What is Cloaking?
In the Digital Advertising Industry, cloaking is a technique used to send search engine bots and reviewers to a landing page different from the one where users click and land.
Let us explain...
First and foremost, cloaking is an illegal technique with its pros and cons. This craft has been in the industry for quite some time as a blessing to the affiliate ecosystem. Although a cloaker can be created for any traffic source, the most popular are Google, Bing, and Facebook because of their high volumes.
Cloaking is mostly used to run offers banned on Search Engines, Facebook, etc.
Search Engines like Google and Bing block offers related to adultery, drugs & supplements, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, betting, etc.; so does Facebook as these ads are against their guidelines.
So whenever marketers want to run such offers that are banned by the traffic source, cloaking is the key. For example, if you want to run a gambling offer on Google search using cloaking, then the search engine bots and reviewers will not be shown the gambling website. Instead, it will send them to another page of your choice, and the users will be directed to the real landing page, which in this example is the gambling website.
How does cloaking work?
Cloakers are beefed-up with technologies based on many parameters and checks, and some of them toil better than others. Here are some standard methods cloaking technique is based on:
- The software has a database of IP Addresses of the bots and reviewers and uses it to redirect them elsewhere after launching the campaign.
- Blocking referral URLs is another way. If someone is coming from dev.facebook.com, it’s probably a reviewer.
- GeoIPs are also used. If you’re running campaigns in France, then allow traffic only from France. The traffic source reviewers are based mostly in the UK or USA, and they won’t be able to see your page without a French IP address. At times, a particular city is also banned when the reviewers are from that same city.
Cons of Cloaking:
- Cloaking software is costly; it can be over $1,000 a month or a one-time fee of $25,000 or more.
- There’s a lot of scam around cloaking. Cloaking allows scammers to sell software that doesn’t work and easily get away with it.
- Cloaking tools are not perfect. Many times a legit visitor can be mistaken as a reviewer and redirected. The error rate is between 15% - 20%; if you have a 1000$ campaign running, it accounts for a 150$ - 200$ loss from your Ad Spend. Your campaigns have to be extremely profitable to take up the cost of the cloaking software and the legit users that are being redirected.
- There’s always a risk of a reviewer passing through and your account getting banned.
- Marketers mostly use cloakers when they need to run some illegal or shady offers. In such cases, make sure you're compliant with a strong legal end.
Moral: If you don’t want Google’s or Facebook’s Legal team running behind you, it's advisable not to use cloakers.