On occasion, it can be valuable to show search engines one version of content and show humans a different version. This is technically called “cloaking,” and the search engines’ guidelines have near-universal policies restricting this behavior. In practice, many websites, large and small, appear to use some forms of cloaking without being penalized by the search engines. However, use great care if you implement these techniques, and know the risks that you are taking.
Before we discuss the risks and potential benefits of cloaking-based practices, take a look at Figure 6-34, which shows an illustration of how cloaking works.
Figure 6-34. How cloaking works
Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, has made strong public statements indicating that all forms of cloaking (with the only exception being First Click Free) are subject to penalty. This position was backed up by statements by Google’s John Mueller in a May 2009 interview, which you can read at http://www.stonetemple.com/articles/interview-john-mueller.shtml, and Cutts confirmed it again in August 2011 in this video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=QHtnfOgp65Q. In the video, Matt Cutts makes the strong statement, “There is no such thing as white-hat cloaking.”
Google also makes its policy pretty clear in its “Guidelines ...