Display: None — Is it Black Hat?

While working on a marketing plan for a company with a current website, I encountered something interesting. There was, on many pages of the site, an ad for the company that built the site. It was just a block of text which had in its CSS the string “display:none.”

Let me back up a little. CSS stands for “cascading style sheets.” Modern websites use CSS to tell the browser how a page should look. The colors, fonts, and so forth are all dealt with in the CSS. In your CSS, you can tell the browser how to show a particular category of information. For example, you might want to make all your bulleted lists have round bullets, except when you were making a list of ingredients for a recipe, in which case you might choose not to have bullets. You can tell the CSS to do this special thing for recipe ingredients, and then just identify the things that are recipe ingredients with a label, and the CSS will make them look the way you want.

It’s a great system. “Display:none” is often used in content management systems to pre-load information of various kinds, which can then be shown or not shown depending on whether or not it’s appropriate for the page in question. So there might be a legal statement required for some types of businesses but not for others, or in some states and not in others. Instead of putting it in every time it was needed, you might have it in all the time, with a “display:none” marker, and just take the “display:none” away when you wanted it to show up. This could be a time saver when you’re making lots of sites.

When you use it to show text to the search engines and not to the human visitors, though, as seems to be the motivation in this case, it’s a lot like that old trick of using words the same color as your background to tuck in a few extra keywords.

Is it ever worth it to do things like this? I’d say no. Real black hat practitioners use sneaky tricks to get results, grab what money they can, and get out fast. What they’re doing may be unethical, but it often works for them. A real business, with a real website, doesn’t benefit from tricks. Even if they’re not doing harm right now, it’s only a matter of time till the search engines notice them and crack down. Then they’ll be another of those old tricks.

My client doesn’t know this is being done. I really dislike cases in which the client, in complete innocence, may be appearing to the search engines to be using black hat techniques. It’s surprising how often I see that.

We all make our own decisions, when it comes to SEO, about what constitutes appropriate strategies. Some sail nearer the wind than others, or wear grayer hats than others. This particular item, though, looks a lot like trying to fool someone. I wouldn’t do it.






2 responses to “Display: None — Is it Black Hat?”

  1. Herma Avatar

    company shall remain nameless – but I think I know…

  2. Rebecca Haden Avatar
    Rebecca Haden

    Oh — I was trying to keep it anonymous. But I guess as with any questionable tactic, the truth will out. Another reason that it's better to stick with white hat strategies.

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