What is Cloaking?If you read any of the online discussion forums relating to search engines, search engine marketing, search engine promotion, or search engine optimization, you're sure to have heard about cloaking. Many search engine marketing 'experts' have tried using cloaking scripts. We are proud to say that Metamend has not, nor will it ever look at a search engine optimization strategy that involves deceiving the search engines. Metamend finds it to be unethical, and not meeting with the standards that our clients would hold us to. It is a type of search engine spam. However, for the casual observer, or a new web site operator, it's easy to think that cloaking is an essential tool to gain a top search engine ranking. Fortunately, the search engines have put anti-cloaking measures in place. They don't support measures to decrease the value of their results any more than we do.
Cloaking is the practice of serving different content to search engines spiders than is displayed to human users. The search engines view any form of cloaking as a misleading method of advertising, sending one set of content to their spiders aimed at obtaining good rankings for the content of that cloaked page, and to deliver a completely different set of content to the actual human users, most of whom arrived at this web site through deception.
Is There A Case For Cloaking?There are some people who can make a good case for some innocent uses for cloaking. For instance, because different browsers (Netscape, Internet Explorer, Conqueror, etc...) all display the same information differently, a web site operator that is very precise with regards to maintaining exactly the same image across multiple browsers will want to feed a different page to the different browsers. Technically, it's both cloaking and a justifiable approach to resolving browser compatibility issues. But it's not acceptable to the search engines. Cloaking is a technology that can be used for good purposes just as easily as it can be used to deceive. The problem here is that the tool itself is not the culprit, but so many "spammers" have used the tool to try and fool the engines that any usage is now negatively viewed.
The search engines are keenly aware of browser compatibility issues. They more than anyone have to ensure that their portal appears the same for all their users. There is a good reason for the simplicity of Google's interface. The less there is, the less that can go wrong. The search engines themselves have never gone on record defining an anti-cloaking policy, but they have stated many times that attempts to deceive their robots and spiders will not be taken lightly. So while they try and look at what is the intent of the technique, it is still a judgement call. Our search engine optimization strategy has determined that cloaking is not in the best interests of our clients, because it's deceptive. The search engines will follow the same path. If you decide to optimize your site, and engage in cloaking as well, you're taking the risk that all the work you are doing is for nothing, as the solutions will work against each other.
So Is Cloaking Ever Necessary?One of the biggest problems with cloaking is that we simply do not know how many people actually use it. It's easy for our software to detect it, and also for a trained specialist, but not for the average Internet user. Without the right tools, even making an educated guess about whether a web site is cloaking or not is tough. Some easy ones to spot are pages that are incorrectly indexed - they show up under irrelevant searches. If you search for "house plants" and find a web site discussing "party tricks", you know that something has happened to skew the search engine results that far off. It's likely to be cloaked.
The amazing thing is that cloaking technology can't help a page that is poorly designed, or lacking in content in the first place. More amazing still, solid content and proper optimization do much more to improve a website's results in the search engines than all the black magic tools like cloaking ever can. Solid content will support the proper operation of a search engine optimization process, which feeds off the content to operate. Solid content and optimization are what the search engines are searching for in the first place. If you ensure that the content is there, and let a search engine optimization firm like Metamend take care of the rest, you will see results.
If you decide you're going to try cloaking, or some other similar tactic, somebody will eventually find out and you're going to get caught. The risk is that the short-term gains aren't worth the long-term bans from the search engines. Once a web site is on their list of spam sites, it does not come off easily.
So If You Want To Do It Right...
Try a cloaking free, spam free, search engine optimization plan. Simply re-examine the content on the web site, and look at some of the things that the search engines look for. Make sure you really have enough of relevant content on your site.
The search engines will objectively review the content on your web pages. They look at the terms used, and how frequently they are used, and from that they index and rank the web site. These honest, up front methods require less time and energy than devising strategies for manipulating spiders. Most importantly, not only will your web site benefit from the improved search engine results, but your visitors will find more interesting reasons to stay longer and come back more often.