Hidden links

Most people understand hidden text is something like white text on a white background, and know to steer clear of it. Let me show you an example of a hidden link. Normally a hidden link could be in several forms:
– hidden text that also happens to be hyperlinked, e.g. white text on a white background, and the text is a link
– using CSS to make hyperlinks that are tiny, like 1 pixel high text
– hiding links in something like the period in the middle of a paragraph of text

Now there’s nothing bad about changing the style of a link to some degree, but let me show you an example of going overboard. Here’s a paragraph of text on a site that I recently saw:

Hidden link before

You see the two normal hyperlinks, right? Do you see any other links in this paragraph? A user wouldn’t see any other links, even if they moused over every word in the paragraph. But if you happened to click on just the right word, you’d get whisked away to a hardcore porn site. Here, I’ll show you what you’d see in the instant after clicking on the hidden link, right before you head to the porn site:

Hidden link after

See how the word “mission” has a little box around it? It’s a hidden link. If you view the source of the page, here’s what you’ll see. I’ve highlighted the relevant link:

Hidden link view source

Someone went to a fair amount of trouble to hide the porn site link. The status bar gets set to empty using the onMouseOver action, so when you mouse over the link, you don’t see that it goes anywhere. And the style of the link is set so that the cursor doesn’t change when you mouse over the link as well. In my opinion, this is a good example of a link that crosses over into deceptiveness and violates our quality guidelines.

As long as we’re talking about links, this seems like a pretty good opportunity to talk about a simple litmus test for paid links and how to tell if a paid link violates search engines’ quality guidelines. If you want to sell a link, you should at least provide machine-readable disclosure for paid links by making your link in a way that doesn’t affect search engines. There’s a ton of ways to do that. For example, you could make a paid link go through a redirect where the redirect url is robot’ed out using robots.txt. You could also use the rel=nofollow attribute. I’ve said as much many times before, but I wanted to give a heads-up because Google is going to be looking at paid links more closely in the future.

The other best practice I’d advise is to provide human readable disclosure that a link/review/article is paid. You could put a badge on your site to disclose that some links, posts, or reviews are paid, but including the disclosure on a per-post level would better. Even something as simple as “This is a paid review” fulfills the human-readable aspect of disclosing a paid article. Google’s quality guidelines are more concerned with the machine-readable aspect of disclosing paid links/posts, but the Federal Trade Commission has said that human-readable disclosure is important too:

“The petition to us did raise a question about compliance with the FTC act,” said Mary K. Engle, FTC associate director for advertising practices. “We wanted to make clear . . . if you’re being paid, you should disclose that.”

To make sure that you’re in good shape, go with both human-readable disclosure and machine-readable disclosure, using any of the methods I mentioned above.

203 Responses to Hidden links (Leave a comment)

  1. Google let the Linking Genie out of the bottle, and now it is proving hard to get it back in there.

    Hopefully your words aren’t falling on deaf ears. There are still a lot of people dreaming up “linking schemes”.

  2. Interesting, thanks.
    “Google is going to be looking at paid links”. It’s a real change and a good news for many “little” webmasters 😉

  3. g1smd, I don’t think this will fall on deaf ears. Good disclosure on the web is good for anyone that processes data on the web, not to mention that it’s good for users and surfers as well.

    yves, I agree that more action on paid links will tend to help mom/pop webmasters.

  4. Well interesting maybe … but it does mean less money for webmasters …

  5. “Make pages for users, not for search engines.”

    Are you going to be adjusting your guidelines to reflect this change in opinion?


    Deceptive links break that rule but so does adding machine readable disclosure you speak of.

  6. What bothers me about nofollows is that the normal user does not recognize them. They don’t see any difference at all, but for the search engines it is not a normal link, it is a signal that the webmaster does not trust the other party. That is, in my opinion, also a form of “hiding links”.

    How would the average Wikipedia user feel if they knew that the Wikipedia does not trust any of the resources they link to and use as references?

  7. oh and don’t forget

    “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”

  8. Graywolf try to understand that if google can be better , it will help the web community .

    If all people start buying links and backlinks is one of the top factor in S.E , Google will be worthless in term of results and all top results will be SPAM or BS .

  9. Hey Matt –

    Here is a question

    kinda on / off topic

    what is the deal with “tags” on your own site linking to inner pages of your own site…

    Is this ok?

    For example, I just started a totally clean, white hat site,

    I am taking all my years of personal plumbing experience and putting them on the web ( My own website )

    I just recently added a tag system to help users find stuff faster

    My site is http://www.plumberhelper.com

    Is the “tags” or “tag cloud” hurting me?

    Second question

    will buying text link ads from places like text-link-ads.com hurt me

    Please advise if you can

    Happy Saturday!

    Great pic of the cat in the last post


  10. This may seem like an odd question, but I assure you there’s a real world example: what should I do about an unpaid link that looks like it must be a paid link? The word “sponsor” even appears directly above it. Its purpose is twofold: to promote a site owned by a friend of the owner of the site that’s linking out, and to suggest to users that the opportunity to sponsor other sections of the site (with real paid links) is available to them.

    I don’t want to tell Google that it’s a paid link via some machine-readable indicator, because it isn’t. Its real purpose is to recommend a site to the reader. I could take away the “sponsored” note, but it’s a banner. It’s going to appear to be an advertisement anyway.

  11. Hi there Matt,

    How about links hidden in div’s with zero height?

  12. Chaban so it’s ok if google pulls a “because I’m the mommy and I say so” with you? You’re ok with people telling you to do one thing and then really doing something completely different because it makes the web community “better”?

    Where I’m from we call that “hypocrisy” not “better”.

  13. JohnMu, this is a post that shows an easy way to make nofollow links visible:

    graywolf, you seem to be interpreting “Make pages for users, not for search engines” to mean quite literally “don’t ever do even a single thing on a page except for users” and since I helped draft our quality guidelines, I can say with 100% certainty that that’s not the intended spirit of that phrase. 🙂 Users don’t see meta tags, but they can be helpful. Users don’t care about whether a page is well-formed or validates, but writing valid code makes a page easier to maintain going forward. Providing disclosure for paid links is a good practice according to the FTC and Google, and I think most people can understand the logic behind that guideline, even if they disagree with it.

  14. graywolf, I laugh at you.
    Read about the “Semantic Web”.
    1 Reason why we use XML/XHTML: Computer software can read it.

    The audience of a web page isn’t just our traditional “user”.


  15. I can see the nofollows, but the average user can’t — and even if they could see them, they wouldn’t understand what they mean. I am certain that even the majority of the active webmasters don’t know what they mean. Does the nofollow even mean the same as they used to in the beginning? That is something that has to be cleaned up. (why is that link to your page nofollowed? :-))

    PS whatever happened to your neat image in the top right?

  16. >you seem to be interpreting “Make pages for users, not for search engines” to mean quite literally “don’t ever do even a single thing on a page except for users”

    So we’re going to say what Google says isn’t really what Google means, instead it’s open to interpretation? Wow that’s a slippery slope to get on quite so early. Can we apply this “loose” interpretation to other things like Google’s cloaking policy too, I seem to remember that being a lot more by the book than by the spirit or intent.

  17. Well, at least in IE7, you can’t set the text on the Status bar, anymore…

  18. JohnMu, I got dugg one day and the image was slowing things down, so I took it off. I never got around to putting it back up.

    graywolf, you have disclosed when you did paid posts with phrases like “This post has been a paid review” and “The preceding post has been a paid review” so I’m assuming that your objection is to providing machine-readable disclosure when you do paid links? I’ve been pointing out that paid links should be done in such a way that they don’t affect search engines for years, so I wouldn’t think this post is that surprising to you. The only thing that’s especially new in this post is the info that Google will be turning more attention to paid links in the future.

  19. What about hidden texts in web sites ? l was also using hiddent text on my olde sites like about 2 years ago, they were also good ways if you want to hide some keywords, also l may say l was tring to cheat the crawlers with that. :p
    But nowaways these techniques are very dengerouse and google can very easyly take you our of the line. and we dont try black seo : ) Thanks for the article. its great.

  20. While I don’t think human readable disclosure should be a law, I think it’s a good idea. When I do paid reviews, I do disclose them, I’ve actually rejected about 40% of them for one reason or another, kind of like the Yahoo directory.

    I’m pretty sure I’ve pointed out this hypocritical and arbitrary interpretation and selective implementation of “web justice” on many occasions and the adhocracy that’s been unintentionally created, so it’s not a surprise to me. Now we both know you can “scare” a lot of people into compliance with the occasional post like this, which to be quite honest we both know makes Google job that much easier.

  21. As long as we’re talking about links, this seems like a pretty good opportunity to talk about a simple litmus test for paid links and how to tell if a paid link violates search engines’ quality guidelines.

    Matt, what is that litmus test? If it’s paid, it violates the guidelines? All search engines? All paid links?
    You then go on to say

    …you should at least provide machine-readable disclosure for paid links by making your link in a way that doesn’t affect search engines.

    This seems confusing… one could simply add a comment in the source code, but you are asking that webmasters not affect the search engines. Seems to me I remember websites linking out long before Google was around… the only thing that has changed is that Google exists. Larry and Sergey created the Google algo partially based on the fact that webmasters do link to one another… it does not seem that they were concerned with paid or unpaid links at the time.
    It’s kind of like the 302 hijack problem – it was a perfectly valid method of clicktracking, but now we must utilize methods to keep Google from screwing the site linked to, because Google refuses to fix their own problem once and for all… just like paid links, not everyone will block robots, not everyone will use 301’s, and not everyone will follow the advice given as a defense against the exploit (linking relatively is perfectly valid, but due to the problem, one should link absolutely and use a 301 redirect to a www or non-www version). The problem is Google, not the webmaster… Google prefers the 302 status code producing url to the actual source given in the header, and eventually dumps the redirect target site.

    Another thing: I don’t really see anything about links in the FTC statement, just endorsements and reviews, which I can agree with. I think most surfers are smart enough to understand that a simple link out to another site may be a reference or endorsement – paid or not. It seems the search engines are the ones having problems telling the difference. Google assumes all links are an endorsement of some type. There may also be many usable, acceptable references, and payment may make the difference in which one gets used.

  22. recep, hidden text is bad for users and search engines alike; Search engines have gotten better about lots of different types of spam, so I’m glad to hear that you’ve stopped doing that.

  23. I have to date thought of “rel=nofollow” as an indicator that I can’t vouch for a site. I don’t know that search engine algorithms will lose much information if paid links are marked with “rel=nofollow”, but if a redirect URL is used it has the potential to deprive the algorithms of information about the editorial integrity of the site.

    Let’s imagine, for example, a popular website which runs a pay-for-inclusion directory. I can see how it would benefit a search engine to know which sites were added for free due to their being deemed highly valuable, as opposed to those which were included because they paid a fee for inclusion. Discriminate use of “rel=nofollow” would pass that information along to the algorithm, but a redirect probably won’t.

    Perhaps there should be a “rel=paid” standard? That way a directory which is comprised of links from an outside source (e.g., DMOZ) combined with editor-selected free links and pay-for-inclusion links could identify each source (the third party links by “rel=nofollow” and the paid links with “rel=paid”). (And what of the barely exercised editorial discretion reserved by some major pay-for-inclusion directories? Does that exempt them from having to tag their links?)

  24. Matt,

    Will this effect the shady beacon links that so many analytic companies are doing for their free versions of their software. Those seem like hidden links to me. Most inexperienced users don’t even know the software is placing links.

  25. I have a FREE directory. How do I make sure Google knows it is free? You say don’t do this or don’t do that. How about just telling us what to do to be clear it is free. Maybe put a feature in the webmaster tools.

    It just seems to me Matt that you are dancing on a pin. How can anybody at your office be 100% sure it is paid or free.

    Give us a simple obvious fool proof way to say it is free/paid and then maybe more people will trust your colleagues algorithms.

  26. Thanks Matt for the info

  27. Matt Cutts, As far as hidden links go, most of the time when I’ve seen them, they’ve been “injected” in the site by somebody other than the webmaster…hacking, shady SEO, shady designer…etc. In the case of hidden links, this may be a good example of when Google should notify the webmaster and not just penalize and ruin the site. It may be just as much of a surprise to the owner of the site as the person that found it.

    Graywolf, cloaking is alive and doing well in the index. Found two yesterday, entire site require log-in to view any content that was shown in the snippet.

  28. Hello Matt,

    Thank you for the clear and descriptive example.

