The word "cloaking" is often used online, but it usually has a specific meaning: to show one type of content to human visitors and different content to Google or search engines.
Not surprisingly, this tactic is not condoned by Google.
What people are really talking about is hiding their links from Google. They don't care if it is cloaking or something else. The goal isn't to cloak - the goal is SEO self-preservation by hiding links Google doesn't like - and there is not much Google hates more than affiliate links.
But is there a way to "cloak" the links on your website, especially affiliate links, so they do not create any Google penalties?
One suggestion is to add a "no follow" tag to links. The problem is while Google may not "count" the link for some SEO purposes, for others it could still lead to a penalty. The reason is that Google still sees the link and knows where your site is linking to.
As Google has long said: bad sites link to good sites, but good sites do not link to bad sites.
As an example, if your site is linking to child pornography do not expect a "no follow" reference to save your butt.
Bottom line: the "no follow" reference is useful for PageRank issues, but useless for other parts of Google's search algorithm used to rank your pages. No follow does not mean your link is not followed and seen, it just means it is not counted for PageRank.
Another suggestion is to link to Page A where Page A automatically redirects to the desired site, and with the robots.txt file tell Google not to access Page A.
This doesn't work because Google does not always follow robots.txt rules (this has been tested and proven). There are seemingly millions of references online to Google ignoring robots.txt blocks.
Bottom line: if you think robots.txt is the perfect cure-all because Google always follows your rules, please contact me as there is some blue sky I would like to sell you.
Squeeze Links was the first proven method of hiding links from Google what was 100 percent white hat. It even used a process approved by Google.
The process is now a few years old and the core method still works.
As part of the system it was recommended to use a robots.txt block. While imperfect (as previously mentioned) Google has also of late said it would prefer if robots.txt was now abandoned so it can have access to all files. That seems a bit overbroad and of course there may be files you would want to block from Google and the world.
But the robots.txt suggestion was just additional protection for a system that removes links from web pages. Since the same page is shown to Google and human visitors Squeeze Links does not involve "cloaking" or anything black hat.
The biggest downside to Squeeze Links was that it required some hands-on ability to create and edit files and upload them from a computer to a website.
In the dumb-downed world today where website creation and editing is done entirely in the cloud, such as via content management systems like WordPress, many website owners now lack the stills that were considered entry-level basic a decade ago.
Enter the Elf Links WordPress plugin.
This advanced system contains several layers of protection and has been repeatedly tested and proven to hide links from Google.
Since links are removed from the web page the same page is initially shown to Google and to human visitors to avoid any issue with cloaking.
Elf Links is also the only known plugin with the ability to create a link after it has been clicked on - although this advanced option requires the hands-on file editing abilities some lack.
If it doesn't make sense for a link to be created only after a link is clicked on, to be more precise there is no html link in the web page, but a generic link is then created, and after it is clicked on the affiliate details are generated. OK, who care how it works so long as it works. This amazing feat is currently limited to Amazon, Ebay and ClickBank affiliate links - although that encompasses the majority of affiliate links online.
Although Google is continually advancing its capabilities, it may never be possible for a bot to see an affiliate link when it does not even exist until after some programming code is clicked on.
The ultimate issue is making money. As they say, follow the money.
Money is generated from affiliate links. Those links are only clicked on if the web page they are on gets traffic. For free SEO traffic you are not going to get any from Google if Google sees you have affiliate links. The solution, obviously, is to not allow Google to see you have affiliate links.
The Squeeze Links solution is time tested and proven, and works with any website - whether html, WordPress, or some other system.
Elf Links has more layers of protection that anything on the market, but is limited to the WordPress content management system. Elf Links has also been reviewed and approved by Amazon, and has been tested to confirm it provides SEO advantage.
Anything else you are probably wasting your money on. Both Squeeze Links and Elf Links can be used on an unlimited number of websites. The last thing you want is licensed software. You already know what happens with licenses - those sites ultimately disappear and with them your software. (How many licensed plugins from just a few years ago still work? About zero.) Worse, you could be effectively blackmailed in the future to pay for an upgrade. Even "lifetime" upgrades turn out not to be so generous when the software developer says a new version is not really an upgrade but new software.
Protect yourself, your sites' search engine rankings, and your bank account now in the future. If you have the capabilities or willingness to learn Squeeze Links is a very inexpensive solution. Elf Links costs more, but also offers more layers of protection, and may be the best option for sites built on the WordPress platform.