SEO problem inherent in using CSS to hide internal links

3 min read

In a Google SEO Office Hours hangout, Google’s John Mueller answered a question about hidden internal links in the footer. He explained why it isn’t a big deal in terms of being penalized, but rather a matter of finding innovative solutions for a site to stand out.


That’s a little surprising given that hidden links have traditionally been regarded as a major problem.


Cloaking isn’t really hiding links.

The guy who asked the question appears to have misinterpreted the meaning of the term cloaking, as he used it to describe internal links that were masked using CSS.


What is cloaking exactly?

Cloaking refers to the practice of presenting different content or URLs to human users and search engines. Cloaking is considered a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines because it provides our users with different results than they expected.

Some examples of cloaking include:

  • Serving a page of HTML text to search engines, while showing a page of images to users
  • Inserting text or keywords into a page only when the user agent that’s requesting the page is a search engine, not a human visitor

To know more visit here – Google search central


This is typically accomplished using the CSS display property, which allows an HTML element to be fully removed from a web page without affecting the layout.


Anywhere on a web page, the display:none CSS declaration can be used to hide links.


This question was addressed by a person who was concerned about his client’s website as his client was cloaking links on the website.


He was taken aback by the fact that the site was able to hide links in the footer for at least nine months without receiving a penalty from Google.


His concern was that the customer would be reluctant to address the hidden links because they had been there for so long and the site had not been penalized.


He wanted to know why there was no penalty and if it was something that could be fixed right immediately.


To this John Mueller answered that,

 The Google webspam team would not be bothered with footer links hidden with CSS. 


His exact words were: – 


“I think that’s something that theoretically we don’t like.


But I don’t see the webspam team taking action on that. Because especially when it comes to internal linking like that, it’s something that has quite a subtle effect within the website and you’re just essentially just shuffling things around within your own website.


I think it would be trickier if they were …buying links somewhere else and then hiding them.

That would be problematic, that might be something that our algorithms pick up on or that even the webspam team at some point might manually look at.”


Mueller highlighted why the Google webspam team is unlikely to take action against internal links that are hidden.


He added:


“But if it’s within the same website if it’s set to display none then …”


Mueller took a pause paused, then continued:


“I don’t think it’s a great practice. If you think it’s an important link then kind of like make it visible to people.


But it’s not going to be something where the webspam team is going to take action and remove the site or do anything crazy.”


The person who asked the query then inquired if Mueller was urging him to leave the issue aside.


Mueller responded:


“Well, I wouldn’t leave it as it is. I would see it as something to try to improve for the long run in the sense of like if you think this is an important link to an important page then it’s like… just be straightforward about it.


Because users are going to use it too or maybe if users don’t care about it maybe it isn’t actually an important link.


But I wouldn’t see it as something where I like to drop everything, we need to fix this, this week kind of thing.”


Our 2 cents:


Firstly, thanks to Search Engine Journal, to bring all the SEO news as fast and informational as it can.


Also, we think it’s a pretty simple deal, if the internal link is useful to the user then it will also do great for SEO. For example, if you sell birthday gifts online and you have hidden links to flowers, decorative products, or chocolates, it will be useful for a user who is planning to buy a birthday gift. In case you will hide links to insurance companies in a gift store that won’t be a great idea.


So, it’s simple if it benefits the user it will benefit the overall health of the site.