Recently, when analyzing page speed on our internal tool, we ran across something a bit disturbing. Some dealer website platforms are deliberately tricking Google’s page speed bot to boost their scores. In most cases, the untrained eye wouldn’t be able to discover this, as Google displays a snapshot of the website’s above-the-fold content. However, when rendering as Googlebot, you will see some vast differences. The code is setup to give Google’s crawler one stripped down version, while visitors get another more polished version.
This behavior is dangerous for two main reasons:
- Serving one set of results to users and another to Google is called cloaking, and can result in website penalizations. This old school SEO technique faded out about ten years ago, but it looks like it’s back in the game in attempt to fool the Google page speed system. Let me be clear on this warning: cloaking can get a website penalized, and even de-indexed (meaning it won’t show up in organic search results anymore).
- It’s super misleading and is a bait and switch play. When you utilize cloaking, you are intentionally misleading and misrepresenting the website you’re selling or servicing.
WATCH: Here’s the 2011 video from Google’s Matt Cutts for more info on cloaking.
How did we find this issue?
Over the last two years, we have assembled an internal page speed team. This team is responsible for not only increasing our Google PageSpeed score, but also ensuring that inventory and other results load as snappy as possible. Kudos to our team — they have made a ton of progress. We crawl our websites daily to improve scores, and have also recently developed tools to proactively alert our programmers when something is negatively affecting a Google PageSpeed Insights score. In addition to our internal monitoring, we also track our competition using the Google PageSpeed Insights API. We programmatically scan a sampling of other platforms to understand on a platform level how we are stacking up.
The good news is that Dealer Inspire is among the top players. I am happy to report that nearly every provider is gradually improving over time. In fact, hats off to Aaron Schinke and the Dealer Socket team, who have increased their scores quite a bit platform-wide. While talking with Aaron at Google recently, he confirmed that they too have been working hard on improving these scores. Their efforts promote great healthy competition for us. By pushing each other, dealers win in the end.
Now the bad news.
There are at least two providers in our space who are cloaking the results, one of which is intentionally showing a white page to Google PageSpeed’s bot. While at first this could look like their intent is to mislead, my assumption is not that at all. They just don’t want to deal with this game that most of the automotive industry is playing.
The other provider is much more deceptive because they are loading the same (or similar) content above the fold, but not below. And site-wide, this provider is hiding elements like sliders, location search, third party scripts, images, geo-location, login user flows, and extra inventory features from Google.
Here’s an example of what a visitor would see compared to Google:
How do you know if your website is at risk?
I was going to create instructions for how you can use Safari to render as GoogleBot but it’s a bit complicated. Although, If you want to get your geek on, you can use the following script in the Safari developer tools to render as Google PageSpeed Insights Bot:
Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko; Google Page Speed Insights) Chrome/27.0.1453 Safari/537.36
I know this is a bit much, so we built a “website checker” for you. All you have to do is insert your website URL in this tool, and we will tell you if your website’s content matches what Google PageSpeed Bot is seeing.
USE OUR PAGE SPEED SPOOF CHECKER
If the results come back as non-matching, please start asking questions. Google representatives have been made aware of these practices and have stated that they will be developing additional tools to help dealers as well.
Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or comments.