Thursday, April 07, 2005

Search Engine Cloaking

Again, it was a junk email that brought Search Engine cloaking back to my attention.

Pete Bray, from is no stranger to my shores. I promote some of his stuff through ClickBank. But what if you try and separate the wheat from the hype? Left with anything? I think so. Their forum is really interesting and buzzing with people embracing cloacking and seemingly doing well into the bargain.

Defining cloaking is not easy because it can be used to achieve very different things. By means of cloaking a different page is delivered to SE spiders than to human visitors. The spider is directed to a Search Engine friendly, highly optimized page, the human visitor to the user-friendly version. If done correctly, neither spider nor human are any the wiser as to what has happened. Cloaking is also called IP delivery because the delivered page depends on the IP of the visitor.

Going by the many forum posts, articles, resource sites and blog posts on the subject of Search Engine Cloaking, the Internet broadly [and far too simplistically] divides the use of cloaking into “legitimate” and “illegitimate” use. I’m using quotes here because I feel these distinctions are inaccurate and even irrelevant.

Google, eBay, Amazon and many more blue chips use cloaking to serve their human visitors pages they feel serve these visitors in the best possible way. This kind of IP selective page delivery is widespread and undoubtedly enhances the visitor’s page visit experience.

But today, cloaking is mainly associated with SERP manipulation or even spamdexing. Cloaking as a traffic honey trap as it were.

Let me tell you this before I go any further. I don’t use cloaking myself. Why not?

Because I’m an “ethical” [that word again!] person? No, I am an “ethical” person but that’s not the reason. Ethics have nothing to do with my choice at all.

Because it doesn’t work? I wouldn’t know that: I haven’t tried it. Many others claim success with cloaking, I can’t.

Following the “debate” on To Cloak or Not To Cloak, I get the distinct feeling that few participants are honest and that most are motivated either by envy or schadenfreude. Let’s face it: whenever a Webmaster admits a technique has cost him or her dearly, perhaps by getting banned, there is no shortage of applause. And when someone else claims great success, the green eyed monster rears its ugly head.

Trying to manipulate the SERPs is not only not illegal, not illegitimate and not unethical, it’s what most of us try to do in some way or another (what else do you want us to do). Let’s be clear: there are no laws on SEO, only fuzzy SE guidelines. What’s the worst that could happen? You get a temporary ban. Prison is definitely not an option.

And most experts agree that detecting cloaking is very difficult, if done properly. And if you want to get detected, use cloaking the wrong way: by trying to cream off high volume but non relevant traffic, anyone, even the greatest Luddite will be able to tell something isn’t right and you’ll stand a good chance of being reported to the SE for poisoning the search results.

Many SEO firms that at least appear completely bona fida state between the lines they use cloaking to drive traffic to Client sites.

So why don’t I cloak (yet)? Guess I’m a coward. But I will try this on a lesser domain. Guess I’m also curious.

Here’s a Search Engine cloaking resource that comes with a busy forum.


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