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Old 10-04-2005   #1
FreeAgent
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Exclamation A Little Help Needed Regarding Cloaking

www.fantomaster.com (Ralph Tegtmeir)

For some reason a client of mine seems to think going with Ralph Tegtmeir's cloking service would be a good idea to drive more traffic to his site. I keep telling him this is a huge mistake, and if he gets caught cloaking they will most likely get banned. Again for some odd reason he does not think I am right.

In a last second effort to change this guys mind I wanted ask you the members of Search Engine Watch...

What do you think about Ralph Tegtmeir, www.fantomaster.com and cloaking?

Thank you all in advance replies
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Old 10-04-2005   #2
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Cloaking does not drive traffic to sites. All cloaking does is give one version to bots and another version of a page to a human. It's not a 'magic pill' you take and 'POOF!' you have traffic and buyers knocking down your door.

Traffic comes from links to your site and great search engine rankings--or you have to pay for visitors through PPC.

Sure, the client can cloak--but without links they won't get anywhere. Other sites link to great content--content they can see and read. If you cloak that content no one will read it and no one will link to it. And thus the client won't receive any traffic.
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Old 10-12-2005   #3
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Something about the way you have phrased your post is screaming at me that you are a 'white hat' (a distinction invented by those who wanted to differentiate themselves from others somehow, and lacking any just claim to call themselves better in terms of results, created their own standard of ethics to be better at following), and want nothing more than for people to confirm that search engines don't like cloaking.

Very well. Search engines don't like cloaking.

The reason that search engines don't like cloaking is that it has traditionally been very effective, and very difficult to do anything about. Properly cloaked pages are the very least likely pages to ever be spam reported. About the only realistic way of catching these pages would be to have the Google toolbar compare data with Google's cached data for the same page.

The fact remains that Ralph has been in the SEO business for longer than almost any name in the industry, and continues to be respected as a solid, sensible businessman. He talks to clients in solid, sensible businessman terms, without resorting to airy-fairy nonsense about hats. He talks about strategies, risks and benefits.

I'll give my personal testimony that I have always found Ralph to be one of the most ethical businessmen I've known online.
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Old 10-13-2005   #4
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It is impossible to say weather or not its a good idea for your client to go with cloaking or not without knowing all the details. However, if he does chose to go that way Fantomaster is definately one of the best places to go. Ralph is a very honest businessman and he have some of the best products in this space.

Cloaking can be very helpful in a lot of strategies but you really have to know what you are doing! It's not enough to pick one of Fantomasters scripts you also need to understand the risk factors and how to limit them to a degree workable for you. Most often, people chose to cloak on throw-away domains COMPLETELY seperated from your primary brand-domain. If done right the risk of loosing your brand-domain is very, very little - but if done wrong, the risk is definately high.
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Old 10-13-2005   #5
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You can find plenty of highly knowledgeable and informative articles/forum posts by him to see for yourself what he's about and what his philosophies are. I know him only by reputation and observation over the years, and while he does offer cloaking software, it's important who is using the software, that they know what they're doing and are diligent; and if I had an inquiry from a potential client who definitely needed cloaking (which I don't do) I'd feel confident and comfortable in sending them over to Ralph.

I don't think it's a question of who to engage, but whether the site itself should use cloaking - or whether it even needs to.

Last edited by Marcia : 10-13-2005 at 04:54 AM.
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Old 10-13-2005   #6
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Quote:
cloking service would be a good idea to drive more traffic to his site.
I'm having difficulties with that connection. Cloaking has nothing to do with traffic, by itself. If you cloak a page that has been stuffed with keywords and then do a ton of linking to that page, then you would likely see more traffic, at least for awhile (though that doesn't guarantee conversions) but you would see that if you didn't cloak and just made the page and got links to it.

Pushing a "cloak" switch is not a magic button to traffic. You still have to do all the other stuff that brings in the traffic in the first place. There is no direct connection between the two other than some people feel that it's easier to stuff keywords into a page if you are not worried about anyone reading it.

