Cloaking is a black hat SEO technique where contents are represented differently for website users and search engine crawlers. Cloaking and SEO are interconnected, and so bloggers and website owners are tempted to use it for better indexing in result pages.
Since it is a black hat SEO practice, it can get your website a Google penalty, and your AdSense account can get banned.
You should know about the common cloaking practices so that you can avoid them and keep your site safe.
What You Will Learn
- What Is Cloaking in SEO and Why Do People Do It?
- Why Is It Not Safe and How It Is Done?
- Common Practices Of Cloaking
What Is Cloaking and Why Do People Do It?
When your web server is sending different responses to the request coming from a user and that from a search engine bot, it falls under the category of cloaking.
It is generally done for hiding harmful content on a web page and concealing affiliate links to avoid banning of AdSense.
But most of the times, it is used as a search engine optimization technique for manipulation. One can show the search engine crawlers content with the best keywords for better search engine ranking.
In the past, websites have been super successful with cloaking until Webmaster Guidelines came in to eradicate such practices.
Why Cloaking Is Not Safe and How Is It Done?
The foremost reason why it is not safe anymore is that it is a direct violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Suppose you created and presented a piece of content to the search engine bots, your web page got indexed for that only. When a user clicks on the search result link thinking that he would get the exact result as shown, he gets something completely different.
Therefore, the user experience takes a huge bump.
Cloaking example – the search engine result shows your page as ‘Tips for SEO’, but when the user go to your page, he finds it completely filled with different advertisement links and no content as appeared in the snippet. Hackers use this technique to get better ranks and get the users trapped easily.
The Technique – The first step is to identify the visitor. It can either be a human user or a search spider or bot. This can be distinguished by their IP addresses. The popular .htacess file is used to show different web pages based on IP addresses.
There is a specific module for this purpose named “mod_rewrite” through which you can analyze the IP addresses and show normal page to human users and a different page to search engine crawlers.
Is There Anything Called White Hat Cloaking?
The popular site Moz listed a few so-called white hat SEO techniques to shroud contents and links. But according to Google’s Matt Cutts, Google does not make any such distinction.
Anything that has to do with misleading and manipulating the search engine is up for punishment. Even popular websites have suffered from such black hat SEO practices.
The popular car manufacturer BMW got a temporary ban by Google in 2006. It was manipulating Google bots by wrapping original web content and showing keywords like “used cars” for better indexing.
Below is an example of cloaking in SEO to rank your affiliate page higher.
Note: Showing different version of the same page to people of different geo-locations is not cloaking. Similarly, providing different pages for users using different browsers or devices is a good SEO practice.
Difference between Page Cloaking and Web Cloaking?
When the webmasters manipulate the search engine bots by showing an entirely different web page or wrapping illegal content and links with keywords, it is page cloaking for SEO.
When you build a website on Flash, and it has more graphics than content, Google bots won’t understand your site. Similarly, if your website has more HTML code than content, the same problem arises.
Instead of changing it entirely, web developers hide the template and provide a different template to the bots for better understanding. This is what web cloaking is.
Common Practices of Cloaking That You Should Avoid
Cloaking Invisibility – Sometimes webmasters make some content have the same color as the background color of the website. The content becomes invisible for the users. But search engine bots can understand them. It generally contains keywords that would make readability bad but help in better ranking. Avoid such practices and make content only for users.
Website Enveloping – A website designed to show adult images and videos is likely to be based on Flash or have more coding than content. Since an SE crawler won’t understand the site, there are high chances of getting banned. Through website enveloping technique, SE crawlers get to see a different website template, and the website remains free from a ban.
Spamdexing Technique – All the black hat and gray hat SEO techniques available to manipulate and mislead the search engine crawlers to index a web page higher on the result pages come under spamdexing techniques. Broadly, the techniques are for content spamming and link spamming. Among them, doorway pages and link wrapping fall under cloaking.
What Are Doorway Pages in SEO – A doorway page generally has less content, but it is highly optimized for search engines to rank it on the first page. Most of the time it is totally garbage for the visitors and it decreases the usefulness of search engine results. Another example of a doorway page is the one with the button “click here to enter” and once you click them, it takes you to an irrelevant site.
What Is Cloaking A Link –Webmasters can have an anchor text of a website name that is relevant to the content on the page. But when the user clicks on it, it takes to an irrelevant page of high PageRank for SEO benefits. Similarly, there could be some hidden links which when clicked starts downloading cookies of affiliate pages. Those hidden link can have anchor text containing keywords for misleading the SE crawlers.
Sneaky Redirects – Sometimes, when you click on the search engine result link, the link that was supposed to open never gets opened. Instead, some other irrelevant pages like affiliate pages or advertisement pages open. Besides link spamming, this technique has also got many websites banned and blacklisted.
Image Gallery – Images are a great way of getting a better rank on Google image search page. Images ranked in the first line of the image result page are likely to get a lot of backlinks. Therefore, some webmaster tricks the SE crawlers to rank a web page better that has more images and less content. Crawlers do not scan or understand the images and based on the veiling content stuffed with keywords, it ranks the web page higher. With popularity and better ranking, it is likely to get noticed and the images will be shared more than usual.
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Email Swathing – While sending malicious emails, sender covers the email with multiple layers of coding to hide all the information that could reveal his identity. If the email has redirecting links to your site, it can get banned after verification.
SEO Cloaking Checker Tools
If you are not sure whether you have web pages where you might have covered up content or have misdirected links, you should definitely check it out with the following tools to avoid a Google penalty.
As a matter of fact, you can also check your competitor’s web pages if they had some meteoric rise in the ranking of late. Once you discover it, you can mail to Google to take actions.
Webconfs Checker and SEO Tools Checker are the best SEO cloaking checker.
You can outsmart search engine crawlers with certain cloaking techniques. But the outcome would be temporary. Google continuously updates its algorithm to find out such Black Hat deceptive SEO practices.
Sooner than later, you will be discovered and penalized. Once you receive the punishment, the recovery is almost impossible unless you run a very High PageRank website.
Hence, be wise and do not trick search engines to get better rankings for your web pages or earn more money through third-party ad segments. Always, go for white hat SEO practices and achieve your goals slowly and sustainably.
Cloaking is a dangerous black hat SEO technique to trick search engine crawlers for better indexing and a famous techniques that will get you a Google penalty for sure.