down for maintenance, how can I tell Googlebot to come back later rather than to index the “down for maintenance” page?
    You should configure your server to return a status of 503 (network unavailable) rather than 200 (successful). That lets Googlebot know to try the pages again later.”

  3. my idea wold to write a script that would put a robots exclusion in the robots.txt – during sabbath and holidays.

    if new content is not being generated on those days, why would it be important for the robot to come?

    congrads on making the roundtable.

  4. Hi blogged about this subject too: http://www.digital-m.co.za/seo-blog/2006/08/googlebot-behaviour.html

    “Let Googlebot know to rather try the pages later by simply configuring your server to return a status of 503.”

  5. Hey, came here via the SEO Roundtable thread; very interesting question, I hadn’t thought about it from a tech perspective, but had from a halachic perspective. There’s an article in the WSJ that discussed it: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB109269113906892796.html?

    Basically, since credit card companies don’t process transactions on Saturday, it’s OK to leave a site up and running. Obviously, consult your own rabbi, but I thought the approach was interesting.

  6. I don’t know if this is the place to post this, but they should check with their Rabbi if they have to shut the entire site down. A) they are not doing business, their website is doing business and that may be acceptable according to Orthodox Jews law. B) It might be religiously acceptable to merely disable the shopping cart if they are not comfortable with a. As such, you may want to recommend that they determine what they are religiously allowed to do before suggesting more risky practices such as cloaking.

  7. Just disable the shopping cart, so no one can purchase the products. Put up a temporary closed for maintenance sign and disable any logging into the cart. Google never spiders checkout pages anyway, so there is no loss. Otherwise they may risk too much.

  8. Shimon, leave it to you to uncover a strong religious connection to SEO. Does being down for the 2 days really have this strong affect, if the spider does not visit daily? This could be a problem for blogs, which have a stronger spider presence.

    But what about the customers of these sites. if they come to the site while it is closed – will they return? They may think the site is gone…forever.

    I wonder if an Out For Sabbath web page could be diplayed, explaining the reason the site is not available BUT telling the visitor they are appreciated and we will return on Sunday.

    SEO is not only about rankings – it is about good business. stephen

  9. We will try and solve this like a rabbi would. with a small example from life.

    As far as my knolage in jewish religion goes, i knok orthodox jews can not do any work or business on the “shabat”. Handeling this issue can be done by approaching it like you would a retail store owned by an orthodox jew.
    As a store owner, he will not open his store for business or conduct any purcheses for his store on shabat (or hollidays)…wille his store his closed on shabat, world economy keeps going, and people who pass by his business can take a peek inside thrugh the window and see whats inside. thugh they can not purchase anything given that the store is closed. now does that count as “hilul shabat” …as far as i know , the answer is No, otherwise all orthodox store owners will have to sell,give away or otherwise diminish their stores and businesses every friday before shabat goes in to affect.

    And that brigs us to a simple solution, don’t take off your site just like you would not take your retail store out of the ground before shabat.

    Having a business does not make you a “Mehalel shabat”, conducting actual business on shabat will, taking payment on shabat will do the same.

    My solution is, keep your site running, and simply disable the shopping cart checkout process. making it impossible to buy anything, leaving the site open for visitors and search robots alike, but preventing the exchange of payment wich will might make it a problem for an orthodox.

    If you are still concern about this, you can always take the drastic approach as we do during “Yom kippor”. make a contract with a non jew to “sell” your business temporerely
    every friday. or just make it as if you are the owner during the week and he is the owner during the weekend. :)

  10. Got to this page because I was in the exact same situation recently. I explained it to my customer in a very simple way. Compare your website to a shop window. When the shopping cart is open it means the shop is open for trade. The rest of the time the visitor can do “window shopping” but is unable to buy anything. So simply close the shopping cart part of the site. Just like to mention this point. What do a visitor think of a site that is constantly down on a weekly basis? Shutting down a site will not only hurt their SEO but also their retention and recency, not to mention possible trust issues.

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