It sure seems like it was... last century or in some sort of "prehistoric age of the web" when website owners or (even worse) SEO “gurus” would pile up their target keywords in the bottom of their web pages, going for white font against white backgrounds or for the all-black shady alternative. This was the “illegitimate” type of hidden content, now just a bad example from the “troubled” past of SEO.
It's the “legitimate” hidden text, instead, that prevails in the digital landscape of the present! That type of content popping up before your site visitors' eyes only once they've made a certain action. More often than not we're talking about clicking on a “Read more” link inserted in your article content.
And it's no trick, no intention to “fool” the visitor, to trick him/her into clicking on that link. Instead, he honestly wants to:
- dig in for some more manufacture details about a certain product
- gain access to extra informative content about a certain topic
- or maybe to some product/service reviews etc.
But now the question that arises is: does Google weight this particular type of content, the legitimately hidden content, any less than the non-hidden one?
We all know it doesn't mark it as spammy and who would be more entitled to ensure us of that if not Google itself, through one of its representatives:
“It’s not deceptive, no one is trying to be manipulative, it’s easy to see that this text is intended for users. And so as long as you’re doing that, I wouldn’t be too stressed out.” (Matt Cutts)
And yet: does “legitimate” or “non-spammy” implicitly mean “valued equally”?
Let's shed some light on this “mystery” here and then allow us to offer you some possible solutions you could consider when you do need to use hidden text, loaded via CSS or JavaSript, on your website, but you still want to make sure Google won't “discredit it”. At least not as much as it will discredit it “by default” (for that's a “cruel” reality that you need to accept and to adapt your site's content and SEO strategy to):
If we all (let's admit it!) have at least some remnants of doubts “lurking” in the back of our minds that hidden text (although legitimate) might not be weighted as high as the visible by default text, why is it such a big “trend” to hide certain parts of our content on our Drupal sites?
Let's point out 3 of the most common reasons:
- it makes a handy tracking method
- it works as an analytics tool, helping you collect user engagement-relevant data
- it can enhance user experience (an otherwise overly long piece of content can thus get shortened and it's the user who decides whether he clicks on the “read more” link and delves deeper into the text or not)
Visible Content By Default vs (Legitimately) Hidden Content from Google's Perspective
Let's assume that:
- on one particular page of your Drupal website you have a fully-visible piece of content (page A)
- on another page you have its shortened version along with the “Read more” link (page B)
The link will, nevertheless, “unveil” the rest of the content on this last page from our example.
So, you're trying to rank for the same keyword on both of them and you have no “guilty” conscience that you might be doing something SEO-forbidden on page B. It's just technically hidden text and the user knows it!
Yet, Google will always treat these two types of content differently! And by “differently” we do mean “preferentially” when it comes to page A!
Just think about it: it has its text fully visible, entirely displayed, along with that target keyword that you're ranking for.
Instead, on page B, your keyword might appear a couple of times precisely on the hidden part of its content which, obviously, gets disadvantaged by Google.
Try and figure it out for yourself whether it's worth the compromise! A nice, minimalistic web page (with less heavy content) can also mean a poorly ranked one in Google.
And, surprisingly enough, this “injustice” only happens in Google! Bing and Yahoo do treat legitimately hidden and non-hidden text equally!
But What if We Still Need to Use Hidden Content? Are There Any Safe Practices?
What options do they have to strike this “compromise” without harming your online presence? Your company's whole SEO strategy?
Here are 2 best practices to consider:
- A brief, easy to close overlay always makes such an “innocent” little compromise (it won't harm your SEO plan and it still manages to carry out the “mission” that it will have gotten charged with: to hide a certain part of your text). Take it as engagement statistics 'collector”, too, as more than 90% of your visitors will rush in to click the “x” on your overlay before they rush in to scroll down.
- Consider placing the most “valuable” elements of your content (keywords, key phrases, key information), the ones that weight heavily in determining your site's ranking, in the non-hidden section of your text. Don't “sabotage” yourself by sprinkling these crucial elements across the post-loading content.
In other words: if you do need to hide some of your text, don't hide the key ranking “boosters” and, also, consider going for an overlay element.
Just that it will be slightly disregarded and not equally ranked !
Now it's you who'll decide whether this compromise, although supported by the 2 aforementioned SEO best practices, is worth “sacrificing” your site's Google rank!