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When I tested my website in the past with powermapper tools, It suggested I should add a "skip to content" link hidden off-screen to help people with screen readers use the website.

I can completely relate and so can this website:

http://accessibility.oit.ncsu.edu/training/accessibility-handbook/skip-to-main-content.html

Then I go look at Google's webmaster quality guidelines at:

https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/66353

and it mentions that hidden text can be seen as deceptive.

The only text I deliberately made hidden on my website is a "Skip to content" link which when clicked takes users to just past the common menu header (a.k.a. straight to where the content starts). I placed the hyperlink tag directly below the body tag, and used CSS to set the link as a block and positioned it to -xxxxpx (some location off screen) so that users with sufficient technologies won't see the skip to content link, but instead see the site as it is meant to be displayed.

I'm curious of the best course of action to take. I could either:

  1. remove the "skip to content" link all together and make Google happy and possibly several other advertisers unhappy

Or

  1. Make the "skip to content" link visible at the minimum font size acceptable by Google (whatever percent that is) and pray that no user complains.

Or

  1. Figure out who runs Google and rant (which I will likely be unsuccessful at).
  • I am a bit confused. How deep is your header?? Content should always be visible above the fold regardless of the screen size which would mean to me that there is no need for a "skip to content". It could be the link is just part of the problem. Perhaps your header size is part of the problem too? I have yet to deploy the new template, but I reduced the header radically though the old one was not bad. The idea is that content should be paramount and nothing else. Is your header too large? Google does not like deep headers regardless of what the so-called SEO experts say. – closetnoc Apr 12 '15 at 16:24
  • I realize you are doing this for accessibility of course. Is there just plain too much stuff between the top of the page and the content? It is not just about the physical header size, it is about the goblety-gook (technical term) before the content. In my new template, there are very few things between the top of the page and the content- just a logo and a handful of navigation links- that's it. Simple is always best- trust me on this. – closetnoc Apr 12 '15 at 16:29
  • On my computer with a screen resolution of 800x600px (yes, I still use older computers), The start of the content appears above the fold. It officially appears at about the 400 pixel mark vertically. Theres maybe about 1000 bytes between the skip-to-content link and the content it points to. I do have a large inline stylesheet and going external isn't an option as it causes google to complain. – Mike Apr 12 '15 at 16:51
  • Interesting. Sounds okay but you can create an external CSS. How does Google complain? This may be a good question to ask. I have absolutely no in-line style and never have. BTW- I use a HP Netbook for all of my interactive work. If a site passes this smell-test, it should be okay. If your content shows up on your screen, that should be good enough I would think. I like using older computers. They can still work okay. I have many older 200Mhz servers and they are fast enough though my web and database servers are within modern standards. It is about through-put more than anything. – closetnoc Apr 12 '15 at 16:58
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    @closetnoc the problem is most accessibility apps/devices strip out or ignore styles - any vision- or hearing-impaired assistants will see a header as a simple nested list and process the entire thing. This may not be much of a nuisance on a small site, but for hospitals/universities with dozens of links this can be daunting. Imagine sitting through "healthcare, surgery, heart surgery, gastric surgery..." etc each pageload! The "Skip to content" link gives an accessible way to skip the chaff and get the screenreader to the content the user actually wants to consume. – CodeMoose Apr 13 '15 at 13:22
17

For what it's worth, I'll offer my own take on this. Hidden text alone is not deceptive. What you do with it is what determines whether it's deceptive.

There are many scenarios in which hidden text is a good thing, both in terms of accessibility, functionality and just pure awesomeness. But there are also some setbacks, and times where hidden text may prevent certain users from being able to use the website as it was intended to be used.

You must always take the common-sense approach. Do what is right for your users, and always follow the standards; if you can do that, nobody has the right to penalise you or your website, and if they do try, fight back.


This page says that "skip to main content" links are good. Also, Google does not say that hidden text is bad, and it does not say that you will - or may - be penalised for using hidden text on your website.

