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What is Cloaking?

A cartoon drawing sitting by a big screen with the words seo written with an open laptop browsing simba academy for seo dictionary terms
A cartoon drawing sitting by a big screen with the words seo written with an open laptop browsing simba academy for Simba's SEO dictionary terms

Cloaking is a type of Black Hat search engine optimization (SEO) that involves changing the content shown to the search engine spider and user’s browser. This is done by delivering content based on the IP addresses or the User-Agent HTTP header of the user requesting the page.When a user is classified as a search engine spider, a server-side script delivers a different version of the web page, one that contains information that isn’t on the visible page or is accessible but not searchable. Cloaking’s aim can be to deceive search engines into displaying the page when it would otherwise not be shown (black hat SEO).

However, it may also be a practical (though outdated) approach for informing search engines about content that they would otherwise be unable to locate since it is embedded in non-textual containers such as video or certain Adobe Flash components. Since 2006, more accessible approaches, such as progressive enhancement, have been available, so cloaking is no longer necessary for basic SEO.

Cloaking is frequently employed as a spamdexing method to try to improve a website’s position in search engines. It can also be utilized to deceive internet users into visiting a site that is very different from the search engine description by the same technique, including delivering illegal or adult content cloaked within non-adult search results.

Cloaking is a form of the doorway page technique.

A similar technique is used on DMOZ web directory, but it differs in several ways from search engine cloaking:

It is intended to fool human editors, rather than computer search engine spiders.

The decision to cloak or not is often based upon the HTTP referrer, the user agent or the visitor’s IP; but more advanced techniques can be also based upon the client’s behaviour analysis after a few page requests: the raw quantity, the sorting of, and latency between subsequent HTTP requests sent to a website’s pages, plus the presence of a check for robots.txt file, are some of the parameters in which search engines spiders differ heavily from a natural user behaviour. The referrer tells the URL of the page on which a user clicked a link to get to the page. Some cloakers will give the fake page to anyone who comes from a web directory website, since directory editors will usually examine sites by clicking on links that appear on a directory web page. Other cloakers give the fake page to everyone except those coming from a major search engine; this makes it harder to detect cloaking, while not costing them many visitors, since most people find websites by using a search engine.

The goal of cloaking is to show different content to users and search engines, in an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings. Cloaking is considered a Black Hat SEO technique because it is a way to try to trick search engines into giving a website a higher ranking than it deserves.

While cloaking can be used for malicious reasons, there are also some legitimate uses for cloaking. For example, a website that contains content that is not suitable for children may use cloaking to prevent children from seeing that content.

However, most of the time, cloaking is used to try to improve a website’s ranking in search engines by showing them different content than what users see. This is usually done by showing search engine spiders different content than what is shown to users, or by showing users different content than what is shown to search engine spiders.

Cloaking can be done in a number of ways, but the most common way is to use a server-side script that detects when a user is a search engine spider and then shows them different content than what is shown to users.

Another common way to cloak is to use a separate URL for the content that is meant for search engine spiders. This can be done by using a different domain name or by using a subdomain.

Cloaking is generally not considered to be a good thing, because it can be used to deceive search engines and users. However, there are some legitimate uses for cloaking. For example, a website that contains content that is not suitable for children may use cloaking to prevent children from seeing that content.

Written by Simba

I teach the world's marketers and entrepreneurs Digital Marketing for FREE at Simba Academy. I am the founder of Simba Academy, I write books about Digital Marketing, I am a Digital Marketing consultant and I speak about Digital Marketing.

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