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Cloaking Your Website Content: Good Or bad Idea?

By Eric Stein
Posted Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Definition: By "cloaking" a Web page, a Web developer serves the search engine spiders a different optimised page than the page shown to an actual Web site visitor. To cloak, you redirect visitors when they arrive at your Web site.

For those who are successful at this, they must actively monitor the electronic identities of every search engine spider. These identities are often referred to as "User-Agent strings." Spiders are electronic robots (or bots) crawling the Internet looking for new or refreshed content. Many popular spiders change their Internet addresses, so anyone who cloaks must stay ahead of the unique features of bots.

Developers can manually develop this optimised content or use the many cloaking softwares out there to serve the spider bot the optimized content-oriented page for indexing.

The act of cloaking itself gives spiders different pages than viewers and many search engines regard it as cheating. This is because cloaking is used to trick or mislead a search engine about the content on a Web site.

Some optimization has even gotten to the point where the sites in question were of absolutely no use to any human being, despite being flawless as far as the engines are concerned

How to: One way of cloaking may be just to load a specific page that is heavily coded with meta-tagged information and content optimised for keyword frequency. Another method uses lots of meta tags and no content. A less-frequently used technique involves using a "doorway" page, just for search engine submissions. These doorways often redirect visitors into an adult or casino website (unusually high creators of doorways).

Many reasons for NOT cloaking are quite apparent. 1: It's an easy way for competitor's to report your URL or company to search engines or directories, risking elimination from search engines.
Most people attempt cloaking websites to optimize content placement or to hijack keywords and their relevance from the competition. All the search engines can and do give penalties where the offending site may be all but wiped out of the search engine's index.

Most any search engine does not understand or remain tolerant to any concept of ethical cloaking and they often implement methods of detecting cloaking. It's as easy as presenting two different User-Agent strings and checking the difference in the pages.

Some spiders may visit a website twice, first running an initial page check and the second run may incorporate the full page check.

My advise to any web marketer, SEO company, or webmaster is to build your current copywriting skills first before trying to cloak your content. It's often too common that you will not avail in the end...


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