Cloaking is a black hat SEO technique, in which web page visible to search engine spider is totally different from the one visible to a regular user. This type of technique is practiced in order to improve search engine rankings, if a site gets caught practicing cloaking; it will be penalized by search engines. There have been instances, where users have been tricked, and the sites visited had deviating information, which was way different from the search engines description, including pornographic content cloaked to non-pornographic search results. This gathered customer complaints to search engines, hampering user experience.
How does Google define Cloaking?
Google defines cloaking as a misleading act, where information provided deviates, diminishing user experience to a vast extent. Google wants to see a website which the users would see, in order to rank the website for better user experience. Cloaking at times is IP based, which delivers custom pages to users based on the IP address. Or at times Geo-locations is the reason as to why a specific user is directed to a different landing page. Depending upon discrepancy levels, cloaking could be classified as reasonable or questionable. Google does not consider cloaking to be ethical, but with fetch as Google Bot feature in Google webmaster tool, helps know if the site is at high risk. For example, if you have users from different countries, it is always a better experience to serve information in the desired language, off course there will be difference in the kind of Ads or data furbished but that will not hamper user experience but increase it.
Disadvantages of Cloaking
If cloaking is at high risk, unethical or misleading users, then following can be the consequences.
• Cloaking can get websites in the bad books of Google. Cloaking is violation of Google’s quality guidelines.
• If Google discovers about cloaking there are chances of the site being banned from all search engines.
• Dropped page ranking.
• Auxiliary documents are available on Google, which speak about high risk guidelines and penalties related to cloaking.
There are examples of large company’s losing millions to cloaking.
Ways to recover from cloaking
• With technical know how the code can be removed.
• If cloaking was done by a SEO company hired, it is wise to discontinue with their services.
• Keeping notes of every event and page worked on with dates help file a convincing reconsideration request.
• The reconsideration should be backed by,
(a) Steps taken to resolve the issue;
(b) Proof to make sure that the event will not re occur.
• There are different guidelines available for recover in case of hacked websites.
Cloaking boils down to being unethical, it is very important to maintain standards and showcase similar content to all users. There is a very thin line between ethical and unethical cloaking, which needs to be noted. As thumb rule, information that enhances user experience and is not at high risk, such amendments can be rational.
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