    One other thing.

    the nofollow instruction as you have explained it multiple times, still to this day does not exsist in any official Google source.

    Please please have someone include it have you seen the thing I wrote last Decmber about this?

    Sorry, was and is a pet peeve of mine that you make recommendations on your blog, yet tell people that your blog should not be considered an official resource.

    Take care and thanks for all the posts your poor in-laws had thousands of people waiting for them to leave and that is funny.

  29. >Providing disclosure for paid links is a good practice according to the FTC and Google

    Why do Google’s pay per action text ads only display disclosure after scrolled over? pot kettle etc

  30. shoot, please delete this and my comment above.
    the comment was meant for this post.


    I added it there already again. Thanks

    I am Sorry for the inconvenience.

  31. People just don’t believe paid links can be detected, so tagging them with nofollow would be like admitting I stole something when no one in the world knows I did.

    Is nofollow used to help Google detect paid links, or are they there to protect my site from getting penalized?

    I understand why Google is pro-nofollow at this point, but in the long run, I think it would be better if Google neutralized paid links algorithmically. That would prevent selling/buying sites from being penalized (IMO they should be) but then again they also won’t be gaining anything..

  32. “Matt, what is that litmus test?” NetMidWest, paid links should provide some form of machine-readable disclosure (e.g. redirect through a url that is forbidden by robots.txt) so that search engines aren’t affected by the paid link. Human-readable disclosure is good, but not required to abide by Google’s quality guidelines.

    ted sullivan, if you run a free directory then I wouldn’t worry about this issue.

    Happy to help, Johnny.

    JLH, we’re going to be reaching out to the site that had these links in my example, so we’ll be trying to communicate with them about these particular links.

    feedthebot.com, that’s good feedback. I’ll ask Vanessa and see if someone on her team might have time to look at adding more to the documentation. Thanks for mentioning that!

    aaron wall, those links do provide both human- and machine-readable disclosure (mouseover alerts people and the link goes through a redirect). See the image from http://www.seroundtable.com/archives/012809.html as well if people are interested. If you’ve got a suggestion for how to improve the disclosure on those links, I’ll definitely mention it to that team though.

    Carsten, I’ll go ahead and delete the comment then. I hate it when I lose comments I’ve typed, whether it be because of a reboot or some weirdness on a web page.

  33. >paid links should provide some form of machine-readable disclosure

    C’mon that’s the exact opposite of what’s written in the guidelines, they say don’t do anything differently if you’d do it just for the search engines.

  34. “g1smd, I don’t think this will fall on deaf ears. Good disclosure on the web is good for anyone that processes data on the web, not to mention that it’s good for users and surfers as well.”

    The FCC has always used these same rules for broadcasting, a good example would be political advertisements. When I was in broadcasting, I used to laugh when we voiced over the “paid for by blah…” lines, cause they were sometimes inaudible. I hardly find the FTC’s decision to monitor links and paid advertising as a suprise – it was only a matter of time before it became a rule. I wonder if they will eventually get around to rules on payola, it’s essentially the same thing well, slightly different.

    Matt: In regards to the Hidden Link structure, often times a website utilizing CS S may keep links such as “html lists” in the same color – many current news websites utilize these form of lists – such as golf dot com – the Top stories listing, it’s indistinguishable by glance until you highlight over it. We utilize it in some our websites as well. Would this be looked over since they are linked to our own website? Or is hitting a gray line somewhere? We utilize similar link structures to highlight over an entire “article excerpt” – the links are in the same color as natural text. Should this form of CSS design be forgotten as well?

  35. Greywolf,

    excellent, excellent and excellent point 🙂

  36. I have no problem with following clearly stated rules for ranking in Google.




    Graywolf and others – Think of it this way, if it is ok to buy youself into organic search via paid links your SEO would be easily crushed by those who have larger budgets, right?

  37. I read a lot of info for webmasters and this is the first time I have heard about the FCC wanting paid links marked…. so it would not surprise me if an awful lot of webmasters are totally in the dark on this topic.

    I would like to see the Search Engines cooperate with the FCC and come up with some clearly illustrated guidelines for linking and disclosure. Helpful would be acceptable methods for designating the links for both machines and humans. It would be nice to see the “Bible” on this – published early – so folks can do what is needed and get on with business and pleasure.

    Are affiliate sites covered by this if they are pay after action rather than paid links upfront? What if I have an image link that is nofollowed and the image has the word “sponsor” on it (but not in text that machine would read)?

    I can see a lot of affiliate sites that will need some major creative work done on them.

  38. Asia, I wouldn’t worry about menus that use mouseovers to reveal options. I gave that hidden link example to show the sorts of things that people should definitely avoid.

    By the way, bonus points for mentioning the FCC in addition to the FTC. The FTC was the agency that had the staff opinion about clear disclosure of paid reviews. But the FCC also recently announced some fines to send a message about payola, e.g. see here:

    From that article: ” The Federal Communications Commission announces the details of a settlement with four of the nation’s largest radio broadcasters — Clear Channel, CBS Radio, Citadel and Entercom — over the practice of payola, the practice of accepting payment from record labels to air their artists without disclosing that arrangement to listeners.”

  39. Dave (Original)

    RE: “Most people understand hidden text is something like white text on a white background, and know to steer clear of it”

    I don’t agree with that Matt. IMO “most people” (Webmasters) pay a “SEO” to boost their rankings and have no clue what has been done to achieve this. Why doesn’t Google treat the illness (black hat SEO) and not the symptoms (sites who paid for SEO) who they no doubt found via a Google search?

    BTW, there are VERY few SEO out there that always stay within Google’s guidelines and thus are black hat.

  40. Dave (Original)

    Graywolf, the 2 quotes;

    “Make pages for users, not for search engines”


    “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”

    *Re-enforces* Matts’ post and doesn’t need changing. How can a user know to click a link if it’s hidden??

  41. Wouldn’t it be better as described up above to have more rel tags?


    I am sure there could be others as well each one would give a clearer reason for the link. Some people say nofollow means untrusted but what if you trust the site but don’t want to get caught in some reciprocal linking scheme or something?

  42. Dave (Original)

    RE “Wouldn’t it be better as described up above to have more rel tags?”

    You mean rely on dishonest people to be honest? These people profit from being dishonest, so I can’t see them getting morals anytime soon.

  43. In all other forms of media the line between paid promotion and non-paid is virtually non-existent in many cases. Certainly the Coca-Cola cups that Paula and Simon drink out of on American Idol are paid placements, but to the best that my eyesight allows on my HDTV the cups are not labeled as such. Morning DJs extol the virtues of their new Cingular phones, but again no statement is made that their comments are part of a paid plug. General Motors likely paid a king’s ransom to have their vehicles used exclusively in the upcoming Transformers movie, but somehow I doubt there will be a disclaimer at the beginning of the film. Anyway, you get the idea …

    Paid sponsorships are worked into the media we are exposed to in many natural ways without anyone batting an eye. Why does Google feel the need to create a different set of rules for on-line media? Can it be anything other than the fact that paid links ruin the basis of the natural linking strategy that their algorithm is based upon?

  44. I am not changing anything. Google is not the end all be all.

  45. 1. Would it not be easier if google just decides that all SEO is bad? Since SEO is obviously there to influence the ranking for search engines. Or is the difference just in the word “paid”? because google wants more people to use adsense instead of paid links. I agree, maybe there should be a “rel=paid” attribute.

    2. There are a lot of directories that obviously charge for linking to external sites, so will google be banning all these sites? Why is Yahoo any different since they also charge a fee for review/inclusion yearly? Will all directories need to have a nofollow attribute?

    3. I “bought” a link and used black on black, but it was for CREATIVE reasons (to get traffic) rather than to trick google. I don’t even care about the backlink in this instance. So will my site be penalized or banned because of this or will the PR just not count toward the site.

  46. One more question: Do sites get penalized for having the word LINK in the url?

  47. Dear Matt,

    I’m going to be very direct and hope you can appreciate what I am about to say.

    I find it quite interesting that Google is trying to tackle the “paid link” problem, yet for 3 years I have complained and submitted spam reports regarding some blatant violations (3 different URLs ,owned by by a publically traded company, with the exact page content on all URLs – ie: styles,graphics,copy) and have yet to see ANYTHING done about it.

    Furthermore, your PageRank (PR) algo is completely flawed. Although the intial concept was valid and remains such,”the importance of a page”, Google has managed to create a commodity out of PageRank. People buy and sell links based on PageRank “vanity”. I see MFA sites with higher PRs than sites owned by govermental bodies or associations. I can’t understand how your algo can’t differentiate between MFA sites and sites of governing bodies in a particular niche and assign PR based on their true merit and status.

    Additional, as back-links are a major factor in the Google SERPs algo, Google is once again creating a commodity. There are literally dozens of schemes and networks out there promoting link building (paid and free). Folks are gaming social sites in order to game the Google algo. Unfortunately I can’t see it changing for the better. Do you have any idea as to how many useless link directories are out there and being launched daily? Thats a dirrevative of the Google algo! How about Tags/Cloud sites?

    Spend a little time on Yahoo … you will see that their SERPs are substantially better now than G’s SERPs!

    If you are so inclined to investigate the issue discussed in my first paragraph, please feel free to email me.

  48. I have always used “text-decoration:none” on my sites, because I just think it looks better. Are you suggesting now that I can be penalized for not putting the underline on my text links??

  49. Matt,
    I hear what you say, but it many respects “paid links” are honest and clean compared to some of the methos still working on google:
    For expample my link here links.
    I even see these being cloaked and working.
    Would it not be better to get those out first? If not why not?

  50. I don’t see why it’s okay for Google to make money from search but it’s not okay for webmasters to make money from selling links. I mean look at the new ads on the Google search page. The lighter colour on the ads that appear above the results is a subtle change but I’m sure Google is making much more money for their “paid links” without any benefit to the regular user. There paid ads in a really light colour before you get to the real search results? Come on. Who are we kidding here?

    Besides, the people that care about quality and so on will follow these rules. The people that try to game the system are going to break the rules anyway, so what’s the point?

    The worst part of this will be the poor bastard that has no clue about SEO and doesn’t read these blogs. He’ll probably be the one paying the price for Google having to punish paid links.

    I guess my point is that Google is the one with the billions of dollars so they should figure this out on their own. Leave the webmasters alone to create their sites and make money any way they legally can. Paid links are not tricking the user in the way that hidden links are.

    Hidden links are bad. Paid links are the right of the webmaster and it’s up to Google to deal with it in their own way. The way I see it, it’s a person’s site. It’s their content. Google makes money from ads when it displays the site in the search results. So if they want to sell ads or space on the site, shouldn’t it be their right to monazite that in the best way for them?

    Those are my two cents in any case.

  51. To be honest since the first part of your guidelines is “Make pages for users, not for search engines.” and I truely believe that is the way to go, I find it better to sell text links than having adsense on my pages, for the simple reason that I have editorial control over the ads I put on my site. I don’t sell links to sites that I don’t like but I can’t block every crap site advertising using adwords. Of course as you said there are ways to make those links non readable by the SEs however you forget one thing. That is possible only for big websites or network of sites that can relatively easily find direct advertisers, what about the small sites? If it was so easy finding advertisers people wouldn’t use places like Text-Link-Ads paying 50% commissions. So in reality this will hurt the small sites where webmasters prefer to have control over the advertising that appears on their sites. In addition to that I really doubt that this will have an effect on bigger websites that are buying and selling links. Are you going to ban every newspaper on the net since almost all of them are selling links, every blog network etc? Even if you do how long will it take for it to get unbanned? I would guess a day or two (like BMW). The ones that are going to get hurt are the Mypersonalblogwhereiselladvertisingtocovertheexpenses.com type of sites.

  52. Matt,
    Clearly most pay-per posts are designed for getting links, so many people are not going to follow your advice. That means you are going to have to come up with another clever algorithm to detect paid links, but I hope that you test it very hard against false positives, as links are so important now, it would be unfortunate to loose out on some PR because the massive blog that did an article on your new site looked (to a machine) like it could be a paid link.

    Similarly, I can think of many cases where I have designed links that are the same colour as the text on the page for design purposes. While they may not be in the middle of continuous text, they may be in the same P tag, separated by just a BR (for tagging, references, etc). Simple example but I am sure you can think of more.

    Just to make things clear:
    a) Is the hidden link detection run supervised, or can we expect some false positives?
    b) Same question, only for detecting paid links.
    c) If a site sells links, do the other links on the site still carry PR, or is the penalty imposed site-wide.
    d) Are sites selling paid links seen as spammy sites in the same way as link farms, i.e. could the site being linked to incur a penalty, or just not have that link counted.

