In the Digital Advertising Industry, Cloaking is a technique used to send Search Engine Bots & Reviewers to a landing page, which is different than the one where users click & land.
First & foremost, cloaking is an illegal technique with its own pros & 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 & Facebook because of their high volumes.
Cloaking is mostly used to run offers banned on Search Engines, Facebook e.t.c
Search Engines like Google & Bing block offers related to adultery, drugs & supplements, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, betting e.t.c. ; so does Facebook. As these Ads are against their guidelines.
So whenever marketers want to run such offers that’s 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 & reviewers will not be shown the gambling website, instead it will send them to another page of your choice and the remaining everyone 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 & checks and some of them toil better than others. Here are some common methods cloaking technique are based on:
- The software has a database of IP Addresses of the bots and reviewers & uses the same to redirect them elsewhere after launching the campaign.
- Blocking referral URL’s 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 the same 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 very expensive, it can be over $1,000 a month or a one time fee of $25,000 or more.
- There’s a lot of scam around cloaking. Cloaking being illegal, allows a lot of scammers to sell these software's that don’t work and easily get away with it.
- Cloaking tools are not perfect. Many times a legit visitor can be mistaken as a reviewer & redirected. The error rate is between 15% - 20%, if you have 1000$ campaign running, then 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 & 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 complaint with a strong legal end.
Moral: If you don’t want Google’s or Facebook’s Legal team running behind you, it's advisable to not use cloakers.