Cloaking websites is a term that SEOs use for sites that try to cheat Google bots through a special technique. Basically, if the visitor of the website is a real person, the site shows its true content. But if the visitor of the site is identified as a Google crawler, the cloaking site shows a different thing. Black hat SEOs do cloaking in order to rank higher in Google even if their content is less than desirable or even shady (spamy or illegal content that would normally get low rankings).
There are several ways your website could be thought of as cloaking:
With meta tags – The links looks like its going to a certain website but actually it leads to another site that is not relevant to the first one.
With Hidden IPs – The site shows a different thing to web crawlers only.
With personalized content – The site shows its audience specific content depending on: geo-IP, profile of the user, or the visit history of the user.
Cloaking Versus Geo-IP Personalized Content
So, do you think your website is cloaking? It really depends. Personalized content is particularly scary for some because Google might think your site is cloaking. But there are many times when a site personalizes content for perfectly good reasons. There are sometimes legal reasons for a site to do this. Also, geo-IP based content delivery should not be considered unethical. After all, Google does this as well (showing different Google pages based on location).
Matt Cutts said himself that if your site is doing personalized content delivery based on Geo-IP or any other reason, then you are safe. Google will not bring down the hammer on you.
How to Avoid Cloaking
There is a thin line between cloaking and personalized content delivery. But we can sum up the difference this way: if you are singling out the content delivery to only target Google bots, then you are doing cloaking. So, in order to avoid creating an issue, Google advices webmasters to treat Google bots the same way they treat their regular audience. For example, the site should just show U.S. content to the bot that comes from the U.S.
What Can Happen to Your Site?
If you do get caught using cloaking, your site can be removed from Google and penalized. More than likely, cloaking can get your site blacklisted. Not only will your site be banned from all search engines, it will be extremely hard for you to fix your SEO. So much so that one good option would be to abandon it and build a new one.
It Is Not A Good Idea To Do Cloaking
Be wary. You need to consider finding a new guy if your SEO person is saying you need to do this for whatever reason (he might say that you need to protect your site’s html code, which is ridiculous as there is no real way to do that). Yes, there is a chance that your site could rise in the rankings at first due to cloaking. After all, it is not easy to spot. But eventually, Google will spot you especially once your site gets more popular. Also, Google has been implementing better ways to spot these black hat techniques. It’s not worth putting all your investments at risk for a short-term gain.