  53. I’m interested to find a definitive view of “paid links” in the Google sense.

    Does it just mean “paid for a post or article”?
    Does it mean “I’ve been paid $100 for this text link”
    Does it mean “This is an affiliate link, I’ll earn 3% of what you spend”?

    Or is it one or more of them?

    It’s just that there’s many different ways that a webmaster could earn from a link.

  54. what about bigmouthmedia their homepage has always been like this


  55. Hi Matt

    This is a bit offtopic too, but just thought of the question reding alle the comments regarding the hidden links.

    I was searching google for something the other day and stumpled across a site not using hidden links, but using hidden H1. 75% of the page i was looking at was written in H1 and the styled down too look normal when viewing in the browser.

    I’ve read the Google guidelines, and I believe this is not good ethics, but will they get punished for doing this or will google not be able to detect this.. ok the last question I know you won’t answer 😉

    I won’t put their link in here, but if you wan’t to have a closer look, just send me a mail and i’ll send you the link to the site.


  56. Lame Matt, real lame.

    Why don’t you guys just fix the problem (other “Lesser” search engines have…) instead of trying to get webmasters to do all of the work for you?

    What about all that talk about google being able to detect paid links?

    So I take it that, “Looking for linking patterns that suggest money is being exchanged for links” was a failure? I just gotta say it DUH!!!

    You guys at google are so dedicated to your link analyzing algorithm that the real world is slipping by… Why try to keep an obviously flawed algo going? Why not work on some NEW ideas for a change?

  57. What about hiding links like this?


    My competitor made about 20.000 webmasters to link to him like this.
    And for my surprise Google is putting him higher and higher…

  58. mmm,
    seems your code took out my noscript tags 🙂

  59. Oops my previous post should be like this:

    What about hiding links like this?

    span style=”display:none;”

    My competitor made about 20.000 webmasters to link to him like this.
    And for my surprise Google is putting him higher and higher…

  60. IMHO it is totally wrong for Google to request that we mark paid links. Real world example: I work in a dot com, we have an outside blog, which covers the topics related to our business. It’s not a big deal – but it is in my job description that I need to update that blog. Every now and than I include a link back to us – when it is relevant to what is getting blogged. I get my salary. I’m getting paid for including the link back to our main site. Is that wrong? Should we get punished for that? This is called advertising – and one of the reasons we do it – of course for google to pick it up. Most of bloggers/other sites would not EVER mention our website without getting paid – because we are in a niche market. And I am proud to say that people who are in our target market respect us – but they are not geeks, who blog and include links and share and open source and all that crap. They are businessmen, they are rats, and they rarelly tell their friends about our service – because they have good benefits out of it (sort of their business secret). So paid advertising is the only way for us – if we want to stay on top of link farms and scammers in the search results page.

    I’m really angry about this “policy” of paid links from Google – I tend to see you as good guys. Why don’t you first weed out the bastards that create link farms, have hidden links etc etc – so that we, normal guys, don’t have to FIGHT (and go into the gray area) them just so we can survive. The paid links sometimes are the only way to do it.

  61. “In all other forms of media the line between paid promotion and non-paid is virtually non-existent in many cases.” SEO Mash, I’d disagree with that. For example, newpapers/magazines have ads that are clearly distinguished, and ads that look like faux articles are often marked with “Advertisement.” Even if your statement were true, having clear disclosure on the web would still be a good thing for users and anyone that uses web data to provide a service.

    LaCabra, I dropped you an email to get more details about the duplicate pages that you mentioned.

    Bill Platt, my guess is that your links are quite different than the example I showed. You’re removing the underline, but you’re probably not changing the color to be the same as text, removing the mouseover messaging, and changing the cursor to look the same.

    Rupert Bowling, I’d enjoy hearing more info; I’m not sure your links got encoded right. Ah, you commented later about noscript. Google does a pretty fine job of handling text noscript/noframes so that it doesn’t cause problems in scoring. If someone is putting text into a noframes section, I would avoid keyword stuffing, gibberish text, or trying to load the noframes/noscript section up though. Even though our scoring handles that well, users still don’t like it and complain to us like you did. 🙂

    Tim Wintle, part of the reason that I asked for feedback in a later post was to collect data for testing out some new approaches. We would definitely take care in those approaches to make sure that a technique was doing what was intended and wanted.

    Lee Mccoy, for now I’d be perfectly happy to get feedback on the “I paid $X for this link” variety, whether it be directly for a link or as part of a paid post/article/review.

    DaveN, you might need to provide a longer comment; my DaveN->verbose English decoder ring is in the other room. 🙂

    DHN, I dropped you an email to get a little more details. My guess is that our scoring algorithms handle this pretty well though.

    lots0, part of the reason to put out a call for feedback is to test out some approaches that we’ve been looking at. We have been looking at some new ideas and wanted to try them out on some independent data.

    tybi, the regular spam report is a great way to give us feedback on sites like that. I’d use your name “tybi” so that someone could look into it more.

    Dominykas, just curious: is your blog on the same domain as your regular website? I wasn’t clear on whether your blog says “This is the Company X blog” or whether it was completely separate with no way for people to know that Company X was behind the blog.

  62. Matt said:
    tybi, the regular spam report is a great way to give us feedback on sites like that. I’d use your name “tybi” so that someone could look into it more.

    Hmm, I did a report once few weeks ago but nothing hapenned… Now I did it the second time… Hope someone will have a look at it.



  63. supersize-optimize

    Ok, but what about those instances where you get free links on “free” directory sites like that of Ted Sullivans, but then down the road, those free sites now charge for a submission? That is now a paid link (as after that date, all new submissions would have to pay).

    But I got it for free, before Ted or whomever got a decent amount of links in their directory and before their webmasters perhaps realised that their directory is turning out quite nice, filtering out the bad sites, etc – and that they could charge a little and maintain a bit of money to cover the work that they put into it. So even if the directory is working well, and is a nice tidy directory trying to keep resource available by charging a little, it becomes a bad link?

    I think thats a dangerous area, as there is a lot of crossover. Same goes for sites in general. Whos to say they werent friends of mine who dropped me a link to say thanks, or liked an article, a tool, resource on my site, and so one. Or were they strangers who were in a similar industry, wanted a bit of money for the mention, and then dropped me a link to say thanks.

    Directory links whether paid or free require effort, are done by a lot of “mom and pop” sites (as someone else called em) and deserve to be a factor in an algorithm. However, buying massive amounts of links in one go like via Textlinkads, etc, that appear as footer text links on loads of random websites, that is what needs to be patrolled better.

  64. Hey Matt,

    Could you look at my site, and tell me the deal please, please

  65. Matt : “I wouldn’t worry about menus that use mouseovers to reveal options”

    Does that include JS or CSS based menu/submenu systems that reveal all submenu links to Googlebot on each and every page while the submenu links remain invisible for JavaScript disabled browsers ?

  66. tybi, did you do the report to the authenticated form or the unauthenticated form? Please use your handle (“tybi”) as well. I checked the unauthenticated form, and the last tbyi report was from 12/31/2006; a German report about citybikes. 🙂

  67. “In all other forms of media the line between paid promotion and non-paid is virtually non-existent in many cases.” SEO Mash, I’d disagree with that. For example, newpapers/magazines have ads that are clearly distinguished, and ads that look like faux articles are often marked with “Advertisement.”

    Matt, I think one of the problems with this is that you are trying to draw a distinction between paid/editorial. While you are correct that newspapers that stake their reputation on the line, do draw this distinction on overtly paid advertisements, there are many ways in which money can buy placements in editorial contexts.

    For example, it is common practice for newspaper editors to be more receptive to their larger advertisers when a press release passes over their desk. I think this is human nature at work.

    How does all of this gray area between paid and unpaid translate to the web? Is the fact that money crosses hands the determinant factor, or is it the fact that editorial judgement was utilized? To give you an example:

    Suppose that I run Google AdSense on my site, and Google pays me a check each month. Then suppose that I periodically post links to Google press releases that I find interesting — should I mark these as rel=”nofollow” because we have a financial relationship as well?

    And if not, how is that different from some fellow that sells widgets that I love and strongly recommend, yet pays me a hundred dollars a month to make the link to his website larger, bolder and closer to the top. In this situation, isn’t it dishonest of me to annotate that link in a way that implies that I don’t vouch for it and am not willing to stake my reputation on it?

    And if Google penalizes me for this, aren’t they making a misjudgment that in some small way negatively affects the SERPs?

  68. [quote]Dominykas, just curious: is your blog on the same domain as your regular website?[/quote]

    It is on a separate domain, the blog is titled “A blog about Things in our Business”, the blog audience is much wider than our business target audience. Mostly because we ourselves are not willing to provide the services to everyone. It is a perfectly legitimate content website the way I see it. Yet we know that a) just by accident there will be people who don’t know our business (traffic) and b) obviously linking back to ourselves with keywords is good for SEO. It is our website, but we do not actively say that “this blog is created by company X, we do business” for several reasons. Think about it this way – Microsoft is giving free copies of their software to education institutions, so that the graduates will buy the product. Gray – sure, but is Google the one to judge this?

    The point is that when starting a new business, a new website you have to get the incoming links if you want to do at least something. I have started a couple of websites this year (personal), and all of them had grown out of communities which already existed, so it was easy. But if I didn’t have that – I would need to go spamming digg, delicious and all other places just to get at least that one person who will tell about the website to someone else. Yet if the startup has a budget – what is wrong about paid links for search ratings?

    I just want to reiterate – building up quality non-payed links is only possible between geeks and about services for geeks. The real world average Joe does not blog. He only searches. Do you imagine anyone linking to a funeral service website? A website which gives reviews of um… diapers? They simply won’t unless you pay them.

    And don’t get offended – but I’m getting paranoid, as the only way to promote a business will be using AdWords in the searches OR black SEO tactics (i.e. going against Google’s guidelines, by, say, buying a blog article which does not use “nofollow”) – while I totally see google wanting that, but what about “Don’t be evil”?

  69. Matt:
    “tybi, did you do the report to the authenticated form or the unauthenticated form? Please use your handle (”tybi”) as well. I checked the unauthenticated form, and the last tbyi report was from 12/31/2006; a German report about citybikes.”

    It wasn’t me… (shaggy) 😉

    Few weeks ago I used unauthenticated form without “tybi”.
    Today first time, I used unauthenticated form with “tybi”.
    Today second time, I used authenticated form with “tybi”.

    I hope this is enough :).

    Anyway, I don’t understand how can be links hided like this:

  70. Anyway, I don’t understand how can be links hided like this:
    span style=”display:none;”… being counted. Isn’t this clearly spamming?


  71. Can you guys create a new rel=…. tag? How about: rel=”paid”?

    This would allow us to use the nofollow when we don’t trust the link and tell you that it is paid when it is paid. If it is paid we trust it (at least we should since we are linking to it), but need to disclose it.

    This would solve both the trust issues and the paid issues.

  72. Tybi,
    “Anyway, I don’t understand how can be links hided like this:
    span style=”display:none;”… being counted. Isn’t this clearly spamming?”

    I sometimes set up links/divs etc like this and have them made visible through javascript. The point being that I want some information available to the user, but only if they tick a box etc.

    If google start handing out penalties based on this sort of thing, then I hope they make it *extremely* clear about what they are looking for.

  73. Here’s an idea: next time Google comes out with a new search engine that makes it easier for people to steal my content, how about they report that information to me, on my site? Please make it available in both human readable format and in bot-readable format. You have my email. Thanks.

  74. In case it’s not clear, my point is that trust goes both ways. The more Google gives in to advertising, the more they create searches and other tools that make it easy for people to steal content, the more Google behaves like an authoritarian telling web developers what to do, the more Google’s monopoly grows, the more ties Google has to disrespected companies, the less we trust Google. Why should we buy your “trust” spin?

  75. For example, you could make a paid link go through a redirect where the redirect url is robot’ed out using robots.txt.

    Looks like I’m good then, but I’ve been doing it this way over 10 years.