In view of the fact that a good linking campaign can override the content on a site fairly easily, I don't see a significant advantage to cloaking nowadays -other than in some cases where, for example, there is an age verification page preventing spidering. And even in that case there are ways around the issue without using unapproved methods.

I've got nothing against Ralph personally, and I certainly don't want this to turn into some sort of a witch-hunt. On either side. Most threads on cloaking degenerate with some folks on both sides giving me a distinct "foaming at the mouth" impression of their views.

I'd have to know more about the specific site in question, but there is a good chance that your client is just desperate and/or impatient, and looking an easy fix. I've got news for him - you need technical skill, planning and patience for successful cloaking, too. Some of the above posts seem to imply that it's more effective and easy than it really is. It's not that it's ineffective, but it's not a magic answer to anything.

I can't save anyone from themselves, so consider this to be a fair warning and I'll shut up now. In a few minutes I'll be getting yet another bad rep point from a wannabe cloaker, which will go nicely with the "you must think spam is ok, and therefore are a spammer, if you don't think Ralph is the scum of the earth" PM I'll get from a wannbe whitehat. Just like the last time I offered an opinion on the subject. <sigh>

Let me make this clear. It's not about hats. It's about business. Does it work? Is the risk worth it? What is the motivation and business case for the project? What are the costs? Has he done a SWOT analysis? What homework has he done? Can he outline the difference between "acceptible cloaking" (aka some spider friendly techniques) and "unacceptable cloaking"? Does he know where the line is? What other options has he considered? Does he even know there are options?

In short, is this client actually making an informed decision? If all he knows is that he's desperate and he heard that Ralphs cloaking is the best, then he doesn't have all the facts. I simply can't recommend that someone enter into a known risky situation without due diligence and their eyes wide open. Your post doesn't leave me with a sense of confidence that your client is fully informed of all the pertinent issues, risks, rewards and technical issues.

If he's fully informed, then you really can't do much about it - he's an adult and can make that decision himself. Feel free to disagree and present your case - unlike the apparent opinion of the aforementioned Neg Rep'ers and PM'ers, people in most of the world in the countries that allow internet access have some type of freedom of speech, and the freedom to hold opinions. If he's not fully informed, then either inform him, or, if his head is in the sand, wash your hands and walk away - you really can't save someone from themselves. Who knows? He might get lucky, have no problems, and end up dominating the industry, with none of his competitors suspecting for a moment how he accomplished that goal...

I probably should not have wrote this at 3AM. Hopefully it made some sort of sense. It wasn't intended to be a lecture - sorry.

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Old 10-13-2005   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mcanerin
I'd have to know more about the specific site in question, but there is a good chance that your client is just desperate and/or impatient, and looking an easy fix. I've got news for him - you need technical skill, planning and patience for successful cloaking, too. Some of the above posts seem to imply that it's more effective and easy than it really is. It's not that it's ineffective, but it's not a magic answer to anything.
You are 100% right Mcanerin.

My client is very impatient and does seem to understand how much work and time is involved in SEO/SEM. On top of that he has been burned by two other so called marketing professionals before finding me. I am personally more of a white hat type of guy, but I have used some black hat tactics in the past when needed. However in this circumstance I feel that all black hat tactics are out due to the fact that my client just got unbanned from Google for using doorway pages, tiny text and hidden text. You would think he would have learned the first time around, but you know what they say some people will never learn.

Any ways, thanks again to Mcanerin and everyone else that has replied to this thread. Your comments are greatly appreciated.
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Old 10-13-2005   #8
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Cool Cloaker's response

Well, following up on Marcia's gentle nudge, I'd like to start by thanking you all (well, those concerned, of course) for all the kudos - much appreciated, indeed. You're a great crowd and I sure hope you know it !

But to the point: there's hardly anything in this thread I'd personally disagree with from the standpoint of a confessed-and-no-regrets cloaker.

Ok, so there may be different views on just how effective (and efficient, with the one not necessarily always translating into the other ...) cloaking or IP delivery actually is. However, I fully agree that it's nothing "magical" - alas, no push-a-button-and-you-will-be-number-one-on-Google-and-everywhere-else-till-kingdom-come solution!

