A common question that is asked of many SEO specialists is “Can I use hidden text on my website and if I do will I get penalised by Google?” In his latest video Matt Cutts, Head of Google’s anti-spam team, has said that hidden text in itself will not cause problems, it is the context in which the text is being used that will influence whether a penalty is applied or not.
Matt correctly points out that nowadays on the World Wide Web it is common for pages to include all sorts of hidden text. If you think about a product page then you might have different buttons that when clicked will reveal text for sections such as technical details, reviews, delivery options. Matt says that as long as you are just using AJAX within your site to create a cleaner user experience then you should not have any problems. He then gives an example of the sort of page that would have a problem. In his example he talks about a site that has a very small button that is not visible to a human user that would hide a huge amount of text that has been deliberately filled with keywords. The text is designed to increase Google rankings rather than provide a better experience for users.
I think that this is particularly pertinent to the mobile web. I recently built a website for Yoga in Cheshire and one of my primary concerns with the site was the navigation on mobile devices. The site contains 20 links on the main menu and I did not like the thought of just presenting the menu as a vertical list to smartphone users as this would mean that they would have to scroll a long way to reach the page content. The solution I eventually used was to have a menu button that displays when users access the website via a smartphone, when the button is clicked then the menu appears, but it is hidden until the button is clicked so that users of the site get the best possible experience. This is one of the benefits of adopting a responsive web design for your website you provide the best possible experience for users and the better the user experience is the longer they will stay on your site. Since the new site went live there has been a noticeable increase in both the number of pages viewed and the amount of time spent on the site by mobile users.
I did have a concern regarding whether the fact that the menu was hidden at times would have an impact on the Yoga in Cheshire’s high rankings on Google. However this has not so far been in the case and I do not expect the site to be impacted by this menu in light of Matt’s words.
As I will say over and over again if you are designing your site with users in mind then you are unlikely to be penalised by Google. That is not to say that you should not still consider search engine optimisation when you are having your site built, ignoring SEO is likely to lead to other problems. One problem that you do not need to particularly concern yourself with is whether that piece of hidden text on your page that gives your users extra information is going to damage your search engine rankings.