    What’s old becomes new again 😉

  76. well i would like to ask that if we have a div in which i have links and by default it is hidden but when a user clik on it, the div display is on and we can see the layer so, is it spamming or google take it properly. i would like to know because one of my client has very important links on his site like this.

    and about paid links – what has the webmasters done to google that they are giving more imp to paid links.
    he he he

    any ways thanks for the wonderful article

  77. Ok Matt, I was looking at a dhtml sidebar company for my website. They had a pr8. All their links come from their copyright notice within the sidebar coding and it is an invisible hidden link but google clearly reads it ( i mean they get links from a lot of newspapers and some major Fortune 500 companies and such but no where on the screen or cached text or regular copies on google will you ever see the link. I am not even sure those companies realize the link is there. Would you consider that a bad hidden link?

  78. “For example, newpapers/magazines have ads that are clearly distinguished, and ads that look like faux articles are often marked with “Advertisement.” Even if your statement were true, having clear disclosure on the web would still be a good thing for users and anyone that uses web data to provide a service.”

    The LA Times has a real estate section. It ranks #1 for “los angeles real estate”. You can look for homes, agents, lenders, etc. They charge a fee to be listed as a lender or agent. They will include a link if desired. How is that link not relevant?

    What about the link to the mom and pop business from their local Chamber of Commerce where they had to pay to join? How is that not relevant and worthy of being counted by Google?

    I deal with lots of mom and pop types. They don’t go to SE conferences, don’t read your blog, and don’t have a clue about the social web other than checking Myspace to see what their kids are up. The figure if the link is from a relevant, related site, it should be good. I don’t see how you think this helps them.

    Help me help them.

  79. Dave (Original)

    RE: “The LA Times has a real estate section. It ranks #1 for “los angeles real estate”. You can look for homes, agents, lenders, etc. They charge a fee to be listed as a lender or agent. They will include a link if desired. How is that link not relevant?”

    It is relevant and should bring the advertiser some good traffic and give a good ROI. If not, they shouldn’t be advertising on that page/site. However, advertising should *not* make the page more relevant in the organic SERPs. If it does, then those with the deepest pockets will always dominate the SERPs and Google is no longer objective, but subjective.

    Same goes for your “Chamber of Commerce” example.

    This all really commen sense stuff IMO.

  80. I’ve also seen hidden links using scroll delay. Very smart technique :). They keep the scroll delay for marquee text and hide links using this technique.


  81. Hi Matt,

    Going along the lines of hidden text, I was wondering about using CSS to off-screen content… if this was allowed, then it would be an easy way to do keyword stuffing… however, on most of my websites I usually have a Navigation that is not visually shown on the page, but helps screen reader users understand the structure of the page (as in, the links which follow are for the site navigation).

    The off-screen CSS being…

    #nav h2 {
    position: absolute;
    left: -5000px;

    For more uses of the off-screen technique, see…


  82. Matt, Google can easily resolve the problem with paid links and improve the quality of its search results considerably at the same time: just stop passing link anchor text.

    Google should be focusing on relevance and not rewarding basic spam techniques. Link anchor text in no way improves relevance regardless of how much silly propaganda Google publishes that says it does.

  83. It’s worth remembering that not all hidden links are bad…

    Hidden links have an important role to play in accessibility e.g. access to alternate content, shortcuts for screen readers etc.

    Any scheme which tries to crack down on hidden links for SEO reasons must ensure it doesn’t penalise those providing features for people with accessibility needs too

  84. Dave (Original)

    That would be treating the sympton and not the disease! It would also likely be a case of the cure being worse than the disease.

    Besides, anchor text from SOME pages is likely only a small bit of a big picture.

  85. Matt – what’s Google’s policy on ‘hiding’ screen-reader-useful text off the left of the screen (with absolute positioning or negative margin) to be replaced by an image containing more visually meaningful content? This can be done with links, or any element (commonly replacing an H1 site name link with a logo image). Also, simply hiding links which are only meant to be displayed to screen-readers (‘skip to content’ etc). As I understand it, this kind of thing could result in a site being automatically penalised by Google, even though they’re useful techniques with legitimate purposes.

  86. Have never seen devious links like that before…
    Hmmmm must watch out…

  87. Thanks Matt, good luck.

    Michael Martinez – how would not passing anchor text improve search results. If there is a reference you can cite I would be very interested. I can think of several cases where the passing of the anchor text definately improves accuracy, and very few situations where it would not (if you take out black hat tactics). True, they are prone to abuse, but so are tags, which are being used all across the web with some efficiency.

  88. I agree 100% that all paid links/content should be marked as advertising – I’d never include it on my own sites without marking it. But I’m wary of NOFOLLOW and weird javascript links and click-track redirects – I’ve never felt I really understood the effects of these, and I don’t like them as a user myself, so I’ve avoided them and kept my own links as simple as possible.

    But I’m less worried by nofollow than the other methods, so I may start using that more extensively. (BTW, how do I nofollow my google_alternate_url adsense links? I think my site got burnt several years ago because Googlebot followed those.)

  89. Devious links? What about this one. I know of at least one example of someone “sponsoring” a free visitors counter. The free counter is distributed with the hidden link in it. I know of one competitive term where this has tactic has resulted in number 1 rankings.

  90. I don’t agree with this. Google likes to mint money and even in their SE results now they have changed the color for sponsored links so that users are now more driven to click on sponsored results rather than Organic. So ITS OK if google plays with such techniques but if WEBMASTERS tries to earn some money using his/her own web property by selling link spaces then Google has objection to it. This is just brutal…

  91. does a text (eventually with link) genered trough a external js function and also included (for SEO reason) by a div with display:none, be parsed as spam?

    does google automatically sign this stuff as spam or a human control will ensure is a “valid trick”?

    many ajax apps require this kind of tecnhique, does google admin this kind of stuff?

    i’m doing some test there : http://www.aicube.net/blog/2007/04/seo-test-js-e-indicizzazione.html

  92. “If you want to sell a link, you should at least provide machine-readable disclosure for paid links by making your link in a way that doesn’t affect search engines.”

    Matt, didn’t you mention before that web sites should be built for humans, and that search engines would take care of themselves?

    If Google wants everyone to follow your suggestion, then please take the first step with Google.com. Ban all AdWords for paid text link services. That way Google will take a hit in revenue, and encourage some of us web-masters to also follow in taking a similar hit in revenue.

  93. Dave (Original): “That would be treating the sympton and not the disease! It would also likely be a case of the cure being worse than the disease.”

    Tim Wintle: “Michael Martinez – how would not passing anchor text improve search results.”

    LOL! Yeah, and the Brooklyn Bridge only costs $5.

    How many of you even TRY to achieve search engine success without the use of links? What, no hands?

    That speaks VOLUMES about the quality of Google’s search results.

    Let’s see what history has to say about Google and link anchor text.

    LINK FARMING: Bad for Google, good for participants until they get caught.

    EXCESSIVE RECIPROCAL LINKAGE: Bad for Google, good for participants until they caught.

    LINK DROPS IN BLOGS AND FORUMS: Bad for Google, good for droppers until they get caught.

    Google’s response: Please do our work for us and use “rel=’nofollow'” on all your automated outbound links because we’re the biggest search engine and our results suck when you spam the index with link anchor text (I’m summarizing, not quoting any Google statements).

    Why does Matt Cutts, on his own blog, use relevant anchor text for Googler content but irrelevant anchor text for other people’s content?

    Could it possibly be that he doesn’t want to inadvertently impact Google’s search results by passing competitive link anchor text to third parties? Maybe he should just autonofollow all outbound links so that he doesn’t have to worry about that.

    Not that NOFOLLOW ever solved the bloggers’ problem anyway. People still use robots to link drop, but Google has at least now gotten SOME software and service providers to help do its work.

    Like I said: Google could easily solve this problem by NOT allowing any links to pass anchor text. That’s not necessary for determining natural relevance anyway.

  94. Lumping paid links together with hidden links is like lumping CPA with malware or e-mail spamming – it just does a disservice to everyone involved.

  95. Gosh – I am thinking about all those publications that not only get paid to write reviews (with links to the product sites) but to actually list useful sites in their directory for a fee.

    Are publications like Business Week or CNET going to be penalized for having a set of “paid inclusion links” in their articles?

    This seems to be a case of “do as I tell you not as I do” from Google.

  96. Matt,

    🙂 I’m not sure what to say, but I would still think why with so much engineers and money Google has not evolved out of a simple logical pattern algorithm to determine a quality of the page on its own and expecting people to mention the no follow tag.

    The hidden link has a very logical pattern of background of the page to hide itself and I’m a developer myself and I would be easily able to differentiate.

    So its a plain open fact Google is not impressive at identifying the quality of the page for the content. Instead it still relies on the simple outbound and Inbound links to quantify a site.

    Additionally on Google Adwords, you guys display the ad without real link popularity (since its a javascript) and people spend money on it… Tomorrow people may ask why shouldn’t they gain the link popularity in Google for participating in Google Adwords? When you guys climb the fact Google Adsense is displaying the link on the content targeting with relevancy, why shouldn’t the Google Adwords Advertiser gain a link popularity in Google itself.

    Like Michael Martinez saying, when something is not capable of Google, then it becomes bad for everyone and not everyone is going to agree with that. Instead of asking people to write nofollow tag, invest the time and money on the research of how better Google can be providing the natural search even at a worst case like you mentioned above on the article.

    I could show you plenty of websites especially news websites make money out of this sponsor ads as link popularity schemes and I could say why shouldn’t they make money out of this.

    If you guys haven’t started thinking about it, atleast start now, otherwise someone will emerge with a standard like I mentioned.

  97. Let me first thank you for this great one!! One who has been punished by Google ( with / without knowledge) for hidden text and hidden links would really agree with Google’s Mantra- ““Make pages for users, not for search engines”!!

    First of all such hidden text or links would leave bad impression on daily readers and later new visitors. So directly you loose your trust.

    It is really difficult to get your site in reinclusion process if Google stops indexing your site as punishment for such cause. So beware!!

  98. Dave, my examples of the LA Times and local CoCs don’t give an edge to the bigger boys because they are not local and unable to be promoted in that medium, so the edge goes to the mom and pops. They are both relevant local authorities.

    Dave, the big dogs have the budgets to buy links that you and Google can’t ID as paid, so this backfires. I doubt that those who know how to camouflage a paid link are going to give them up. All you will get is the low hanging fruit.

    Its like gun control, where only the cops (Google) and the bad guys (those with $$$$$) have the guns.

    Matt, your phds need to study the law of unintended consequences a bit more. You really will kill the mom and pops with this. I’ll prove it to you.

  99. Matt,

    How are you to going to address all those external links in peoples sites that don’t use the nofollow tag, but are obviously not paid? For example, user submitted content like topics in a forum? Also my site, for example, has databases of known windows startup programs that in each entry’s description we link to the reference where we got the information about the program. Are we now supposed to go through all those entries to add nofollow tags to them even though they are not paid links?

    Also will you be penalizing the sites hosting the paid links or the sites that you link to? Or both?

    Last but not least, not that I am here, how is a webmaster supposed to get support from google such as clarifying if you have a penalty. In the past you have said to post to the Google Webmaster Help group. I have done so, but never received a response from when I posted on March 22nd.

  100. >will you be penalizing the sites hosting the paid links or the sites that you link to?

    Anything other than simply devaluing the suspected links would be a mistake and open up the web to all kinds of sabotage.

  101. What about javascript URLs that are recognized by Google + co but never shown anywhere? Would that be a hidden link, if technically it is not really a link but just a javascript string?

    script type=text/javascript
    var what=”http://somesite.com/”;

    I realize that it is probably not passing that much link-value (and certainly no anchor-text), but as long as it passes anything (and it seems to be enough to get pages crawled and indexed) it could get abused.

    The other problem is that some people use this technique to keep URLs from being indexed (or at least from passing value), perhaps for a paid or irrelevant link… They might be trying to keep it from being indexed, have it accidentally get indexed anyway (through the javascript source) and then (perhaps later) get penalized for linking :-).

    Is keeping our javascript in an external file (blocked via robots.txt) a solution?

  102. Wow, I really want to troll this one. I’ve never commented here, so I’ll try and hold the expletives rolling around in my brain as I read this (ridiculous) thread. I’ve caught this blog a few times, and I usually appreciate what I read. This, however, is ‘baloney’.

    A couple of people have tried to gently broach this subject in the comments above, but really this is counter-productive. It sounds to me like Google will be trying to kill off their small-time competition for advertising. The ‘mom and pop shops’, as it were.

    Any small site that marks their paid links as paid in a fashion which causes indexing bots to ignore them will no longer be able to contract for paid links. At a minimum, the value if the service will be decreased by orders of magnitude. That is, after all, a primary purpose of paying for a link. Many link buyers are just as concerned (or more) with the SERP listing (inbound link) as any traffic they may get from a small site’s traffic.

