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Why to Avoid Search Engine Cloaking

Why You Should Always Avoid Cloaking

When building, implementing or optimizing a website, you should always avoid at all costs any form of cloaking, since those techniques are strongly forbidden by most major search engines today, with very good reasons. However, before I start explaining to you why you should always avoid cloaking, let me give you a brief introduction to the rather complex world of cloaking.
By definition, cloaking is a technique of delivering a certain set of pages to search engine crawlers, while at the same time delivering a completely different set of pages to your human visitors. There are many ways of doing this. Although some will tell you that the most effective way to cloak is with the use of IP (address) delivery software, the jury is still out on this and opinions vary widely. The subject of cloaking has always been and still is a very controversial topic.

Sophisticated cloaking software that makes use of IP delivery to cloak pages are complex programs that, in order for me to properly explain their functioning, would fall way beyond the scope of this article. However, let me give you a simplified explanation on how these cloaking programs work.

The idea behind cloaking

When a search engine spider or human visitor requests a specific Web page, cloaking programs compare the IP address of the requesting party to a database of known IP addresses from specific search engine spiders. If the IP address matches one on the list, it serves a particular page that was specifically written for the search engines to the spider. This page is normally optimized to rank well for that particular search engine, in order to achieve high visibility.

On the other hand, if that IP address does not match one in the database’s list, the requesting entity is “assumed” to be a human visitor and is served the actual “real” page or is simply re-directed to another page appropriate for human visitors (!)

Since most modern search engines today constantly change their IP addresses in an effort to reduce this silly ‘cat-and-mouse-chase’, as you can imagine, if these databases are not regularly updated, they will become obsolete very quickly, in effect making such cloaking programs completely useless in no time!
As a rule, most major search engines today HATE any type of cloaking software and they categorically forbid them in their terms of use. One such strong opponent to any form of cloaking has always been Google. Today, Google will take strong action against any “cloaking website” that it discovers. Such actions range from temporarily penalizing that site to outright banning it permanently from its index.

The simple reason for all this is that search engines rightly feel that they should always be delivered the same Web page that any human visitor would normally see. Many search engines also feel (and I agree with them) that webmasters making use of cloaking software or programs are in effect “spamming the index”. While some people may not agree with this, the search engines’ point of view does have some good merit and, if you want your site indexed by them, you don’t have any other option but to follow their rules.


Always build a great site that has a lot of valuable content to ALL your visitors and the search engines and make certain the search engines get the same pages your actual visitors get and your site should always rank high, if you follow all the rest of the advice offered on this website. Avoid cloaking at all costs, since it’s never an option.
Remember that all search engines today are only concerned with two important things: the relevancy and quality of their search results. Also, you should always remember that it is THEIR search engine and only they make the rules. So, in light of all this, it would be wise for you to completely forget about any kind of cloaking, unless you are willing to take the chance of having your site penalized or banned permanently from the major search engines.

Serge Thibodeau, Copyright (c) 2003 Serge Thibodeau

Category SEO
SEJ STAFF Loren Baker Founder at Foundation Digital

Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing ...

Why to Avoid Search Engine Cloaking

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