3

I've read the answers here and here both saying that Google penalizes for a hidden content

when it is done for the purposes of manipulating the search engines

But there are at least two reasons why I raise the issue again:

  • that's still not clear how to detect whether a hidden content will cause a penalty or not? In other words, how Google can detect not just whether hidden content is present in HTML DOM, but also why it was made hidden?
  • was something changed since the years 2010 and 2011 when the answers above were published?

Here is my specific case I'm interested in.

I have a carousel with a lot of testimonials and the page causes the Lighthouse's warning about an excessive DOM size. In order to reduce the DOM tree, I think of loading and adding to it a few testimonials when the page is loaded and storing the data of the rest in one hidden HTML element e.g. <input type="hidden">. And when user clicks by the next arrow button first time, the rest of testimonials are added to the DOM by client JS as well and are ready to be displayed.

So the question is, may such a way cause a penalty from Google and if no, then why? How to distinguish when yes and when no?

Does it depend on whether a mechanism is "invoked by the user - to make the content visible", as stated here ?

2 Answers 2

5

If Lighthouse is warning about dom size that may result in performance issues which can effect the sites rating because of the algo on performance. Can you use a progressive method to get the testimonies via a json request? which allows the page to begin rendering and then updates the page, (fills in the testimonials).

Lets first define penalty because not everything is a penalty

There are algo related ranking issues and manual action penalties. And they are not the same thing. If one is talking about the actual spamy content penalty that would be an actual manual action penalty.

Google does show a manual action penalty in the search engine console.

https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/9044175?hl=en

What is a manual action?

Google issues a manual action against a site when a human reviewer at Google has determined that pages on the site are not compliant with Google's webmaster quality guidelines. Most manual actions address attempts to manipulate our search index. Most issues reported here will result in pages or sites being ranked lower or omitted from search results without any visual indication to the user.

A manual penalty would normally be materials that is not filtered by the algo https://developers.google.com/search/docs/advanced/guidelines/report-spam

And Google does discuss hidden content, the what is hidden is hidden, (I jest), in a summary drop down under the List of manual actions.

https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/9044175?hl=en#zippy=%2Chidden-text-andor-keyword-stuffing

And, provides a process to unspam your site and humbly apologize for crossing the line.

We also need to define deep content vs hidden content

Hidden content would be content that the search engine sees but the user does not see. Deep content would be materials that the user can see but the search engine can not see.

Since the value of an input tag with type hidden is generally not indexed by search engines, I believe the question is really is there a deep content penalty, IE is it cloaking!

update additional information per questions in comments.

No as cloaking is well defined as using redirects ect that remove source code from the view of the robot.

Deep content being materials that are not specifically removed but not followed by robots ... IE check box if you are a human to reveal a coupon for a discount.

Would be accepted deep content.

Having data in graphics would be material that is not index-able by search engines and thus deep content but not "hidden" in any way such that is would be cloaking.

Usage of a paywall for subscripters would be deep-content. It not visible to google but also not indexed, nor not indexed because of a penalty.

Objectionable hidden content.

As a actual spammy site penalty would be given by a review of the site by a human, it is not directly answerable. Other than asking co-workers to look at the site and decide if it looks spammy to them.

If this were the source code I would say it is spammy do to hidden text:

<meta name="description" content="Worlds best photo of a flower">
<div style="display:hidden">Worlds best photo of a flower</div>
<img src="1234.jpg">

and change it to:

<meta name="description" content="Worlds best photo of a flower">
<img src="1234.jpg" alt="Worlds best photo of a flower">

If I were working at Google I would not have the heart to give the person in this example a penalty because I can understand what he is trying to do. But then again if I were racing through links that have been reported, I may not have the time to see the intent and realize its just a person who does not know what he is doing; And, needs an email to tell him he is not doing it right.

So the person reviewing the content may have his own definition! !! !!! !!!!

Because there is no definitive line its best not to approach the line and fall into the space of questionable content. This works in Google interest so they will not clearly define "hidden content" so people can not claim a technicality. No technicality exists!

Cloaking, materials hidden from search but visible to people.

Generally what this is referring to materials that are not given in the source received by google. IE the webhost is presenting a completely different page based on the IP address to Google while hijacking IP address from other sources and presenting a entirely different page.

In this case its not cloaking, the materials are visible. If google is not indexing the material then it is deep content. Although might be objection if the content is malicious.

Google detects cloaking by using IP addresses which look like they are users not coming from Google and compares what it received.

8
  • In fact I meant json representation of data in the value of the input tag, i.e. loading it along the page loading. But you probably mean consuming the data from API, am I correct?
    – stkuser
    Oct 24, 2022 at 23:34
  • @stkuser if the json data is being loaded via $.json or a fetch that would not be a performance issue; It would be the best practice to optimize the time to render for the user. Oct 24, 2022 at 23:38
  • Ok, agreed. But I'm still curious why using input with type hidden may be viewed as cloaking? BOTH engines and users can not see its value
    – stkuser
    Oct 25, 2022 at 0:24
  • I mentioned deep content and cloaking as nothing in your post is hidden to the user. But material which may not be visible to the Bot. Deep content is anything that the search engines are unable to index because they lack the ability or interest. IE bots do not enter words into a search field, login with a user account, or may have trouble with a specific navigation or file format. Cloaking is actually hiding materials from Google ... support.google.com/webmasters/answer/… Oct 25, 2022 at 0:52
  • 1
    Thank you for pointing out I did not make that clear in my answer. I've updated my answer to clarify for others who may have the same questions. Oct 25, 2022 at 1:16
3

I don't think there's any way of knowing if hidden content will trigger a Google penalty (outside of doing it and finding out), simply because, by giving out that info, it opens the whole system up to be gamed. Considering the frequency that Google update the algos as well, you run the risk of playing cat and mouse with your site getting penalised every time you lose.

There are two things that you could possibly do however, depending on what you're comfortable with:

For the latter, the point of the element is to be

a mechanism for holding HTML that is not to be rendered immediately when a page is loaded but may be instantiated subsequently during runtime using JavaScript.

You could reasonably assume that Google wouldn't penalise the content, as you're using the element for it's intended purpose. It's hard to know if you would get the SEO benefit from it though (as in, Google might just ignore the entire content of your template tag, for good and bad). A quick search (https://stackoverflow.com/questions/41411960/does-google-crawl-content-inside-html5-template-tags) suggests that it does crawl the content

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.