Don’t Get Duped: How to Spot and Stop Sneaky Redirects

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Have you ever clicked on a link, expecting to land on one webpage, only to find yourself mysteriously redirected elsewhere? If so, you may have encountered one of the web’s sneakiest tricks: redirects.

What are Sneaky Redirects?

Sneaky redirects are known for their deceptive nature. They trick search engine crawlers or indexers into believing that a specific page serves as the destination when, in reality, the page displayed is entirely different, often displaying spam ads or even installing cookies in their browsers.

Similar to traditional links, redirects contain a URL pointing to the destination page. Search engine indexers use this URL to determine the redirection path for visitors.

Redirecting to new page

A reroute becomes sneaky when it sends search engine indexers and visitors to separate pages. While visitors view one page after the reroute, Google crawlers encounter a different one.

Sneaky vs. Legitimate Redirects

Not all reroutes are deceiving.

Legitimate reroutes such as 301 or 302 redirects ensure that search engine indexers and visitors end up on the same page they intended to visit. In contrast, sneaky reroutes operate differently, directing users and search engine indexers to different pages.

URL Redirects for SEO

How do Sneaky Redirects Happen?

Sneaky reroutes often use cloaking techniques in two primary forms: IP-based and user agent-based cloaking. IP-based cloaking sends users to alternative pages depending on their IP address. In contrast, user agent-based cloaking sends users to pages based on their user agent.

Regardless of the method used, IP-based and user agent-based cloaking can lead to search engine crawlers and visitors encountering different pages after rerouting.URL Cloaking

Here’s a step-by-step explanation of how it works:

User Clicks a Link: It all begins when a user clicks on a link, usually found on a webpage, in an email, or through a search engine result.

Intended Destination: The user expects to be taken to a specific webpage or website based on the anchor text or context of the link they clicked.

Behind the Scenes: Unknown to the user, the link they clicked may be embedded with code that triggers a diversion.

Redirect Code: This code is programmed to divert the user’s browser from the intended destination to a different webpage altogether.

Invisible to Users: Importantly, the redirection process is often invisible to users, who may not realize they’ve been rerouted until they land on the unexpected page.

Different Content: The rerouted page may contain content that varies significantly from what the user expects. This content might be irrelevant, misleading, or even harmful.

Understanding Why Individuals Employ Sneaky Redirects

Sneaky Redirects in Prohibited Niches

People employ sneaky reroutes when they can’t advertise certain niches on platforms like Google Ads. Google Ads has rules about what kinds of products or services can be advertised.

For example, pharmaceuticals, gambling or betting inappropriate content, dangerous products, and misleading content are some categories restricted by Google Ads policies. So, if someone wants to promote one of these niches, they might trick the system by concealing the URL with a diversion that sends visitors to a different website that might offer prohibited products or services.

Using Sneaky Redirects for SEO

People may use sneaky reroutes to trick Google into thinking that a trustworthy website (one with high Domain Authority or DA) links to a shady or banned niche website. They do this because Google often positions websites higher if they have lots of trustworthy sites linking to them.

By utilizing sneaky reroutes, they try to make Google think that their shady website is trustworthy, so it appears higher in search results. For example, a casino page uses a medical site’s high DA to rank better on Google.

Why are Sneaky Redirects Harmful?

Sneaky reroutes can cause Googlebot to skip following the intended link and index the original page instead. Meanwhile, users are directed to another page whose content may remain hidden from the web crawler.

This practice violates Google Webmaster Guidelines, which prohibit serving different content to users compared to what’s shown in search engine results. This also includes displaying varied content based on the user’s platform, such as redirecting mobile users to a different page than desktop users.

These reroutes can be web attribution fraud, especially when manipulating affiliate ad networks through cookie fraud. For instance, affiliate ad hijackers might place a brand’s ad in the search engine results pages (SERPs), then guide users through a series of masked reroutes to conceal their activity and claim referral credit before leading them to the official brand’s site.

Mobile sites, especially those involved in WAP-click affiliate programs, are often associated with sneaky reroutes. For years, Google has penalized mobile sites for redirecting users from the SERP to undesired or entirely different spam domains.

How Do Sneaky Redirects Affect Search Engine Rankings?

Sneaky reroutes can impact your site’s search engine visibility in multiple ways.

Google evaluates pages based on what their crawlers can access. They assume visitors will view the same page after clicking a link or being redirected. However, with sneaky reroutes, visitors are directed to a different destination page than Google expects.

This can lead to issues with search engine placement. While Google may still rank the initial page, it won’t rank the true destination page where visitors are redirected. If indexers encounter a page with minimal or irrelevant content, they may rank it poorly for the targeted keywords.

Employing sneaky reroutes can result in a reprimand from Google. If your website is found using these reroutes, it may face consequences, including manual penalties from Google. Google imposes punitive measures for various violations, including sneaky reroutes.

Webmaster Guidelines for Sneaky Redirects

Google distinguishes between two types of manual penalties for sneaky reroutes: those related to cloaking-based redirects and those specific to mobile-only redirects. If Google identifies such reroutes on your website, it may impose one of these punitive measures.