TL;DR

We don’t use cloaking.

What we do has a passing resemblance to cloaking, but we’re not messing with keywords, and not trying to lie about page content.

Cloaking

We’ve had some inquiries lately about cloaking, a black-hat technique that search engines (Google in particular) dislike. If you’re already familiar with the technique, feel free to skip to Do we use Cloaking?

What is Cloaking?

To start, here’s a three word description: cloaking is lying.

The techniques to accomplish cloaking vary greatly, but the result is the same. Cloaking is lying about a websites’ content, generally so the search engine will think it is more relevant than it actually is.  Google considers this to be violating their terms and conditions because when you click through to the site you get different content than you expected.

Is Cloaking Evil?

Normally? Yes, yes it is. Most technologies have legitimate uses, as very few are designed from the ground up to be evil – mostly because it’s more cost effective to subvert an existing technique than go through the bother of researching and developing something new from the ground up.

An example of not-evil cloaking was common back when Flash was the nifty new thing going around the Internet. Web pages would often serve up an HTML page to those users who didn’t have the capability to use the nifty flash sites. Technically speaking, this is cloaking, since the content given to users (Flash-based shiny goodness) didn’t match what the search engine bot would see. Now we have much more elegant ways of solving that problem, progressive enhancement and unobtrusive JavaScript are two examples.

Do we use Cloaking?

At CallTrackingMetrics we use two main techniques that look similar to cloaking at first glance: replacing phone numbers on our client’s websites, and hidden text in our own website.

We believe that our use of these techniques is not malicious, not deceptive, and thus do not constitute cloaking.

Replacing phone numbers

One of the key parts of our service is replacing phone numbers on a client’s website with dynamically generated replacements, based on characteristics of the visiting user. We do not consider this cloaking because the number that is being replaced is functionally equivalent (for the user) to the one number it replaced. Either number will connect the user to the company, so the user’s expectation is not violated.

In addition similar techniques such as A/B testing, extensively used by Optimizely, and IP Delivery, which used by Google and About.com to deliver more relevant content.

Hidden Text

In our own site, we make use of hidden text in various locations. One of the major uses is to attach authentication tokens to forms as a way of protecting form submissions. This is a very common technique, and is both build into, and the default behavior, of the web framework we use. This is information that is irrelevant to most users, and as such is not displayed.

In addition, we are working on updating those forms which do not have visible text labels, with hidden text labels, intended for consumption by screen readers. This serves to make the site more accessible, and is a best practice.