Hidden content refers to content that is on a web page but cannot be seen by visitors because it is only found in the code of the page.
Hidden content refers to content and links on a website that are found in the source code but remain invisible to the user. However, search engines can still detect this hidden content. The deliberate use of hidden content filled with relevant keywords is seen by search engine operators as manipulation of search results. Therefore, hidden content belongs in the area of black hat SEO or webspam.
Hidden content in practice
Hidden content is used in practice in various forms:
- Manipulate font properties: To make certain content invisible to readers, you can set the font size to 0. This works with the help of CSS. The font color can also be adjusted to the background color.
- Hide CSS elements: If you hide the CSS elements, the content also becomes invisible and thus hidden content. This works by setting the commands ,,visibility: hidden” or ,,display: none”.
- Manipulate images: Additionally, you can hide content behind images.
- Hide links: You can hide links by using special characters, for example. In this case they should only appear in the source code and not in the frontend.
The application of hidden content in SEO
In the early days of search engines and SEO in the mid-1990s, people simply placed relevant keywords hidden on web pages. This way, the crawlers of the search engines got the sufficient number of keywords without having to do any actual optimization of the content.
The combination with keyword stuffing was particularly promising. In the meantime, however, the crawlers of the search engines are capable of recognizing when keywords are merely hidden on a page.
Penalties for Hidden Content
The use of hidden content violates the webmaster guidelines of search engine operators such as Google, Yahoo and Bing. In its Google Webmaster Guidelines, the provider has included a very specific guideline under the title “Hidden Text and Hidden Links”.
If you hide content on your web pages, this can result in a Google Penalty – or in the worst case even an exclusion from the index.
Good to know: You shouldn’t risk that under any circumstances! Once you’ve been excluded from the index, you’ll have to do an extreme amount of cleanup and prove to Google & Co. that you’ve learned from it in order to get back in the index.
What hidden content is allowed?
Since websites are basically optimized for users and not for search engines, as a webmaster you should ask yourself whether your optimization strategies also benefit the visitors to your site. Even though text elements can significantly change the design of a website, web designers and SEOs should work together to find a solution to accommodate text on the page as well as images.
You have minimal optimization possibilities, for example, by using the ALT attributes of the images to describe the image with relevant keywords. You can also use the title tags of the images to position target-oriented information for the users as well as important keywords.
However, you should avoid the mass use of keywords or keyword combinations before the crawlers interpret this as keyword stuffing.
To optimize the look of a web page, you can also work with mouseover texts as well as buttons to show and hide texts. However, it is always recommended to place as much visible text “above the fold” as possible.
Tracking pixels can be used to track user behavior. In a narrower sense, this also includes content that is not visible on the website. Crawlers recognize these as pixels and do not interpret them as manipulation.
There is also the possibility of “hidden content” if a website is designed in Responsive Design and, for example, certain content blocks are hidden in the view for mobile devices such as smartphones. This type of hidden content does not result in any penalties, however, because it is conducive to usability and the content is displayed depending on the screen size of the output device. According to this, content is in principle not “hidden” in order to manipulate the search engines.
Hidden content is considered black hat SEO. Because Google and Co. are constantly improving their search algorithms and thus are better and better at detecting hidden content of any kind, it is not advisable to use this method to artificially improve your ranking.
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