    Trying to chase paid links out of the organic SERPS really comes off as strong-arming webmasters to pay for adsense/adwords placement. If the site is keyword-relevant and well formed, how those links got there is really none of your business as a ‘search engine’.

    I can see how it really matters to an advertising company, though. Remember kids, it’s not kewl to buy those links unless you buy them from Google!

    If I want to start a business, I have two choices. I can try and do everything by word of mouth, or pay for some advertising. Google is not concerned with the ‘word of mouth’ piece (yet) but now they’re wanting to punish people who have sold/bought advertising?

    Back to my hypothetical business, if I can convince or pay 100 small shop owners to put my business card in their store I may opt to do that instead of paying ClearChannel for one billboard. The way I’m reading it, the only difference here is that ClearChannel doesn’t have any way to punish the small shop owner for costing them potential revenue, where Google does.

    The fact that you’re trying to convince business people to cut THEMSELVES off at the knees so Google can profit by selling more ads and/or placement is pretty funny. Why don’t you take some time to fight the blatant rampage of 100% scraped-content MFA sites and similar Adsense-spawned web atrocities out there, instead of penalizing people who are working together to mutually grow their business?

    Oh yeah, it’s because trash in the SERPS increases the value of adsense campaigns, that’s right.

    If people actually working to promote their site without paying Google is so damaging to your business model that you want to actively curtail its effectiveness, maybe as a company Google should consider getting out of ‘organic’ search. Trying to present a business tactic which harms your competitors in the “commercial web” as “good for the social web” is silly and deceptive. A recipe for backlash indeed.

  103. Some CMS’ are just aweful when it comes to css. I understand and applaud Google’s initiative but can only wonder what criteria will the spam team use when watching for culprits. Take osCommerce which is the perfect storm for hidden links (this way, anyway). I go out of my way boldening and underlining hypertext I want to highlight as link, as I want users to be able to clickthrough. But I am never sure if I can accomplish this change sitewide… And as anyone familiar with osCommerce knows, better not mess up with the script. So where does this leaves us, Matt?

  104. What I don’t get.

    Someone buys advertising (in text link form). As webmaster, I check the site out and make sure it’s not sketchy. If it passes, I allow it and put it under a ‘sponsors’ heading. Why would I put a nofollow on it, basically saying it’s not trustworthy?

    Also, what about Yahoo charging, etc. Heck, I’ve even heard it sometimes costs to get into DMOZ.

    I don’t like spam either, but this really seems to me like Google wants their hands in all advertising monies on the intraweb…


  105. I have a site to report; Yahoo Travel.

    On numerous occassions the manager of content there has contacted us about paying for links …. this really seems to be a bit too hard to me to end up being policed, but from a site whose point of view is to create useful content it’s good news 🙂

  106. Matt said:
    “For example, you could make a paid link go through a redirect where the redirect url is robot’ed out using robots.txt.”

    Could you explain what you mean? (A link to the explanation would be sufficient.)

  107. Dave (Original)

    Michael Martinez, you seem to have a chip on your shoulder about Google. Is it only Google, or any big business?

    IMO Google do use some anchor text on some pages to determine what the linked to page is about. Makes perfect sense to me as when they get it right (likely more often than not) it improves search results.

    However, your entire post misses the point that Google main concern is its *users*, not webmasters, not directories, no forums, not blogs etc etc. To top that off I believe they take a bottom up approach to runnning their business. That is, they focus mainly on their users (advervisers excluded) and in doing so the rest falls into place nicely.

  108. Dave (Original)

    RE: “Dave, my examples of the LA Times and local CoCs don’t give an edge to the bigger boys because they are not local and unable to be promoted in that medium, so the edge goes to the mom and pops. They are both relevant local authorities.”

    Agree, but what is your point then. I read your post as Google should count these links as votes and not advertisements. In my mind there is NO doubt they are the latter.

    RE: “Dave, the big dogs have the budgets to buy links that you and Google can’t ID as paid, so this backfires. I doubt that those who know how to camouflage a paid link are going to give them up. All you will get is the low hanging fruit.”

    They are *working* (perpetually) on automaticallly differentiating paid links from votes. Google is one of the “big dogs have the budgets” to maintain the qaulity of their search results. They cannot afford NOT to IMO. If they ONLY get “low hanging fruit” that is better than nothing.

    RE: “Matt, your phds need to study the law of unintended consequences a bit more. You really will kill the mom and pops with this. I’ll prove it to you.”

    As you *already* know all about this, why not inform us on the details on what and how Google is going to tackle this?

  109. Dave, it’s clear that you don’t get it, but big deal.

    The only opinion or response I’m interested in is Matt’s.

  110. Dave (Original)

    I get what Google is trying to do and what Matt has said, it’s only you I don’t get. Anyway, I’ll leave you to Matt….you might want to grab a seat though 🙂

  111. @JohnMu, Have you considered Law as a new career? Or sales for that matter? Where it’s always a virtue to never ask a question you don’t know the answer to. 🙂

    I think this has reached critical mass and I guess I am only adding to the confusion now…

  112. Matt,

    I have a potential solution for this issue that will solve itself forever with a day’s work on your end of the equation….

    Stop publicly advertising a page’s PageRank. Make that feature disappear from the toolbar by closing off the port that feeds that data to the toolbar. Instead of showing (0/10) for hidden pagerank, replace that code with a (disabled) tag.

    If buyers cannot see the PR for a page, then they will not be buying advertising for the purposes of influencing PageRank. Buyers will be forced to remove PR from their buying decision considerations.

    Of course, this might hurt the seller’s sale price for a link, because people will have to make the buying decision based on the content of the page and the traffic numbers offered by the seller concerning their website or web page (this is the actual definition of links bought for advertising purposes).

    The only reason there is a market for buying links on PR pages is because everyone can see a page’s PR and they all know the inherent value of that number.

    If you simply take away the number from public viewing, then the whole issue will resolve itself in short order.

    We know that you already have the ability to hide information from the public. The existence of a public backlink record, via a link: search in your search engine and the webmaster’s private backlink checking tool, tells us upfront that you can divide the information that you show to us.

    All you need to do is to hide the PR value from the end user, and you will take away the incentive of all buyers who pay for links to influence PageRank.

    If you are serious about this issue, then that is your answer.

    Bill Platt

  113. Matt, so I’m clear, are you now suggesting that in addition to something like nofollow, site owners that want to be within Google’s guidelines must also provide some human-readable disclaimer? That’s a pretty big change, if so.

    I understand the FTC’s guidelines on paid links. But are you specifically saying that those concerned about Google rankings need to do this as well, have some human-readable disclosure?

    I’m OK with the idea that people ought to make appropriate disclosures but less so with the idea that Google might be trying to dictate this on the human readable side.

    Furthermore, if this is the guideline, then Google’s new pay-per-action text links violate this. Yes, they aren’t impacting search rankings. But when they came out, there was quite a bit of buzz about how Google itself was suggesting these should get worked into regular copy:



    “Text links are hyperlinked brief text descriptions that take on the characteristics of a publisher’s page. Publishers can place them in line with other text to better blend the ad and promote your product.

    For example, you might see the following text link embedded in a publisher’s recommendatory text: “Widgets are fun! I encourage all my friends to Buy a high-quality widget today.”


    Yes, a mouse over will have the Ads by Google info popping up, but not everyone agrees that’s enough.

  114. William

    Maybe you should read this article. It might shed some light on your life!


  115. Matt,

    I share a lot of Danny’s sentiment about human readable. You are actually starting to feel like all practices must be disclosed to Google as opposed to the user. I understand you have significant influence over this space, and I see that you likely consider yourselves to have as much or more at stake then many other sites, but at times it feels a little to proprietary in the first incarnation/recommendation.

    On this topic I have also seen cases where Google AdSense links and texts have corrupted the content of some real pages I have. An example of this is the milking process in the agriculture industry actually finds advertising relating to prostate milking. In using the XML implementation I am able to ensure broader browser and device compatibility of the ads, but then I need to undo this value by wrapping the ads in JavaScript so that they become invisible to Googlebot lest the ext corrupt my page content in the actual index.

    Because the advertising house and the organic search house must remain separate, and because any additional hints from the pages themselves could be used to intentionally mislead the engine and users, we still must hack our way to high quality results.

    I agree with your mission and I recognize the challenges you face, but I do see quite a few iterations and try and fail approach before you can turn this ship…


  116. Danny Sullivan said :

    Matt, so I’m clear, are you now suggesting that in addition to something like nofollow, site owners that want to be within Google’s guidelines must also provide some human-readable disclaimer? That’s a pretty big change, if so.

    Maybe google has some problem to pay quality rater that know html 😉

  117. I havent read all the comments simply too many but I choke on the claim this is all about…

    “What would you do if search engines didnt exist?”

    Why I would have to buy paid links of course!!!!!!

    And because in my mind Google is marginalised thats EXACTLY WHAT I DO! No money changes hands but I network with certain people and in return we share links.

    Paid links are a valid form of “networking” like leaving your business card on the counter of the local friendly shop.

    It is another method of advertising.

    I agree that one should disclose “commentary” on links as being bought and paid for. if one reads “hey go to xyz site they have the best deals on footwear” one would expect it to be noted as an advertisment which is what paid commentary is. Radio announcers get pinged for it over here all the time.

    But if I have links at the foot of my page and no commentary then thats my choice paid or otherwise.

    Of course google survives by paid links.

    The pages adwords are placed on in other words the SERPS. google is Paid to display those links. not by the websites themselves but by the adwords on those pages. They are in fact paid links.

    Once again Google is trying to manipulate the market in its own favour

    Get back to serps. let webmasters look after their own affairs

  118. Oh and another quicky. If I created my page as if search engines didn’t exist I certainly wouldnt go the extra step of adding a robots.txt file and nofollow’s and the myriad of other things you ask us to do.


  119. Dave (Original)

    Matt, so I’m clear, are you now suggesting that in addition to something like nofollow, site owners that want to be within Google’s guidelines must also provide some human-readable disclaimer? That’s a pretty big change, if so.

    Hmm, how did you come to any such conclusion??

  120. Well said Jake.

  121. Selling liks is normal (but not hidden links). Main solution for such problems – strict manual links moderation before plasement. Automatic links exchange systems must die…

  122. I understand your points Matts, but there’s a big conflict of interest here. It’s way too easy to interpret the attack on paid links as a way for G to get rid of the competing adertiser networks.

    Also, if I put nofollow on a big percentage of the links on my site, will G penalize me for this? wouldn’t that mean that I risk being regarded as low quality site?

  123. Human readable text on the page stating this is a paid link?

    Really? I mean thats kind of like poppin’ a cap in a whole industry, not to mention potentially placing a choke hold on bloggers who need to make something off their blog just to help cover the hosting.

    I guess they can just sign up for AdSense.

    Oh… I get it

  124. What’s the proper way to do robotted-out redirects? I’ve seen them mentioned in a few comment responses over the past few days.

    I had used a robotted-out redirect script for 4+ years on my site. Mine was unique, it was also an exit traffic tracking script too. In my system each user was presented a unique outbound URL for every outbound URL on every page refresh of every page on the site. Googlebot wouldn’t get unique links because of the overhead in generating all of these unique links. Every outbound link was presented to Googlebot as click.asp?dest=0 where a user would get click.asp?dest=[unique_numeric_identifier]. Click.asp was robotted-out. If click.asp?dest=0 was actually clicked by a user they would get a polite “This page is for bots that ignore our robots.txt exclusions.” error.

    I used this mechanism for 4+ years until recently. I think it tripped up some type of cloaking filter because Googlebot was being given links than the links users were seeing. I changed the redirection mechanism and a week later it seems like some type of penalty has been lifted.

    So is there a proper and improper way to do robotted-out redirects?

  125. Dave (Original)

    I guess they can just sign up for AdSense.

    Oh… I get it

    A legit form of advertising which doesn’t game Google’s objective results.

  126. Yeah totally, and it’s awesome because Google gets paid off it also, it’s a win win!
    *please note fained excitement and subtle smell of sarcasm

  127. Regarding hidden links, Section 508 (web accessibility standards) has a requirement (§ 1194.22 (o)) for a link at the top of the HTML body to skip navigation and go directly to the page’s content. It’s common practice for designers to make that link invisible to visual browsers (using a 1×1 transparent image or CSS). Is this something that the Google algorithm is smart enough to recognize as a non-spam hidden link?