What Google does say, is:

Hiding text or links in your content to manipulate Google’s search rankings can be seen as deceptive and is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Text (such as excessive keywords) can be hidden in several ways...

And a little further down, they say:

However, not all hidden text is considered deceptive.

So basically, Google is saying this: 'Hidden text is only considered bad if you are doing something bad with it (E.g. trying to manipulate the search rankings or trying to deceive your visitors/potential visitors).'

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    I thought that at first but I wasn't 100% sure due to the way google presents its explanation. I'll just have to take your word on it because it seems to make more sense now. – Mike Apr 13 '15 at 3:13
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    @Mike Yeah, it would be pretty awesome if they would just be a little more direct. Like, Yes or no, or Doing x will result in y, etc. But then I guess they write it this way because they don't want to list all the possible scenarios where it would/would not be acceptable to use hidden elements. – NDEIGU Apr 13 '15 at 7:44
  • I'm gonna take the cheap route and now on my site, I have the skip-to-content link visible but in a smaller size text but still on the screen. Google should be a little happier now. – Mike Apr 14 '15 at 4:46
  • @Mike Lol, better safe than sorry, I guess :) – NDEIGU Apr 14 '15 at 9:38
11

I agree with w3d’s answer, there should be no problem with Google Search or any other search engine.

However, I suggest to make it visible anyway.

Not for SEO, but for accessibility: Screen reader users are not the only users that can benefit from skiplinks. Skiplinks are useful for all users that navigate with the keyboard, and only a subset of those users also have a screen reader.

If you absolutely don’t want to show this link, the least you should do is make it visible when it gets focus (via the :focus pseudo-class). It’s not a good solution, but probably better than keeping it hidden, because otherwise users navigating via keyboard will focus something which they can’t see, which can be confusing.

  • Thanks. I did try using "focus" but it is not compatible with some older web browsers. – Mike Apr 13 '15 at 3:09
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  • Yes I do and I'm surprised many others just ignore them. If businesses would continue supporting older browsers then they would make more money especially from people who can't afford new computers and who rely on free wifi. – Mike Apr 13 '15 at 15:12
  • @Mike: Not sure why this would be a problem. If you decide to hide the skiplink nonetheless, making it visible when it has focus for most users is clearly better than keeping it hidden for all users, no? – unor Apr 13 '15 at 15:18
  • Actually, the guy who invented this page cares more about older browsers as well as new technologies. He even has a checklist for bad design: webpagesthatsuck.com/dailysucker – Mike Apr 13 '15 at 15:20
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I can't see any reason why Google would think a hidden "Skip to content" link was deceptive.

  • Are you flooding the page with hidden keywords or trying to deceive the search engines? No.
  • Google is no doubt very aware of "skip to content"-like links. They have been recommended by the W3C after all.
  • Google does state (in the article you link to) that "not all hidden text is considered deceptive". There are many valid reasons for having hidden text on a page.
4

Other answers say that Google would allow this, but they don't say what hidden text Google penalizes for. Google only considers hidden text deceptive when:

  • There are hidden keywords that users might search for but then be upset when they find that your site doesn't have them. Users are not likely to be searching for "skip to content"
  • The hidden text contains links designed to pass PageRank. An anchor link to the same page shouldn't pass PageRank. It doesn't try to deceive Googlebot.
0

Google uses "deception" fairly broadly, it can either mean deceiving the user (i.e. if your link that says "skip to text" actually sent you an ad or pop-up or whatever, basically if it does not in fact skip to the text) or it can mean deceiving/manipulating Google (i.e. the example above in @SE505's answer where the hidden text is being used to "deceive"/trick the search algorithm into ranking the page higher for secret/hidden keywords).

In your case, your example of hidden text deceives neither Google nor the user so it seems fine.

  • That's what I thought at first, but the way google lays out the rules makes me think I need an employee of google to literally confirm the rules to me. – Mike Apr 14 '15 at 4:51

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