Part of the Internet acronyms and lingo glossary:

A phantom page is a Web page that is optimized for search engines rather than for humans. Such optimization usually results in a great deal of keyword -heavy text that does not make sense to human readers. Phantom pages are generally created in multiples, as part of a shadow domain .

The practice of using phantom pages is sometimes referred to as page cloaking or black hat cloaking . Typically, the purpose of black hat cloaking is to artificially increase the SEO (search engine optimization) value of the owner's main website.

To use black hat cloaking, a site owner creates separate versions of site content: normal pages for humans and phantom pages for search engine spiders. The owner accesses a frequently updated list of bot IP addresses (which is how the site's servers identify them). If the owner is successful, the search engine bot is fooled by the phantom page and ranks the page and website higher than it would have based on the valid content. Based on the search rankings, the site gets more traffic than it would otherwise, although visitors may not be impressed by the quality of the website.

Webmasters also use cloaking for a variety of other reasons, including:

  • Removing extraneous components of URLs (such as tag s or user logins) for search engines.
  • Serving different content depending on user demographics.
  • Rebranding content according to the requester domain.
  • Optimizing for different browsers or browser features or capabilities.
  • Serving targeted information for the user's Operating System and/or browser.
  • For personalization .


Nevertheless, because the intent of cloaking is to subvert the search engine indexing system, the practice is considered unethical. Many search engine companies, including Google , penalize Web sites that create shadow domains.

This was last updated in November 2011
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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