Cloaking – What Is It, Why Is It Bad And How To Avoid It (With Video)

In an effort to explain what is it exactly cloaking, how Google sees it and how to avoid it, Google has released a video guide hosted by Matt Cutts, the spam “cop” of Google’s search team. Let’s try to understand this issue better (you can watch the video at the bottom).

What Is It “Cloaking” And Why Google Doesn’t Like It?

The most basic and simplest definition of cloaking is showing different content to users and for search bots. Matt is stating loud and clear that “we don’t like it”, that it is a “high risk behavior” and it is actually a violation of the Google quality guidelines.

Matt explains that the disliking of cloaking begun a long time ago, when some webmasters used deceptive and misleading methods of cloaking, for example, when a search bot entered a website he “saw” it was about Disney cartoons while when a user visited the site it was filled with adult materials. This is obviously a poor experience for the users.

To be clear, there is no such thing white hat cloaking! Any type of cloaking is against the quality guidelines, particularly when someone is doing something especially deceptive and then the spam team really get involved (the meaning is probably for a complete ban from Google).

Avoiding Cloaking

Although that to engage in cloaking, the webmaster needs to conduct special things that he certainly aware of, Matt provides couple of ways to avoid it:

1.  Using the Fetch as Googlebot feature to identify different content for bots and for users.

2.  Scanning the site’s code and see if there are deliberate commands for Googlebot user-agent or Googlebot IP address.

Geo-Location And Mobile User-Agents

But what about offering different content for users from different parts of the world (different languages for instance) or different content for different devices (mobile-compatible content for instance), which obviously improve the user experience?

Matt calms down and says that “you don’t really need to be worry about that”- As long as the webmaster don’t aim and target content exactly for the Googlebot, he don’t serve different content for the search bot and for the (human) user and this is absolutely all right.

I hope you understood this issue better for your work from home and here is the full Cloaking video: