There is a lot of confusion surrounding cloaking in SEO. Some people believe it’s an essential part of any good SEO strategy, while others think it’s a black hat technique you should avoid at all costs.
In this blog post, we will discuss what cloaking is in SEO. And more importantly, should you use it to improve your website’s search engine rankings?
We will answer these questions and help you decide whether or not cloaking is right for your business.
What is Cloaking in SEO?
Cloaking is a technique used to hide content or functionality from users.
Cloaking serves different content to users based on their user agent, IP address, or other factors. It is done by detecting the user’s browser and sending them content based on that or by looking up their IP address and determining their location.
Cloaking can also show dissimilar content to different search engines, which can result in a penalty by Google or another search engine to your site.
Cloaking can be used for both legitimate and nefarious purposes. It is essential to know how cloaking works and how to use it to ensure that you are not inadvertently showing distinct content to different users.
Is It Illegal?
Yes, cloaking is illegal. Cloaking delivers a page of content to the search engine spider that is different from what is in the user’s browser.
Cloaking is a black hat SEO tactic because it attempts to deceive the search engine and can result in a penalty.
There are a few ways that cloaking can negatively affect your SEO efforts.
First, if you’re using cloaking to show distinct content to search engines than you’re showing to users, they may eventually catch on and penalize your site.
Second, even if you’re not intentionally trying to trick the search engines, if you didn’t implement cloaking carefully, they may mistakenly identify your content as spam.
Finally, it’s essential to ensure that all versions are appropriately indexed by the search engines if you’re using cloaking to serve up different versions of your site to mobile and desktop users.
Otherwise, you may end up with only an indexed portion of your site, which can hurt your search engine optimization efforts.
Do we get Penalized by Google?
Google uses a combination of manual and automated methods to find cloaking.
Our algorithms look for patterns that might indicate cloaking, and our quality reviewers manually check websites that they might engage in this activity.
How Google find cloaking
The most common way is when website owners submit their site to Google and include certain keywords or phrases they want to rank for.
When someone searches for those exact keywords or phrases, Google checks the website to see if the content on the page matches what was submitted. If it doesn’t, then the website is considered to be cloaking.
Another way that Google finds cloaking is when people click on links to cloaked websites.
When someone clicks on a link, Google checks to see if the destination URL matches the URL that the website submitted. If it doesn’t, then the website is considered to be cloaking.
Finally, Google may also find cloaking if it suspects a website is trying to game the system. For example, if a website includes a lot of certain keywords in the metatags but doesn’t use that keyword on the actual page, Google may suspect that the website is cloaking.
How Google penalizes websites
The most usual way is through the use of the Google Penguin update. This update aims to target websites using black hat SEO techniques like cloaking to improve their rankings on Google. When Penguin was first released, it significantly impacted the search results, and many sites using cloaking were penalized.
Another way that Google can penalize websites using cloaking is through manual action.
It is when someone from Google manually reviews a website; if there are numerous complaints about a website, or when Google suspects that the site is using cloaking, it will decide that the website is breaking the rules.
Should We Implement This?
You can use cloaking for good and bad purposes, so it is essential to use it wisely and carefully.
Cloaking can be used as a search engine optimization technique to improve a site’s visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs), but it should only be used as a last resort and with extreme caution.
When used correctly, cloaking can be a powerful SEO tool. However, it can result in Google penalties if not properly used.
There are different types of cloaking:
HTTP Accept-language header IP-based
User-agent cloaking is when a website detects the user agent of the person visiting the site and then serves unlike content based on that information.
This technique tricks web browsers into thinking they are accessing a different website than the displayed one. It is by displaying another web page depending on the user-agent string identifying the browser.
User-agent cloaking can be for malicious purposes, such as displaying a phishing page to a victim, or for more benign purposes, such as displaying a mobile-optimized page to a mobile browser.
HTTP_REFERER cloaking is a type where the content presented to the user depends on the referring website.
HTTP_REFERER cloaking is a method used to disguise the true source of traffic from referrer sites. It sends a different HTTP_REFERER header to the target site than the used one.
HTTP-REFERER can trick the target site into thinking that the traffic is coming from a different site or make it difficult to track the source of the traffic.
HTTP Accept-language header cloaking
The HTTP Accept-language header is a response header sent by the server to the client to indicate what languages are available on the server.
The client can use this header to select the appropriate language for the content that they are requesting.
This type of cloaking can serve different versions of content to users in other countries or even different versions of content to users with varying browser settings.
IP-based cloaking is a type of cloaking that uses IP addresses to determine whether or not to show content to users.
It works by showing distinct content to users who have separate IP addresses.
It can show different versions of a website to other users or show different ads to different users.
What are the Common Practices of this?
