Hidden Text in Websites

Most search engines consider hidden text to be spam — but there are several kinds of hidden text, and Web designers use some kinds of hidden text for legitimate reasons that have nothing to do with fooling a search engine into giving the site a high rating. How do you know if you’re courting a permanent ban? Burhan Khan explains the different types of hidden text, and how they are treated by the search engines.

We often talk about “hidden text,” but in reality what is hidden text? Hidden text is also known as “invisible text” or “fake text.” Hidden text is often used for spamming the search engines. But many smart search engines, such as Google can detect the use of hidden text. To give a simple definition, hidden text is text on a Web page which is visible to search engine spiders but not visible to human visitors.

You should not use hidden text to get high ranking in search engines. By hiding keywords in hidden text, you may be able to trick the search engines for a limited amount of time. Anything that hides text from a browser, but is still in the body of the document, will be indexed by the search engine spiders. But the use of hidden text can cause search engines to permanently ban your website.

Some years ago, search engine optimization consisted of putting a group of phrases together with as many repetitions as possible to make up a keyword tag and, if necessary, putting the same text in a hidden form at the bottom of the pages. This was a very easy method of getting visitors, but some people overused this approach, to the point of abusing the system. Because of this abuse, search engines took action to stop this kind of search spam. The effect of this is that the actual keyword tag is virtually useless now, and hidden text is likely to get your site banned from the search engines instead of helping it! 

 

There are many kind of text that are considered to be hidden text (spam). Some of them may be created by spammers. Innocent Web designers might use this kind of text by mistake, however. The following types of text should be avoided. 

Color matching  

The simplest method that spammers use to create hidden text is to make the font the same color as the background. Search engines can easily detect this type of hidden text.

Below is an example in which the background color is black bgcolor=”#000000″ and the font color is black <font color=”#000000″> this is hidden text</font>. Just double click on the black rectangle to see the text:  

this is hidden text this is hidden text this is hidden text this is hidden text

 

Often, spammers also consider background images. They will set the image color to be the same as the font color. This is a little harder to detect. 

Software can easily detect hidden text created by using the color matching scheme. Humans can also detect it, by selecting all or highlighting the whole page. In Internet Explorer we can use Edit > Select All or press Ctrl+A to highlight the entire page. Highlighting all the text will change the text’s color so that it no longer matches the background color. Another way to detect hidden text in Internet Explorer is to double click to select a word, and triple click to select a complete paragraph.  

Using Div to hide text 

If you use Div, then putting text in that Division and setting Div style to “display: none” will hide the whole Div, including all of the text it contains. Some SEOs consider it hidden text; others don’t, because the technique is mostly used in creating menus. It is also difficult to detect because it uses style sheets. Unlike color matching, the hidden text cannot be revealed by highlighting the whole page. 

<div style=”display: none”>This is hidden text</div>  

One more property of Division is Position, and this can be used to hide text from the browser and user . You can set Division position absolutely, or relatively. Using absolute positioning, you can simply position the text you wish to hide any number of pixels off the screen to the left of the window. Here is some example code:  

<div style=”position: absolute; left: -500px”>This is hidden text</div>  

By using this method, Division will be positioned -500 pixels left, and this area is out of the boundaries of browser’s viewable area. It will not appear on the screen. 

Another property of style sheets is visibility. Spammers, for example, might set visibility to hidden. This command can cause the browser to keep the text in Div hidden. 

<div style=”visibility: hidden”>This is hidden text</div>  

Another way to hide text from the user is to put text in the  Back or Front layer instead of the immediately visible layer. The third dimension of viewable screen is the Z-index. The first two dimensions are (X) and (Y), which indicate “left to right” and “up to down” respectively. The Z-index indicates “back to front” for layers of Web pages. Using the Z-index, Web designers can hide text in the previous layer. 

