Paid links cloaking: how to avoid cloaked paid links

17 July 2011

Topics: Display Advertising, Web Development

Why cloak paid links?

As most SEOs will tell you, the buying and selling of links online is still very common practice but there are lots of cowboys out there. Some link sellers are going to the extreme measure of cloaking their paid links from the search engines to avoid being penalised for selling links. This means for example the seller might add a nofollow attribute to the paid link when the page is requested by the search engines but not when requested by normal users. This off course makes the link worthless for the purpose of search engine optimisation.

Does cloaking paid links work?

Now you are probably thinking that such cloaking technique is more likely to get the link sellers penalised than actually selling links but I am not so sure about that. Such a minute change to a page that does not change the content of the page displayed to the user might be over looked by the search engine; besides, the cloaking of paid links actually helps the search engines filter out paid links. Regardless, it pays to check if a site you intend to buy or exchange link with is cloaking their paid links.

How find out if a site is using search engine cloaking

To do this you can use a plugin such as the Firefox User Agent Switcher plugin which allows you to set your browser’s user agent setting to any of the top search engines i.e. it allows you to pretend to be requesting the page as the search engine. This will result in the page being served to you as it would be served to the search enginge crawlers such as the googlebot and as such revealing if the page is being cloaked or not.

Below is a screen shot of how to switch your user agent using the User Agent Switcher Firefox plugin from the amazing Chris Pederick who also brought us the Web developer plugin for Firefox.

firefox user-agent switcher

Hope you found that useful.

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