By definition, cloaking can be described as an HTML technique from the field of search engine optimization. When optimizing by means of cloaking, the focus is on improving the ranking of a website within the result list of search engines such as Google. For this purpose, the web crawlers of the search engine are presented with different content than the normal page visitor under the same URL. The aim is to present the website visitor with content that is attractively designed and does not focus on SEO criteria such as keywords. In contrast, the crawler is usually presented with text-based page content, which implements SEO methods in the best possible way, but loses design attributes.

How does cloaking work?

When a user searches for a website using a search engine, it is displayed in the search engine suggestions from the relevant index. According to foodanddrinkjournal, the basic goal of cloaking, however, is to optimize a page differently for the visitor and the search engines. The page can contain multimedia content for normal visitors, while it is made available to the search engines as a structurally modified, text-based version. Search engines can process and index text content much better, multimedia content such as videos are more difficult for them to read. With the help of cloaking, a page can be made particularly appealing for the user without the domain owner having to worry about falling behind in the ranking because the crawlers cannot read the media components and thus cannot index them.

It should be noted that Google & Co. have meanwhile developed some tools and options to better process and index multimedia content, thus reducing the options for cloaking.

Disguising as a Black Hat SEO method

Cloaking is one of the Black Hat SEO methods and was probably named after the villains who, in old films, wear a black hat pulled wide over their faces in order to remain undetected. Cloaking can be translated as camouflage or cover, as this technology conceals the actual website presence in order to make it invisible to search engine crawlers such as Googlebots. In extreme cases, the content that is presented to the search engines has nothing to do with the content that the normal user finds.

Cloaking is a process that is against the guidelines of most search engines and in some cases can even be assessed as a trademark or competition infringement. The procedure is therefore punished accordingly: If web crawlers reveal the cloaking of a page, this almost always leads to permanent exclusion from the indexes of search engine operators. Who, for example, against the webmaster guidelines of Google, the Google Webmaster Guidelines, contrary, is punished by a Google penalty. The only option for re-indexing is then to purchase a new domain.

Technical variants of cloaking

Since cloaking is based on server systematics, the server can use the IP or the identifier to identify whether a user, browser or robot wants to access the data, and thus display the respective optimized or reduced website.

There are two different types of cloaking:

  • With IP cloaking, different versions of the website are presented to the visitor, depending on their IP address. In this way, search engine crawlers can also be redirected to the specific version of the page based on your IP address.
  • With user agent cloaking, the website visitor is presented with different versions of the page, depending on his user agent (usually Internet browser). Due to the fact that search engine crawlers such as Google usually identify themselves, they can be redirected to another page with an appropriate program code.

How can the masquerade be exposed?

There are also ways to expose cloaking. For this purpose, search engine crawlers use the usual browser IDs so that they are identified as normal users and that the optimized page is displayed to them. In addition, search engine operators try to keep some of their crawlers secret so that they can search for “cloaked” pages without hindrance. At least user agent cloaking can thus be easily identified.

To date, IP cloaking has been particularly difficult to unmask, but the tools of the search engines, as already mentioned above, are constantly developing, use neutral IPs and can increasingly prevent IP cloaking.

What is cloaking