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What Is Cloaking?

Page cloaking can broadly be defined as a technique used to deliver different web pages under different circumstances.


Why is Cloaking Done?

Cloaking allows people to create a  separate optimized page for each search engine. Depending on the search engine  When a search engine spider visits a site, the page which has been optimized for that search engine is delivered to it. When a human visits a site, the page which was designed for the human visitors is shown.

 It allows them to hide the source code of the optimized pages that they have created, and hence prevents their competitors from being able to copy the source code.


How is Cloaking Done?

Page cloaking is implemented by using some specialized cloaking scripts. A cloaking script is installed on the server, which detects whether it is a search engine or a human being that is requesting a page.

There are two primary ways by which the cloaking script can detect whether a search engine or a human being is visiting a site:

i) The first and simplest way is by checking the User-Agent variable. Each time anyone (be it a search engine spider or a browser being operated by a human) requests a page from a site, it reports an User-Agent name to the site.

ii) The second and more complicated way is to use I.P. (Internet Protocol) based cloaking. This involves the use of an I.P. database which contains a list of the I.P. addresses of all known search engine spiders.

How Search Engines detect sites using Cloaking?

There are three ways by which a search engines can detect websites doing so:

i) If the site uses User-Agent cloaking, the search engines can simply send a spider to a site which does not report the name of the search engine in the User-Agent variable. If the search engine sees that the page delivered to this spider is different from the page which is delivered to a spider which reports the name of the search engine in the User-Agent variable, it knows that the site has used page cloaking.

ii) If the site uses I.P. based cloaking, the search engines can send a spider from a different I.P. address than any I.P. address which it has used previously. Since this is a new I.P. address, the I.P. database that is used for cloaking will not contain this address. If the search engine detects that the page delivered to the spider with the new I.P. address is different from the page that is delivered to a spider with a known I.P. address, it knows that the site has used page cloaking.

iii) A human representative from a search engine may visit a site to see whether it uses cloaking. If she sees that the page which is delivered to her is different from the one being delivered to the search engine spider, she knows that the site uses cloaking.


Cloaking Should Not Be Done!

Play fair It is tough getting high Search Engine Ranking But There are ways to achieve it. Hence, when it comes to page cloaking, my advice is simple: don't even think about using it.


Other Resources

Google's Defination Of Cloaking


Search Engine World
Ip Addresses of search engines spiders


Spider Hunt

A Thorough site on cloaking - includes a basic tutorial, an "ethics of cloaking".


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Search Engine Optimization, Ranking, Web Site Promotion, Advice, Placement