What Is Cloaking?

Cloaking is the practice of serving search engine optimized pages to search engine spiders, while at the same time serving un-optimized pages to site visitors. It is also known as food script, spider script, ghost pages, phantom pages, IP delivery or stealth technology.

Cloaking is probably the most controversial and hotly debated search engine optimization technique around today. Most major search engines publicly state that they consider cloaking to be spam.

However, in the 6 years I've been in this business, I have yet to hear of a single website get banned by a search engine because of the use of cloaking. Some search engine optimizers who specialize in cloaking have stated that they have used this technique for many years without ever having a site banned.

How Does Cloaking Work?

Cloaking works by detecting whether a visitor is a search engine spider, or human visitor, and serve the appropriate page to the spider or human visitor accordingly.

Good cloaking software will identify spiders from their unique IP address (the internet address the spider came from), which can be one of many IP addresses. For this to work you need a comprehensive search engine spider IP address database.

Search engine spiders are never redirected; otherwise it would be penalized by a search engine. Only your human visitors' web browser is redirected, so search engine spiders 'should' never know they are being 'tricked' (and I use that term lightly).

Why Do Search Engine Optimizers Use Cloaking?

Cloaking allows you to:

  • Optimize webpages for search engines without compromising your site's look and feel. Pages consisting mainly of graphics and multimedia typically offer little in the way of text for search engines to index. As a result these types of pages do not rank well.
  • Deliver dynamically generated (Database or CGI) webpages as static HTML pages, so that search engines will crawl and add them to their index.
  • Deliver local versions of webpages.
  • Hide the source code of your optimized pages from would-be search engine optimization page thieves. Getting top ranking pages is not easy. So you do not want to give your page optimization secrets away to your competitors easily by allowing them to view your optimized source code. Cloaking lets you protect your hard work, because the human visitor is served the un-optimized version of the page.
    This is the only way to hide optimized source code that search engines can index. There is another method of hiding optimized HTML source code from your visitors, but unfortunately it also hides the optimized code from search engine spiders. So it would defeat the purpose of optimizing your webpages. As such the program is not worth mentioning in the context of this book.

What Features Should You Look For In Cloaking Software?

There are a number of important features you should look for when deciding on which cloaking software to use.

  • It should support all the major search engines and their spiders, so that you can optimize pages for specific search engines for optimum targeting.
  • It should offer updates of spider IP addresses and other spider characteristics that the software supports. Search engines can, and do, add or change the IP address or other characteristics of their spiders. So a good cloaking software program must reflect the changes. Cloaking software that updates automatically is preferred, but some software providers will send a file for manual updating.
  • It should automatically redirect your human visitors without interfering with the spider receiving the cloaked page. Many search engines penalize websites that quickly redirect visitors. By giving search engine spiders the optimized version of webpages, spiders should not be redirected or encounter any redirection code on a page.

2 Cloaking Tools

  • IP Delivery - Supports all the major search engines. You can install the script on all the domains your company owns, as the script is licensed to your company, not your domain. The purchase price includes IP updates for the first year plus phone and unlimited email support during the first month. Operating Systems: Unix (Perl) / Windows NT 4.0 (ASP). Cost: $995 + $100 per year for IP updates after the first year.
  • ShadowSniper - Offers many features. Price includes a 12 month subscription to their SpiderSpy database of search engine spiders, free installation and unlimited email support. Operating Systems: Requires PERL 5 - Unix, Linux, Windows NT and BSDI. Cost: $240 + $199 per year for IP updates after the first 12 months.