  128. Dave (Original)

    Yes it is win-win, BUT AdSense does NOT game the organic SERPs at the expense of ALL others. In other words, bought PR only profits those who buy it at the expense of ALL others.

  129. Forgive my novice question. So would this mean that all directories that have a fee for their “premium” package will carry little or no link value from Google’s perspective? Obviously there are a great many of us who have purchased these packages with authoritative directories for the main purpose of having one way links to our sites from highly ranked sites. Adding a robot no follow would decrease the value to zero in my view. The traffic alone would not justify the time or money, in my business the traffic is going to come from natural searches directly to our site, or PPC.

  130. Fascinating and worrying.

    Firstly, suppose I work for a web design agency and we are paid to work for a client designing a web site for them. Should I be able to list them in a client list or announce them in a recent news section? They have paid me to do the job so the link to them is, in a sense, a paid link.

    Secondly, imagine two blogs both containing a review and a link to a product. How are we (or Google) to distinguish between the first where the blogger bought the product and the second where they were sent it free to evaluate? Is the second a ‘paid endorsement’?

    These proposals Matt seem to undermine the original work that lead to the Google reputation algorithm. Time for a new algorithm that does not take links into account?

  131. Dave (Original)

    So would this mean that all directories that have a fee for their “premium” package will carry little or no link value from Google’s perspective?

    I doubt most ever were counted toward PR and they are not votes, they are self-promoting advertising links.

  132. Hey Matt,
    I was wondering what if someone provides paid link out with human readable disclosure statement?

    Is it acceptable to google? Can someone go with it without any problem or risk of penalization. I wonder he would still get PR benefit.

    Please clarify.


  133. Matt,

    You can start by going after Best Of The Web–I noticed this paid link which does not have a machine-readable disclosure:

    href=”http://www.doubleclick.com/us/”>DoubleClick Inc.

    In fact, I think DoubleClick is probably in on this–you better go after them, too!

  134. Jonathan Briggs: In the first example – although the client has paid you to design the site, they havent actually paid you to “link” to them with the intention of increasing their PR. The fact that you want to demo their site and provide a link to them, is IMO, an eg of a “good link”. In an case, you can still link to them and use the “rel=”nofollow” tag.

    In the second example, again, as long as there was no implicit or explicit agreement to talk about and link to a product, I wouldnt consider this “paid” for linking. If there is an implication, then the second person should add a nofollow, but you are right, this is a “grey” area…

    the first guy (bought the product) should definitely leave their link intact as its the type of decent linking thats encouraged.

  135. So MATT,

    Is this a departure from your statements at SES Chicago where you implied that advertising that is bought from relevant sites is ok? In other words, advertising bought from sites where the traffic is interested in the content being linked to based on relevance.

    And also, can we understand clearly Googles policy on things like putting your link in the footer of a site you designed, having a link from your free stats counter to your homepage, and other viral marketing techniques that are being used successful to build links. THANKS!

  136. Dave (Original)

    Ray, your questions are pre answered in the Google Webmaster Guidelines. Matt comments on his blog *always* fit nicely into them too. Funny that 🙂

    I haven’t read anywhere where Matt has stated, or even implied that site owners should NOT buy advertising from relevant sites for click traffic.

  137. Hi Matt,

    Good you are behind hidden links. How you think you can check the links hidden by the help of CSS?

    I’ve worked as a SEO for some time. I’ve seen many making a fortune with those. Just thought you should be aware of these too.

    Just was wondering what your strategy will be to get rid of these.

  138. I have had this happen to me so many times, most of the time it is on a gamers page that google get paid for it sucks

  139. What about hidden divs with links in it. it that allowed?

  140. Dave (Original)

    I would guess yes if they can be unhidden by users and the ability to hide is for users.

  141. OK, I got to this post by following other links (yeah, the bunch of blog crap where they quote a passage an link to yet another page that quotes the passage and finally mentions the original article they are talking about).

    I think I understand the purpose of “nofollow”, i.e., if I quote some site and link to it as an illustration but do not want to be penalized for linking there, I include “nofllow”, right?

    The upheaval about Google “telling” webmasters what they should do or not, I don’t get. You are a webmaster and you want to get listed in Google, right? Here are the hoops: disclose paid links in a machine-readable form, etc… Where is a problem? Maybe the tone? 🙂 The only problem is that there is no reliable way to determine paid links, especially not by using spam reports, IMHO.

    So that you know, I am not a Google admirer, but my Google rants would be off-topic here.

  142. >You’re removing the underline, but you’re probably not
    >changing the color to be the same as text, removing
    >the mouseover messaging, and changing the cursor to look the same.

    Actually I do all these things because my site has Windows-like UI and links that are used to select tabs are black, without underlining, and cursor is a regular pointer (just like it is when user mouseover the regular windows tab control). Users see that those are clickable elements, but can Google penalize for that thinking that I am hiding links?

    Also what about AJAX and JavaScript links. Can they cause any problems with Google?

  143. Hi Matt,
    This is a little disturbing. I have a WordPress template, and I moderate the comments. Occasionally I get Porn sites trying to spam my comments, but I never thought that there may be a backdoor open to allow links to be generated without my knowlege.

    Is there a way I can check to se if this is happening on my site?


  144. Um yeah; this practice has been going on since the dawn of the internet. I thought Google was always going after these types of things?

  145. Michelle Hmelevsky

    Hi Matt,
    I clicked a blue link couple weeks ago, & was taken to a porn site. I don’t remember what site it was, just that I had signed up to receive info about IM. I was interested in what the person was saying & wanted more info when I clicked the link. I do remember being shocked, because what I was reading didn’t have anything at all to do with porn.

  146. Hi, Matt

    I do not think Google engineers are working for hidden links and hidden texts
    because i have a big list of sites even that sites are coming in top in serps still nothing is happening to them so better to work some thing. I can also understand because there are a billions of sites so it is not a easy task but still the sites are coming in top at least try for that.

  147. Part A

    Its a fast-paced world. Site owners NEED a way to accelerate the rankings of their sites, other than to wait for others to find it and hopefully link to it. This is true even for relevant sites of the highest quality.

    Part B

    There are 2 ways to rank fast (treating organic and paid results the same for now):
    1) Spend money on Google Ads
    2) Spend money / time on SEO tricks, like on-page optimization, paid links, linkbaiting, etc

    No matter what Google says or does, Option 2 is always going to be very tempting, for two main reasons:
    a) Organic rankings get more clicks.
    b) Organic SEO is more of an investment as it doesn’t require as much monthly expenditure for top keywords as would Google Ads.

    Part C

    NB: No matter what Google says or does, SEO will find a way to buy organic search rankings, one way or the other. Algorithmically discount paid links? Spend more time/money to find “under-the-radar” links, etc.

    Any decent SEO with a million-dollar budget will eventually crush your site in the organic rankings, one way or the other, unless you know something very special he doesn’t.

    Part D

    Q: Now if Google will never be able to stop a site from buying rank, why are they fighting this ongoing battle against the SEO tricks mentioned above?

    A: Because the more difficult and expensive they make Option 2, the more people will choose Option 1…


    SEO, wake up. No matter how cool a guy Matt Cutts is (pretty cool from what I’ve heard), his company hates you and they want your client’s wallets to open in their direction, not yours.

  148. Google changes the URL displayed in the status bar for sponsored links in their search results. Sometimes it also displays a different URL to the one that’s actually used (depending on how the advertiser has set it up).

    Isn’t this also an example of a link that crosses over into deceptiveness and violates your quality guidelines?

  149. I gotta tell ya this is a bunch of horsecrap. Really. Google wants us to divulge relationships. Good luck Big G! It ain’t gonna happen. In Print Media and in Broadcasting Media, advertisers get unclarified reccomendations (links) all the time. The news stories slanted favorably towards a company or product, the documentaries that how the wonderfulness of manufacturing plants of big companies. There is no disclosure there. Product placement in movies.

    In small businesses around the world you can see the window stickers of companies or how about when Yahoo gives me a T-shirt for advertising with them – should I put a line on the shirt that reads “Paid Ad”.

    You all are smart, or at least that’s what the propaganda says. So why don’t you simply write some code that recognizes the format of all the popular blog software and give ALL the links emanating from them a big fat ZERO.

    Because these attempts to control the monster you created are ludicrous.

    Why bother to show page rank? Please give me just one GOOD reason why Page Rank needs to ever be known by anyone outside of Google? You re all about the USER experience so what possible USE is PR to the USER? Do you honestly think that anyone outside of SEO’s and websites that want to rank high in the SERPS cares about PR? Joe Searcher only cares about finding what he wants and quickly – he could care less about the score that Google assigned to the page to determine it’s “trustworthiness and usefulness” .

    Take away page rank and you will cripple the link selling industry. Let webmasters do their thing and you do yours. If you find that somebody has invented a way to game your system then just clean it up as you should. Google doesn’t have a monopoly on smart people. Don’t try to play mind control games. The web is too vast for you to be able to correctly filter which are paid links and which aren’t. Your broad brush and secret tactics have already hurt many small businesses. Just be completely open about what IS allowed and what IS NOT allowed by Google and stick to it. Then IF a website gets banned the owner of the site can look at the things he has done and figure out if they have done things that you specifically DO NOT allow.

    And please everyone remember that Google’s natural search results are a FREE service to the internet community. No website has any right to any placement whatsoever on Google’s results. But IF the web community were to band together and were to deny Google access to the display of their websites in Google’s SERPS then the web development/SEO community would have some leverage to bring Google to the table to discuss a rational and fair way to work with the behemoth that Google has become. I can guarantee you that IF enough websites withheld themselves from Google that people would flock to the other SE’s to get to the relevant sites.

    Just think – IF every website that were created in the next year paid just $1 to a community organization then it would dwarf Google in size and have the financial muscle to DEMAND and GET fair search engine policies.

    Anyway that’s my 5cts worth. Submitting this to SEOmoz as well in case it doesn’t make the cut here.

  150. Damned arrows, reposting!

    OK, I’m managed to read most of this. All 48 pages of it O.o
    (I will be suing for the damage to my retinas!. *Turns down brightness of screen instead*)

    First of, hugely hypocrital, really. You can’t have paid links – but you can open an account with us for your paid ads.

    Secondly, you really do need to come up with a black and white bullet list of what advertisers and publishers can and can’t do. Grey areas just make every one antsy.

    For instance, there is a clause is your conditions that states paid ads cannot look anything like Adsense, which is perfectly reasonable, but adding that rule (Jan 2007 update) implies that you can have paid links.

    To me you make it perfectly clear that you don’t like them. Yet if you Google ‘text link ads’ you get twenty-on sponsored links from companies like Text-Link-Ads.com

    How, in all reasonableness can you say, “Thou shall not run paid ads” then take cold hard cash from the very same people advertising such services and incidentally paying your wages?

    If, as has been pointed out, you object to people making money from selling a page rank, don’t display it, rip it out.

    If it is just an issue with screwing the search engine ranking, then I think the idea for rel=”paid” is brilliant. I’m sure you could impliment something like that in under an hour. Of course the minute you do companies that sell links would probably be up in arms but there you go. That’s for them to deal with.

    ANYWAY, isn’t that why you come up with this:

    — google_ad_section_start(weight=ignore) —
    section for you to skip
    — google_ad_section_end —

    I know it is primarily to not serve ads based on the bit in the blocks, but surely if sponsored links are such an exist you could get you bots to take this into account, if they don’t already?

    ~ Paul

  151. The overwhelming arrogance of google to think we should adjust our websites to improve their business and help their profits.

    How about you work out a way to return relevant content?

  152. Google has very good technics to detect hidden links. They now read CSS files and Javascript. Page using such technics are not for a long time in the index. And when you’re out… you can get back in so easy…
    ~ Patrick

  153. bankrate dot com , eloan dot com. lendingtree dot com are all on top of google and because of huge number of backlinks… How do they get those backlinks? Buy asking their affiliates (Yeah affiliates!) to put links on their websites from which affiliates will get paid if consumer complete an application (lendingtree, eloan etc). According to Matt if paid links are bad practice and not disclosed my question is “Why are they on top?” and “Why same rule does not apply to everyone?” Are they untouchable? Is that because they are big a have a lot of money?

