What is SEO Cloaking?

Cloaking is a simple method to hide a website’s natural appearance from search engines. This technique gives search engines an impression that is different from what website visitors actually see when they visit the website. Cloaking is typically utilized to help improve a website’s ranking in search engines like Google.

Deception - cloaking google

It’s important to quickly touch on website variations depending on the specific device that a user employs to access the website. Having two very similar websites that are coded slightly differently to help make the website more user-friendly for mobile visitors versus desktop visitors isn’t considered cloaking. Instead, the search engines allow for minimal leeway for websites to produce multiple optimized versions for each device type.

What are the Different Types of SEO Cloaking?

There are five main types of SEO cloaking that can be performed on a particular website. Understanding these various types can help you better solidify your characterization of cloaking.

SEO Cloaking

User-Agent Cloaking

You’ll use a web browser to access the general information you’re looking for online. Once pulling up the web browser, you’ll type in the search query of what you’re looking for. Your web browser will then send a code to the website you’re trying to visit.

The website will be able to identify if the code is from a website crawler or a user like you. If a website determines that a search engine crawler is attempting to access its web content, it will send the cloaked version of the website.

IP-Based Cloaking

Every device that you have which connects to the internet will have its own unique IP address. This IP address tends to be based on your internet provider and location. IP-based cloaking is a black hat SEO technique that involves recognizing the IPs of the search engine crawlers.

Whenever one of these IPs is recognized, a false website is shown. In many cases, the false site will have more keywords that help boost the website’s ranking in the search engines. This allows a website owner to make their site more user-focused without the need for optimizing their actual user-displayed page for the search engines.

JavaScript Cloaking

This black hat SEO cloaking method splits website visitors into two parties. The first is those that have JavaScript disabled, which is typically the search engines. They’ll be given a widely optimize website that is more geared towards ranking on the first page of Google.

The second group is those who have JavaScript enabled. Those in this category tend to be regular website visitors who are delivered to the user-friendly version of a website.

JavaScript Cloaking

HTTP_REFERER Cloaking

This method of website cloaking involves checking the visitor’s HTTP_REFERER header. A fake page is generated with optimized content when the header is identified as coming from a search engine crawler. A user-optimized website version is displayed when the header isn’t a known search engine crawler.

HTTP Accept-Language Header Cloaking

Similar to the previous cloaking method, this technique looks at the visitor’s HTTP Accept-Language header. If the header is known to be from a search engine, then an SEO-optimized website is displayed. The user-optimized website is displayed if it’s not from a known search engine.

What are Some of the Most Common Methods for Cloaking?

Now, since you understand the various types of SEO cloaking that can be performed, it’s time to see how it’s implemented. There are four common methods used to enact these various cloaking types.

Using Hidden Text

One very simple method for cloaking is to include hidden SEO optimization text. Hiding the text involves setting it to be the exact same color as the website background. This way, the text is still technically on the website. However, it’s not visible to the human eye. Only search engine crawlers can read the hidden text.

White text code Cloaking example:

<p style="color:#FFFFFF">Your text here</p>

Flash-Based Websites

This cloaking method involves creating a simple HTML website page that is ideally optimized for search engines. Then, additional flash pages with user-friendly content are shown to website visitors.

Why is SEO Cloaking Bad?

After you get the answer to the question “what is cloaking in SEO?” your next likely question is “why do people do it?”. People who utilize cloaking to alter their website’s appearance based on who is visiting it do so to help enhance their rankings in search engines.

Search engines like Google have specific requirements that they utilize to judge how effective each website would be with respect to a particular search term that is entered in by a searcher. The website deemed most likely to provide the searcher with the specific information they’re requesting will appear at the top of the search engine results page.

It obviously makes sense for a website owner to want their website to appear at the top of the search results for terms relevant to their industry. The more traffic that a website receives, the more customers it will likely gain. Unfortunately, meeting the specific search engine requirements isn’t easy in a user-friendly website version.

This is why cloaking has developed as an easy-to-use method to deal with the rigorous demands of search engines. Each search engine, including Google, has a set standard of rules that they implement. These help ensure they see the content other users see when visiting a particular website. Websites that utilize any of the cloaking methods we discussed above violate the standard rules for many search engines, including Google.

As these search engines continue to pour money into better research methods for implementing their standards and identifying the use of cloaking techniques on individual sites, those found violating their set standards will be blacklisted. This simply means that the website will no longer appear in search engines for any terms.

cloaking black hat seo

Does Black Hat Cloaking Still Work?

The simple answer is that it depends. Some cloaking methods, like hidden text, are well outdated and won’t work anymore. Even IP-based cloaking has been phased out as the simple solution of using a proxy for the search engine crawler has shied many away from the idea of this cloaking method as being effective.

In reality, cloaking is only a short-term solution to enhancing your website’s search engine ranking. As talks of new cloaking methods are discussed online, search engine researchers identify the new methods and come up with countermeasures for detecting dishonest cloaking. As long as search engines are around, they’ll always have research teams working on handling new cloaking measures. It’s only a matter of time until each method is countermeasured by the search engines.

What to Do Instead?

Since cloaking isn’t a long-term method for ranking a website, those who don’t want to end up with their site being blacklisted from search engines should avoid cloaking altogether. Instead, focus on fixing the issue that you’re trying to remedy with cloaking.

For example, if you have too many HTML tags compared to the amount of text content on your web pages, then simply add more text. Sure, it will take a bit longer and may cost more money to do so. But, you can significantly reduce your website’s risk of being blacklisted and investing your time and money into a website that no longer makes you money.

FAQ

  • What is cloaking in SEO?
  • Why cloaking is done?
  • How do you know if a website is cloaking?
  • Which techniques is an example of black hat SEO cloaking?
  • What does black hat mean in SEO?

Published on: 2022-09-06
Updated on: 2022-09-06

Avatar for Isaac Adams-Hands

Isaac Adams-Hands

Isaac Adams-Hands is the SEO Director at SEO North, a company that provides Search Engine Optimization services. As an SEO Professional, Isaac has considerable expertise in On-page SEO, Off-page SEO, and Technical SEO, which gives him a leg up against the competition.
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