What Is Cloaking?

Aaron Haynes
Oct 27, 2021

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Is your company employing black hat SEO techniques to try to manipulate search engine algorithms in order to boost your site’s ranking on the search engine results page — SERPs?

Using black hat SEO tactics can result in your website being penalized (either algorithmically or manually), resulting in lower-ranking positions and, most likely, a decrease in organic traffic.

Cloaking is an SEO technique used by some website owners and SEOs to climb to the top of organic search results faster and more effectively.

In this article, we’re going to dive deep into what cloaking is, why cloaking is important, an example of cloaking in SEO, if cloaking is good for SEO, and if black hat SEO works.

Let’s dive right in, yes?

What Is Cloaking?

Cloaking is an SEO technique in which users are offered content or information that differs from that offered to search engine crawlers.

Cloaking is considered a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines because it provides human visitors with different results.

A website must provide content to search engine spiders or bots (the google search crawler), in order to improve its search engine rankings for specific keywords.

Under cloaking, the website server is specifically programmed to offer a different version of content to search engines as compared to what it offers to its regular users.

Cloaking redirects a user to sites that he or she does not expect by masking the true content of those sites. The search engine spider and the browser are presented with different content for the same web page during cloaking.

HTTP header information or IP addresses aid in the transmission of incorrect web pages. Searchers will then be directed to websites that contain information that they were not looking for, such as qualities seen on adult sites. Cloaking techniques can also be found in website directories.

SEO Cloaking diagram

We know that meta tags, page titles, and other SEO techniques are used when indexing a web page on a search engine. Let’s look at some of the common cloaking practices used by webmasters to index their websites.

Invisible or hidden text

Additional keywords are added to existing content and overwritten in such a way that it is hidden from actual users using the invisibility cloak SEO technique.

To rank higher in search engines, additional words or content are introduced on the webpage in the same color as the background color, which is not visible to human eyes but can be tracked by search engine bots.

Flash-based Websites

According to SEO guidelines, building websites in flash is not recommended. Several websites, however, are built-in flash only or use flash for some features.

These website developers do not rebuild their websites in plain HTML; instead, they create content-rich web pages that are accessible to search engine crawlers. Online visitors are provided access to the actual website, complete with flash pages.

Text to HTML ratio

A good SEO technique necessitates having a high “TEXT to HTML ratio” as possible. In other words, the web page should contain more text (content) than your HTML tags. However, if you’re writing short articles or posts, your text-to-HTML ratio will be extremely low. In such cases, people choose to cloak to meet SEO guidelines rather than redesigning their website.

Replacement of Java Scripts

In this case, JavaScript can be used to display content to a non-JavaScript-enabled user that matches the textual information contained within a Flash or other multimedia element.

Image Gallery Websites

Image gallery websites are those that have more images on their pages than the actual content. Even if they are relevant, these images are not scanned by search engine bots or crawlers. As a result, webmasters cloak their websites with keywords and content that will help them achieve top rankings.

Email cloaking

Email cloaking involves masking the sender’s name and address so that the recipient knows who is sending the email.

Why Is Cloaking Prohibited?

The cloaking technique is used to boost search engine rankings by tricking the search engine robot into thinking the content on the page is different than it is. It is frequently used as a spamdexing technique (search engine spam, search engine poisoning) to try to confuse search engines into ranking the relevant site higher.

Cloaking is a black hat practice that is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. When a website is hacked, it is not unusual for the hacker to employ cloaking as a method to keep the hack concealed and difficult to detect.

What about white hat cloaking?

The most often asked question is whether there is such a thing as white hat cloaking.

Cloaking in any form is prohibited by Google’s policies. However, with the spread of mobile, mega menus, and faceted filters, many websites were quickly confronted with the challenge of balancing SEO and UX. As a result, certain techniques have emerged and are now “tolerated” by Google as long as they are intended to improve the user experience. For instance, 60% of all searches are done on mobile devices

Geo-location/ Geographic targeting is one of the most common. Its purpose is to use automatic geo-targeting to help determine where a visitor is coming from and which page they want to see. Robots are redirected to a page that is not geo-targeted. This makes sense given the fact that robots are “everywhere and nowhere.”

When it comes to SEO, there are some misunderstandings regarding white hat SEO as well. Although white hat SEO is beneficial, white hat cloaking is not seen as a good technique. There is no such thing as concealing in a white hat. Cloaking, in and of itself, is a negative thing.

Matt Cutts stated:

White hat cloaking is a contradiction in terms at Google. We’ve never had to make an exception for “white hat” cloaking. If someone tells you that — that’s dangerous.”

He went on to clarify that cloaking is prohibited by Google and that if a site contains code that creates specific instances for Googlebot based on the user agent or IP address, Google may take action.

Cloaking FAQ

What is an example of cloaking in SEO?

Cloaking is used to boost a website’s or webpage’s search engine ranking by tricking search engine crawlers into thinking the content on the page is different than it is. Examples of cloaking in search engine optimization (SEO) include:

  • Offering a page of HTML text to search engines while providing users with a page of images or Flash files
  • Displaying keywords in the content only when search engine crawlers request the page, rather than when a human user accesses the page.

Is Cloaking good for SEO?

Cloaking is considered a black hat technique in the Search Engine Optimization industry, as it is illegal and violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

If you’re wondering whether you should use cloaking to improve your search engine rankings, we’d say no. The search engine crawls your website multiple times using different IP addresses.

They employ complex and stringent algorithms to detect any cloaking on your website. To keep your website from being banned or blacklisted by Google or other search engines, it is best to avoid all of the cloaking SEO techniques mentioned above.

Does black hat SEO work?

Black Hat SEO tactics can result in the removal of your website from Google and other search engines.

Though increased traffic to your site may result in some short-term success, Google penalties are becoming more sophisticated and can have devastating effects on your rankings and traffic. Can you really afford to be de-indexed when there are hundreds of millions of users searching on Google every day?

Serving up different results based on user-agent may result in your site being perceived as deceptive and being removed from the Google index. Google further explains — if the file that Googlebot sees differs from the file that a typical user sees, you’re in a high-risk category.

Don’t forget: check out the other definitions (over 200) in our growing SEO glossary.

Obtain a High Ranking Without Using Black Hat SEO Tactics

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of cloaking

Cloaking is disregarded upon by the majority of search engines. Search engine algorithms are smarter than humans. They frequently modify their algorithms to discourage and eliminate cloaking and other techniques that create a negative user experience.

They will eventually discover that your site is employing this technique, and your site will be banned and removed from their index (in the worst case, it can be blacklisted also).

Loganix does not believe in manipulating search engine algorithms in order to boost your site’s ranking. Instead, we focus on creating high-quality content, inbound marketing, and internal and external link building in order to achieve long-term success.

Contact us if you want to optimize your website but don’t want to use any Black Hat SEO techniques like cloaking.

Hand off the toughest tasks in SEO, PPC, and content without compromising quality

Explore Services

Written by Aaron Haynes on October 27, 2021

CEO and partner at Loganix, I believe in taking what you do best and sharing it with the world in the most transparent and powerful way possible. If I am not running the business, I am neck deep in client SEO.