A friend of mine recently asked me to weigh in on a question on his blog from a client who was raising some questions after attending a SEO seminar regarding hiding text with css for headings and SEO. Here’s my 2 cents…
This is one of those situations where “common sense” comes into play and your intent as a web developer as well. Unfortunately the amount of “SEO companies” that practice shady techniques (Black Hat) far outweigh the ones that follow the rules and are considered (White Hat). That puts a bad taste in people’s mouths about anybody who says they’re an SEO so it’s our job to educate them on the right way. The client was at a SEO seminar for a reason, so he’s already looking at what was worked on.
If you’re using an image replacement technique for design purposes it’s okay, BUT use common sense and understand the word “moderation”. Much like an alt attribute on an image, the text needs to be descriptive but not full of useless garbage just to throw keywords at the bots. So when you replace an H1 with an image and put
visibility:hidden on the text within the H1; as long as you keep it description of what the image is you’re fine. If your H1 image replacement is the HLF Industries logotype, and your text says “HLF Industries” – there’s nothing wrong with that. Now if you put tons of keywords in with the HFL Industries… now you’re intent is not with the benefit of accessibility and your users, but to gain rank illegally and you’re not using common sense. That’s when Google starts to lay down the law with their algorithm.
The same goes for sliding door images and navigation bars with text in list items that are “hidden”. It’s descriptive text for the button navigation and there for text browsers and audible accessibility reasons.
Now if you don’t believe ME, then read the following comments and posts from Matt Cutts and Susan Moskwa of Google and feel free, Beau, to forward my comments onto your client if it would help.
1) Matt Cutts is a software engineer at Google and when posting about a site using some shady tactics got misunderstood and taken out of context by the community. He then made some comments and cleared up the situation, leaving us with some definitive answers on the topic.
2) From a Google Groups discussion in the Webmaster Help thread (located here):
Susan Moskwa, who is one of Google’s Webmaster Central Google Groups support people, said it is acceptable, based on intent. Note the keyword there… “intent”.
“If your intent in hiding text is to deceive the search engines, we frown on that; if your intent is purely to improve the visual user experience (e.g. by replacing some text with a fancier image of that same text), you don’t need to worry.
Of course, as with many techniques, there are shades of gray between “this is clearly deceptive and wrong” and “this is perfectly acceptable”. Matt [Cutts] did say that hiding text moves you a step further towards the gray area. But if you’re running a perfectly legitimate site, you don’t need to worry about it. If, on the other hand, your site already exhibits a bunch of other semi-shady techniques, hidden text starts to look like one more item on that list.”
3) Roger Johansson at 456 Berea Street in 2005 weighed in on the situation and Matt Cutts said “We can flag text that appears to be hidden using CSS at Google. To date we have not algorithmically removed sites for doing that.” It is now 3 years later and Google still hasn’t done that, and in my opinion they won’t. That comment here at ThreadWatch.
I hope that helps Beau. I don’t consider myself a SEO guru by any means but I am on the front lines and have been at it for some years so if that’s any consolation; then there ya go.
For further reading here are some of my bookmarks on the subject: http://del.icio.us/chuckreynolds/seo