So if that client of yours is so desperate indeed and truly believes that cloaking will solve all his problems, I'd positively advise him against going for it because he's obviously quite clueless regarding the SEO game in general. For as Mikkel and Ammon and so many others have already pointed out: it's about business - and it's about the correct use of tools.

Can you build a house with a hammer? Yes - if you can. However, if it's the first time you're holding that hammer thingy in your hands and you don't know how to build a house from scratch anyway, chances are that all you'll get for your troubles is a blue thumb or two. Which isn't to say that it can't be an interesting experience, but I presume that's not exactly what your particular client is after.

So can you achieve good rankings via cloaking? Again: positively yes - if you can. If you cannot, you'd either want to leave it to those people who are capable enough to work this tool probably (some of them are, after all, available for hire), or you'd want to learn that trade first before doing something pretty dumb like jeopardizing your whole online business.

While I definitely don't go with that old "white hat" take that there's absolutely nothing about cloaking you couldn't achieve just as well with the proper "white" techniques (as more often than not this merely means comparing apples with oranges ...), I've always upheld the view that if you're not confident about taking the cloaking road, you shouldn't do it, period.

Because else, whenever your rankings do start to wobble, as they always will sooner or later, chances are you'll get all worked up, feeling guilty ("Have I been caught out? Jeez, what can I do now? What SHALL I DO?" etc. etc.) and most probably taking a lot of very stupid decisions in the process ... At least in my book that wouldn't qualify for a life worth living, but as usual your (or your client's) mileage may vary.

So is cloaking only another form of SEO mysticism? Certainly not - it's a craft in its own right, and nobody I'm aware of was ever "born" a cloaker. Meaning that it's immensely learnable. Which, of course, requires quite a bit of effort and diligence and savvy, add a pinch or two of common sense and a ton of experience, and you may quite conceivably arrive there all safe and sound. But it does require at least that - and anyone telling you otherwise is either plain dumb or trying to con you.

This said, never forget what our Dr Search pointed out the other day: "A cloaked black hat will appear to be white."
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Old 10-13-2005   #9
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Well said, Ralph.

The OP asked about 3 things: "Ralph Tegtmeir, www.fantomaster.com and cloaking."

I've already stated my opinion on cloaking, so there is no need to revisit it. I don't use fantomaster.com so I can't provide an accurate review on the software specifically. But I've traded emails and PM's with Ralph, and read a fair number of his posts, so I'd like to address that.

Although I disapprove of cloaking (and am very unlikely to change my mind in that regard), thus far Ralph (aka fantomaster) has been nothing but informative, professional, and courteous to everyone he's responded to that I know of, regardless of forum or format. Certainly to me. For that, I respect him personally and his professionalism in business.

Now, if I could only convince him to give up that cloaking habit of his...

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Last edited by mcanerin : 10-13-2005 at 07:59 PM.
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Old 10-14-2005   #10
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Thanks, too, Ian

for your kind words. So as someone more famous than probably all of us together once said: "Sir, you are a gentleman!"

Quote:
Now, if I could only convince him to give up that cloaking habit of his...
Hm, perhaps setting up Cloakers Anonymous might be a good start ...
(And yes, just checked: domain's still available. Any takers?)
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Old 10-14-2005   #11
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FreeAgent, looking again at what your client's needs are, let me borrow a quote (from a post by Ralph) from another thread here in the forums. I'm not linking to it because it's best that we stay right on topic here without straying.

Quote:
To summarize - some sites are simply not optimizable for search engines without dramatic, unviable tradeoffs, be it on the score of web design and layout, be it for reasons of pre-existent technical infrastructure (think content management systems, user session ID tracking, dynamic pages, etc.), be it due to considerations focused on corporate identity, marketing strategies, look-and-feel issues, in house corporate decision policies (e. g. marketing vs. online sales departments), etc. etc.
So whether or not his site is "optimizable" is an issue, and another is the weighting of on-page vs. links. Again, to borrow another quote from that same post:

Quote:
Indeed - cloaking as such won't help your rankings one bit: you'll still need to implement a lot of SEO techniques. Meaning that without being able to inject some thorough SEO savvy into the cloaking procedure, you're probably simply wasting your time.

