Fixing Google Manual Action: Cloaked Images


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Cloaked Images

Out of all of Google’s Manual Action Reports, Cloaked Images might be the hardest to understand at face value. What the devil even is a cloaked image? Take your bets on science fiction or Harry Potter nonsense, maybe?

Really, though, that’s hedged bets.

Google is well known for their dislike of robots and robot-generated content. In fact, that dislike is obvious and clear in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. But, as far as we’re aware, Google has no beef with wizards… 

Google Manual Action: Cloaked Images

Mysterious woman in red cloak
We see you, cloaked images. Well, kinda.

Sparknotes version: cloaking is a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) technique that displays different content to human users than is shown to search engines. Essentially, it’s showing something different to actual users than they were led to believe was there. Usually, cloaking is used to ‘trick’ search engines into giving the relevant page a higher rank in their search results. In a word, it’s duplicitous. And Google isn’t really a fan of that.

Why Should You Care?

Young businesswoman in a thoughtful pose
Wait, do I care, though? Yes. Yes, you do.

The answer to that is surprisingly easy. Webmasters are all in the business of getting their content out into the hands of their audiences. Search engine optimization is a popular way to do so. Ideally, the higher your website and content rank on search engines, the more traffic your content gets. That’s the crux of anything web-based, really. You want to make sure the right sort of people know where to go to find what they’re interested in, and you want to drive that traffic to your content. Unfortunately, things can go wrong at the base content level, as well as the search engine level.


If you’ve had a drop in traffic, you may want to do a little digging into your analytics. Maybe you just need to adjust your content, but there could be bigger problems than keywords on your hands. Worst case, there’s a reason why your content isn’t showing up on search results, and Google’s behind it.

This is because the Google Search engine controls what content its user base sees in their search results–and in which order. If you’re interested in getting your content further towards the top of that search result, you don’t want to mess with violations. In essence, Google may make the decision to boot your content further down its results page. It could also remove your content from the search altogether. Worst case scenario, you get slapped with a ‘site-wide match’ on your violation and your entire site can be kicked off the search engine results page (SERP). And if you’re trying to get your content out there, that’s basically the exact opposite of what you want.  

Cloaking: Not Even Once

happy couple hiding behind big white blank board
Don’t play Hide and Seek with Google. Google ALWAYS wins.

Sadly, some people are in the business of cloaking, and they want you to pay them to cloak your site or some of your content. They’ll give you a laundry list of excuses or ‘reasons’ for you to pay for their services. The bottom line, though, is that they’re giving you a lot of reasons to make a poor choice. You may not get caught first thing, but you’ll end up paying for that choice later on–even if it’s just in the time it takes to get your site back into the Big G’s good graces. And then, you’ll also be out of the little fee you paid to the cloaking service to begin with.

Drumroll, please: it’s a better idea to just focus on your own content and keep your pages above-board from the beginning. So let’s be real. Cloaking: Not Even Once.

Manual Action Reports

So how can you know if you’ve officially gotten the boot? Google is 100% upfront with this sort of thing. You’ll get a message in your email and in the message center. If you have Gmail, you can open the manual actions report here. If your content isn’t appearing in search results, and you’ve otherwise adjusted your SEO in Google-Approved methods, it may be worth checking the report. But, in general, you can rest easy knowing that as far as this goes, no news is good news.

Can You Fix This?

Close-up view on woman who working on laptop
You, fixing these cloaked images already. You got this, fam.

The short answer is yes.

If you’ve found yourself on the receiving end of a Cloaked Image Google Manual Action Report, there is hope. Here’s what to do.

  1. Get rid of the cloaking. Make sure that your website displays the same images to human users as it does to search engine crawlers. The only acceptable reason to use cloaking in Google’s book is in order to opt out of Inline Linking. If you need to do that, look into your HTTP referer header in the request. If it’s from Google, reply to that request with either HTTP 200, or 204. Do not add any additional content.
  2. Once you’ve gotten rid of the cloaked image problem, there’s a little more to do. You can submit a reconsideration request for your content or for your website. You need to document your reconsideration request, and address any other issues that pop up. This includes noting the original Manual Action Report you received, outlining the steps you took to resolve your problem, and details of your results.
  3. Once you submit a reconsideration request, it may take a few days (even up to weeks) to receive notification from Google. Processing isn’t instantaneous, but you’ll either receive a rejection or approval.

Remember, be honest with Google. They’ve probably heard every excuse in the book, and then a couple dozen besides. It’s doubtful they’ll be swayed, so don’t even bother. If you’ve got a report to handle, there’s plenty of other things for you to spend your time on.

It’s Dangerous to Go Alone

Feeling a little overwhelmed? That’s fine. The good news is that you don’t have to go it alone. One unexpected event can throw off your entire editorial calendar–never mind if you have to deal with reconsideration requests at the same time. Don’t worry. We’re here to help, and we’re more than happy to take some of that responsibility off your shoulders. Contact us with your specifics, and we’ll take good care of you.

More in Our Google Manual Actions Series

Unnatural Links to Your Site

Unnatural Links from Your Site

Cloaking and Sneaky Redirects

Hacked Site

Pure Spam

Spammy Structured Markup

User-generated Spam

Spammy Freehosts

Hidden Text and/or Keyword Stuffing

Cloaked Images

And more coming soon!

About the Author

Sam Romain

Sam Romain

Digital marketing expert, data interpreter, and adventurous entrepreneur empowering businesses while fearlessly embracing the wild frontiers of fatherhood and community engagement.

Sam Romain

Sam Romain

Digital marketing expert, data interpreter, and adventurous entrepreneur empowering businesses while fearlessly embracing the wild frontiers of fatherhood and community engagement.

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