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What is Cloaking? Definition and Its Effects on SEO

Last updated: Aug 08, 2022

What is Cloaking?

In SEO terms, cloaking is known as a trick to hide the content URL from users and search engines. Generally, this type of practice is considered a violation of search engines’ guidelines like Google. So, what is cloaking exactly?

Cloaking is a strategy used to trick a search engine in determining the website's ranking on a SERP. By using this tactic, the website can show content that is different from what is shown by the search engine. Hence, such a trick can be seen as a violation of the ranking algorithm.

One of the examples of this practice is showing pictures to users while displaying an HTML page containing text to the search engine. Another trick is to include certain keywords on the page requested by the search engine and not by the user’s request.

If the search engine detects such activity on a website, then it is possible for the website to get penalized. Pages that have already been indexed on the SERP will also be removed altogether if they turn out to hide the real URL from the search engine.  

Types of Tricks to Hide Content

Particular tricks to hide content can make users disappointed because the content displayed on the screen is not what they want. In this case, the hidden URL hides the content that redirects the users to certain pages that they do not wish to see, such as pornographic content.

To get to know more about the types of cloakings based on the website features, let’s check out the list below:

Redirect Users by Using IP

This technique redirects users to the substitute URL through the website page that ranks high on the SERP. This method can be done by identifying the IP address and setting the .htaccess accordingly.

User Agent Program

This method uses a program that sends an encoded code to a server. Afterward, the server will identify the user agent and display the hidden content if the user turns out to be a crawler.

Cloak Content Using HTTP-Referer

The way to use this method is to check the header HTTP_REFERER from the requester. Then, either the hidden or real content will be displayed according to the result of the analysis.

Check the HTTP Accept Language Header

This trick works by checking the header HTTP Accept Language of the user as it is based on the match result. After that, a particular version of a website page will be displayed.

Substitute Content by Using JavaScript

Hiding or substituting content can be done by using the JavaScript feature. A user who uses a browser with JavaScript will see different content that is different from users who use a non-JavaScript browser.

The Effects of Cloaking Practices on SEO

Basically, a search engine like Google does not recommend the practice of hiding or substituting content. Such a thing can confuse the algorithm and give traffic to undeserving content.

From the user's point of view, the technique of substituting content can give a bad experience. In this case, the hidden content will confuse users as it displays the information they did not ask for in the first place.

From the SEO standpoint, the trick of masking content is considered unethical. Implementing such a trick can result in a penalty given by the search engine. For that reason, you must not apply this strategy to gain traffic for your website.

Should You Avoid Cloaking in SEO?

It is important to note that cloaking in SEO is avoided. A search engine like Google sets the rules regarding the masking technique itself. The rule states that Google will penalize a website that practices such a method to gain traffic.

Such a trick to hide content can get your website removed from the Google index. The search engine algorithm is renewed or updated frequently. Therefore, the tactic to cloak content will be easy to detect.


In general, hiding or substituting content will make your website lose credibility. Instead, you can redirect your focus to optimizing the on-page SEO of your website so it can rank highly in the SERP.

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