Learn what Cloaking is and Why it’s Not Recommended for Search Engine Optimization Purposes
You may have heard the word “cloaking” before. It is popular topic in many forums and discussion groups. Webmasters have been arguing with each other over this SEO technique. Some say it’s a search engine spam and do not recommend using it, while others claim it’s not harmful at all if used carefully. Remember that cloaking is tricking SE spiders and any attempt to trick a search engine equals to search spam.
Cloaking is one of those unethical search engine optimization techniques. It means delivering one web page to search engines and completely different web page to visitors. Search engines index a web page and rank it higher in the SERPs according to META tags, titles and other SEO techniques. When people open a cloaked web page, they do not get what they were looking for. The whole ranking algorithm is being cluttered and search engines can’t provide accurate results to the searchers anymore.
A simple way to see if a web page is using a cloaking technique is to look at the cache. Google has a link called “Cached” next to almost every search result. The cache shows the web page that was indexed by search engine. If a web page that you see in the SERPs differs from cached version, then there’s possibility that the website is using cloaking technique.
The Purpose of Using Cloaking Technique
It’s no secret that the main reason why people use cloaking is search engine optimization. To optimize your site well, often you have to sacrifice the design of your website. Those who don’t want to lose their design or don’t want to redesign their sites, decide to choose this technique. Here are a couple of examples why people may need to use cloaking:
Flash Technology Based Websites
There are lots of web sites that are built in flash only. As you may know, flash is not recommended for SEO purposes. However, companies don't want to rebuild their web sites and rewrite everything in plain HTML. So they create content rich web pages and provide them to SEs and flash pages to visitors. (Note that Google has already started indexing sites in plain flash, but many other search engines still don't).
Image Gallery Websites
Image gallery websites obviously have more images than the actual content on their pages. So, webmasters think that cloaking could help them get top placement for keywords like "image gallery".
- HTML Rich Websites
Search engine optimization experts suggest having less HTML code and more real text on your pages. Sometimes, source code takes 95% or 98% of the whole web page's content. In order to avoid redesigning every web page, webmasters discover a much easier solution - cloaking.
As said before, the main reason why people use cloaking is SEO. However, sometimes cloaking is done not with search engine optimization in mind.
SEO firms and single webmasters spend a lot of time and money in order to gain high search engine rankings for their new websites. Other SEO experts doing competition analysis always look at the top SERPs for their targeted keywords and try to discover how one or another web site got top placement for that particular keyword. They simply "steal" those optimization techniques.
SEO companies that don't want to reveal their highly guarded search engine optimization secrets try to protect their tactics from other optimizers. They use such techniques as cloaking to deliver one page to website's visitors (and optimizers) and the other to search engines.
However, this tactic isn't 100% accurate, because other SEO experts and firms can simply look at the cached version and see how you got those high rankings. Moreover, if they discover that you're using unethical SEO techniques, they can simply report you to search engines and your site may be banned from SE index.
How is Cloaking Actually Done?
Now you know why, it's time to find out how. A cloaking is done by modifying a file called .htaccess. Apache server has a module called "mod_rewrite". With the help of this module in .htaccess file you can apply a cloaking technique for your web pages.
Webmasters gather search engines' IP addresses (231.258.476.13) or User-Agents (Googlebot). If mod_rewrite module detects that an IP address or user-agent belongs to a search engine, it delivers a web page that is especially designed for SEs. If IP doesn't belong to any spider, than it thinks it's a regular visitor and delivers a normal web page.
If you still ask whether cloaking is ethical or not, simple and short answer is - No. Delivering one page to search engines and completely different to visitors is simply wrong. It's a trick, and search engines don't like to be tricked.
When you use cloaking technique, you do not provide accurate search results. This way you're lying to your visitors, because search results are misleading. People who come to your page may not find what exactly they are looking for and leave your site.
Most search engines are against cloaking. Some of them will ban your site if cloaking is detected. If anyone will try to convince you to use cloaking - don't buy it. Fooling search engines will never give you any good. SEs are not dumb. Sooner or later they'll detect cloaking (if not already) and when they do, your site will be banned and dropped from their index.