Using CSS To Hide Text: Search Engine Responses

Dec 18, 2006 • 7:42 am | comments (7) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Search & Web SEO Spam
 

A WebmasterWorld sparked this post from me. At SES Chicago '06, during a session named CSS, AJAX, Web 2.0 & Search Engines the search engine representatives were asked about how they handle CSS.

It is currently easy to hide text using CSS, everyone knows it. But do people do it?

Back to the SES session, on this panel were search engine reps. Many of the search reps were new to conferences and were not necessarily prepared to get certain questions. It all started when a Yahoo representative told the crowd to open up your CSS so Yahoo can peak into it. Then Google said they will also be indexing JavaScript and AJAX and CSS, so don't use it to hack.

Now, if you know Yahoo! and specifically Google, they typically will never say that they will be doing anything in the future. They typically first do and then tell, but not tell and then do.

All the search engines, except for one, I believe (but I forgot if it was Ask.com or MSN) said that you should not block your CSS and JavaScript files from the search engines using your robots.txt, just in case they want to take a peak.

I am honestly still confused by that statement. Well, if we block it, will it raise a red flag? If it raises a red flag, will you manually peak? Are you going to algorithmically crawl those files and look for problems if we keep them accessible to you? If we format something a certain way, but it may appear like spam, but in reality it is not, will an automated ban come on the site?

Personally, I am not worried. But these types of responses, by the search engines, can fuel a lot of questions and unnecessary worries.

As pageoneresults says in the WebmasterWorld thread:

Google has a hard enough time now dealing with html/xhtml. Parsing CSS files and determining whether something is hidden or not is not a solution. Now the bot would need to determine why that CSS exists. There are many valid uses of display:none or display:hidden.

For those who may be hiding things through CSS or negatively positioning content off screen to manipulate page content, I surely wouldn't do that with any long term projects. ;)

The penalty for getting busted using this technique I would imagine is a permanent ban. No if's, and's, or but's, you're history. You'll need a pardon from the Governor to be reconsidered for inclusion. ;)

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.

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Comments:

SEarch EngineS WeB

12/18/2006 01:16 pm

Less we forget - there are millions fo webpages that hide text via CSS - because they are using dynamic menus - or even an expanded text section (click here for more information) For the extremely paranoid, there is, however, one sure fire way to avoid detection - similar to what YouTube does)

Douglas Karr

12/18/2006 02:19 pm

Utilizing CSS to hide text is not always used for nefarious reasons. I use it on http://www.payraisecalculator.com to hide text that is utilized only for a print view of the page. Trying to decipher whether or not display:none is being used for black hat SEO is a slippery slope. Regards, Doug

Dimitris Maniatis

12/18/2006 02:37 pm

I am not sure I understand what the added benefit of using CSS to hide text is though. Or even why this would be considered a black-hat technique. It seems to me that the important factor in that would be the contents of the hidden text and not the fact that it is hidden. Any thoughts?

Barry Schwartz

12/18/2006 02:41 pm

Douglas, that is my point.

Michael Martinez

12/18/2006 04:09 pm

They have been retrieving Javascript and CSS files for years. It should not be assumed they are just getting started.

Barry Schwartz

12/18/2006 04:12 pm

Michael, that was not the point of the article.

Michael Martinez

12/19/2006 12:04 am

Michael wrote: "They have been retrieving Javascript and CSS files for years. It should not be assumed they are just getting started." Barry wrote: "Michael, that was not the point of the article." Barry, I was actually responding to Doug's comment: "Trying to decipher whether or not display:none is being used for black hat SEO is a slippery slope." Given the context you provided, specifically where you wrote: "...It all started when a Yahoo representative told the crowd to open up your CSS so Yahoo can peak into it. Then Google said they will also be indexing JavaScript and AJAX and CSS, so don't use it to hack." So, it looked to me like people in the SEO community are looking at this issue as if the search engines are only just in the early phases of looking at the problems. Since we know they have been crawling these files for years, it's better to guess they've been accumulating data on how to distinguish between good and bad techniques for some time. It's like OnMouseOver. I tell people I feel uncomfortable when I see it on a page because it's been abused so much, but the search engines seem to be capable of distinguishing between (say) menu navigation and hidden links. They've had time to work on that, however. I think they've had time to work on other issues, too.

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