Are hidden layers a bad search engine optimization (SEO) technique?
Dave, I just read an article of yours where you say not to hide keyword-content with matching font and background color. I'm curious to know if the same is true for a hidden layer containing keyword-content? There is so much to learn about SEO and what are the best techniques to use!
My temptation is to ask what do you think? but I won't. Instead, let's spend a little bit of time talking about the ostensible purpose of search engine optimization...
With the rise and dominance of Google, there's now a clear advantage to creating Web pages and Web sites that appear earlier in the search results. If someone's searching for your product or service, being match #34,403 is clearly considerably less valuable than being match #4 on the results page.
Position on the search results page is based on what I call your Relevance Score, a formula that's calculated by Google's search engine to figure out in quantified terms how relevant your Web page is to the given search term and how authoritative your site is overall (to break ties). Note that this is different, and pretty much unrelated to your PageRank, though most SEO people are pretty obsessed with their PR scores, unnecessarily so in my opinion.
Given the existence of Relevance Scoring, it's clear that if you knew exactly what formula Google used, you could create Web pages that were perfect matches, with the right words in the right places, the right ratio of key words to non-keywords, the right HTML tags, etc. Then, though you couldn't guarantee the #1 spot, you could certainly move to the front of the pack, far ahead of sites that aren't paying attention to what Google's looking for.
The sad news is that no-one outside of Google knows how they calculate Relevance Scores (even if they say otherwise) so we're left guessing and experimenting. And that's where things get a bit dicey...
Some people are so obsessed with getting optimal search rank that they'll try things that they know are cheating, are sneaky tricks, because the value of higher ranking is worth the risk of being busted. (and believe me, if Google busts you for using sneaky SEO tricks, they can kick you out of the database entirely, which will make that 34,303 ranking sound pretty good).
And so they try things like a dozen title tags stuffed with keywords, doorway or portal pages that are designed to be optimal for one specific keyword but exist only for the search engine crawler, and even entirely different pages for search engines through some sneaky low-level coding. Another, simpler trick? Having text the same color as the background, where they can jam a dozen occurrences of their favorite keyword without having the page look too daffy to the human visitor.
All of these are prohibited by Google (and other search engines, lest we forget that Google doesn't have 100% of the market) and if their system catches you doing this, they'll penalize you or even kick you out of the system.
Given all of that, do you think that having a hidden layer through CSS to keyword load your page is fair, legit and valid? Do you think that the hundreds of bright engineers at Google can't figure out a way to scrape your CSS and identify a "visibility:hidden" attribute, then flag your page as playing tricks? If so, try it and see how it goes. But my recommendation is always to make the best possible pages through legitimate HTML and CSS techniques, then focus on writing the best content pages you can write because at the end of the day, it's all about what you're saying, not how you're formatting it.
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