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Why don't we talk a little about how everyone else does it.
I'll start with me.
For google I use mostly <b> tags and <h1> - <h6> tags in the content of the page. I don't use too much <img> tags for google though. But for Altavista I try to use a little more <img> tags along with the content. The rest is pretty much optimizing it like I would a regular page.
The reason why I want to talk a little bit about this here is because when I started cloaking I was kinda lost on how to make a cloaked page. How do you constitute spamming when making a cloaked page and all that sort of stuff. I was lost. I think that talking a little about it will help others that are beginning to cloak in making good choices and they won't be walking down a path that they have no idea which way to take.
Anyways I hope I'm making sense. I feel like I've been rambling out random stuff now.
I also use cloaking software to generate links to both cloaked and non-cloaked pages, to randomize text, etc.
i've been considering cloaking for some time now but never had the courage to do it. my work to date has been pretty successful without cloaking but i do quite fancy having a go at it.
i was considering using SSI with conditional statements to differentiate between user agents and/or ip addresses. is this a sound method?
the only thing that worries me is that a competitor might complain, then it would be simple for google to compare their index with what they see in the browser.
am i right to be wary?
What I mean is to remove some of the extraneous HTML that doesn't help with the rankings. You might also want to reorganize the page a bit to put your best body copy near the top of the page, sprinkle a few links within the copy to point to similiarly themed pages on your site or others' sites. I don't think there is anything wrong with using <img> tags, especially when you include "alt text" in the <img> tag. I also like to use forms and put keywords in some of the form elements. I wrote a piece of cloaking software back in 1996-1997 which I now sell commercially (won't mention its name here), and it includes features that allow me to insert random lines/paragraphs of text, links, etc., which makes it easy to create cloaked pages based on templates without having them appear alike.
Welcome to WMW :)
You have the right idea both for your method of cloaking and to be a little wary. I don't recommend cloaking for Google. The best way to keep a competitor from complaining is to make your Meta Description and title the same for both a cloaked page and the "human" page. Following that tip will make it very difficult if not impossible to differentiate between a page that is cloaked and one that is not.
Even silly little things like using an image for a title and each header can make a page look much more professional for the human visitors, and if you can show the search engines text versions of those titles and headers the best of both worlds is achieved.