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What Is Cloaking and Should I Be Using It?

Everyone knows that the Internet is full of deception: blatant lies, manipulated photos, plagiarism, stolen identities . . . As you learn more about search engine optimization (SEO), you may come across another type of online deception: cloaking. “What is cloaking?” you ask? Cloaking is an SEO technique in which different content is presented to human users and search engine spiders. When the website identifies a user as a spider, it sends them an alternate version of the webpage. Some people do this with innocent, “white hat” intentions, but others intentionally mislead search engines like Google so that they can display inappropriate content (like porn) at a higher ranking.

Keep reading to understand how cloaking works, the risks involved, and how it differs from personalization.

what is cloaking

What Is Cloaking?

Since we’ve already answered the titular question (what is cloaking?), let’s delve into this risky SEO technique and answer some FAQs.

How does cloaking work?

When you create a webpage, you can build different versions of that webpage to send to different users. For example, you could create a Spanish version, a French version, a mobile version, etc. You could also create a version specifically made for search engine spiders (i.e., cloaking). When the spider tries to access your website, they will be identified using an IP address or their User-Agent HTTP header. A server-side script will then be delivered, displaying the alternate webpage instead of the page’s actual content.

Should I use cloaking?

Definitely not. Cloaking violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and many search engines will blacklist or penalize a website that engages in this kind of deception. Plus, cloaking has a bad reputation because it tends to be used for more harm than good. Cloaking has been used for website hacks (to prevent the owner from detecting the hack), spamdexing, and hiding inappropriate content (like porn).

Is it okay if I use “white hat” cloaking?

Nope! As Matt Cutts (the head of Google’s Webspam team) said in his video about cloaking, “There is no such thing as ‘white hat’ cloaking. We really do want to make sure that the page the user sees is the same page that Googlebot saw.” If you’re trying to use cloaking to give the spiders information that is typically difficult to access (like JavaScript, images, and Flash content), there are safer methods available.

Is personalization considered to be cloaking?

Personalization is somewhat similar to cloaking, since you’re sending an altered version of your website to different users based on their location and search history. However, personalization isn’t a form of cloaking because the webpage isn’t determining whether or not a user is a spider before it sends them personalized content. Spiders receive the same content as other users; it’s simply customized.

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So what is cloaking? It is an SEO method in which a website is built to deliver altered content to search engine spiders. It’s also a very bad idea. Period.

If your company is looking to establish an engaging and effective online presence, check out 417 Marketing. Whether you’re interested in web design, SEO, or PPC marketing, we can help. Click here to learn more about our web marketing services, and feel free to contact us online or at 417-889-0044.

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