    Clearly this is a paid “link farm”

    Does consumer gets best quality service when they get on bankrate dot com? I bet they are not. And do you know why? Firstly because most of the rates advertised on bankrate – are false. Of cause bankrate will say … well we do not post rates advertisers do…. bad play…. then even more interesting coming – bankrate charges their advertisers between $5.50-$7.50 per click. None of that disclosed anywhere and consumer has no clue about it…. Yeah FTA requires but bankrate does not care much….as well it looks like google does not care as well. Looks like google like to punish smaller guys but when it come to big players – they do not apply those rules… So I will ask Matt – why? Why bankrate, eloan and lendingtree on top despite they violate quality guidelines.

    I hope you can answer. I have to to say but at least if you can answer this simple question I would appreciate it.

  154. Matt,

    I have a question. I want to list Aesop’s Fables in the order they come in in the book on my website. The problem is my CMS forces me to let them be listed alphabetically, so I numbered them:

    1. Fable One
    2. Fable Two
    3. FAble Three

    I want to hide the 1. , 2. and 3., with CSS and just display the fables name themselves — will I still get penalized??


  155. MAtt … if Google are going to pay more attention to PAID links does this mean sites might be penalised for monatarising links?

    I’m assuming in advance that your answer would be yes becasue the intent to provide information is not there after money changes hands…. So… with the greatest of respect to Google does this mean an end to Premium Adsense?

    After all GOOGLE and the PUBLISER are both benfitting on Prremium adsense from links placed in html which then enter the serps.

    eg. http://www.google.ie/search?hl=en&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial&hs=k7N&q=Widescreen+TV+and+PC+Monitor+Guaranteed+Cheapest+in+the+World&btnG=Search&meta=

    You will notice in this search that a premium adsense client of googles is in position 1 and they are in that position based solely on the fact that an advert which was present on their site at the time of crawling entered the index. So this is a PAID link since clicking on it debited the adwords customer and credited both Google and The publisher.

    Google cannot have this both ways… either it is WRONG to swap paid links AND have textual ads populated in HTML format or it is NOT….

  156. I have a short question if someone can please answer me.

    I have added lot of content articles on my site as i was doing text link based on Keywords from the site but i wasnt sure how many text links i can added on each article.

    How many Text links can you add in each content article based on google guidelines or if there is any limit at all.

  157. what about ajax loaded links? is it also hidden links?

  158. Hi Matt, Thank you for sharing and i really likes your information even if am already late but it’s grate information, thanks again.

  159. [i]Make pages for users, not for search engines[/i]

    I used to make pages for users, suddenly the users can’t find them anymore. Now I have to make pages for the search engines.

  160. Nice point Matt, but you could try to explain better and write down more point on this guidelines of what you and BigG consider an hidden link.

    For example I’ve a specific case that I really would like how do you consider it?

    Suppose a normal web site, W3C Validated, no junk technics etc, but designed to be seen fine both for standard browsers and for device that doesn’t support css.
    Normally, for what I do, is use Css image replacement, and this could mean in some case just put an Hyperlink with empty space, followed by another link with description inside that will descriptive.
    So this mean in some case have two links and one is declared hidden to don’t be dispalyed since there is the css image that won’t be displayed in the other case.
    Is this an hidden link?

  161. I have a question that keeps popping into my head every time I read another article about how Google is going to crack down on paid links. I totally understand that, because the link popularity model has been gamed so badly. But I am also unclear on what exactly constitutes a paid link in certain circumstances.

    I understand the guidelines perfectly in the context of a site with editorial content that can be muddled up with paid “advertorials” or sidebar links.

    But for instance, is a directory site that links to the websites of a business a paid link if several link types are free (blogs or MySpace, for example), but business owners can upgrade to link to their main business website, or get a “featured listing” on it? Technically, yes, it’s paid…but it doesn’t seem like it violates the spirit of the rules at all.

    Am I wrong?

  162. Does anyone know what the Google policy is on using CSS to position text way off to the left, out of visible browser range? I’ve seen this technique recommended in numerous places for accessibility. It makes sense – can help screen reader users get a sense of the content sections of a page w/out affecting visual design. I worry about Google making the false (in our case) assumption that we’re trying to keyword stuff, etc.

    Thanks for any info.


  163. All small/medium directories get penalized today. What I don’t understant is why big ones don’t…

    The big winner is…


  164. Hi

    Whilst recently investigating search terms for gigs and tours with a view to creating a ticket site. I came across a site using hidden text and links to help their searches and promote one of their other sites. I wrote to google asking if using hidden text/links in that context was acceptable but got no reply.

    Just after my mail to google I noticed that the hidden site text was removed from the pages for a short while and then replaced a week after. The search terms I tested were “Gig Guide & Tickets” and “Latest Tour Dates” and the site http://www.gigwise.com features highly on both with pages that contain the hidden links and text. I have read many of Matt Cutts features and they all say hidden links and text is wholely unacceptable but I wondered if there were some ways it may be usuable like in the example above.

    Also even if it is unacceptable do you get a request to remove it? Then comply with the request and after a short while just put it back on until the next request.

    Any thoughts?


  165. I enjoy your articles Matt:

    I am relatively new to all this, so I have a thought on what you described above.

    The real question is why? Why would anyone want to hide links, especially internal links on their website. What kind of purpose would that serve.

    Let me try to work through an example. If I have a website about gadgets, and I have 100 gadgets available. On my home page, I put links to all the different gadgets, and subcategories that house the different products. All the links are put in a nice navigation so people can browse with ease. Am I to understand correctly that if I were to then create another 30 links or so directing to the most important pages a second time, hide them in whatever fashion, that I could somehow manipulate the bots to thinking that these pages are more important.

    I guess I am a little unclear as to how this all could benefit a black hat scammer.

    I’m not asking because I want to do it. I’m asking because I am an unofficial Google scam finder and want to understand better.


    I found an interesting thing when searching for iPod nano accessories:


    Hmmm…How did that get past Google?

  166. Hello,

    I wanted to know is HomeHome considered duplicate copy?

    I work for a major publishing firm and they want a drop shadow effect for the main navigation of the site. I wanted to know if I use CSS to show both instances of the text one will be on top of the other
    +/- px to give the illusion of a drop shadow is this SEO Kosher or not.

    —–another day another battle between design and development!

    Thank you,


    P.S. I post to the Google webmaster blog, and the solution that I got was to use images which is not an option.

  167. Google cracking Down on paid links will HELP small biz along with small webmasters!

    Good Day,

    This effort by Google team is absolutely critical to the future of medium and small business on the web who rely on organic search as a key marketing tool. Money is tight and the next step after organic search has been maximized is to go for web advertizing like Google adsense and so on. The key point here is ORGANIC search. Paid linking is NOT ORGANIC search . It is totally deceptive. If you allow paid linking to determine positions in search results then the website owner and the webmaster who have worked honestly and very hard to provide product and services on the web in good faith will be hurt terribly. Links to a site should be due to the meritous nature of the subject matter and presentation of the site NOT because the bank account bought links to falsely respresent the audience appeal of that site. This paid link biz is done solely for the purpose of fooling Google and other search bots into thinking wow what a great site look at all the links well we will rank them high cause our math formula says they are very popular.ha! (note: Yeah I give the ‘bots’ personification just like we did with Bambi!)
    In my view paid links are fraudulent and I feel they are a form of THEFT. They are stealing ranking and therefore traffic=business=dollars from the small business operator who has played by the intended rules of the road.
    I applaud Google’s team on this. As a small webmaster with small clients it is good to know that just maybe this time Googlebot will help the nice guys finish first!

  168. Opinion:
    Whether a webmaster buys or sells links is none of a search engine’s business regardless of how the links are displayed… I am against regulating the web and also see little difference between the accepted practice of ‘product placement’ and the outlawed ‘payola schemes’.

    If Jerry Seinfeld puts Snapple on his show due to him liking it or them paying him to do it, it is up to the owners of the show. Why should the content of the show get penalized when someone searches for comedy?

    Search engines are for finding info, not for ranking websites based on link popularity. I think a focus back to content relevance is greatly needed.

    How about giving users a choice? Provide an interface with the relevant components of the algo and allow users to define their own custom default search settings.

    For instance, I would probably try to go with the GOOG defaults except I would change link weight to neutral or 0 and raise the weight that you currently give domain name relevance to search term matching. I might also remove any bias on results for site age or do multiple searches with site age weighted differently depending on what info I was seeking. I’d also like to see any penalty settings and would probably remove some things that you penalize for that I feel are irrelevant or prohibitive to me finding info.

    Don’t Be Evil…. Thanks.

  169. So are you now saying that Yahoo.com has a paid directory and we should all stay away from it to avoid being penalised, i found that all of the directories i paid to have a link on gave me lots of traffic and then google penalised me for having my link on that site and now i have lost the great traffic i had coming to me from those sites, I don’t really understand why google is getting so upset about people paying to go in paid directories to gain more traffic and a higher page rank.

  170. I know you look at intent of DIV’s that are hidden, but what happens when it causes a site to out rank a site like mine?

    Do a search for “Prescott houses for rent” and see that Trulia is #3 even though they don’t have any visible mention of the word “rent” on the resulting page.

    I am not trying to be a cry baby, I just think that Google should heavily discount words that are contained in hidden DIV’s.

  171. I don’t like hidden texts or hidden content. They are using visitors bandwidth. And search engines are smart enough to determine that if the text is hidden.

  172. Dear Matt Cutts,

    In my opinion Google just needs to stop counting link value altogether or at a minimum stop putting so much emphasis on it. As much as Google denounces link building the fact is at this point in time it works. This translates into the fact that, you can indeed buy your ranking in Google. In fact, who ever has the highest budget can get any keyword or keywords they want in Google they want. I know it, you know it, Google knows it and so do about 10,000,000 SEO’s.

    Rather than counting on how “well known” a site is to determine ranking why not design a better content ranking algorithm, this would help Google in being non biased. If you feel inclined you can read a blog post of mine which outline further possible improvements that Google can make.


    No I’m not posting this link for traffic I’ve got plenty of work already, and yes I’m aware of the nofollow so it’s obviously not for ranking. Once again this is for your reference only.


    — Gary Pollock

  173. On the topic of hidden links.

    For me here the problem is the lack of real definition about what a “hidden link” is.

    I like to have links that are not underlined but are a different colour or bold to the surounding text and DO change colour when hovered over using CSS. Ok some people will not like that from a userability point of view but it does not constitute deliberate link hidding – my users can see my links.

    If hidden links are to be punished then please lets have a decent definition so that people who want to stay white hat but wish freedom in whatever stylistic line they prefer can do so with confidence.

    The Google line seems to repeatedly that the rules are clear but I dont think they are.

    I spent twenty years working in high IT, I designed softwared used to design your car and your plane and I am confused by Google policy.

    Ok so if you finally publish a good accurate technical guide then black hats will take the info and mis-use it but white hats or just plain CSS design freaks will at least know where the line is drawn.

    If Google is to lay down the law then please define the law and cease these vague fuzzy definitions – examples do not constitute definition they only help illustrate them.

    What is a different colour ?

    What is an acceptable text size difference between CSS defined H1 and H2 tags etc – at what point does CSS manipulation constitute unfair use of various tags ?

    Its just murky suggestion at the moment – no offence Matt but just telling people who quote specific examples at you “not to worry about that” is not enough – if you are laying down the law here then be as specific as the law makers out there in the courts and judicial system.

    We should need to use this forum to try and probe the rules from you – they should be as well defined as C++ or CSS – Standards Standards Standards – pleaze.

    Please stop using forums to sort this out and produce volume one of the Google guide to fair website design. Publish it and then start on the second addition as the lessons are learnt from the first.


  174. I agree with Jon. As a fellow web designer and seo professional, I too find the lack of definition by search engines such as Google to be very frustrating. Although, Google an others create a list of “web master guidelines” they are just to vague. Another problem with linking is although I try to avoid using JavaScript as much as possible, sometimes it’s a really nice choice and can greatly add to the value, look, feel, and interactivity of a website. Unfortunately however Search Engines put too much value on linking and that thus forces me to connect my website in other ways or change the way I code. As a web designer we should be able to express our creativity without fear of penalty. Flash is a good example of this. I can’t believe how long it’s taken to get decent indexing of this kind of content. Why haven’t Adobe and Google teamed up yet and said: “Ok, we’ll allow the creation of sitemap type files for flash websites so that search engines can index them”.

    flash_site.swf = entire website
    flash_site_map.xml = contains pointers as to where inside a flash file elements “pages” are contained.

    Google Bot >> read map >> users searches >> brings to internal page inside flash website

    However doing this would require Adobe’s full cooperation:


    so help out already Adobe. Google, be more open to change.

