Hidden content on a web page is considered to be a spam tactic because it is meant to manipulate the ranking algorithm of search engines, primarily Google. So, if a given web page has hidden content or text on it that is hidden from the users, then Google has every right to penalize the page.
Why webmasters use hidden content on web pages ?
Webmasters use hidden content on web pages to show only the conversion-optimized part of the content to the users and the keyword-rich text part to the search engines, and their goal is to maximize the chance of making sales without doing any harm to the search engine ranking.
So, the webmaster basically creates one type of the web page content for the users that only the target users will see, and creates some text only for the search engine that is hidden from the users. The users will only see the content that encourages them to engage in some activities like clicking on affiliate links to make purchases etc.
The unethical ways of using hidden text on web pages
Webmasters have been using many different ways of hiding text on web pages, out of which we will know the most common ways in the following few points.
The most popular way of using hidden text on web pages is cloaking, in which webmasters identify the search engines and show them different content.
Another common way of using hidden text on a web page is by using white font color on a white background of the page. This allows the text to be only visible to search engine crawlers, and not the actual human users. The same text is repeated at the bottom of the page to let search engines read it and rank the web page.
Some webmasters or in other words spammers create web pages and put the content to the extreme right that is almost invisible to the site visitors as it doesnâ€™t displace on the screen.
Another unethical way of using hidden text on a web page is by positioning an image over the text.
Why hidden text is spammy ?
Hiding text from the users is a spammy tactic because the intention is to improve the click-through rate of the main target page from the spam page, and facilitate the process of conversion. On the spam page the webmaster shows a â€œproduct for saleâ€ Ad or link or anything like that and then sends the users to some other page to make the purchase.
Search engines say, â€œIf this is not spam, what is?â€
Penalty for spammy hidden text
Once Google finds that a web page has published hidden text, it might decide to apply a manual action to the page. A manual action or manual penalty is the penalty issued against a particular site or a page when someone at Google reviews the site and finds that it is engaged in activities or tactics that violate Googleâ€™s guidelines.
Once web pages started receiving manual penalties from search engines, webmasters did some research and started recovering from the penalties by applying other different ways of hidden text tactics. Some even stopped hiding text and content from the users, and restrained from cloaking that basically involves creating conversion-optimized sales pages for the users and only search engine-friendly pages for search engine ranking.
Hidden text and Hidden tabbed content
Hidden text is considered to be a spammy tactic to increase conversions without doing any harm to the search engine ranking. This is why there are search engine penalties for sites engaging in hidden text tactics. However, the hidden text penalties are a bit confusing for many website owners and webmasters.
Actually, there are a ton of sites that are engaged in creating content that is hidden behind a tab, and readers can see the content only after clicking on the tab. This is called the hidden tabbed content strategy, which is different from the hidden text strategy.
There is a big difference between Hidden tabbed content and Hidden text. In case of hidden tabbed content the users can see a signal on the web page that tells them that there is more content and how to get to that remaining part of the content. The signal usually is a link with â€œRead moreâ€ or â€œView moreâ€ text.
According to search engines the content is not visible to the users at the first glance, but itâ€™s not hidden from the readers either, so itâ€™s not considered as a spammy tactic. The page visitors can see the content and the page itself gives clear instructions to the visitors how to view the content â€“ so all good!
Content that page visitors cannot access is problematic. Hidden text is not accessible, but hidden tabbed content is accessible by the visitors. This is why hidden tabbed content is a legitimate strategy.
How to use hidden content in the Google-approved way ?
According to Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes, there is absolutely no problem with tabbed content. In 2016, he confirmed that Google is able to index content that is hidden behind a tab, so using the hidden tabbed content strategy, as of now, is a fine strategy approved by search engines. You can use this Google-approved way of hidden tabbed content to your advantage without any worry or fear of getting penalized by Google, as long as you are not involved in any other spammy tactics.
Google has been treating the hidden tabbed content that needs clicking as a legitimate strategy since 2013.
Hidden content boosts SEO performance
In a way, hidden content can actually boost SEO performance and search engine ranking of web pages. I will explain how. Itâ€™s true that Google wants to rank the web pages that are liked by the users the most within a given niche. Since people are using their mobile devices more than desktop devices these days itâ€™s ideally not good or relevant to show all of the content on a smaller screen, so using the hidden content strategy actually improves the user experience on mobile users.
Web pages with improved user experience are the ones search engines always want to rank. In turn, the SEO performance improves.
Showing some part of the content and adding a â€˜read moreâ€™ or â€˜view moreâ€™ to allow the users to view the rest of the content actually makes the page look less cluttered because nobody likes to stay on a page that is loaded with bulky text. So hiding content can allow the webmaster to add images and video elements to the page to balance things out. Ideal content should have text, images, links and video(s). If webmasters can accomplish that by hiding some part of the content behind a tab, then that helps boost the user experience, and thatâ€™s a great way of boosting the SEO performance as well.
Therefore, hidden tabbed content has an SEO benefit, whether direct or indirect.
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