These methods are also used in creating of menus or navigation bars in websites, so search engines index them. But most people think it is a spamming technique. If you have used this technique and are concerned about whether Google has indexed your site, here is what you can do to find out:

  1. Search for a string of text that is very unusual in your site that includes the text you have in your navigation bar within quotation marks “” and see if Google has it.

  2. Search in the search engine for the specific files that contain these types of hidden text, and see if the search engine has indexed it or not.



This does not necessarily mean that they will give it a value in terms of rankings — but at least you know it’s in there and can do some other tests later!   

Use of a separate style sheet file

Some spammers consider using a separate style sheet file. Since style sheets are now readable by most of the Web browsers in use today, many webmasters who would never consider using HTML font code to hide text are back in the spam game, hoping that search engines cannot read style sheets and automatically detect invisible or hidden text. While Google and other search engines have already done many updates to their algorithms to improve search quality, they are also working hard on automated detection algorithms for various classes of search engine spam. 

Noscript tags

Noscript tags can help us to hide the text in a tag and only display it when the user’s browser will not view scripts. This technique can be used to gain ranking, but text hidden in noscript tags carries much less value than normal text.

 

The idea of loading a Web page with keywords can be bad for the visitor but it can improve page ranking in the search engine results. This technique actually worked on the first generation of search engines. It was heavily exploited by the adult entertainment industry, however, which forced search tools to punish users of hidden text. Today, every major search engine considers hidden text to be search spam. Many search engines can now detect the use of hidden text, and often remove offending pages from their database or lower a site’s positioning when their spiders detect it. Using hidden text is a good way to get your site blacklisted. 

In the search engine world, spam is defined as the manipulation of a Web page to give it an artificial boost in the search engine rankings. Generally, search engines themselves define what they consider to be search spam — so spam is whatever the search engines say it is. Each of the major search engines provide specific guidelines describing what webmasters should and should not do to their Web pages in order to achieve a better search engine ranking.

Google’s guidelines can be found here: 

http://www.google.com/webmasters/guidelines.html

Check here for Yahoo’s guidelines:

http://help.yahoo.com/help/us/ysearch/deletions/index.html

If you want to tell Google about a site that uses hidden text or doorway pages to get a high ranking, you can submit a spam report to Google here: 

http://www.google.com/contact/spamreport.html

In this link, Google openly states that “ “Trying to deceive (spam) our web crawler by means of hidden text, deceptive cloaking or doorway pages compromises the quality of our results and degrades the search experience for everyone. We think that’s a bad thing.”

There are a number of free ways to market and advertise your site. The biggest way to market your site is through the search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN). Depending in part on the professionalism of the company you choose, your Web design company may submit your site as part of their services – but most designers don’t build your website with the correct important internal components needed for high rankings in search engines, such as meta tags. You may have a great looking site, but if it doesn’t even show up in the search engines, you lose a huge source of free marketing. 

Some Internet market methods can get your website blacklisted. There are a few ways to get high rankings, but some marketing companies use cheating methods such as hidden text to get you there. Search engine computers and software have become smarter, and will disregard a site found practicing these methods. 

You should use professional Web designers in order to get a good looking and high ranking website. Professional Web designers know more about the code that appeals to search engines. These include meta tags, keywords on each page, limited use of Flash and hidden text, screen tips for pictures, input Alt tags, heading tags for special text, links, and specific title text. Search engines and directories like Google or Yahoo read these tags, words, and phrases, and then your URL is placed on their lists. The better it’s done, the higher your rankings. AA professional Web designer usually needs time to learn this information; choose someone with significant experience in this field. 

Conclusion 

Search engines consider hidden text to be spam. Instead of looking for ways to cheat the search engines, webmasters should be looking for ways to improve their content and their site’s usability, and seek back links. Those will all improve their rankings and their users’ happiness with their site. By doing these and some other detailed techniques you should rank quite well. But just remember, you will not score a high ranking overnight; it takes time and serious work.  

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