How Does Google Treat Hidden Text?

Brendan Egan

How Does Google Treat Hidden Text?

Today we’re going to take a look at how Google treats hidden text on a page, some do’s and don’ts when it comes to hiding text, and what types of things will definitely get you in trouble when it comes to hidden text.
First off, you may be thinking to yourself “why would I want to hide text? Isn’t the purpose of putting text on a page so someone can read it?”  and while this is certainly true, there are several reasons why you may want to hide text, including:

  • To Improve Design: Some web designers prefer a clean, simple look.  However with a clean and simple look it can often be difficult to get text on the page, so hiding text within accordions is a good way to have clean design while still providing great content.
  • To Improve Usability: We’ve all seen tabs on a product page with reviews, additional specifications, and other information.  It improves usability by organizing information properly and showing the user the most important information first, with secondary information readily available if they want it.
  • For Responsive Design: It’s often helpful to have text hidden by tabs, accordions, and other methods for mobile and tablet versions of websites where screen space is much more limited than on a desktop.

All of these reasons are legitimate reasons to hide text on your website which enhance the value your website adds to the web.   As long as they are coded properly and setup properly, search engines like Google won’t have any issue with reading this content and understanding why you decided to hide the content.  The content will have a similar value hidden using a legitimate method than it would if it were simply placed on the page (Straight on the page content is always the safest way to ensure search engines give you full credit for that content, however).
With these legitimate reasons in mind, there are also numerous reasons why someone may want to hide content that isn’t legitimate.  The unfortunate thing is that as business owners, many of you don’t know how to identify if your web design or marketing firm is 1) legitimately hiding content or doing it to manipulate search results and 2) if a legitimate hidden piece of content is coded properly so a search engine can read it and won’t penalize your site for it.  Here’s some typical things that search engines may penalize your site for and things you should ensure don’t exist on your site:

  • Keyword Stuffing: If you find accordions, tabs, or other hidden content that has your keywords repeated over and over, a listing of zip codes or cities to try and rank in those areas, or other repeated use of content that otherwise has no value to site visitors, then you may want to watch out as search engines will likely identify this as keyword stuffing and hold it against your site.  In these cases, it isn’t so much the method used to hide the text rather it’s the contents of the actual hidden text that can harm you.
  • Truly Hidden Text: Truly hidden text would be white text that appears on a white background, black text on a black background, and so on.  This text is not visible at all to the naked eye, however in the page source and coding the text appears and is read by search engines.  Search engines are smart to this as this is one of the oldest tricks in the books, however unfortunately many business owners don’t even know if their unethical marketing firm is doing this as they can’t see the text.  A good way to try and find this is to press “CTRL + A” on a page which will highlight the entire page, revealing any hidden text.
  • Malicious Coding: There are certain hidden text codes which are only utilized to game search engines.  These codes include scripts that show one set of text to a site visitor and another set of text to search engines, codes which take site visitors to separate hidden text and search engines to different text, and codes which completely hide certain text on the page from visitors and only feed it to search engines.  Google is smart to most of these codes, and will eventually penalize your site for trying to artificially manipulate search results through this content.

The bottom line is Google understands website owners have legitimate reasons to hide text and content within their site, and as long as you’re doing this in an ethical manner which is properly coded and done to improve usability, then Google will be okay with it.  As soon as you start hiding text specifically to improve search results or game search engines, you’re entering into an area where Google will likely either ignore that text and negate the effects of placing it or may even penalize your site for having that text placed in a manner which violates their terms of service.
If you’re unsure whether or not your hidden text is done properly and effecting you search results, contact us for a site audit and we’ll be able to identify if hidden text is impacting your search engine rankings.