Surely you have heard that cloaking or camouflage is a method to position your page by using Black Hat SEO techniques and that is something that can seriously harm the positioning of your page, but the cloaking is used for more things.
What is Cloaking?
When a page shows several versions of it or with different content depending on whether the page is served to users or search engine bots, it is said that it is using clocking or that it is camouflaging its contents. This may be due to several reasons:
Cloaking as an intentional Black Hat SEO technique
We can set up a website to show some content to its visitors but show other content optimized for Google when it is the Google bot that visits us. Sometimes we can show totally different contents to those that Google or other search engines see and in this way, when users enter the web, they will see a content that does not correspond to their search.
As an extreme example, by cloaking we could optimize the SEO of a page for the field of tire sales when Google scans it; but in reality, we can be showing sports betting contents to our visitors, which is a very saturated and competitive market.
Google uses mechanisms to detect cloaking, so it is not advisable to use this method at all, given that if they catch us, our website will be penalized by Google.
Cloaking as an unintentional Black Hat SEO technique
Our website can be hacked by a cracker or by a script that scans the webs; something very common if we use some of the most popular CMS, such as WordPress.
In this way, a script can inject code into our website so that it is only visible to search engines and not to visitors to the page.
Why would someone do something like that?
Well to increase the ranking of other websites through links on your page that you will never detect if you do not explicitly check it. Google can also catch us and penalize us for this deception, and it will not matter much if it has been us on purpose or has been something unintentional.
Detect if your website is cloaking
We can proceed to a manual check of our website or we can also use some application.
If we do not want our website to be added to the blacklists of the search engines we must ensure that our website is not being “cloaked” . We will follow the following steps:
- The first step is to inspend the code of your web in the browser, which is what both human and Google bot visitors should see.
- Then, you go to the Google Search Console to see what the Google bot looks like. You can access the Search Console from the old Webmaster Tools , now called Search Console . Your page must be verified. You have to access: Tracking >> Explore as Google
- In this panel there is a field to enter a URL. You get it and in the lower list you click on the button on the right to see the code that the Google bot has obtained from it.
- You have to check that there is nothing strange and that this version is the same as the one you see in your browser. To do this, you can copy the codes of both versions and compare them using an editor such as Notepad ++ or through an online utility like diffchecker . Make sure you do not copy the top header in the content of the Google bot, since it is an aggregate of the crawler itself .
There are online tools to facilitate the work that will tell us directly if our website is using cloaking. Let’s see how to use a simple utility:
- You have to access this utility .
- Once you’ve logged in , you introduce any URL of your website and do click check ( check ).
- If all goes well, you will see a message that everything is in order accompanied by a single version of the code on your page. In case two different versions of the same page appear, you will have had bad luck. You can see the version that is shown to users and the version that is served to the search engines.
If your website has been hacked, you will have to find and delete the code that has been injected in your web site and surely perform a complete cleaning of your website so that this code does not appear again. If you are using WordPress I recommend the following guide in which I explain the steps to follow if our website has been hacked . Also, once your website is clean, you can also take a look at a guide with the best security practices for WordPress .