    That’s my $0.02.

  175. I agree that the definition of a hidden link is vague.

    Would a link that is out in the open and is black on a white background and underlined be considered a hidden link ?

  176. Would this be classed as a hidden link. I am not too good with CSS. I changed my menu using JavaScript instead. As JavaScript’s are not search engine friendly, I put all the links as “noscript” for the search engines to follow (as an alternative). I had first page position on Google for over 20 kewords. Since the menu change, the site now is nowhere to be seen. I checked with different Google banned checker tools and apparently I’m NOT banned. So what happened? Did I get penalised for having links within the “noscript” tags? Is it advisable that I get rid of the JavaScript and “noscript” links and put up my old html links instead?

  177. I’m trying to find some direction on the conflict between WCAG 2.0 & Google on hidden links:

    WCAG 2.0 recommends it as of Dec 2008:

    Google does not:

    We’re discussing this here:

    Hopefully Google just needs to update this.


  178. I understand this hidden link policy 100% . And was wondering if a blog was built on top of a domain name ( domain.com/blog ) , but the blog wasn’t linked from the home page ( with a PR of 5 ) because the owner didn’t want the blog to distract visitors from the original site content. With few outbound links from the homepage – would it be exceptable to put a hidden link (with the same color as the background) to increase the PR of the blog? Does google have tools to check hidden links? Would this jeopardize the home page PR or SERP? It is an art gallery site.

    The intention of the blog is to better SEO the site itself, which isn’t SEOed at all and by the owners request to be unchanged. It’s a weird scenario I know.

    On a seperate note, for new sites and instantaneous SERP, I have used prlog.org for our online title loans site. Example: . It seems to work fairly well and there are other similar PR sites. This site is seperate from the question above.

  179. The question of hidden text on a page keeps coming up for me right now. Of course, I understand that using hidden text to inject your page with a million keywords is frowned upon, but what if the hidden text is valid content that should be crawled by a search engine? The example in mind is a web comic. Obviously, Google can’t scrape the text out of the jpg/gif of the comic, but that content is certainly useful and should be searchable. I can put this text in a hidden tag above the image so that search engines can identify it as the most important part of that page, and no keywords are injected to increase search hits. Is this also frowned upon even though the use seems completely legit? Placing the entire body of text from the image on the page in visible format is redundant and ugly.

  180. What about this situation?

    I have in my site title and it stand on the top of the content.
    Then I decide to add image logo through the css, but then my is extra, I dont need it anymore, but I want that my site name stay in h1.

    So i wrap it in a div and make that div to be display:none;

    So that code is visible in the code but it is not visible for the people.
    Would that be considered as a spam by Google?

  181. Matt, we use CSS and we have white text on background graphics in our nav, so the text is definitely not hidden. We seem to be experiencing some sort of Google penalty and are having trouble figuring it out. We’ve always practiced legitimacy with SEO. We’re wondering if it’s possible that we’re getting flagged for hidden text.

  182. I guess its a plain an simple to all the link builder out there.

  183. Im confused about this hidden link hidden text stuff.

    Of course most webmasters and novices for that matter(in my case) know the difference between actions to decieve or actions to improve presentation or secure some aspect of a site.

    My competitors repeatedly copy my links pages, so my efforts are wasted and as far as search engines are concerned more and more junk pages are being created. So I took a drastic measure on one of my sites and put the bulk of the links pages in a “display none” element defined by CSS. For the visitor everyone can see the purpose of the page, that being to offer for them to add their link for the purposes we all want to get links!

    The robots happy the visitors happy….how can that be deceptive? Its just trying to solve the problems the search engines create for us or put another optimize the opportunities the search engines provide us!

    I think using certain web design techniques for common sense purposes is always going to be a fact of life, and I think search engine algorithams work this out well most of the time, I understand bounce rate is imprtant for search engines to? So I guess the algorithum takes that into account so no amount of bad link building practices can detract from the fact that a site is bing found in the correct keyword search phrase, otherwise that site would just keep getting bounced.

  184. i have a website in which i’ve posted hidden links and hidden text in page sources etc. just for fun (kind of like website easter eggs). trust me there are NO pornsite links

    does this mean i can’t submit my site for indexing?

  185. Hi Matt,

    How about if my home page was about golf and I had a paragraph of text on the home page, with an absolute url link disguised as text with the word golf. The idea here is not to deceive Google, but it would be to protect against scraper sites, or at least get some benefit from the scraper with a backlink to my site. However I don’t want to get banned for this?


  186. What about links from your own home page to your own home page, but links that are disguised in a paragraph of text as text, which are intended to get a link back from scraper sites? Protecting yourself from scraper sites in a way, but not distracting the user.

  187. I know that several other article directories have been through this problem with hidden links. I found this from The articleSnatch blog as they are trying to get back into Google’s good graces. Thanks so much Matt as it is these tips that I hope will keep us out of the dog house on teh fron tend versus trying to figure out what happened like AS is trying to do at the moment.

  188. What about links in a div where it’s CSS is set as display:none and is in a CSS file?
    Would Google pick that up?

  189. Hi Matt,

    I want to clear my doubt about hidden links. If I place links on my web page content with same css styling as of the normal content but have done some settings such that on mouse over of that link the text of the link changes the color enough to make sure its an hyper link and it navigates to the internal page of my website. Will it be considered as a hidden link? Will my website be affected bcoz of that?


  190. I’ve spent most of the last hour reading this this post and it has been a real eye opener. To the arrogant and hypocritical behemoth that Google has become. Absolutely unbelievable!

    Google says to create pages for users and then when called on the fact that they are now advocating that we as webmasters do something just for the search engine the logic now goes that what they said was not meant to be taken literally. As if we are supposed to read and understand their intentions.

    Google expects all of us to abide by their TOS except when it suits them to say that their TOS really does not mean what it says literally.

    Google says that we are not supposed to use paid links on our web sites and that it would be good for us to help it know when we are using paid links through the nofollow tag while all along being the biggest single seller of paid links in existance today. That is nothing less than being hypocritical to the core. Expecting others to not do something that they themselves do every day.

    Google says that we should not deal with links so as to raise our search engine ranking artificially through them. That we should wait upon the goodness of internet users to link to us naturally. While completely being ignorant of human nature and the very essence of marketing in general. That you do not sit around waiting for the world to discover you. As a business you go out and promote yourself through advertising. Paid advertising. The real world equivalent of paid links. Yet Google would have us pretend or take on the belief that paid links are some sort of special evil that becomes evil only because we are now advertising ourselves through said means on the internet as opposed to the real world.

    I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder if Google exists in this vacuum of internet space where it has come to see itself as beyond reproach. Beyond logic. Beyond correction.

    Perhaps it has become too big for it’s britches such that like most entities where that happens it just doesn’t see it. It has eyes but it doesn’t see. It has ears but it doesn’t hear. The only voice that it now listens to is it’s own. The only logic that it listens to is that which makes sense to itself.

    As the saying goes power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Google is sliding down that slippery slope to complete arrogance it seems to me.


  191. What about sites containing NON unique data components such as MLS, or a huge 65k tickets website? Would it not be a responsible call on our part to wrap those dynamic chunks so only the unique content that is relevant to Google visitors can be evaluated?

  192. I am a bit worried about hidden links.

    I am working on a term swimming pools for one my client and their competitors have use a lot of hidden link on their website along with some back hat technique.
    But they still have not been punished. I have already sent this information to Google but nothing has been done, when will all this stop?

  193. Hi!
    Can page navigation links be hidden? Like a “Jump to content” link that jumps to a certain div. As I suppose, this is made for mobile devices, and is good.
    I’ve seen Google Help HIDING such links.
    Please, comment.

  194. He he he,
    he did a lot of research on just hiding the link. But all in vain.
    You still caught that. Any ways, I happen to stumble upon a website where the site looked fine, but the person had a lot of text in his code and then he commented.

    Not sure if it helps. There was a javascript effect which I was looking for in his website, when I found that he had almost 100 keywords in his html code and then commented.

    Wonder if that helps him… (I have to try, but don’t think it will help)

  195. Hi Matt,
    I’m interested in the dialog you had with Bill Platt (who commented previously) regarding hidden links in text. I’ve always known that internal linking is a great way to get search traffic and improve user experience because it allows a site owner to use links to tell Google what he believes is his preferred landing page for a particular topic. However, we all know that there are battles between the search optimizers and the writers/designers, who don’t want their carefully designed content (font styles included) to end up looking like Wikipedia. If we use text-decoration:none along with altering the default anchor tag font color and text size to blend into our design, can that get us penalized? We’re not trying to fool anyone regarding our links. We just want our site to look clean. If you could comment on whether we should steer clear of “hiding” links this way, I’d appreciate it.

  196. Several times I have seen web designers and developers leaving old code commented. Although that text or link or even a style is not visible on a page. But, will it still be considered as a hidden link or hidden text? Keeping in mind that designer or developer has not done it to make hidden, he just have done it for his reference.

  197. Ha ha ha… some people have so much time to come up with such nice tricks to hide the links… but sometimes it wonders me how advanced google crawling system is… one heck of a system man. You can do a lot to hide… but you are still going to get caught 😛
    Like the famous quote “You can run, but you can’t hide”.
    Thanks for the example.

  198. Rather old post, but somehow I found in none-the-less. What would be the point of hiding that link in that paragraph, like the example? What would the person gain from this? I assume that if the person had the ability to add that code, then they own the website, so why not just put the link there and not hide it?

    Great blog, thanks for sharing the knowledge.

  199. I had 300 good natural links to my site from different sites.
    Somebody has hacked other sites 2 days ago (checked via Google Cache) and now Yahoo Site Explorer shows 600 links. I’ve checked new links – they all are in the same hidden div block in the middle of content but with style (position:absolute; top:-100px) – similar to those you describe in the post.

    I’m afraid that Google may penalize my site for these links. I’m already contacting webmasters of these sites asking to remove these links.
    Is it possible to give Google a notice that these links are not mine so it could just skip them not penalizing my site?

  200. Its funny what some people will do with their time. If they spent it doing something good they would get further ahead.

  201. Matt….I know I’m late to the party in regards to this post……but if I had 5 paragraphs of content and wanted to link to another page, so I use inline CSS to make the text appear like everything else on the page, but for business purposes didn’t want the user to leave the page till there was a conversion made (lead gen), is that a no-no. Thanks

  202. Have been noticing hidden links in div codes on some sites lately. So looked it up and found thispage page on SEOMOZ.org which explains this perfectly.

    The best explanation of it is given in the following mini discussion in the comments section:

    geoklix | February 23rd, 2008
    Interesting, I just viewed the source and did not locate the div/links. I think s/he may I have 2 instances of this page on the server and is running a cron job to rotate these pages (clean and the one with hidden links). Thanks for sharing!

    richardbaxterseo | February 23rd, 2008
    Totally – that’s why i ran the screenshots. Rotating / user agent / ip detection maybe too. We had a theory that if you visit the live page from outside of google’s ip range, you don’t get the divs!

    Mike_Peak | March 7th, 2008
    If you visit the page using the firefox user agent switcher and set up to browse the site as Googlebot, you get the hidden links. So for at least one example (pennystocksshares.co.uk/companies/9999.html) they are serving Google a different page. I have visited that page as a normal user and the links were not in the source, and as googlebot they were.

    darkSEO | March 10th, 2008
    That’s the whole point! If Google sees the links, it doesn’t matter if noone else does. More link juice, better rankings. This is actually quite a basic spamming technique. I can’t believe the size of the network who are exploiting such a simple hack. Come one google, give us a challenge at least!

    Now my question is this: I have a list of almost 4,000 such URLs which have active links hidden in the source code in this manner. (I have reported them to Google and I am hoping that something might be done about them). When will we see the next animal named update which checks and eliminates the benefits derived from such links?


  203. Matt- Let me give you a normal website owner’s perspective here. 2 years ago I contemplated buying links or participating in link schemes. However, I wanted to “do the right thing” and now, in one of my small medical markets, I have watched my competitors fly right by me to number 1 2 and 3 in the index because they “did” buy links. You can look at the links and tell right off. When I compare my site to theirs, It is obviously better optimized, the product is better and cheaper, it’s just plain better (from even a non bias perspective) (totally obvious). However, I have remained lost somewhere below page 3 because I did not buy links like my competitors a year ago. Buying links sure is paying off for them! Doing the “right thing” is a bummer…