And yes, while there are ways of getting incoming quality links even to cloaked pages for the purpose of getting them indexed at all, you are right in that on that front cloaked pages will actually have to compete heavily with well drafted "organic" web content.

However, it's not at all impossible to achieve, one main reason being that experienced cloakers have never subscribed to all that hysterical "links! links! links!" hoopla we've seen dominate the SEO scene for the past year and a half or so.

Sure, incoming links are quite critical to have, but there's no doubt in our experience that they have been vastly overrated as well - at least, as far as cloaked pages are concerned. (There's an interesting research topic of its own here: namely, to what extent "organic" pages may be more dependent on good linkage than cloaked setups. No point in diverting from the current thread's focus, so I won't expand on it here - just pointing to some further questions worth looking into.)
So you can see that there are several things you'll have to discuss with and explain to your client so that he (and you) can make the wisest decision for his business.

Last edited by Marcia : 10-14-2005 at 04:47 AM.
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Old 10-14-2005   #12
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I doubt Ralph is going to cloak the core site anyways. He knows the SE rules as well as anyone. The loophole is well exploited. Do your aggressive stuff on 3rd party sites and redirect users to the core business site.

As long as your client knows he's buying traffic and not seo then your client nor you have nothing to worry about. Fantomaster wouldn't exist if his method nor product where faulty.
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Old 10-14-2005   #13
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Do your aggressive stuff on 3rd party sites and redirect users to the core business site.
I would actually recomend taking it a few steps further and do WHATEVER you can to seperate your crap domains from your brand domains, such as

- Use a different IP (preferably a seperate C-class)
- Use a different registrar
- Use a different DNS
- Book the domain in a different name (or use a privacy service)

Don't leave any traces behind you
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Old 10-14-2005   #14
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Quite so

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Don't leave any traces behind you
Couldn't agree more: about 75% of the cloaking effort is about not creating or leaving tracks and discernible patterns to pursue.

And yes, we definitely don't recommend cloaking the core domain or even mixing cloaked and non-cloaked content on the same site. While this may still work on many web sites, the overall risks are plain too big to make this acceptable.
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Old 10-14-2005   #15
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Regarding risks - they are very real. Cloaked pages do get removed from the search engines. However, if you do you job well it dosn't have to be that bad. I have cloaked hundreds of domains over the years and honestly I think I lost less than a handfull. So for me its a pretty good result - but thats no guarantee others will do as well
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Old 10-14-2005   #16
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Reasons to Cloak

Quote:
Originally Posted by fantomaster
While I definitely don't go with that old "white hat" take that there's absolutely nothing about cloaking you couldn't achieve just as well with the proper "white" techniques (as more often than not this merely means comparing apples with oranges ...), I've always upheld the view that if you're not confident about taking the cloaking road, you shouldn't do it, period.
The bottom line is that cloaking is about content. Right?

People who don't have or don't want content on their site (or believe in the magic of keyword density) use cloaking to show content to a spider that isn't on the public page.

A lot of experts here will tell you that natural language content is important to these days, for semantic analysis and "page quality" and all the other things that the search engines may or may not be using to score pages.

So, when you cloak, you are either cloaking gibberish that is keyed to a specific keyword density (which some people will tell you doesn't really work anymore) or you are cloaking well-written pages, designed to rank well. I know people who actually hire copywriters and place excellent copy on cloaked pages. Generally, the thinking is the better written copy will perform better in the rankings.

If you've put all this effort into building a well-written page... why cloak it?

The people I know who do it are dealing with clients who absolutely will not change their flash/crazy dhml/java/all image/name-a-funky-technology site. Without the cloaking they can't rank at all. While most people agree they'd be better off to have the content visible on the site, for whatever reason, the client doesn't want it.

