Search engines are an effective way to make your content more visible on the web. To achieve this, a search engine deploys a spider or web crawler to understand the content on your site. The spider requests as many pages as possible, subject to the robots.txt configuration file, and categorizes the crawled pages based on their contents. When a user searches for a term, the search engine may identify a match between the user’s search term and some keywords in your page.
SEO is an industry that aims to optimize web pages so that they rank more favorably on search engines. This increases web traffic and thus ad revenue. Most SEO techniques benefit or are at least neutral to the end user’s experience. For example, serving content over HTTPS increases user privacy and security. However, there are some “black hat SEO” techniques that exploit how the system works to their own advantage. One such technique is called cloaking.
Typically, it is expected that any two people who visit the same webpage should see the same content, except for user-specific data. Similarly, a search engine should have the same experience as any other user and index any public content it sees. However, cloaking is a black hat SEO technique that manipulates the content that a search engine sees to achieve a higher ranking. The web page shown to the search engine may be different from what is shown to human visitors. While there may be legitimate use cases for cloaking, such as serving transcribed versions of non-text content, it is usually not intended to benefit the end user but to boost search rankings.
The origin of cloaking in the context of search engines and SEO is not clear, as it is considered a black hat technique and not a legitimate practice. However, it is believed to have been used as early as the 1990s by some webmasters to manipulate search engine rankings. The practice has since been widely condemned by search engines and SEO communities, and can result in penalties and even blacklisting from search engines.
Cloaking is a technique used in black hat SEO to manipulate search engines by showing different content to the search engine crawler than what actual human visitors see. This is often achieved by serving a heavily SEO-optimised page with no real content, just stuffed with keywords to make it appear relevant to the search engine. When a user clicks on the link, they are often redirected to irrelevant content, which has no value to them. This form of spamdexing is employed to improve search engine ranking and generate ad revenue, with little regard for the user’s experience.
To engage in cloaking is a type of black hat SEO that entails recognizing requests from search engine crawlers and displaying heavily optimized pages that differ entirely from the content presented to human users. As a result, search engines are unable to properly evaluate the website’s true content and rank it appropriately. The objective of cloaking is always to improve search engine rankings, even if the content seen by users is not significant or helpful.