What is Cloaking?

Updated on: 11 July 2013

This video tackles the subject of cloaking and its meaning in the context of Internet usage. Matt cutts in this video discusses why cloaking is high-risk in terms of the violation of quality guidelines set by Google. In nonprofessionals’ term, cloaking means covering, concealing or hiding. In the tech savvy world of the Internet, Google defines cloaking as essentially showing a different content to users than to the Google bot. It is actually considered bad in the light of several deceptive or misleading actions done in the ancient days. What makes cloaking bad is actually its intention to deceive the Google bot into thinking that it is seeing a content, which users are also seeing when in fact it shows another to cover up the real content shown to users.

This video highlights the following:

1. Why cloaking is considered high-risk or bad practice. Cloaking is intended to deceive Google bot and mislead users. For example, someone comes to Google and searches for Disney cartoons. Google bot will actually yield searches showing related content for Disney cartoons yet when the user click on a specific link, it shows a different content such as porn.

2. There is no white hat cloaking since Google considers all cloaking bad. However, there are instances where the only quantifying factor that differentiates your action from the actual cloaking is your motive or intention. If your action is not intended especially for Google, then you are not doing a cloaking. This applies to geo location and mobile companies who show different content to a user to enable them to better understand the content. For instance, a user from France will be detected with a French IP address hence; the system will try to show the user content that is the French version to what he had actually searches. The action is not meant to treat Google bot differently but its intention is to facilitate better understanding in the part of the user.

How to ensure that you stay away from high-risk cloaking:

You will not be able to determine cloaking by just looking at it. You have to take definitive steps to be able to identify it as it is.

1. Take a hash of that particular page, fetch a page and pretend to be Google bot. This is not a hard and fast rule however since pages can be dynamic, time stamps can vary and ads might change.

2. You can look through the codes of your server and find something that specifically treats Google bot specially or differently.

3. If you find many html documentations that are intended to treat Google differently, then that must be cloaking.  The key to determining whether you are in a high-risk situation is finding something that specifically finds Google bot and treats it differently from the rest of the users. It is the intention of the action that will tell you that it is indeed cloaking and not just something to help users better comprehend what they are searching for in the Internet.

Take note that cloaking is also known as BlackHat method and its very bad for SEO.

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