Several standard cloaking practices serve dissimilar content to different devices and use browser cookies to track user behaviour and deliver targeted content.
Hidden or Invisible Text
Replacement of Java Scripts
Rich HTML Websites
Hidden or Invisible Text
Hidden or Invisible Text is a method used in cloaking practices to fool web crawlers and search engines into thinking that particular text on a website is not there. The text is hidden within the website’s code or placed off-screen where humans can’t see it.
This technique is often used to stuff keywords onto a page to improve search engine ranking.
However, search engines are getting better at detecting this behaviour, which can result in a website being penalized or even banned from a search engine’s index.
There are a few ways that Google can identify hidden or invisible text on a website:
-Looking at the page’s code: If there’s a hidden text within the code, Google can find it by looking at the source code.
-Checking for space: If there is a lot of empty space on the page where the text is supposedly hidden, Google may suspect something is up.
-Comparing to other pages: Google can compare the content of a page to other pages on the web to see if anything is out of place.
Replacement of Java Scripts
It uses a script that checks for the user’s IP address and then delivers the appropriate content based on the user’s location.
One standard method is to use a script that checks for the user’s IP address and then delivers the appropriate content based on the user’s location.
Another way is to use a script that checks for the user’s browser type and then delivers the appropriate content based on what kind of browser they are using.
There are a few ways that Google may identify this:
1. By looking at the page’s source code and seeing that it displays distinct content for different users.
2. Check the server logs to see which IP address is accessing the site and compare that to the served content.
3. Using Google’s web crawlers to visit the site and compare the served content to different users.
Regarding cloaking, Flash websites can be some of the most effective. It is because search engines have a difficult time indexing Flash content.
As a result, a Flash website can “cloak” itself from the search engine results pages (SERPs), making it much less likely to be found by someone looking for it.
The use of Flash websites can be in a few different ways.
One standard method is to use a Flash website as an “interstitial” page. When someone clicks on a link to your site, they are taken first to a Flash-based page before being redirected to the actual content.
It prevents search engines from indexing your site or delaying the user so that you can show them an advertisement before they get to the content.
Another way is by embedding them on other pages. It uses an iframe or a script to include the Flash content on the page. It is a less common method, but it can still be effective.
Rich HTML Websites
Using rich HTML websites is popular because they offer a great deal of flexibility and easy customization to match the feel and look of your brand.
Additionally, they are also much easier to maintain than traditional websites.
They work by providing visitors with a “cloaked” version of your website to look and feel like a regular HTML website.
However, the remote server stores the source code for the website.
Your website’s visitors are redirected first to the remote server where the source code is stored. It ensures that the visitor never actually sees your actual website.
Google uses many factors to identify rich HTML websites. Still, some of the most important include the presence of well-written and informative content, proper keyword density, and a clean and user-friendly design.
If your website has all these criteria, Google will likely consider it a rich HTML website and rank it accordingly.
What Practices will not lead to Google Penalty?
Certain cloaking practices will not result in a Google penalty. These include:
Flexi sampling is a method of randomly choosing which version of a web page to show a user without considering any factors affecting their experience.
It means that users are equally likely to see the “cloaked” or “non-cloaked” version of the page, regardless of whether or not they might benefit from seeing the other version.
There are a few reasons why Flexi sampling is not penalized by Google.
Firstly, it is an entirely random process, meaning there is no way to manipulate the results.
Secondly, both the “cloaked” and “non-cloaked” versions of the page are equally likely to be shown, so there is no advantage beneficial to cloaking.
Finally, Flexi sampling does not consider any factors that might affect the user’s experience, so it doesn’t tailor the results to specific users.
A geo-location cloaking practice is when a business serves distinct content to users based on their geographic location.
Geo-location cloaking can be a valuable way to improve the user experience for your website or app.
It can be for various reasons, such as providing localized content or helping other content to users in different regions. Still, it’s essential to ensure that you are not violating any laws or regulations.
Google understands that sometimes businesses need to show different content to users in other locations.
Geo-location is not cloaking as long as the content is relevant and valuable to the user.
URL rewriting is modifying the request URL before the web server processes it.
When a URL enters a browser, the web server looks up the associated file on its file system.
URL rewriting can avoid these errors like 404 Not Found error by dynamically rewriting the URL before the web server looks for the associated file.
URL rewriting tells the server to look for a different file when a specific URL is requested.
URL rewriting allows you to change the appearance of your URL, making it more user-friendly and easier to remember. It can benefit users and search engines, making your website more accessible and easier to navigate.
URL rewriting is not a penalized practice because it does not involve any keyword stuffing or other black hat SEO techniques.
Cloaking can be for both legitimate and nefarious purposes.
It is essential to know the practices of cloaking you can use for your website and the practices you should avoid as they cause penalties.