Snap! SEO: What is Cloaking and why search engines do not like it?

Alexis Wilke's picture

Drawing on a piece of roman potery of a couple hiding inside a cloak.Search Engines are dumb robots1. Internet Marketing Entrepreneurs are Smart Humans (or so they think... cheeky) It is therefore rather easy to outsmart the dumb robots. Today on the Snap! Website blog I will show you how you create a website for the purpose of gaining a higher rank using a very simple cloaking technique.

There are several things that determine your rank, but the main factor is how many links point to your website. To increase the number of links you can increase the number of posts you make on other websites.

Some people will purchase links. This means they pay someone to get those posts created for them. This is a really good idea if you just want to concentrate on your business...

Now, some users want to have links to what may generally be seen as a dodgy website. For example, a porn website may have a much harder time to get thousands of links than a website about a game such as WarCraft. So? What would a porn website marketer do?

Answer: Search Engine Cloaking!

Say you create a new website and add nice good content on the site. Maybe it's a site you created and it talks about how to get a new date. This would certainly be a good enough match for a porn site.

Then you work in finding people who accept to add links on their website to your blog talking about dating (and in exchange you offer a backlink from your blog to their website.) They will certainly not see any harm into that since when they go to your website, it looks just the way it is expected to look: it is your blog about dating and they see their backlink!

Quickly, you build several thousand links in this way, all pointing to your website. All those links pass juice to you. This is great. Now you are ready to trick the search engines.

The HTTP protocol2 allows you to redirect your visitors to a different page or website. When you close a website for a reason or another, you should always redirect the traffic to another website, maybe a new version, maybe your existing main website.

For example, I worked with Serious Magic, a software company creating Visual Communicator among other products. That company was bought by Adobe. Adobe purchased the whole company including the domain name and now it redirects to Adobe's home page. You can try it here:

Graphical representation of a Search Engine Cloaking DeviceIt takes a few seconds and you end up on Adobe's home page with the normal Adobe URL and not the old Serious Magic URL.

In this case, it is not cloaking because anyone, including search engines robots, is sent to the same destination, no matter what. However, blackhats use that capability to only redirect Google, Bing, and Yahoo! — in other words, they redirect search engines, not users. The result?

The search engines are now passing juice to the new destination (the porn website) instead of the blog website (the one all those other users are being sent to when they click on a link.) This means the juice generated by all those links is now sent to the porn website which gets a spike in ranking as a result!

As I mentioned earlier, this is forbidden. If a search engines finds out, then your blog will be de-indexed from their search engine (which means that this intermediate website will lose 100% of its juice power. The destination website should not be affected, it will depend on whether a human intervenes in the decision or not and how much time that person spends investigating3.

WARNING: This is a blackhat SEO technique and thus I very strongly suggest you never use that for a website that you want to work for you for a long time. A quick site that you want to use for a few months, it might work for you... but the real reason for me to talk about this is to let you know about the possible technique so you may be able to detect the problem if you hire someone to help you and that person ends up being a blackhat.

Sample Code [DO NOT USE]

Some may ask, how does that translate to code for my website? Again, I suggest you do not use it, but there it is (a very basic and simplified sample!):

      if (strstr("googlebot", $_SERVER['HTTP_USER_AGENT']) != "") {
        header("HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently");

In most cases, this code would go in your index.php file.

If you have direct access to the Apache configuration file, then you probably want to look into using that instead. The RewriteCond and RewriteRule instructions can be used for that purpose.

    RewriteEngine On
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} googlebot
    RewriteRule ^/.*$ [R=permanent,L]

Once more: Do Not Use!

  • 1. Yes. I know. They are already pretty smart, but these are generally not as smart as a human being. They do not know how to automatically adapt to new situation without having a few humans tend to them and increase their intelligence.
  • 2. Come on! You know of that one, that's at the beginning of all your URLs, http://...
  • 3. Note that I'm not saying that you therefore could use the technique... I actually advice you NOT to use it.