If you’ve seen summaries (like this one, for example) of Matt Cutts’ yesterday’s video on cloaking, you may have read that cloaking is always in violation of Google’s quality guidelines and there is “no such thing as white hat cloaking”. Yes, he actually did say that no “white hat cloaking” exists, but there was something else — hugely important for honest affiliates — that the legendary head of Google’s Webspam team said in that video. To begin with, here’s how he defined “cloaking”:
So, first off, what is cloaking? Cloaking is essentially showing different content to users than to Googlebot…
Secondly, in conclusion of the video, he summarized:
…basically, ask yourself: “Do I have special code that looks exactly for the user agent Googebot, or the exact IP address of Googlebot, and treat it differently somehow. If treat it just like everybody else — so you’d send it based on geolocation, you look at the end agent phones — that sort of thing is fine. It’s just that [when] you’re looking for Googlebot specifically, and you’re doing something different that’s where you start to get into a high risk area.
Based on the above, it all boils down to the intent of the cloaking. Are you trying to trick Google into believing something about your webpage that it’s really not? If you are, you’re asking for trouble… If you aren’t, and cloaking your affiliate links to make them more manageable (and/or secure) — as discussed in my Affiliate Link Cloaking post back in May 2009 — you should be okay.
EDIT (of 3:50 pm): Furthermore, it is apparent — both from the video, and from this tweet by Matt — that “cloaking” is really not the best word to describe what affiliates are predominantly doing. Call it URL “masking”, “shortening”, “disguising”, anything else, but not “cloaking”.
Full Matt Cutts’ video on Google’s stance regarding cloaking may be seen below: