Hidden Keywords

by Benjamin Williams


Posted on 16th March 2015


Would you believe me if I said that there was still a surprising number of sites around that still use hidden keywords to climb up the Google ladder? Some people might. Others will likely claim that no one would still use this method, but they'd be wrong.

I was asked to look at a site recently (won't name any names as that wouldn't be fair) to see what I would do to improve it. First thing I noticed was the huge amount of hidden keywords, all a nice maroon colour on the same coloured background. When asked why, it was the usual "to get up onto the first page of Google". And it was working, so it's no wonder he was doing it. But this would only be a short term fix, and long term just would not work out at all - if anything long term could be disastrous.

So what did I tell them?

Hidden keywords can not only have a damaging effect with search results, but also user experience. When users search for certain keywords or phrases and end up on your site, they want to see those keywords on the page in a useful format – so that they know why they’ve landed on that page. Hidden text and keyword stuffing often make for a poor user experience for a user coming in from Google. This is why Google take a stance on this issue. It's a shame really that the tactic still works short term as it still makes people believe that this is a good SEO tactic.

Another problem with hidden text is that it can often be seen as spam. Using hidden text to get high rankings simply should not be done. By using keywords in hidden text, you will only be able to trick search engines for a limited amount of time. Anything that hides text from a browser, but still in the body of the document will be indexed by search engine spiders, but the use of hidden text can cause search engines to permanently ban your website.

Years ago this was a very popular method of getting visitors, but as some people overused this approach (to the point of abusing the system), search engines took action to stop this kind of search spam. Every major search engine now considers hidden text to be search spam. Most search engines can now detect the use of hidden text, whether it’s using the same font and background colour, moving the text off screen, setting the font size to 0 or setting the visibility to hidden – and they often remove offending pages from their database or lower a sites positioning when their spiders detect it.

Sometimes hidden text is good.

Not all hidden text is bad though, as sometimes it is necessary. Screen readers for example use hidden text for descriptions on Javascript used, what part of a site is a menu, etc. Search engines are constantly evolving and most can tell the difference between what’s meant to be hidden and what’s considered search spam/keyword stuffing.

What is keyword stuffing?

"Keyword stuffing" refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site's ranking in Google search results. Often these keywords appear in a list or group, or out of context (not as natural prose). Filling pages with keywords or numbers results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site's ranking. Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.

Examples of keyword stuffing include:

  • Lists of phone numbers without substantial added value.
  • Blocks of text listing cities and states a webpage is trying to rank for.
  • Repeating the same words or phrases so often that it sounds unnatural.

The above is the simplest way to describe keyword stuffing. Text with no added value and repeating words of phrases in an unnatural way.

Using keyword properly.

To use keywords properly is to create rich, engaging content. Quality content is the number one driver for search engine rankings – there is no substitute for great content. Quality content created specifically for your intended user increases search traffic, which in turn improves your sites authority and relevance in search results.

Identify a keyword phrase for each page, think about how your reader might search for that specific page and occasionally repeat this phrase throughout the page, within meaningful content. 

Conclusion.

Is the short term benefits worth the risk of disappearing off search engines completely?

A users experience needs to be considered as well, as well as any users that need to use a screen reader - imagine how difficult is must already be to use the internet when you're visually impaired, then imagine it reading through a page of hidden text. You'd be lost, the site would make no sense at all.

A lot of people will have been on forums or had emails where they are stuffed with phrases that make no sense at all - generally referred to as spam. How is that any different to hiding keywords on a website? Apart from not linking to more spam, there's no difference at all.

Hidden keywords are a thing of the past, and rightly so. The sooner everyone moves away from this technique, the better.