Cloaking: Why Google Condemns It?


cloakingDeceiving the users is one serious violation to the Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, but notwithstanding the threat of being penalized, this unethical practice termed as “cloaking” is still being utilized by some webmasters. And what’s even worst now is that the hackers are also using the same to hide their malfeasance in the web. Who suffers from this misdeed? Unfortunately, the innocent users and webmasters are greatly affected.

But how and why? Since, technically, cloaking refers to the process or strategy of presenting different content or directing at a distinct URL than what has been shown to and clicked by the users, the effects of which are apparent: the users will get offended with the site, and the site, which might have only been victimized by hackers, will be penalized.

From the Guidelines:

example of cloaking

How Cloaking is Done?

In simplified terms, a “cloaker” uses a URL like to induce the users to scan or read what the site is offering. But when the users click it, the real site is different as this one: It’s ultimately a deception!

The diagram below shows how cloaking is done in a step by step process:

cloaking process
Just Click to Enlarge

(Note: This image is only presented to bring awareness about cloaking to the public)

Apparently, as clearly shown in the above-illustration, the entire process of cloaking a URL requires knowledge in FTP or other server programs. After such process is done, the next procedure is to test if the cloaked URL really works by typing in: in your browser.

What Matt Cutts Says About Cloaking?

Matt Cutts cares about users and webmasters, and it’s not just for the Google’s benefit that he has clearly explained in the following link what cloaking is all about, and why such technique is deceptive for the search engines and users. He had also given insights as to how can one determine whether or not a certain practice is considered as cloaking.

Why is it Considered a Violation?

The main focus of Google is the users and it wants to give them the quality searchers’ experience than ever. It is clear in the previous updates in the webmasters guidelines and, needless to say, the search engine has become stricter when it comes to the SEO practices and strategies. Thus, like what it warned about unnatural links, Google desires to be natural and “realistic”, and cloaking does not fall under this guideline. Its deceptive or misleading nature would ultimately defeat the search engine’s goal for the safety of sites, efficiency of optimization, and satisfaction of users.

What Are the Consequences of Cloaking?

• For Users – it’s quite obvious to say that when a user is directed to a wrong content or site, he would get disappointed and not wish to go in that site again. When you have experienced the same case, you would certainly agree. And aside from disappointment, a user may also waste time and get distracted with such undesirable experience. It’s not what Google aims for them.

• For Websites – penalty awaits the websites with or that have cloaked contents. It’s a clear violation of the search engine’s guidelines, and no site would be immune or exempted when it starts taking its vengeance against those disobedient webmasters. How unfortunate it is for others, however, who have just been victimized by hackers; their sites will get penalized despite the fact that they did nothing to violate the rules of Google. That’s what you should be aware of!

• For the Search Engine – when users got offended with what they have experienced using the search engine, then possibly, they may resort to other engines which might be free from cloaking. It can undeniably demean its identity and may serve as cause for the diminution of its users. Yet, if it penalizes a website for the said cause, then that could also mean a loss for its resources.

How to Make Your Site Accessible without Cloaking?

One reason why some webmasters resort to cloaking is to make their sites more accessible especially when they’re also using Javascript and any other technologies that the search engines have difficulty accessing. Hence, instead of making their site safe and effective, they just make it worst by exposing it to the danger of penalty.

The following are the tips on making your site accessible:

(Extracted from: webmaster guidelines)

• Images: Use the alt attribute to provide descriptive text. It is also recommended to use a human-readable caption and descriptive text around the image.

• JavaScript: Place the same content from the JavaScript in a <noscript> tag. If you use this method, ensure the contents are exactly the same as what’s contained in the JavaScript, and that this content is shown to visitors who do not have JavaScript enabled in their browser.

• Videos: Include descriptive text about the video in HTML. You might also consider providing transcripts

 What the Hackers Do to Manipulate a Site?

Hackers would also try manipulating the subsisting pages on you site by adding content therein that the search engine can detect, but can be tough for you and the users to see. Yes, they are hiding the content, and such strategy involves adding hidden links or text to a certain page by using HTML or CSS, or by cloaking.

You can read more about hacked contents here.

Are Hidden Text and Links Also a Violation?

Commonly, yes, but not always. As Google explained, hiding text or links in the content to manipulate its search rankings can be seen as deceptive and is a violation of the webmaster guidelines. However, it further elucidated that not all hidden text is considered deceptive because, for instance, if your site includes JavaScript, etc. using descriptive text for such item can enhance the accessibility of the site.

Google also provided a list of several ways in which a text can be hidden. You can check it here .

Actually, in my previous post about link injection spam which is related to this one, I’ve explained how rankings dropped because of wordpress hacking.

CLOAKING is not and will never really be a safe optimization strategy in Google for it does not make the site visible on the top rankings, but it hides its possibility of gaining high traffic and exposes it to the danger of penalty. So don’t cloak anything; make your contents transparent for the benefit of users! Let’s make everybody happy and contented.

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SEO Consultant, Online Marketer & Blogger, Web Developer & DLINKERS Founder. “Chose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”