Cloaking and SEO (A No-No)

Posted on Jan 6, 2010
I know we all have busy lives and creating unique and link-invoking content that also looks good to a user can seem like a hassle, but despite that you should never cloak for SEO purposes (to higher ranking in the search engines). Below I’ll explain what cloaking is, how it works, and how you could get your website(s) penalized for using cloaking in your search engine optimization strategy.

What is Cloaking?

In layman’s terms, cloaking is a way to trick the search engines into finding a different web page then the one you are actually displaying to the user. The technique involves using the IP addresses or the User-Agent HTTP header of the user requesting the page, sort of a like a railroad fork directing a train. Like the cowboys of the Old West, you’d be giving yourself a black hat rather than being the hero who rides in with a white hat and saves the day. Don’t be a black hat.

What are the Benefits of Cloaking

To the naive marketer, cloaking can allow you to display your non-text heavy website that looks amazing to the user, which may increase the probability of the user buying a product or using a service. Sometimes a business owner or marketing personnel may not be able to perform search engine optimization because a previous website was purchased for thousands of dollars, where only later did they learn that all-Flash based websites or non-accommodating design restricts SEO potential. I understand and empathize with you, but kick the cat if you have to, because “you did it wrong” and you just have to accept that and make modifications.

Why You Should Not Cloak for SEO

First and foremost, it violates search engine terms and conditions. See below. If that’s enough to convince you, consider this: If a competitor discovers what you are doing (and they will), they could report you to the search engines. I’ve used this spam report form and you should to. If you are flagged, your website could be penalized indefinitely. If you take corrective action, you could still be penalized for up to 6 months for attempting to manipulate search engine results.

A Better Solution

The hybrid car isn’t the best solution to fixing air pollution, but it is so much better than the alternative. To comply with SEO Standards, you should consider enhancing your website to be a hybrid of great design and structured content. Perhaps create a new row below your great design elements (below the fold in the browser that requires scrolling to view). You can also use cascading style sheets (CSS) to create an area within the design that works similar to an iframe. Check out how did this by viewing the source code on this page. You don’t have to trick the search engines by using cloaking for SEO to get great results. Just spend some time working to integrate both a great user experience and relevant structured text-based content and you will eventually get the results you’re looking for without the risk of losing all of your search engine-driven traffic. Comments? Please share your experience or opinion on cloaking below.