Cloaking

Cloaking is a black hat SEO technique whereby a website presents different content to the crawler, in an attempt to index better and rank higher in SERPs. The UX experience is very different and sites often appear unreadable.

What Are Some Cloaking Practices?

There are a range of cloaking practices used to try and fool the bots. Some of them can be accidental though, so watch out.

1. Hidden Text

Hidden text can be achieved in a few different ways. Matching foreground colour and background colour is a method used to hide text within a web page and is considered keyword stuffing

Although this sometimes happens by accident, Google punishes it in the same way.

Websites can also hide text by using CSS or hiding text in JavaScript.

2. Having an Unbalanced Text to HTML Ratio

This tactic is usually used when a web page is thin on content. Web pages should have a high text to HTML ratio; however, some web pages increase the HTML ratio instead of developing and expanding upon their content.

3. Showing HTML to Search Engines, but Flash to Users

This is a form of ‘Agent Name Delivery’ and involves writing a website in HTML. These pages appear content-rich to crawlers but present as Flash to users.

Why Is Cloaking Bad and What Will Happen If You Use It?

Cloaking is a direct violation of Webmaster Guidelines and leads to penalisation in the form of a Google Penalty. A Google Penalty will result in a significant drop in rankings, which leads to less exposure, less engagement, and fewer conversions. Avoid.

How to Avoid Cloaking

Considering cloaking has such a negative impact on a website’s performance and authority, its best to keep an eye on it, and ensure you’re not breaking any rules.

  • Review the elements of your website and ensure that all pages have a contrast of 4.5 to 1.
  • Examine your site for text hidden in JavaScript. This must be done manually. If found, remove it and replace with HTML.
  • Investigate if your site has text hidden by CSS. There are tools out there to help, like Screaming Frog.

What Are Some Permitted Practices Like Cloaking?

While there has been some confusion over their status in the past, the following content delivery methods are permitted, and will not lead to a Google Penalty.

1. Geo-location

Geo-location is the method by which Google presents different web pages to users based on their location. For example, Google will appear differently to a user in the US, than to someone in the UK.

2. URL Rewriting

This is the process of changing the appearance of a URL, to insert keywords and improve readability for SEO without altering the structure of a web page.

3. Flexible Sampling

This is where users clicking from Google to a listed page, are able to view the first page of content without subscribing to the host site. After the first page there is barrier implemented.

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