UPDATE: This review is now outdated, and I no longer recommend this product or these methods. I am leaving it here for informational purposes only. The experiment was short-lived for me. Did cloaking work? Yes it brought a little extra traffic, but I was not willing to commit to it as a part of my business, and I ended up getting rid of those domains. I also found that those who get good rankings for their shadow domains are in many cases using very spammy link building methods, which is another tactic that I’ve decided not to pursue. While some marketers have made a lot of money as a result of cloaking, those who spent their time on white hat SEO are a lot better off today than the black hatters. For the most up-to-date information and recommendations, please join my free newsletter.
Edition #10 - 12/09/2005
I’ve decided to give cloaking a try. I was somewhat inspired by reading the Rich Jerk ebook, in which he says he’s moved beyond “whitehat” SEO strategies because he doesn’t have time for them. He basically says cloaking is the way to go, if your conscience can handle it.
First of all, it’s definitely not illegal, so you can rest easy…I’m not going to jail. As far as being ethical, I’d say it’s really up for debate.
The search engines are highly against it for obvious reasons (it messes up their business plan), and in some respect I’m not a big fan of it either (it pollutes the web). Let’s just say I wish it weren’t necessary. If there was a fair system which guaranteed good and legitimate websites better rankings than bad ones, and if there were a system that guaranteed hard working entrepreneurs better rankings than slackers, then none of this would be necessary.
If you use the cloaker according to its indended purpose, it should be possible to drive traffic to a site from cloaked pages, and to do it in a way which does not create a negative experience for web users. In other words, if a user is looking for “dog houses” and your cloaked page comes up in the search results, it will take them to your real site about dog houses. Now if you took cloaking to the extreme and tried capturing traffic from totally unrelated topics and keywords, users would obviously be annoyed. For example, if they click on a dog house link and they arrive at a porn site they will be ticked off.
I paid $159.95 for the cloaker, and then I bought all the extras ($120.00 for unlimited domain license, $79.95 for the Extractor, $59.95 for the add-on templates, $59.95 for the static pages option, and $49.97 for another feature). So all-in-all I spent $530.00, which I figured was a much easier pill to swallow than $2,280 for the fantomas shadowMaker, which was the Rich Jerk’s other recommended cloaker.
For my test, I will use the cloaker responsibly, and only target keywords which are relevent to my site. I will be using the “shadow domain” technique, where I set up the cloaked pages on a seperate domain from the real site. When search engine bots visit the shadow domain, they see pages and pages of content which they will hopefully index. When a real person tries to access any page on the shadow domain, they will be silently redirected to the real domain.
This is done through the use of htaccess. It’s a little complicated, so I won’t get into the details here, but basically it’s supposed to be pretty safe as long as you keep your “bots list” up to date (which the program does automatically), and as long as you don’t abuse the system.
I have set up 10 shadow domains, and created links to them for the bots to follow. For obvious reasons, I’m not going to mention the actual domains. After about a month, I will post a follow up review and let you know how the program works.