URL Cloaking is when your website domain name remains in the address bar of the browser "cloaking" the destination URL (web address) from all visitors’ eyes. The web surfers won’t see the “forwarded to” web address in their browsers at all. URL or link cloaking is basically when you show search engine bots one thing and humans another. One reason people URL cloak is because they believe the search engines have fingerprinted affiliate links and if the bots see them it will hurt there organic SEO rankings and if they are doing Pay Per Click marketing that it will hurt there quality score and thus raising there prices per click.
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? There’s a chance that the website in question is using URL cloaking to hide some of their links and prevent fellow SEOs from reverse engineering their rankings.
There are several ways to URL cloak. The top three ways to cloak are listed below:
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 1 to Site 2 are forwarded onto Site 3 through a 301 redirect. The link juice and anchor text are attributed to Site 3 while the link itself does not show up in a back-link search for Site 3. This allows you the ability to send link traffic to a bad "neighborhood" without actually linking to it.
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 3 while normal web surfers are given the actual content on Site 2. This helps create trust with web surfers as they see what they are expecting when clicking on the link from Site 1. The fact you are linking to Site 3 is essentially hidden from people checking back-links for Site 3 and web surfers visiting any of the three sites.
This is considered more of a traditional cloaking setup. In this case web surfers clicking on the link from Site 1 to Site 2 are 301 redirected to Site 3 while the search bots are given the actual content on Site 2. We see this technique used by many black-hats building massive machine generated content networks. They want Site 2 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 back-link 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.