December's SEO Superstar
For those of you who don't know what cloaking is, it is when you show one version of a website to a search engine and another version of a website to a user.
Cloaking can likely be used to as a white hat SEO solution, as long as it's being used in the most ethical and best ways possible.
For example, if you were to use a permalink as a redirect URL and post it across a number of sites, then were to turn that permalink into an actual blog or content post URL at a later time, it would likely help that individual article and site rank higher. As for getting penalized, this all goes back to what is being promoted and how. If you are trying to promote an affiliate offer and using a cloaking url to get past something like FB or an ad tracking solution, this likely won't affect your Google rankings, but also won't help with SEO either.
From a technical point of view, no. There's no such a thing as White Hat Link Cloaking.
Even Matt Cutts himself says this: https://youtu.be/QHtnfOgp65Q?t=120 I don't really agree with Matt Cutts. Not all forms of cloaking should be penalized. Many big sites cloak pages. A good example of cloaking that should't be penalized is membership content. Some users that are logged in might directly see the premium content, while search engines and regular users won't. This is in fact anti-SEO, since showing user agents a stripped version will also hide relevant content and keywords. But... it's cloaking... so it should be penalized, right? At the same time, there are really annoying examples of cloaking that has not been penalized, such as Forbes. We all know that annoying ad that pops up before every page. Cloaking, but no penalty. However, the ad redirects to the URL in the end, after some time. John Mueller talks about link cloaking. He states that cloaking affiliate links isn't really going to affect the algorithm if the user agent gets to the same location, so you might as well do it. The penalties applied are not a problem of having affiliate links or not, but a problem of many affiliate sites having low quality content. In fact, many people cloak affiliate links for maintenance or security purposes, not to trick Google into thinking they're not affiliate links. That's ethical, and I don't see why Google would penalize it. But some use cloaking to redirect the user to the affiliate page, but the Google Bot to another page, in order to pass link juice somewhere else. Now that's unethical, and I can see why Google would penalize it. To lower all the risks, I recommend keeping indexable content the same for both users and search engines, if possible. There are types of cloaking that actually serve the user and yourself in some way, but I wouldn't necessarily call them WhiteHat. After all... Aren't we all trying to influence the search engines to show our sites higher, just by doing what we call 'SEO'? There's really no WhiteHat and BlackHat. I like to call them ethical SEO tactics (you also care about the user and providing quality) and unethical SEO tactics (you only care about your @$$ and how to make more money), Although similar, here are also tactics disclosed as not being cloaking. I'm talking about GEO targeting or mobile version redirects. As long as your purposes don't include tricking the Google Bot, you can try to apply some forms of cloaking if you find them useful for your particular case. However, you can't completely deny the possibility of a penalty, as Google is the one that decides in the end. Maybe your cloaking tactic servers the user well, but it fits the pattern of an unethical tactic that someone else did. The algorithm catches the latter first, but you get penalized as well. I also think it helps if you're a colossal like Forbes...
Yikes! I would never recommend using cloaking as a technique -- black hat, white hat, or anything else.
The bottom line is that you're trying to deceive Google and Bing. If they ever find out, you're toast. Not worth the risk, in my opinion. Even if there are legitimate reasons for using cloaking, it's best not to mess with Big Brother.
This is a clear question of "can" vs. "should". Yes, I'm sure there are people getting away with it without penalization,
but to what end? What are you gaining by gaming the SEO system? What will ultimately happen is that your site will amass negative user signals as people click through, discover that your page does not meet their search intent, and then bounce back out. As negative signals increase, the rankings will quickly drop. Instead of trying to fool people and search engines, you'd be much better off using that time to do research and create meaningful and relevant content that people want to read and share.
Yes, if your affiliate links are your site name that looks natural like
http://yoursitename-affiliate product that you are promoting for example it looks like you are interlinking to your sites blog posts, and looks more natural to the search engines, instead of ugly long affiliate links that are left uncloaked. I have definitely noticed a slight positive return in my seo from my cloaked links. That is my experience thus far.