Cloaking — Is It Worth It?

It is vital for your website or webpage to rank higher in the Google search engine result page (SERP). That ensures more qualified traffic coming to your website, which, in turn, means more business and profits! And to earn that higher ranking, you need your website and its content to be well optimised for search engines. Now, there is a good way to do that and earn a higher ranking but, you know, that requires efforts, time and consistency. Cloaking is the other way, that is the bad way to get that top slot in the SERP.

Cloaking, a black hat technique in search engine optimisation (SEO), is a deliberate manipulation of search engine indexing which deceives search engine bots or spiders by serving them different content than that from a user. For instance, using cloaking, a search query for the phrase “hats” may serve two different types of content to a user and a search engine bot — an HTML text to the bot whereas a page full of images and flash content to the user. While the aim of this unethical SEO practice is to rank higher but in the long run, you not only risk getting heavily penalised by Google by a sharp decrease in ranking but your website may also get completely deindexed. It’s not at all worth taking a shot at the illegal practice of cloaking.

Websites which serve spam often resort to cloaking in order to evade search bots and keep serving different content to users. It is a complete violation of Google Webmaster guidelines because cloaking intends to serve content to human users which they did not expect. If penalised, it could affect your website in two ways — first, partial matches, where only some portion of your website is affected and second, site-wide matches, where the entire website is levied penalty. One day you could be ranking at the top of search results but if Google detects cloaking, your website could be gone from the results in a jiffy. It is a good idea to keep playing the game as per Google’s rules.

There are many misconceptions prevalent on white hat cloaking. However, Google does not differentiate between any type cloaking whether white or black and consider all types of cloaking unfavourable for the experience of its users. There are some practices which involve serving modification in content when serving it to a user on a computer and another on a mobile. These modified content for different devices or for users accessing the page from different geographic locations would not count as cloaking practice. Then there are some accidental cloaking issues which your website might have, for instance, if the background and foreground colour of your website are same, Google would interpret it as an attempt to hide some texts from the user and make your website rank higher for those keywords by making it invisible using the same colour as that of the background. While this could happen by mistake but Google would still consider it as cloaking; so, a regular website audit is imperative to identify and fix any such — deliberate or unintentional– cloaking issues which could hamper the growth of your business.

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