Cloaking is considered an unethical practice in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) process. It is an artificial method of boosting rankings in search results primarily used by web pages of suspicious or illegal content (porn, gambling). The cloaking technique allows such pages to avoid (deceive) search engine spiders (mechanical or human) which would disable and penalize them. The spiders, once detected as such, are directed to an alternate landing site while normal visitors are led to the original page. Cloaking can be applied to any search engine but are mostly used on sources with massive amounts of traffic such as Google, Bing and Facebook.
Cloaking as a part of the Search Engine Optimization process
The Search Engine Optimization is one of the crucial online marketing strategies. The higher a web page is ranked in the search results, the more traffic it gets. Search engine spiders examine pages in order to determine their relevance and popularity. Their analysis mostly revolves around key words and inbound links. A cloaking technique constructs false pages with massive amounts of key words and links which are recognized by the spiders as satisfactory for high ranking of the particular page. This enables illegal pages to reach high ranks without being removed and/or penalized.
How the technique works
Cloaked web pages have a hidden CGI script which scans IP addresses of incoming visitors. If the script detects a search engine spider, it is directed to the above mentioned false page (getting the original page a higher rank). On the other hand, if the script recognizes the IP address as one of a normal user, he/she is directed to the original page.
Is it legitimate? Is it worth it?
The usage of cloaking is considered highly unethical by authorities, most web page owners and users as well. It is an artificial method of achieving high ranks in the search results. Most people want to be directed to valuable pages and contents – this can be disrupted due to cloaking practices. Moreover, legal teams of the search engines which have been cloaked are not something most people would like to deal with. The programmers can, but do not have to, do the cloaking properly as no one can pursuit them legally for something which is not considered legal in the first place. In addition, it is an extremely costly process for someone who does not make ‘big bucks’ already.
All of these facts go into favor of avoiding getting involved with cloaking.
Cloaking in affiliate marketing
Cloaking can, however, be used in affiliate marketing in a somewhat different form. When talking about cloaking an affiliated link, we are referring to a technique of disguising an affiliate link behind one which does not look like it. In other words, the affiliate URL is replaced by a link which looks ‘normal’. This kind of cloaking is beneficial for the affiliate and does not make much difference for consumers. Consequently, it is considered a clear area in online marketing.