What is Cloaking? Using Personalized Content

Cloaking can be simply defined as showing one thing, but doing another. It’s a common term that appears in science fiction and fantasy literature and movies, but cloaking technology is largely utilized in SEO. 

In today’s post, we’re looking at the meaning of cloaking and how you can use it to your advantage. 

What is cloaking in SEO?

SEO-based cloaking can refer to anything from IP delivery and reverse DNS to user-agent cloaking with the latter meaning that you’re looking at the user to see whether it’s a Google bot. Why does user-agent cloaking fail? Because these days, they use snoopy bots. 

The most common types of cloaking used in SEO are the following:

  • User-agent cloaking
  • JavaScript cloaking
  • IP-based cloaking
  • HTTP-REFERRER cloaking
  • HTTP Accept-language header cloaking

Each of these can be implemented differently. For example, you could be adding invisible text to one of your pages or posts, which would make it impossible for a regular visitor to see. 

Cloaking can also be implemented on flash-based websites, even though flash nowadays isn’t recommended for SEO purposes. For HTML rich websites that don’t have a lot of content, some people might have to resort to cloaking in order to get them ranked. The ratio between the HTML and the content on a page matters a lot for almost all search engines.

Can cloaking be dangerous?

Cloaking is a technique that Google prohibits, so there is no such thing as white-hat cloaking. Even though it might be beneficial, in some respects, which is to say that you can deliver different content to your users depending on their geo location, for instance, it can get you in trouble.

In fact, back in 2006, a giant German car manufacturer’s website (BMW) was penalized by Google when it was found to use cloaking. 

Why should you avoid search engine cloaking?

These techniques pretty much go against most search engines’ guidelines, so that’s why you should avoid using cloaking as much as possible. Search engines have bots that they feel like they should be delivered the same type of content that a human user would see. 

According to some search engines, cloaking programs or software can be used by webmasters in order to spam the index. In any case, if you want to have any chance of getting ranked on Google or any other search engine and you aren’t forced to use cloaking for any other reason, it’s a good idea to avoid it altogether. 

In fact, cloaking has such a bad reputation that it has been included on various lists of black hat SEO techniques that you should refrain from resorting to, along with keyword stuffing, duplicate content, clickbait, and purchasing links. 

What happens if you get penalized for cloaking?

Although some might argue that Google can be pretty forgiving, the truth is that if your website gets blacklisted, it can take months for you to deal with the damage. You might need someone to represent you when communicating with Google, and during all this time, you are going to waste effort and more importantly, money

Want to know whether a website uses cloaking? You can try an easy tool like Cloaking Checker

We have courses available and offer training both online and offline for people interested in learning more on cloaking and other techniques. Get in touch using the button below.


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Craig Campbell

I am a Glasgow based SEO expert who has been doing SEO for 20 years.

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