One of the ways that some website owners might try and help their site perform better in search engines is through search engine optimization cloaking, or SEO cloaking. However, website cloaking is a black-hat SEO technique that violates Google’s webmaster guidelines and can lead to severe penalties.
Learn more about this outdated practice and how to safeguard your site!
What is cloaking in SEO?
SEO cloaking is a technique used to show different versions of your website to search engines and users. In short, it’s a deceptive tactic meant to “cheat” the search engine’s algorithm by showing the search engine the kind of content it likes to see, even if users see something totally different.
Examples of SEO cloaking
There are a few different ways someone might cloak their site. A few of the most common methods include:
- IP cloaking: Website owners might differentiate between user IP addresses and those belonging to search engine crawlers. Then, they’ll redirect or show different content accordingly.
- User-agent cloaking: This type of cloaking uses the user-agent information—browser type, operating system, and device—to serve different content to search engines.
- HTTP accept-language cloaking: People might also distinguish between search engines and users through the HTTP accept-language header, which communicates language preferences.
Why some websites use cloaking
If cloaking is so bad, you might be wondering why some websites would use it in the first place.
However, the most concerning cause for cloaking is a hacked site. Even though a hacked site is out of your control, you want to take proactive measures to prevent a hacker from drawing a Google penalty against your site.
How to spot SEO cloaking
One of the best ways to stay proactive against cloaking penalties from a hacker is to regularly check for cloaking using a tool. Two free online cloak-checking tools are SiteChecker and DupliChecker.
Just plug your site into one of these tools occasionally (or if you notice any suspicious activity), and if you get concerning results, find the culprit so you can take immediate action.
What isn’t considered cloaking
Now that you know what cloaking is, you might wonder if some common (a-okay) tactics you’re employing on your site are cloaking. Never fear—the following practices are not cloaking when implemented correctly:
- Personalized site content
- Interactive content such as tooltips or accordions that reveal more information when clicked
- Content behind a paywall or other gate—if Google can access the content, too, and you use Flexible Sampling best practices
- Redirecting users because of a domain change or page consolidation
Redirects will only raise a red flag for cloaking if the redirected URL is substantially different from the original content.
Avoid website cloaking at all costs
In summary, all website owners should know what cloaking is so they know how to avoid it. While the temporary benefits might seem appealing, the penalties Google will dish out once they discover the cloaking can be a massive detriment to your site in the long run.
Instead of cloaking, follow SEO best practices, ensure your site is well-designed, and keep a proactive eye out for hackers. With the right approach, your site can earn higher SEO rankings and drive more traffic—entirely above board.
Don’t fail your website’s most important test
Get an SEO scorecard of your website for free in less than 30 seconds.
- What is Artificial Intelligence? 3 Key Uses for AI in SEO
- What is Black-Hat SEO? Definition, Techniques, and Why to Avoid It
- What is Bounce Rate? (And How to Improve Bounce Rate)
- What is Click-Through Rate in SEO? [A Marketer’s Guide]
- What is Core Web Vitals? A Digital Marketer’s Ultimate Guide
- What is Domain Authority (DA)? How to Use DA to Improve Your Site
- What is Duplicate Content, and How Does It Affect Your SEO?
- What is E-E-A-T and Why is It Important for SEO?
- What is Google Analytics?
- What is Robots.txt and How Do I Implement It?