Hidden Text

 

Some people find it desirable to include text in a doorway page (or any other page, including a site's home page) that is intended to be read by search engines but not by surfers. This is generally termed hidden text. The reasoning is generally, "I need to get lots of keywords on this page, but I don't want my visitors to see all that text." Hence, hidden text is often a mass of keyword-stuffing and repetition.

One way of hiding text is to make the text the same color as the background color. Unfortunately, most search engines are well aware of this tactic and penalize it if found. Matching the text to the background color is a method to avoid completely.

Some individuals who believe they are more clever use a background color or a background image that is a little different from the text color. E.g. black text on a dark blue background, or against a dark-colored image. This may make automated detection slightly more difficult, but, as Google senior engineer Matt Cutts writes, it's still hidden text.

Hiding Text with CSS

Cascading style sheets (CSS) gave webmasters new tools to hide text from human visitors. Setting the display property to "none", for example, lets the text exist in the code without appearing on the page that browsers see. A slightly more advanced technique is to place the content "off the screen" using absolute positioning in CSS. I.e., the text is "displayed", but it is in a place where it won't appear on the user's monitor.

Tiny Hidden Text

Another scheme for hiding text is to use really, really small fonts. The user might not notice that the "gray lines" at the bottom of the page are really type. Initially, this was done with HTML font tags, but that was too easy for search engines to spot automatically. Later variations used CSS to shrink the type.

Regardless of how well hidden text has been camouflaged, it is still easy enough for human visitors to spot, particularly one's competitors. Since most search engines provide text snippets in their search results, they may well display the hidden text for all searchers to see. A random surfer might not notice, but a fellow webmaster will surely wonder where the text in the snippet is, and a quick glance at the page source code will reveal all. It's a short trip from there to being reported and penalized.

In general, professional SEOs today advise against any crude text hiding - the risk of being penalized simply isn't worth the marginal benefit of some additional keyword stuffing. See also hidden links.

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