Cloaking is a black hat SEO technique by which users are shown different content from what is presented to the search engine to improve the website’s keyword rankings. Black hat SEO is a known term among most site developers and marketers who strive to popularize their sites. This technique focuses on manipulating search engines to achieve a higher ranking than what it deserves.

Cloaking is also a black hat SEO technique where your site will show a different version of the content, URL, or page to the search engines for better ranking and a different version to its actual visitors. It is considered a risky tactic because it is a direct shot at exploiting the search engine with a hidden agenda and is seen as a violation of Google’s guidelines.

However, cloaking may not be all times done deliberately. So it is vital that you understand the areas it will impact, why you should avoid it, and the course of action if you spot one.

Like any SEO technique, cloaking ensures you improve rankings in SERP quicker than other techniques; it will put you in a tricky position, with the cons outweighing the pros. Read further to learn more about the risks and benefits of cloaking in your SEO.

A few common cloaking practices.

Cloaking in SEO can be done in different forms and methods, most of which are against Google webmaster guidelines. Some common practices are;

  • Placing invisible text on various website pages to manipulate the search engines. This is done by setting the same colour to the background and foreground or using CSS or JavaScript to camouflage the text. 
  • A user agent is introduced to find the most influential version of the cloaked site. Here, a user agent is used to evaluate the web visitors in the place of the original user. So when the server identifies a crawling bot, the special cloaked content is shown to improve the rankings.
  • IP Cloaking is the most common method of cloaking in SEO, where the user is redirected to the desired site with a high Google ranking. This can be done by using .htaccess through reverse DNS records to redirect different categories of website visitors smoothly.
  • You can also check the HTTP Accept-Language header to find out if it is an ordinary visitor or a search engine crawler. This process of checking is called the HTTP Accept-Language cloaking technique. So, if it is found to be a crawler, then the cloaked content version will be shown in place of the original version.
  • At times, website owners resort to cloaking when the site is not compliant with Google’s recommendations, such as the text isn’t as appealing as the visuals or if the site heavily depends on Flash. Although cloaking is the easiest way to get around in making your site legitimate, it is precarious and will land you serious trouble.
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Risks of Cloaking in SEO.

  • Most black hat SEO methods like cloaking do not technically break actual laws, but it means you are violating Google’s webmaster guidelines. It is all the more reason to avoid using cloaking if you wish to be in Google’s good books and achieve a good SERP ranking.

  • Whether the black hat cloaking for SEO is done deliberately or otherwise, it can get you and your site heavily penalized by Google. Then your search engine rankings start plummeting, and your site’s growth will come to a standstill, after which it will become extremely hard for you to recover. 

  • Most of the time, it is impossible for the fallen sites to recover and regain their footing in the business, even after many months of site cleanup and rectification.

  • Worser is the manual penalty or being indefinitely banned by Google when caught cloaking. The algorithmic penalty makes it impossible to return, and the site will get permanently wiped off the market.

  • When Google removes your website from its indexing, then the site’s identity is as good as being non-existent. None of the users will be able to find your site using the keywords or search phrases.

  • The search engine’s black hat SEO spotting mechanism is getting smarter and stricter. So if you use cloaking or any other black hat SEO techniques, it won’t be long before you get caught and penalized.

  • Cloaking is about giving a different user experience than what the visitor is looking for, which will be irrelevant to the user and the search engine. 

  • So, your integrity will be lost, which will, in turn, damage your brand. Eventually, you will lose your users and site traffic because the target audience realizes that they have been tricked they will surely not return to your website.

How to find out if a site has implemented cloaking?

  • You need to know how and which website is cloaking and the non-trustable sites and stay away from those. But at times, it is also possible that your site might become a hacking target in the future. Hackers using cloaking will mask the hack and can remain undetected for a long time. Along with putting your users at risk, you will also get penalized by Google for no fault of yours. Before the cloaking in SEO can damage your brand image or the SERP rankings.

  • The difference between the description displayed by Google search results and the one on the actual page can clearly indicate that something isn’t right. Usually, the link in Google’s SERP will have a short description from the content of the linked page, which will be related to the user’s search phrase. So, when you go to that page, you will see the same description; if not, it means the site might be cloaking.

  • You can also check for signs of any other black hat SEO techniques. You can look for red flags such as lousy content quality that is overstuffed with keywords or poorly placed backlinks that can be paid ones. These are indications that the website is not entirely legitimate in its workings.

  • Enter the site URL that seems suspicious in any of the online cloak checker tools to identify if the website is cloaking. These tools are free, easily available, and also effective in spotting cloaked websites. These tools will be able to find cloaked websites and can also scan pages that might contain hidden scripts or other unfavourable codes.

  • Make the cloak-checking a regular essential audit to safeguard your site from hazardous links. The cloak checking also keeps your site safe and in adherence to Google’s webmaster guidelines. So you can stop being anxious about keeping your website secure.

  • If you find out if your site is being cloaked, then promptly take action to safeguard your search result rankings and the integrity of your brand name.
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How to stop cloaking in SEO?

You might have used a cloaking technique in the SEO and might want to stop or reverse the damage done to save yourself from being penalized by Google. Remember, malware can meddle with the base directory and automatically implement cloaking, even without your permission. However, changing your site’s base files might get strenuous; you can take the help of an authentic SEO agency that can guide you on stopping the domain cloaking and organically improving the traffic.

The next step is to prevent the .htaccess file from showing different page versions to crawlers and visitors. You should aim to provide the same website experience for the bots and your users. Still, cloaking will act on the contrary by giving alternate page content, thereby breaking your brand’s integrity. So put in time and effort to research and devise recovery plans that can repair the damage. Therefore, it is wise to stop cloaking the SEO as early as possible before Google spots your cloaked page and penalizes you heavily.

Is cloaking suitable for your SEO?

  • Despite the quick benefits that cloaking might bring, it goes against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and it is better not to consider it as a part of an SEO strategy. Instead, your marketers must focus on legitimate or white hat techniques to generate traffic organically and gain high search rankings.

  • You will pay heavily for the risk by getting your site index, and SERP removed for a temporary growth result. Cloaking is clearly a black hat SEO technique that will get you penalized by Google for implementing this method. So these deceiving methods can do more harm to your website than help them grow.

  • Many websites in the past might have gotten away with cloaking, but in the present day, Google’s algorithm has evolved multifold to detect these malicious practices easily.
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Conclusion.

Cloaking is not just an imaginary tool; it is a real black hat SEO technique that site owners use to get more traffic at the cost of compromising user experience. It is used in SEO to boost the SERP (search engine results page) by misleading the crawlers into a content page that is not relevant to the user’s search. This is done by displaying keywords to search engines only to get a high ranking or by providing HTML text to search engines and different media forms to users. 

Therefore, it is better to avoid this technique because if the user realizes they have been cheated with irrelevant content, they never will return to your page again.

Remember that any shady optimization techniques like black hat cloaking in SEO might seem profitable in the short run but are not worthwhile for the damage they cause to your brand and user experience. 

Google’s webmaster policies are intolerant to all these black hat SEO tricks and will only add to your risk of being permanently banned. Therefore website owners and marketers should aim to provide relevant quality content and add value to their users. Research and find the most popular keywords that will help you rank well and get an understanding to improve the user experience. These techniques will help your organic traffic to keep growing.