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Cloaking

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Cloaking is a term used in the field of Search Engine Optimization[1] (SEO). It is a technique where different content is shown to search engines and users. Though it can manipulate search engine[2] rankings in favor of a website[4], it is often seen as deceptive. It was more prevalent before 2006, however, it’s not necessary for standard SEO practices today. Cloaking can also be a part of the doorway page technique, where it analyzes user behavior and presents content accordingly. It can be based on various factors such as HTTP referrer, user agent, or IP. Another form is IP delivery, which presents different content based on the user’s IP address[3], and is utilized for location-based content. While similar, IP delivery isn’t always classified as cloaking. Understanding cloaking is crucial for SEO professionals and website owners, as it carries legal and ethical implications.

Terms definitions
1. Search engine optimization ( Search Engine Optimization ) Search engine optimization, commonly referred to as SEO, is a critical digital marketing strategy. Originating in the mid-90s, SEO involves enhancing websites to achieve higher rankings on search engine results pages. This process is essential for increasing web traffic and converting visitors into customers. SEO employs various techniques, including page design, keyword optimization, and content updates, to enhance a website's visibility. It also involves the use of tools for monitoring and adapting to search engine updates. SEO practices range from ethical 'white hat' methods to the disapproved 'black hat' techniques, with 'grey hat' straddling both. While SEO isn't suitable for all websites, its effectiveness in internet marketing campaigns cannot be underestimated. Recent industry trends such as mobile web usage surpassing desktop usage highlight the evolving landscape of SEO.
2. search engine. A search engine is a vital tool that functions as part of a distributed computing system. It's a software system that responds to user queries by providing a list of hyperlinks, summaries, and images. It utilizes a complex indexing system, which is continuously updated by web crawlers that mine data from web servers. Some content, however, remains inaccessible to these crawlers. The speed and efficiency of a search engine are highly dependent on its indexing system. Users interact with search engines via a web browser or app, inputting queries and receiving suggestions as they type. The results may be filtered to specific types, and the system can be accessed on various devices. This tool is significant as it allows users to navigate the vast web, find relevant content, and efficiently retrieve information.
Cloaking (Wikipedia)

Cloaking is a search engine optimization (SEO) technique in which the content presented to the search engine spider is different from that presented to the user's browser. This is done by delivering content based on the IP addresses or the User-Agent HTTP header of the user requesting the page. When a user is identified as a search engine spider, a server-side script delivers a different version of the web page, one that contains content not present on the visible page, or that is present but not searchable. The purpose of cloaking is sometimes to deceive search engines so they display the page when it would not otherwise be displayed (black hat SEO). However, it can also be a functional (though antiquated) technique for informing search engines of content they would not otherwise be able to locate because it is embedded in non-textual containers, such as video or certain Adobe Flash components. Since 2006, better methods of accessibility, including progressive enhancement, have been available, so cloaking is no longer necessary for regular SEO.

Cloaking is often used as a spamdexing technique to attempt to sway search engines into giving the site a higher ranking. By the same method, it can also be used to trick search engine users into visiting a site that is substantially different from the search engine description, including delivering pornographic content cloaked within non-pornographic search results.

Cloaking is a form of the doorway page technique.

A similar technique is used on DMOZ web directory, but it differs in several ways from search engine cloaking:

  • It is intended to fool human editors, rather than computer search engine spiders.
  • The decision to cloak or not is often based upon the HTTP referrer, the user agent or the visitor's IP; but more advanced techniques can be also based upon the client's behaviour analysis after a few page requests: the raw quantity, the sorting of, and latency between subsequent HTTP requests sent to a website's pages, plus the presence of a check for robots.txt file, are some of the parameters in which search engines' spiders differ heavily from a natural user behaviour. The referrer tells the URL of the page on which a user clicked a link to get to the page. Some cloakers will give the fake page to anyone who comes from a web directory website, since directory editors will usually examine sites by clicking on links that appear on a directory web page. Other cloakers give the fake page to everyone except those coming from a major search engine; this makes it harder to detect cloaking, while not costing them many visitors, since most people find websites by using a search engine.
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