Note: Because the search
engines are opposed to this strategy and consider it against
their terms of service, we highly recommend that you don't use
cloaking strategies. There is NO reason to cloak your Web pages.
We are leaving this page in
our listing of articles, however, because it is found in the
SERPs. Therefore, from an educational standpoint, it's a good
way to educate the SEO community as to what cloaking or content
delivery really is, and to warn them of the problems associated
with using the strategy.
One of the more controversial strategies in search engine
positioning is cloaking. But, is it a "beauty" or a "beast" in the world of
What exactly is cloaking?
Let's say that you're presented with a Website and told to get
it in the top ten rankings. But, that page is using dynamic content or other
technology that makes it impossible to get indexed. Or, maybe the keyword
phrase is extremely competitive. In any event, you know it would be next to
impossible for you to get top rankings.
One way to solve the problem is to use cloaking. Also known as
IP Delivery™ and the Food Script™, cloaking is
when different pages are served to the search engines than what your visitors
see. In other words, you'll create separate and simple pages for each major
engine, taking great care to follow each engine's guidelines. The pages will be
simple text without any tactics that can present ranking problems, such as
dynamic content, frames, XML, or Java.
When a search engine visits your site, the script detects which
engine is visiting by viewing that engine's IP address, and the page created
just for that engine is shown. But, when a surfer visits your site, a
beautifully designed page is presented that is sure to impress your
By using this strategy, you are showing the engines simple
content-rich pages that they like. And, you're also showing your visitors
impressive and professionally-presented pages. The engine sees one page and the
visitor see another -- each designed to appease their specific "tastes".
So, the "beauty" of cloaking is that you can have the best of
both worlds: the simple pages for the engine, and the impressive pages for your
visitors. And, you can create separate pages for each engine, which allows you
to use effective techniques for one engine that another engine may not
Another reason for using cloaking is to hide your valuable code.
Once you've worked hard to get your pages optimized and into the top rankings,
the last thing you want is for someone to "steal" your code and boot you out of
How widespread is it?
Not all professional search engine optimizers use cloaking.
Ginette Degner of Search Engine Services (http://www.searchengineservices.com/) only
recommends it to clients who are in highly competitive areas or if they're
using technology that would prohibit a good ranking. Ginette says...
"If the site is using technology like XML, JHTM, or catalog
delivered pages and there's no way that the engine is going to get past the ?
in the URL, that's when I go to the script. I use it when it's the only way
it's going to get done."
The big question: How do the engines feel about
Google has gone on record as stating that they don't like
cloaking. In fact, at the Boston Search Engine Watch conference, the Google rep
said, "Don't cloak. Really." He also said that within the next 30 to 60 days,
Google will begin cracking down on what it perceives to be spamming.
So, my recommendation as far as Google is concerned is not to
cloak at this point in time.
But, what about the other engines? John Heard of Beyond
Engineering (http://www.bey.com/) and research specialist for
Planet Ocean answers,
"They do not like any promotion techniques that
misrepresent the content of the site. That's the number one rule and they will
enforce it whenever possible. If you abuse that rule, you do run the risk of
getting banned on any search engine, regardless of whether you're using
cloaking technology or not."
Heard has used the software at every major search engine in the
United States with very good success since 1996.
"None of our clients have ever gotten a site/page/domain
banned because of the use of the software. But again, we haven't used
misleading pages or content either. If you're not misleading or causing
problems for anyone, it appears the engines take a 'don't ask - don't tell'
policy with it. There are no automated systems to detect a cloaked page built
What about spamming?
Since surfers never see the cloaked pages, can you get away with
spamming? Answer: No! Because cloaking is an aggressive search engine
positioning strategy, it becomes "suspect" to the engines. So, it's imperative
that you follow all rules and do nothing that could get you in trouble with the
Therefore, don't use anything that would be considered spamming
techniques -- no keyword stuffing, hidden text, or lightning fast META refresh
Spamming techniques may get you in the rankings briefly, but you
won't remain. Ginette explains, "Think about the longevity in this business.
You want pages that will remain in the index."
Is cloaking an open invitation to steal someone else's page and
get their rankings? After all, no one will know, right?
"Copying someone else's page and 'cloaking it' is a big
mistake. The company you copied the page from will very likely find that you've
copied the page because your pages show up for a "unique" word that was in the
page content. If and when they find it, they will likely complain to the search
engine and they will very likely ban your site because of it. There are also
copyright and trademark issues, etc. So if you use cloaking, don't expect it to
work with stolen pages or content. Sooner or later, you will get caught,"
How can you tell if a page has been cloaked?
Compare the title, description, and size of the page to what
appears in the search results. That's your first indication. However, that's
not foolproof, since many of the engines are now using descriptions taken from
the ODP or LookSmart. Heard also indicates that cloaking is often used to play
'headgames' with the competition.
"The way it works is a company utilizing cloaking hides
their html code for their top 10 pages but allows the competition to see a page
that wouldn't rank -- that uses say, too many keywords. The theory is the
competition will analyze this page and use those keyword densities and
placement for their pages. More experienced promoters will often go to the
trouble of exactly matching file size, titles, and descriptions for their
cloaked pages making them very difficult, if not impossible, to
Also, there are programs you can use to see if a page has been
cloaked. However, these tools will only work with simple "user-agent" cloaking
systems. IP-based cloaking systems, since as Heard's software, IP Delivery
(http://www.ip-delivery.com), cannot be viewed with
these or any other tool.
Here's an excellent word of advice
Ginette Degner says,
"Instead of spending your valuable time trying to figure
out if a page has been cloaked, simply build a better page."
Can you find a cheap or free script somewhere on the
Before you rush off to try to find a free script, keep in mind
that it's not the "script" itself that's so valuable-it's the updates to the
script. Heard explains,
"Search engines often times change their spiders' IP
addresses due to expansion or changes in their systems. If the person is using
an industrial strength cloaking software, they depend on these IP addresses to
help identify and process the pages correctly for each search engine. If the IP
addresses aren't updated often, the user runs the risk of sending the wrong
pages to the engines."
An excellent, and inexpensive, cloaking software is
fantomas shadowSniper™ which even
offers support for international engines.
The future of cloaking?
What trends do we see in the future for cloaking? Is it on the
way up or on the way down? Heard answers,
"I believe we're going to see world-wide support for
international search engines of importance. Also, we're getting more requests
to include features such as delivering different web pages for users in
different countries. Another common request is the ability to sense the speed
of the user's connection so that cloaking software can deliver the user to a
high bandwidth, regular bandwidth, or very low bandwidth (PDA). I expect the
cloaking software to morph into something similar to a personalization system
that includes search engine robots, shopping bots, etc."
Harness the "beauty" and keep out the "beast"!
When considering whether cloaking is right for you and your
Website, remember that cloaking alone won't get you top rankings. You have to
do that yourself through a lot of hard work. However, if your Website is
utilizing techniques that prevent a top ranking, cloaking may solve your
Cloaking software recommendations
Robin Nobles teaches 2-, 3-, and 5-day hands-on search engine marketing workshops in locations across the globe (SearchEngineWorkshops.com) as well as online SEO training courses (OnlineWebTraining.com). They have recently launched localized SEO training centers through SearchEngineAcademy.com, and they have expanded their workshops to Europe with Search Engine Workshops UK. They have also opened the first networking community for SEOs, the Workshop Resource Center (WRC).
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