What Is Website Cloaking?
A simple definition of the word cloaking is to conceal, hide or cause to be invisible. In the world of web design cloaking refers to showing different page content to regular users than what is shown to Google bot or other search engine crawlers. You need to be aware of cloaking because it can earn you stiff search engine penalties. Even if it is not intentional on your part the results can be devastating.
Why is cloaking bad? Cloaking is frowned upon because it is a high risk violation of quality guidelines and accepted best practices for web page design. It also provides a level of deception as well as a bad user experience. The bad user experience is due to the search engine results not matching the actual page content. Also, in some cases cloaking is a method for transmitting malicious code to unsuspecting users.
How to stay in the safe zone. The first safety net is to not use cloaking techniques intentionally. The next safety net is to monitor and respond to any cloaking that may occur as a result of your web page being hacked and compromised. A great tool for keeping an eye on things is to closely monitor your Webmaster dashboard which can give alerts in the event that cloaking is detected. You can also fetch your pages as Google Bot and then compare the content against what you see displayed as a normal user.
What about displaying different content depending on the user’s geo location or device type? This is fair game and Google understands that you might do something like scan a user’s I.P. address to determine which language to display on the page. Google also understands that you might scan the user’s device type in order to display smart phone, or tablet specific pages.
Finally, to give yourself a good understanding of web page cloaking from Google’s perspective please take a few minutes to watch the video below which is entitled, “Cloaking.”