Cloaking in SEO is considered a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can affect your site’s search ranking. It’s considered a black hat SEO practice.
Cloaking is a search engine optimization technique in which the content or information presented to the user is different from that presented to search engine crawlers (i.e. spiders or bots) for better indexing. In other words, the web server is specially programmed to return different content to search engines than it returns to regular users, in an attempt to distort search engine rankings. The Search engine may permanently ban from our index any sites or site authors that engage in cloaking.
Current digital marketing strategies must include ways to avoid cloaking, and SEO experts warn against it. When Google-bot, Google’s web-crawling device (that essentially ‘crawls’ the web and discovers new and updated pages to be added to Google’s index) finds cloaking, it considers it unethical and there are consequences. Therefore, it is necessary to be able to recognize cloaking and avoid it.
There are different ways to do cloaking:
a. Invisible or Hidden text
b. Flash Based Websites
c. Cloaking in E-Mail
d. HTML Rich Websites
e. Image Gallery Websites
f. URL Rewriting
g. Replacement of Java Scripts
Invisible or Hidden text
Using this approach, webmasters add additional information like keywords stuffing, overwriting content in a way that is invisible or hidden to the users. To do this, webmaster add this information in the same color that of background color which is not visible to human eyes.
Flash Based Websites
As you know flash is not recommended as per SEO guidelines. But there are lots of websites that are built in flash only or that requires a lot of flash and they cannot avoid it. So rather than rebuilding websites and rewrite everything in plain HTML, they create content rich web pages and provide them to search engine crawlers and flash pages to visitors.
Cloaking in E-Mail
In e-mail distribution, cloaking is the act of masking the name and address of the sender so that the recipient does not know who sent the e-mail.
HTML Rich Websites
A good SEO recommends to have “TEXT to HTML ratio” as high as possible. In other words, your web page should have more text (content) as compared to your html tags. But if anyone is writing short articles or posts, your text to html ratio will be very low. To avoid re-designing website, folks choose cloaking to meet SEO guidelines.
Image Gallery Websites
Image gallery websites have more images than the actual content on their pages. And images are not scanned by crawlers. So, webmasters think that cloaking could help them get top placement for relevant keywords.
This practice includes the removing unnecessary parameters and other URL. The key point here is you are not changing the underlying content.
Replacement of Java Scripts
These are the popular ways to do cloaking. You should never practice cloaking because search engines do not like to be tricked and which can lead to permanent ban on your website.