How Hidden Text and Links Affect SEO? Is Hiding Content Good or Bad?

Posted by on Jan 29, 2014 in SEO ·

Long back, about 10 years ago, hiding text and keywords with CSS wasn’t a strange thing. We could see hundreds of website putting lots of key phrases (keyword stuffing) at footer then. But search engines took serious actions against this and none of those websites could rank with the help of hidden text and content.

Some websites, still, follow this practise and may be on a risky side when it comes to the SEO. Not everyone of those do this intentionally. It may happen sometimes, by mistake.

Knowing the consequences and preventive measures of hidden text on your website is very essential.

Effects of Hidden Text and Content on SEO

What are hidden text and how is it created?

The phrase itself suggests what it means. Hidden text (and links) means the text not visible to users but shown to search engines. Users can not see the content at all. The content hidden for the sake of better user experience does not come under this.

Examples :

1. Text with the same colour as its background. For example, black text on black footer or white text on white background.

2. The div having CSS effect display:none or visibility:hidden.

<div style="display: none;">My text here..</div>

3. The content having strange negative positioning.

<div style="position: absolute; top: -1000px; left: -1000px;">My text here..</div>

4. Zero font size.

<div style="font-size: 0%;">My text here..</div>

5. Or even the diminished font size.

<div style="font-size: 1px;">My text here..</div>

6. Locating text behind an image.

7. Small character linking in between a paragraph.

<a href="http://www.example.com/">.</a>

Of course, all these div‘s are assigned a class and then that class is decorated with a stylesheet. Inline CSS like the examples shown above can be detected very easily by search engines.

What are the consequences of hidden text and links?

If Google finds hidden text and links on your website, it may get penalized. You may lose its rankings for a long time, even after the text is removed. Once a website gets penalized, it is very difficult to gain that trust and reputation again.

The penalty message is usually like this : “Google has detected that some of your pages may contain hidden text or cloaking, techniques that are outside our Webmaster Guidelines.”.

Google always tries to provide clean, high quality and informative search results. Only that’s why users trust Google. If websites are ranked on the basis of hidden keywords, users may stop trusting Google. Or may be, they can never use Google again.

This is the reason Google (and other search engines) needs to take an action against such activities. So, yes, Google can detect and penalize websites with hidden text and links.

But not all hidden text is bad..

Consider a page showing a product with a very long description, specifications, 100s of user reviews, seller information, pricing chart and much more. If such a page is loaded, it will be a very big browser window. Users will need to scroll a lot to see the contents on that page.

And you know what, people hate scrolling. Instead the page can have tabs for each section on the page. Users can easily expand each tab by clicking on it and see the content without much scrolling.

This enhances user experience and increases user engagement on the website. Moreover, tabs and toggles are not used for hiding the content actually. They are used to organize the content.

There are tons of websites using JavaScript, CSS and Ajax to hide content; which opens upon a click or mouse hover. Even though the content is hidden initially, it is not meant to be hidden from users. Hence, this content hiding can be considered as a white hat technique.

So, the gist of this story is, hidden text and links for spamming and black hat SEO are bad. On the other hand, hiding text or any other content for better user experience is good.

Some useful tips regarding hidden content

Images

Images, sometimes, are more explanatory than hundreds of words. Search engines also love images. But some care must be taken. Because, search engines cannot read or understand images.

Every image on your blog MUST have an alt tag. Alt tag stands for alternate text or description. If an image is not loaded because of certain reason, this text is shown to users as an alternative. But, for search engines, alt tag is the only way to understand what the image is about. Search engines give more importance to alt tag than the image name.

Moreover, an image should be surrounded with relative text and caption.

Videos

Videos are also widely used by webmasters. Videos can explain or demonstrate many things very efficiently than text. But again, search engines can not understand the videos. We ourselves should make them understand what each video is about.

Create a separate page for each video, if possible. Add complete descriptions of each video on those pages. In this way search engines will find the content on those pages. The video should also have proper Schema markup.

If possible, consider providing the transcript of the video to users. Users who don’t want their bandwidth consumed can read the transcript.

JavaScript and Ajax

JavaScript tabs and toggles are common these days. But sometimes, JavaScript may be disabled by a user or the external JS file may not be loaded properly. This may result in tabs and toggles not working properly.

To avoid such problems, one should use the <noscript> tag. This tag shows alternative content if JavaScript is not available. Search engines also understand the noscript tag.

Never ever make JavaScript an excuse to hide content for unethical purposes. It is made to enrich the web, not degrade the web.

6 Comments on “How Hidden Text and Links Affect SEO? Is Hiding Content Good or Bad?”

  1. Don’t fight adblock this way. There’s tons of sites with the same content as yours and they don’t do this. Be careful.

    1. Hi Renan!

      The question is not what my site provides or where my site belongs. Using AdBlock on a non-spammy website is really not a good idea. If someone doesn’t like my site, he/she should simply close the tab. But if he/she wants to browse my site, he/she should support me.

      Every webmaster has to pay the hosting, domain and advertising bills. How would one generate revenue if everyone enables AdBlock? I hope you get my point.

  2. Hi, thanks for posting. My question is regarding hiding, say, the last half of a post for the reasons of only showing content to logged in users. I am looking at the plugin called ‘Hide This’ and wondering if that will hurt SEO and rankings. I am not black-hatting, just hiding content for the purpose of garnering members. Please may I have your thoughts on this? The plugin author does add the content wrapped in the [hide] tag is not detectable HTML.

    1. Hi!

      That is fine. Quora.com also uses the similar method to encourage users to sign up on their site.
      It is not like showing something to the search engines and showing something else to the users. All non-logged-in users (including search egines) see the same content. So it is not that risky.

  3. I’m wondering about hiding images. For instance, on my blog, I use a large square image as the header, but I make a tall Pinterest-worthy image which I hide with the display: none code. This way, the image shows up for Pinterest, but isn’t taking up half my post.

    Will hiding this image negatively impact my SEO?

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