Don’t we all want our webpage or website to rank on the first Search Engine Results Page (SERP)? To achieve this, all we need to do is to optimize our website to seem worthy of ranking well. But this can be a gradual process in Search Engine Optimization and we do not want to wait.
An easier way is to use ‘Black Hat SEO Techniques’ to catapult into the top results of a SERP. And one such method is cloaking in SEO. Let us discuss more.
What is Cloaking in SEO?
Cloaking in SEO is a method used to serve users content or information that is different from what is presented to search engine crawlers (i.e. spiders or bots) to improve a website’s search engine rankings for certain keywords.
What are the different types of cloaking and how is it done?
- User-Agent Cloaking
- IP based cloaking
- HTTP_REFERER cloaking
- HTTP Accept-language header cloaking
1. User-Agent Cloaking:
A user-agent is a program (a software agent) that operates on behalf of a user. Example, a web browser acts as user-agent that fetches website information on an operating system. When you key in a query, the browser sends a code to the server that will distinguish/identify the user-agent. If the user-agent is identified to be a crawler, cloaked content is served.
2. IP-based cloaking:
Every user accessing a website has an IP address based on their location and internet service. In this, the users are redirected to the desired page through a page with good SERP ranking and high traffic volume. For this, you can use the reverse DNS records (available in the cPanel of your hosting company) to identify the IP address and set up .htaccess to redirect them. This is the most preferred method of cloaking.
4. HTTP_REFERER cloaking:
In this method, the HTTP_REFERER header of the requester is checked and based on that, a cloaked or uncloaked version of the website is served.
5. HTTP Accept-language header cloaking:
This technique checks the HTTP Accept-Language header of the user and based on the match result, a specific version of the website is presented. In simple terms, if the HTTP Accept-Language header is of a search engine, then a cloaked version of the website is served.
What are the common ways to implement cloaking in SEO?
Let us now understand how to put cloaking into action with a few easy pointers:
Invisible or Hidden text
This can be done by adding text in the same colour as that of the background so that it is not visible to the human eye.
We know Flash is not recommended as per SEO guidelines. But some websites cannot avoid it. So rather than remaking the entire website in plain HTML, they create content-rich webpages and provide them to search engine crawlers and the flash pages to visitors.
HTML Rich Websites
A good SEO technique requires having a “TEXT to HTML ratio” that is as high as possible. In other words, the web page should have more text (content) as compared to your HTML tags. But if someone is writing short articles or posts, your text to HTML ratio will be very low. To avoid re-designing their website in such scenarios, people choose cloaking to meet SEO guidelines.
Replacement of Java Scripts
Does ‘White Hat Cloaking’ exist?
A Frequently asked question is – is there anything called White Hat Cloaking?
Matt Cutts has said:
“White hat cloaking is a contradiction in terms of Google. We’ve never had to make an exception for “white hat” cloaking. If someone tells you that — that’s dangerous.”
He further mentioned that if any site includes a code that differentiates the Googlebot on the basis of the user agent or IP address, Google considers it as cloaking and may take action against the site.
This answers our question that there is no such thing as ‘White Hat Cloaking’ in Google’s webmaster guidelines. So, do not be deceived if someone tells you to try white-hat Cloaking.
What is Google’s penalty for cloaking?
The search engine keeps updating their algorithm frequently and if you use cloaking, they will sooner or later find it out and may permanently ban your website from being indexed. In fact, Google “blacklisted” a German car manufacturer, BMW, for breaking its guidelines in February 2006.
Should cloaking be done in SEO?
In the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) industry, cloaking is considered to be a black hat technique that violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
If you ask us whether you should do cloaking to trick crawlers and rank high, our answer will be NO, search engines don’t like to be tricked. Plus, your website is crawled multiple times using different IP addresses and their complex and strict algorithm will detect cloaking on your website if you use it.
Make sure to keep in mind the methods we have mentioned in this post to know what is considered as cloaking by Google and what is not. Do let us know your thoughts by adding comments below.
1. What is cloaking?
Cloaking is a black hat search engine optimization (SEO) technique in which the server offers different content and context to the search engines compared to what the users see. The search engine and users are both deceived into believing what the content on the Web page is about.
2. What is cloaking in SEO, with example?
Cloaking in SEO is used to boost the search engine result page (SERP) rankings of pages by misleading the crawlers into thinking that the content on a page is about a certain topic, which it isn’t. Some examples of this are:
- Displaying or revealing keywords only to crawlers and not to users because crawlers can help get a higher page rank
- Providing different forms of media to the users while only offering an HTML text to search engines
3. Is cloaking real?
Cloaking is very real. Some websites use this technique to generate traffic on their website at the expense of user experience. If a user is looking for something and clicks a link believing they will get information relevant to their search query, and the link does not offer any related information, it comes off as click baiting. Websites should avoid using this technique.
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