WordPress Themes & Sneaky Hidden Links

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Lately I’ve been making a tonne of adjustments to my site and tweaking it to perform as best as it can in search engines. In the process however, I discovered a nasty tick that I’d been harbouring for a while.

I’m using a free WordPress Theme design called “I feel dirty” by some Spanish design firm. Whilst I was tearing the site apart and analysing the code I found that this company had been hiding links in my own blog with style="display: none;". Now, these weren’t just links crediting the theme author, they were hidden links promoting gambling, porn and other unsightly websites for the SEO-minded. Just take a look at this screen shot I took of the site without CSS styles to hide them:

Here is another screenshot showing the code and the address of the incriminating website:

Now, when you have those links in your website, they serve to impact your search engine rankings on two fronts.

  • It associates you with a bad site.
  • They use sketchy techniques to hide links against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

For instance, notice how you cannot see any links down the bottom of my page in this picture?
There is a special CSS attribute that blackhat SEO “gurus” use to hide links from users. When you type style="display: none;" into your link code, they are hidden from users browsing your site, but not from search engines. Google is against it’s unethical use and I’m guessing other engines are too. While they do allow the technique to be used in some circumstances, I believe they might discount the content surrounded by that attribute.

You may call me a little hypocritical, but I use this attribute on my site to hide text as well, however I do it in a way that is useful to my users. In fact, I use it in the box below this post for the related content and post information. It’s just a more aesthetic way for me to provide my users with relevant information in a proper GUI. Google might count that content and they might not, but as long as I’m providing unique and relevant content to my users, naturally, I doubt they care.

So, next time you’re downloading a free theme, why don’t you take a look behind the scenes and scout out those style="display: none;" links!

For software which can disable CSS for you to find those links on your blog, go and grab the Firefox Web developer plugin!

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