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Does hidden content affect SEO?

by Alice Starkie on

Whether you are dipping your toe into SEO (search engine optimisation) for the first time or consider yourself to be an SEO aficionado, you will most likely have heard conflicting answers to the question ‘does hidden content affect SEO?’. In this guide, we break down exactly what hidden content is and explain what impact hidden content can have on SEO.

What is hidden content?

Put simply, hidden content is text or links on a website that are hidden from a user. There are many ways to hide content on a website, including…

• Using black text on a black background
• Covering text with an image
• Positioning text off-screen
• Choosing an illegible font size, such as 0
• Hiding a link by attaching it to one character, such as a comma
• Image alt text

Why include hidden content?

Woman using a laptop to publish contentUsing hidden content to improve SEO became a popular practice in the 1990s. Web developers were still learning how to influence the search engines and found that filling hidden web pages with keywords was an effective way to get their website on the first page of Google. At this time, search crawlers were not yet able to identify hidden content accurately from visible content.

Before you consider including hidden keywords on your website, you should be warned that this technique is now considered to be a black hat SEO tactic and can have a detrimental effect on your SEO success.

How does hidden content affect SEO?

In official guidance from Google, they state:

“Hiding text or links in your content to manipulate Google’s search rankings can be seen as deceptive and is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.”

Search crawlers have developed over the years to identify black hat SEO techniques such as hidden content and penalise websites for appearing to hide content. In extreme scenarios, hidden content may even cause your website to be deleted by Google as it is perceived by the search crawlers to be spam.

Hidden text is an attempt at a short-term SEO solution and won’t improve your site’s ranking in the long term. It will also frustrate users, who will be unable to find the content they are looking for, resulting in a potential loss of customers. If an agency tries to sell you search success based on this method, you should look for a more reputable partner.

Is there SEO friendly hidden text?

Closeup of a Google screen on a smartphoneThe answer to, ‘does hidden content affect your SEO?’ is not straightforward, however, as not all hidden content is harmful, providing it is not trying to be deceptive.

Adding alt text to images is considered hidden text but as it is improving the accessibility of a site and offering value to users, it does not harm SEO. For example, users with poor internet connections, screen readers or mobile browsers may not be able to easily load images and videos and alt text will benefit them and enrich their experience online.

If you are in doubt about whether the content you are hiding will negatively impact your SEO, look at the content and ask yourself: ‘does this offer value to the reader?’ If the answer is no, remove or replace the content. If information is placed on your website solely for SEO purposes, rather than to engage and inform your audience, you may be penalised by search crawlers for it.

Can display:none affect SEO?

display:none is code commonly used on JavaScript. The code will hide elements of a website without permanently deleting them. As a general rule, using display:none will not harm your SEO and will not automatically trigger a penalty, providing you are not trying to hide a long list of keywords. For example, if you are using this technique to hide a seasonal webpage that you do not want to display year-round, your SEO will not be affected.

How to view hidden content on a webpage?

If your website is not performing as you would expect in terms of SEO and you suspect a misinformed web designer may have included hidden content on your website, there are a couple of ways you can decipher if there is hidden content present.

  1. Look for blank areas. If there are blank areas on your website click and highlight them to potentially reveal hidden text.
  2. Open your source code. Open the code of your website and look for content that is hiding in deactivated stretches of page code. Even if you are unfamiliar with code, you should be able to scan the information for unfamiliar content that you do not believe is visible on your website.

What other techniques can harm your SEO?

1. Keyword stuffing

Hands typing on a white keyboardSimilarly to hidden content, keyword stuffing can have a negative effect on SEO as it involves including a high volume of content on your website that offers little value to the reader.

For example, a mechanic in London may be penalised if they include content on their website such as “If you need a mechanic in London we are the mechanic in London you can trust, we have many years of experience being a mechanic in London.” This content is clearly stuffed with keywords without offering any valuable insight or information to the user.

Another form of keyword stuffing can be duplicating content. Learn more about how search engines react to duplicate content in our blog post.

2. Cloaking

Cloaking is another black hat SEO technique that can lower your search engine ranking. Cloaking involves presenting different versions of content to a search crawler and the user of the site. This can be achieved by presenting different content based on the IP address or the User-Agent HTTP header of the individual or bot accessing the page. However, Google bots have been developed to identify this technique and penalise websites that attempt it.

3. Funnelling

Creating pages that appear to answer a specific search query only to funnel a user to an unrelated page is considered a violation of Google’s guidelines and will negatively affect your SEO.

For example, if you run a hair salon in Manchester, and create a webpage targeting customers in London and funnel users back to your webpage for your Manchester salon, it is considered funnelling.

To learn more, check out these useful SEO tips for copywriters so you can avoid using black hat SEO techniques.

How to improve your SEO ranking

We have established that hidden content and other black hat techniques can harm your SEO if you use them in a deceptive or misleading way. This begs the question, what techniques can positively impact your SEO?

Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, revealed in a Q&A in 2016 that in addition to RankBrain, an AI machine learning algorithm Google uses to organise search queries, the top two other factors that affect SEO are content and links.

When pressed for the significance of each factor, Lipattsev answered: “I can tell you what they are. It is content and links pointing to your site…there is no order.”

It, therefore, makes sense to keep quality content and links at the forefront of all SEO content marketing plans and strategies. Many businesses choose to outsource their SEO and content needs to professional content writers. By using a professional writing service, you will be able to publish a steady stream of content that will offer value to your customers and help to improve your SEO without having to resort to hiding content.

Header image: Agence Olloweb on Unsplash

Embedded images: Alizée Baudez on Unsplash, Solen Feyissa on Unsplash, Austin Distel on Unsplash

Alice Starkie

Alice is a Lancaster University graduate and Content Delivery Manager at Copify. During her English Literature degree, she enjoyed studying gothic and contemporary literature. Alice has a particular interest in beauty copywriting and enjoys attending concerts in her spare time.