Google Allows Some Cases of Hiding Text with CSS

Jun 11, 2007 • 8:37 am | comments (6) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization
 

A Google Groups thread asks if it is acceptable in accordance with Google's new webmaster guidelines on Hidden text and links to use CSS as an image replacement technique for graphic links.

Image a site that has images for their navigational links. Now, if you turn CSS off, you will see a new version of the navigation, using standard text version of the links.

Susan Moskwa, one of Google's new Webmaster Central Google Groups support people, said it is acceptable, based on intent.

If your intent is purely to improve the visual user experience (e.g. by replacing some text with a fancier image of that same text), you don't need to worry.

However, if your intent is "to deceive the search engines, we frown on that," said Susan Moskwa. She explained that she spoke with Matt Cutts on this, I guess all new Googlers run some of these questions by Matt, and added, "Matt did say that hiding text moves you a step further towards the gray area."

So if you are hiding text even for non-evil purposes, it does move you closer to the "gray area."

Forum discussion at Google Groups.

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Comments:

greyhound

06/11/2007 03:11 pm

I find it quite helpful to think of "moving closer to the 'gray area'" as "raising your spamminess profile" or, in more google-speak, "lowering your quality score". I think there are two implications of this. First, there's a real risk involved in using any of these "gray" tactics, as it makes sense to me to assume that the scoring is cumulative, and we don't know where the edge is (oh, and the edge may change!). Second, there may be (now, or in the future) some graduated "penalty" (or "downward adjustment") applied based on your score. OK, calling it a penalty is probably grounds for argument. But doesn't it make sense that such a score could be used as part of the ranking algorithm? IMHO, the bottom line is this: we don't know what all of the scoring criteria are, so we don't know what a site's score is. But we have strong hints that things like using CSS to hide text may well count against us and move us closer to an edge that we don't want to be near. Since this *is* something we can control, we should avoid it.

Mike Belasco

06/11/2007 06:41 pm

Very interesting. I have been debating this issue back and forth with myself for a while. This technique if used property can be good for visitors, search engines, and SEOs ;)

Michael VanDeMar

06/11/2007 09:25 pm

<blockquote>IMHO, the bottom line is this: we don't know what all of the scoring criteria are, so we don't know what a site's score is. But we have strong hints that things like using CSS to hide text may well count against us and move us closer to an edge that we don't want to be near. Since this *is* something we can control, we should avoid it.</blockquote> Actually, we have no evidence whatsoever of Google evaluating hidden text algorithmically, and <i>plenty</i> of evidence suggesting otherwise. It appears that these things only come into play during a manual (visual) inspection (as in, if someone reports your for spamming), and in such cases it should be obvious what the intent is. I honestly wouldn't worry about that sort of thing affecting any type of trust or quality scores at this point. There are <i>many</i> valid reasons for doing this.

Matt Cutts

06/11/2007 09:28 pm

I think Susan explained it well. If your logo is "Sunset Pools" and you have the words "sunset pools" and you use something akin to sIFR to show those words with the logo/image off, that will probably be fine. If however you name your business "Matt's Cheap Viagra Online for Discount Buying" or keyword-stuff a bunch of keywords that aren't in the logo, that's a Bad Idea. Personally, I prefer an alt/title tag on an image if you want to be 100% conservative.

Barry Schwartz

06/11/2007 09:38 pm

Thank you Matt. Does "Matt's Cheap Viagra Online for Discount Buying" is a perfectly fine alt tag? ;-) Just kidding.

Michael VanDeMar

06/11/2007 09:49 pm

So Matt, are you confirming the fact that as long as your intentions are not aimed at keyword stuffing or other kinds of misleading tactics, you should be fine? That the algo isn't as blind as "{text-in-place-of-image}==={spam}"?

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