Hidden Flash spam, old content, or cloaking? All three are plausible. Let’s look at each possible answer:
Was it coming from the Flash file?
Nope, it’s not coming from the Flash file. Here’s why:
- We’ve already established that the site owner and her developer aren’t spamming, so it stands to reason that the Flash file doesn’t contain this content.
- Any URL can end in .swf, even if it isn’t a true Flash file. Even if you can’t tell, Google will give you a hint. See below, and notice how Google adds [FLASH] and file format information on the first URL, but not the second:
The Google listing for the Providence .swf wasn’t designated as “File Format: Shockwave Flash” by Google, and was not actually a Flash file.
Was it cloaking?
Nope, it wasn’t cloaking. Granted, this is not something you can determine by looking at the site or the source code. But in this case we know that the site owner is not a spammer. Regardless, it would be reasonable to rule out cloaking using common sense alone. This restaurant is extremely popular on its own merits. It doesn’t need web traffic to get customers, so it wouldn’t make sense that it’s doing anything sneaky, like tricking the search engines, to get traffic.
Was it old content?
Let’s explore this one. Lucky for you, this Google listing has a link to a cached version. You click to view Google’s cache, and here’s what you see:
That’s clearly not the Providence website. “This domain may be for sale”? This is a domain squatter’s [wikipedia definition] website!
What’s more, you notice that Google’s cache is six months old! It looks like Google indexed an old website hosted at this domain, and hasn’t come back since.
A conversation with our friend at Providence provides the “a-ha!” moment we were hoping for. Several months back, their domain name expired, and a cybersquatter snatched it up. This domain name gobbler displayed its own content using every URL that the original website had previously created, including ones ending in .swf. Providence had regained control of the domain since that time, but Google – who hadn’t spidered the site since the cybersquatter controlled the domain – hadn’t yet caught up with the change. Yes, friends, Google does what Google wants, and that includes not spidering your site.
So the results you saw on Google for providencela.com were not coming from the website itself, but rather from an interim website created by a cybersquatter who – surprise, surprise – didn’t have the restaurant’s best interests in mind.
Happily for Providence, this is going to be an easy fix. A quick submittal of their URL to Google’s URL submittal page should have their listing back to normal in record time! And using Google Sitemaps will also help to encourage Google to regularly spider the site, and even report errors like broken pages.
Thanks for playing along with us on this SEO case study! If you have any suggestions for fun and challenging SEO mysteries, or if you have your own stories to share, don’t be shy! Contact us!