Black hat SEO Hidden Links article updated 2019, please note the original article was written at a time when Google showed public PageRank, we no longer have access to PR values.
I has working on one of my high content websites free-recipes.co.uk that targets Free Recipes: was in the process of upgrading from around 11,000 recipes to over 100,000 using WordPress as the backend: added almost 160,00 recipes to a database and in the process of making them WordPress compatible!
Checked SERPs on Google.co.uk and my website was 1st for Free Recipes, but on Google.com it was around 12th. Not a big surprise I’ve pretty much neglected the website for years (despite it making a lot of AdSense revenue, soooo busy with SEO clients, rarely find the time for my own websites) and it’s PR had dropped (PR4 down from PR6) so needs more TLC: Text Links and something beginning with C :-)
Updated 2014: my sites SERPs are worse now as not worked on the site in years.
Updated 2019: still not worked on the site in years.
Black Hat SEO Hidden Links
I checked the 1st page in Google.com freecookingrecipes.net and it was PR7: was very hard to get to PR7.
Thought I’d check the websites backlinks to see if I can get a few of those links to my recently updated recipe site (35,000 recipes and growing making it attractive link bait).
Assumed I’d find some directories, reciprocal links and related websites that I could approach for links. Was very surprised to find hidden text links from quality high PR sites like these-
and many, many more, screenshot below
Which explains the PR7 and the page one Free Recipe SERP.
You can see the HTML source code for a hidden image link in the screenshot below, basically the black hat SEO had added an image link with an image file that was tiny and see through (transparent).
No one viewing the webpage would see the hidden link, this is against the Google webmaster guidelines.
This is a very old black hat SEO technique, Google will index the link and count it as a backlink, but if caught expect a Google penalty.
Does Google Follow Hidden Links?
What is happening here is someone has added a hidden link (image link) in the form of a small 1 pixel x 1 pixel image that during the normal viewing on the webpage won’t be seen or clicked on by visitors (or seen by the owner either).
But Google and other search engines will find and follow the hidden image links and give it a boost in the search engines for having quality backlinks using keyword rich anchor text or alt text.
<a href="http://www.freecookingrecipes.net"><img src="/images/dot_clear.gif" hspace="0" vspace="0" border="0" alt="recipes"></a>
It’s a very old black hat SEO technique that is very easy to spot and when Google stumbles upon it will take action.
Update: in 2019 I can’t find that website in Google for the Free Recipes search. In fact checking the site now (October 2019) with a Google site: search (this searches for all indexed webpages on a domain shows only one webpage is indexed in Google! Looks like it’s Google penalised.
Based on the quality of the websites that hold these black hat hidden links I’m sure the owners are unaware of these hidden links and so do not deserve a Google penalty (have emailed over 20 of them to warn them to remove the hidden links ASAP).
Unethical SEOs and Web Designers
I’ve seen a lot of hidden links in my time, but these are by far some of the best websites (quality wise) I’ve found them on. What’s probably happened here is an SEO consultant or web designer hired to work on these websites has taken advantage by adding a hidden link to one to one of his own websites or another SEO clients without informing the owner!
Update: Heard back from some of the website owners and it looks like their websites have been hacked!
As an SEO consultant who wants his clients to do well I’ve never added a link from a website I’ve worked on. My job is to gain my clients better rankings, not be paid to improve my own websites rankings by adding hidden (or visible) links from their sites. If someone wants to give me a PR7 link I’ll do the SEO work for free :-)
Be aware if an SEO or web designer adds a link to a website of theirs from your website it is taking SEO benefit away from your site. This means your site will have a little less Google juice for no beneficial return (if the SEO/designer gives a discount for the link, fair deal). You’ve paid them for their work, you should not be paying them over and over again, if you find links like this on your website (hidden or visible) I’d strongly advise removing them.
There’s also a risk of a Google penalty for having these links as well, since Google doesn’t care if you are complicit in adding the links, it’s your website so your responsibility for every link added from it. Might look like you are selling links for example.
Should I use Hidden Links?
To anyone reading this considering adding hidden links to/within their sites.
This black hat SEO technique does work, but it is very easy to spot (I found it by accident) and eventually Google will penalise some/all of the the websites involved. Might take 3 months to a year for Google to act, but trust me when I say they will eventually act and there’s a damn good chance when caught your website will never recover.
Look at the site I’m referring to above it’s going to be a victim of it’s own success, number 1 for Free Recipes Google will find this one.
2014 SEO update: Check the Free Recipes SERP in Google, despite the site in question still having a high PR (PR6) it’s not in the top 100 for the free recipes SERP: looks like a Google penalty kicked in.
Before becoming an SEO consultant I used black hat SEO techniques on my first website (used to sell lingerie and adult toys). The website was banned from Google about a year after purchasing it. I’d put a LOT of time into that website and that was all thrown away when Google rightly banned it for black hat SEO techniques.
In the short term I made a lot of money from the site, but currently the site makes no real money and considering what I made short term to what I could have made long term (could still be making money today) had I not used black hat techniques I’ve lost at least £20,000 a year in lost profits and that assumes I couldn’t have built an even more popular website long term!
Better to build a website with (safe) white hat SEO techniques and reap the rewards for years to come than cut corners and risk loosing all Google traffic for short term gain.