Those only the instances I'm aware of, but I've never seen a reason to cloak that couldn't be done better by changing the affected site or simply building alternate pages for complicated technology pages.

As other have also stated, content is only part of the equation as well. If they already have optimized content for their site, what exactly are they going to be cloaking?

Last edited by Scottie : 10-14-2005 at 01:55 PM.
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Old 10-14-2005   #17
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There are a lot of good reasons to cloak - many more than most people that haven't been involved in this often think. Also, there is a lot of ways to do it ...

Quote:
natural language content is important to these days
Unless those people are limiting their world to the english speaking countries they are NOT right. Search engines basically do no lingustics on the majority of the languages in the world and I highly doubt they will get around to small languages such as Danish, Norwegian or Greenlandish anytime soon.

The only reason not to use pure gibberish in all these languages is to not get gibberish description snippets. So you need at least the first part of your cloaked page to have some texts around your keywords that will make sense in a search result - the rest can be gibberish all you like - the engines have no clue at all

Quote:
If you've put all this effort into building a well-written page... why cloak it?
Who say we put all that efford into each page? I don't know of any pro cloakers that do. In fact, one of the most common things with cloaked pages is that they are autogenerated. However, such pages don't actually have to be gibberish. If you work long enough on great autogeneration algos you can actually produce texts this way that are better than the average writing on the web.

One of the main reasons I cloak for clients is

- They do not want to change anything on their framed/Flash/messed-up website

- They may want to make changes but it takes 18-24 month to gtet anything done in their corporation

- They want to gain visitors for variations of keywords, miss spellings and synonyms not used on the site

- They don't have enough content to cover all the relevant keywords for their site

- They are too lazy to do anything about their site

- They only want to pay me a CPC for my work - so I need to control the traffic stream


But there are amny other reasons ...
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Old 10-14-2005   #18
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Indeed there are lots of other reasons, but Mikkel summed up the most important ones quite nicely.

Let's not underestimate corporate structures and hierarchies involved here, either: if you're dealing with a Fortune500 caliber company that spent some $150K or more on developing their web site (and that's truly peanuts compared to what some other major properties are being charged by designers and developers), little good will it do you if you try to convince them of all your "white hat" tricks such as "put a keyword in the title tag", "build smaller pages", "change your linking structure", "don't use Java", etc. etc. More often than not they'll tell you in no uncertain terms to get lost if you do ...

And if your efforts get effectively thrashed between the marketing and the e-commerce and the PR department and the top management etc. infighting, not only may it take 2 years or more until some form of viable decision has been taken, chances are you'll have to deal with a dozen different people in the course of time, explaining everything over and over from scratch, etc. etc.

Most "white hats" give me the impression (not saying I'm right every time, but it's certainly a prevalent attitude) that they're basically catering to far smaller - and arguably: more Net savvy and more flexible - corporations actually willing and capable to do what it takes by way of "white" SEO.

More often than not, this, if nothing else, calls for an entirely different mindset and SEO culture.
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Old 10-17-2005   #19
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More often than not they'll tell you in no uncertain terms to get lost if you do ...
More often than not, they say that no matter what. "Can't do that, legal said XYZ". "Can't do that, Mary in IT is away". "Can't do that beacuse {Chinese Whispers reason}".

Quote:
More often than not, this, if nothing else, calls for an entirely different mindset and SEO culture.
Too true! cloaking is an odd one though, especially for Fortune 500s. With more to lose than gain, why cloak? Given that big corporates usual answer to any question is "No", why cloak?
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Old 10-17-2005   #20
fantomaster
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Because they're pragmatic, that's why: if it drives decent traffic and/or helps their branding efforts, they'll go for it provided the risks seem calculable. Which they patently are, if you know what you're doing.

"Surprising"? Hardly, if you have access to that caliber target group. I'm not the only one in this industry to hold that probably 90% of these corps are making use of cloaking in one way or another. While this is admittedly only a guesstimate, it's a fairly educated one ...
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