Learning More About Hidden Texts And How Not To Get Banned - Semalt Safety Tips
Having hidden texts on your page to manipulate Google's algorithm is one sure way to get your website penalized. However, there are certain instances where contents or texts needs to be hidden. Google understands this and has made it possible for webpages to hide contents only under special conditions.
Hiding texts from users and showing it to only search engines is an old spamming technique. Today, however, there are more than enough reasons to hide content in a way that follows Google guidelines.
This has several SEO benefits, such as:
- Increased popularity
- An increased number of crawled pages
- Increased user engagement
What are hidden texts?
The most common definition of hidden texts you will find is that it's a spamming technique used in the early years of search engines. Back then, search engines relied on simple text matching algorithms to provide answers to search queries.
To deceive the search engine algorithm, the site would publish content for a site visitor and hide texts from search algorithms. These hidden texts are designed for ranking purposes, and many times, they are packed full of keywords. This allows such websites to create long essays for search engines while users or consumers receive a conversion-optimized web page. If it were a normal situation, such pages might not be indexed, not to imagine them ranking.
The point of all this is to show users' contents that prompts them to click an affiliate link and make purchases. Another objective of this scheme was to show search engine contents that they like to see to help such pages rank better when, in reality, they weren't that good.
Now hiding content doesn't make you a criminal, so if you know someone hiding content, don't be quick to call them scammers. Fortunately enough, there are ethical ways to hide content on a webpage. By content, we're referring to the text, images, videos, etc. to pull this off - however, it is important to understand how this affects the mobile web layout and maintaining your UI.
How can a web page hide texts?
Now there are two major branches to hide content. There is the ethical and approved way, and there's the not so great way.
First, we will be discussing the wrong way to hide content.
The "Spammy" way texts were hidden
There are many ways to hide texts. One of the most common ways is by manipulating the font type and color. For example, a web page uses a white font color on a white background and puts the text at the bottom of the page. Other programmers designed the content to appear on the far right of the screen where no one will spot them.
Another method was to carefully place an image over texts, therefore hiding the text. The objective of these schemes was to make the content invisible to site visitors who would have to look extra hard before they can see such contents.
However, all the methods mentioned above were considered underdogs to "the most sophisticated" content hiding methods known as cloaking.
Cloaking involves identifying search engines and showing them different content hence its name cloaking. The name cloaking suggests that it was a method probably gotten from one of the science fiction movies where cloaking technology was used to make a person or space ship invisible to others.
Similarly, content cloaking technology-enabled search engine spammers to show a page's content to search engines but hide them from site visitors. It was a code that could distinguish between a search engine and a user. If the script defined a visit as a search engine based, it would present a different page to get indexed. Such pages were highly optimized for ranking, but they would be of little or no use to the user (unsuspecting internet users).
Things got so bad that there was no place in the HTML code that texts couldn't be hidden. Programmers started placing these texts in image alt attributes and started using infinitesimal font sizes at the bottom of the page. For example:
Texts were written as in tiny fonts. It's obvious you had no idea what was written there. To make it more difficult and less obvious, the font color could then be changed like these fonts. At this point, you wouldn't even realize that there was a word or a string of keywords written.
Texts could also be hidden in comment tags, in which search engines have a reputation of not indexing or reading.
As ridiculous as several of these techniques sound, all a website needs are one or two affiliate site SEOs to say it works, and several thousand websites began practicing.
What makes hidden texts spammy?
The main reason why some websites still use hidden texts is that it's a very effective tool in improving CTR from the spam page to another page where consumers can find the information they need or make a purchase. This is like a bait and switch. Instead of switching a product for another, this method offers products for sale and sends the consumer to a new webpage to buy these products.
So when a consumer clicks from SERP, they are faced with a web page specially designed to optimize for conversions. On the highly optimized page, users click on a new link that takes them to the website with the actual products they hope to purchase. Chances are it's a real purchasing site that hasn't met the requirements to rank. So to get the traffic, they need to show a different page to search engine algorithms.
This is where cloaking comes in.
At this point, the content they have cloaked could have been a real web page in the past, which had real links pointing to the webpage, therefore increasing its chances of getting ranked. This way, search engines follow the inbound link in the cloaked content, find the old content, and rank it. Site visitors, on the other hand, will see a regular webpage with conversion-optimized content.
In the end, this was an excellent strategy to improve sales and clicks for websites.
What are the penalties for unethical hidden texts?
Webpages who still use hidden texts unethically are still in the crosshairs with Google. These websites are in danger of receiving a manual action from Google. This means someone at Google would review a site and judge whether it violates Google's guidelines.
Is there a difference between hidden text and Hidden tabbed content?
Yes, there is. It can be confusing for many website owners. Many owners panic when they realize that they feature content that's hidden behind a tab where users have to click to be able to view such content. Well, you can have a glass of water to calm your nerves: your site is safe. There is a difference between hidden texts and contents hidden behind a tab.
The main difference is that a web page offers a visible signal to users that there's more content behind the tab, and they show users how to access this information. Phrases such as "read more" are some of the common prompts to users. In such cases, you wouldn't say the content is hidden even if it isn't presently visible.
How can content be hidden without violating Google's guidelines?
It is important that users see what search engine algorithms see. This helps Google provide the best versions of websites to their audience. Google has used this method to improve their search engine for years, and Google continues to affirm that nothing has changed with how it handles hidden contents.
Hiding contents behind tabs has been a safe way to hide texts since 2013, and you do not need to panic. Google's webmaster trends analyst Gary Illyes has also confirmed that having tabbed content is perfectly fine. In fact, in 2016, he also confirmed that Google indexed such contents without devaluing its essence in any form.
However, evidence points to the fact that this is the only form of hidden content Google tolerates.
Why is it important to use hidden content for SEO?
Using hidden content can be beneficial because many of today's website visitors use mobile devices to read the content.
This creates a new challenge, especially when presenting content on a smaller screen while maintaining a good user experience. With a small surface area and larger contents, every opportunity to squeeze more information on the screen must be taken. Hiding contents behind tabs make the web page more organized, and users feel better using the site.
Hidden texts, when done correctly, can maximize the amount of content shown on a small device, which helps increase the amount of content that search engines find to index. A less clustered web page also means users can easily navigate the website and go through the contents without significant obstructions. Because Google is transitioning to a mobile-oriented search engine, this is something every website should consider having on its webpages.
Check out our other useful SEO tips on the Semalt blog.