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Is cloaking the holy grail of SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is important to the success of a website. However, successful search engine optimization takes time. Many webmasters don't want to invest the time and work that's necessary to optimize a site.

For that reason, some webmasters use cloaking to get their websites listed on search engines.

What is cloaking?

A website that uses cloaking recognizes search engine spiders by their IP address. It returns web pages to search engine spiders that are different from the web pages that web surfers see. Usually, the cloaking software creates hundreds of web pages that are optimized for a special search term so that search engine spiders get the impression that the website contains a lot of relevant information about a special topic.

If you often search on Google then you probably can confirm that you can get good results with cloaking. You can often find web pages on Google that have little to do with the description on the result page.

Does this mean that cloaking is the holy grail of SEO?

Cloaking obviously works. Does this mean that you should use it for your web pages? That would be very risky. Very few web pages that use cloaking can keep their search engine rankings for a long time.

Google has a clear statement about cloaking on its webmaster pages: "Don't deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as cloaking."

In general, most websites that use cloaking are getting banned from Google and other search engines sooner or later. It's only a question of time. In countries such as Germany it can even be illegal to use cloaking. If you want to get long term results with your website, you should avoid cloaking at all costs.

What do search engines want from you?

Search engines want to return high quality websites to their searchers. That means that you must make sure that your website is such a high quality site. There are three main factors that make a website a high quality website:

  1. Your website should have a lot of content. If your website consists of one or two pages or just a few pictures then it will be very difficult to get high search engine rankings. Search engines also aren't interested in the 825th eBay affiliate page. It's important that your web page has great content. If that content can only be found on your website then that is even better.

  2. You must make sure that search engines can parse your web pages. Make sure that your HTML code is clean and that search engines can easily find out what your web pages are about. Cluttered HTML code and web pages that have been 'optimized' for dozens of keywords often prevent high rankings. Focus on one or two keywords per web page. It's better that a web page is highly relevant to one or two keywords than somewhat relevant to a lot of keywords.

  3. Your website must have good incoming links. Links from centralized link farms and link exchange systems don't work. You should make sure that the web sites that link to you are at least loosely related to your web site. The more related websites link to your site, the better.

All of this requires work and efforts on your part. Your web site is an important part of your business that requires the same attention as other parts of your business. The sooner you treat search engine optimization as an important investment for your web site success the sooner you'll get great results.

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November 2005 search engine articles