The Art of Link Cloaking



Have you ever looked at a set of very competitive search results and wondered how in the world a certain website was ranking so well? The link profile just didn’t support their position. There’s a chance that website was using link cloaking to hide some of their links and prevent fellow SEOs from reverse engineering their rankings.

Link cloaking is the practice of linking to one site, an intermediary if you will, while sending bots, humans, or both to a completely different site. This has several benefits depending on how you setup your redirects.

So that the following examples are uniform and a little easier to understand, I will use the following terminology:

  • Site A – The website containing a link to Site B.
  • Site B – Website being linked to from Site A that may or may not redirect users and / or search engine bots to Site C.
  • Site C – Website receiving web traffic and / or search engine bots from Site B through 301 redirects.

All Inclusive 301 Redirect
The most common form of link cloaking is a simple 301 redirect. Both bots and humans who click on a link from Site A to Site B are forwarded onto Site C through a 301 redirect. The link juice and anchor text are attributed to Site C while the link itself does not show up in a backlink search for Site C. This allows you the ability to send link juice and traffic to a bad neighborhood without actually linking to it.

Bot Redirect
If you want to get a little more covert, you can cloak the content. In this case, the search engine bots get 301 redirected to Site C while normal web surfers are given the actual content on Site B. This helps create trust with web surfers as they see what they are expecting when clicking on the link from Site A. The fact you are linking to Site C is essentially hidden from people checking backlinks for Site C and web surfers visiting any of the three sites.

User Redirect
This is considered more of a traditional cloaking setup as opposed to link cloaking but I think it should be mentioned. In this case web surfers clicking on the link from Site A to Site B are 301 redirected to Site C while the search bots are given the actual content on Site B. We see this technique used by many black hats building massive machine generated content networks. They want Site B to rank in the engines so they can direct traffic to their money making websites. In most cases, this type of setup defeats the purpose of link cloaking as nothing is hidden from backlink checks or web surfers.

It’s also possible to mix and match all three of the above based on the user agent or IP address allowing complete control over the final destination of your traffic and link juice on a case by case basis.

So what are some of the other benefits to such a setup? If for example Site C gets banned from the search engines, or maybe the bottom falls out of the affiliate program Site C was promoting, you only have to change the redirect on Site B to send traffic and link juice to a new website. Normally you may need to change hundreds or even thousands of links on all your ‘A’ sites.

Note that the “user redirect” and “bot redirect” methods are considered true cloaking and against search engine guidelines. The “all inclusive 301 redirect” is not considered a violation in itself, but if you are redirecting to a bad neighborhood, you should understand the risks. I have never seen a penalty such as one would expect for direct linking, but that’s not to say it can’t happen.

There are a multitude of ways, both white hat and black hat, to use link cloaking to your benefit. You just have to use your imagination.

  • Ankur

    This will get you black listed guys.

    Worth it?

  • http://www.BrianChappell.com Brian Chappell

    301 is the only “proper” method IMO. The other tactics could be seen as blackhat.

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    Yep, that’s what Jeremy says…”Note that the “user redirect” and “bot redirect” methods are considered true cloaking and against search engine guidelines.”

  • http://andybeard.eu/ Andy Beard

    I use 301s legitimately from old domains to new ones. It doesn’t take too long for them to take effect.

    I suppose it should be noted that the major search engines will also follow and give link attribution for meta redirects as well.

  • http://www.esplanade.sg lyndonmaxewell

    I guess the only best way is to opt for and earn natural links? It will be the one way that you can be truely proud of your traffic, and ranking.

  • Pingback: This Week In SEO - 3/23/07 - TheVanBlog

  • http://alexandersarchive.blogspot.com/ John Alexander

    While most of this will get you banned, it’s true that there’s benefit in keeping your own secret sauce a secret. Other SEOs being able to reverse engineer your position, as you put it, is a really bad situation.

  • http://www.markbarrera.com Mark Barrera

    It’s always nice to discuss the things that many people do, but get frowned at for doing.

  • http://www.xuru.com/ Jeremy Luebke

    There are so many things that are fun to talk about that are very gray hat. Most of the white hat stuff has been covered to death. ;)

  • http://www.digeratimarketing.co.uk Mark

    I fail to see how redirecting bots with a 301 will get you banned.

    What stops me creating a page with diggable content, then 301′ing bots to marketing pilgrim? The worst that could happen is that my patsi 301 page gets banned. Google can’t ban marketingpilgrim because it’s not their fault who 301s to them!

  • Pingback: () |

  • http://www.imhitchhiker.com Phil

    There’s nothing wrong with a 301 redirection. They wouldn’t have created a 301 if there was.

  • Pingback: This Week In SEO - 3/23/07 | TheVanBlog

  • http://www.acteva.com Greg Moore

    Hi,

    Are 301′s only for domain changes? What if we make a new version of a page and give it a new URL? Is there a way to keep the benefit of links to the old URL and have people who click on an older link be redirected to the new page?

    Thanks!

    Greg

  • http://www.seo-nulled.ru/ СЕО

    In me 301 dont work too HELP My SEO plugins stop work too

    СЕО’s last blog post..Сервисы закладок для блога – еще один шаг к раскрутке?

  • http://www.onlineopportunity.org Jay

    “Are 301’s only for domain changes?”

    301 redirects work for individual pages, too. You can do an individual page redirect nicely using PHP (or a WordPress plugin if you’re running WordPress), or the full domain redirect in .htaccess.

    Jay’s last blog post..An Ideal Advertising Co-op

  • http://ranconsultants.blogspot.com/ blogger

    Can anyone tell me how ethical this is?
    thanks.

  • Pingback: You must be Cloaking | GottaQuirk