Every business wants their website to rank on the top of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). However, to achieve this it is important to optimize the website to make it worthy of ranking well.
Optimizing a website SEO and taking it up the search engine rankings is a long and time-consuming process. Businesses do not have the patience to wait for the Search Engine Optimization results to start showing and end up taking the easier way by using Black Hat SEO Techniques.
These SEO techniques help in pushing the website to the top of the SERP results in no time. One such Black Hat SEO technique is cloaking.
What is cloaking in SEO?
Cloaking in SEO is a technique in which different content or information is served or presented to the users and the search engine crawlers.
Under cloaking, the website presents favourable content to the search engine spiders or bots to improve the search engine rankings of the website for certain keywords.
In simple words, cloaking is an SEO method used to give search engines the impression that a website is carrying certain information which helps it to rank higher whereas, in reality, the content that the users see online is different.
For example, visitors would see an attractive webpage that may contain less text and more graphic elements.
Search engines are not able to recognize or read graphic and multimedia elements hence under cloaking the crawlers or spiders are presented with a different website having the same URL but which has more text content and keywords. This is an example of URL cloaking.
What is cloaking in SEO with example? How is cloaking in SEO implemented?
Some ways in which companies implement cloaking to improve their search engine rankings are:
- Hidden text
Text or keywords which need not be visible to the viewers are added to the website or webpage by using the same colour as the background. The keywords or content will be crawled by the search engine to help improve the rankings however it won’t be visible to the actual user or viewer.
- Flash Websites
As per SEO guidelines by search engines use of Flash is not recommended while building or developing websites. However, still many websites use Flash.
Instead of remaking the entire website in plain HTML, they develop good content webpages using Flash and provide those pages to the search engine crawlers. The actual website with flash pages is only visible to the visitors.
- HTML Rich Websites
An effective SEO technique requires a high “TEXT to HTML ratio”. It means that the text content on the web page should be higher than the number of HTML tags.
If a website has less content or has articles or posts which are short their text to HTML ratio will be very low. Cloaking is used in such instances to meet the standards of the SEO guidelines.
- Replacing Java Scripts
Is cloaking legal? Should cloaking be done in SEO?
In SEO, cloaking is known to violate Google’s Webmaster techniques and hence is considered to be a black hat technique. Most of the black hat SEO techniques are illegal.
It is not advisable to undertake cloaking to trick search engine crawlers to rank your website. Search engines do not appreciate being tricked.
A website is crawled several times using different IP addresses. The complex and strict search engine algorithm will detect the cloaking on your website at some time or the other. If your website is found cloaking, you will be penalized.
What is Google’s cloaking penalty?
As the most popular search engine Google keeps updating its algorithm regularly and if a website uses cloaking it will be detected.
If a website is found cloaking then it may be banned permanently and it won’t be indexed again. In February 2006, German car manufacturer BMW was blacklisted for breaking Google’s guidelines.
What practices for representing different content to users is allowed under Google’s guidelines?
Though cloaking is not allowed and is considered a black hat SEO technique, there are many practices that can be used to present different content or information to different users.
Below, mentioned are some methods which were considered as cloaking once but which are acceptable to Google now.
- Geographical Location
When Google.com is accessed from outside the US, the viewer will see a different page related to their region which is different from what a viewer will see in the US. Basically, Google is redirecting users to a different webpage depending on their geographical locations.
For example, a user in India would be redirected to google.co.in when they try to access google.com. Rerouting users to webpages based on location is not considered cloaking. The rerouting is done to offer a better experience.
- URL Rewriting
URL rewriting involves removing unwanted parameters and other URLs (URL cloaking). The content remains unchanged only the URLs are rewritten.