Inngenious B&B Web Site Promotion

Mistake #8: Hidden Text or Hidden Links on your B&B web pages

Nearly all web designers are convinced they know how the search engines work, and all of them will say they do. The problem is, they either have limited knowledge or have information that dates back to the early days of the internet, because they never made a study of it. What used to work fine, may not work anymore and in some cases, what was accepted practice can now be very damaging. Website designers used to put white text on a white background in an effort to hide words on a page that were not meant to be read by any human, they were intended to fool the search engines. If your competition had the words "Bed and Breakfast" on their page 5 times and were doing well in the search engines, all a web designer had to do was put 50 occurrences of the words "Bed and Breakfast" in white on white text at the bottom of your home page and you would rise above your competition in the search engine results. Well, search engines have grown up since then.

Hidden Text

The major search engines now have the ability to recognize that white text is being displayed on a white background or pink text on a pink background. They also have statements in their terms of service that says they can and will penalize pages that try to manipulate the search engine results by using hidden text

  • "Avoid using hidden text or hidden links" - Google
  • Pages that Yahoo does not want to include - "The use of text that is hidden from the user"
  • Pages that Yahoo does not want to include - "Pages that give the search engine different content than what the end-user sees."
  • "Using hidden text or links." - Items discouraged by MSN Search

Generally speaking, hidden text is a risky thing to have on a web page these days. The penalties for hidden text take at least 60 days to expire (if the trickery is removed) if they expire at all. To a bed and breakfast, being penalized by having your listing removed from the major search engines for 60 days can be very costly, especially if it happens to coincide with your busy season. Hidden text on a B&B website is a high risk tactic with little payoff. I have heard plenty of horror stories over the years of innkeepers who were told by their web designer that it was safe because they used off-white text on a white background, or they used Stylesheets (CSS) to hide the text (the Nov.2005 update to Google caught and penalized many sites using that trick). Even if your designer swears to you that the search engines won't catch it, you have to be cautious. A competitor may notice it and report it to the search engine directly. ( Report SPAM to MSN, Report SPAM to Google, Report SPAM to Yahoo )

Hidden Links

Hidden Links are even a greater risk than plain hidden text as links have a bigger role in manipulating the search engine results. Once again the major search engines penalize for these types of tricks. Many web designers may try to convince you that they have tricks to outsmart the search engines. Sometimes it is just bravado, but in some cases they may have tricks that will work in the short term. In the long term however (a year or two) the search engines will catch on. When the search engines catch on and penalize your site, not only will your reservations suffer, but your design company will be happy to ask for more money to fix the problem they created in the first place. I would try to avoid rewarding them for a problem they caused.

Checking your B&B website for hidden text or links

Unfortunately, many web designers who resort to using hidden text or links, don't tell you that they have done so. So the responsibility is on you to make sure your site is clean, because it is you who will suffer if a penalty is applied, not the web designer. Here are some common things to look for in trying to spot hidden text:

  • Large areas with no content at the top, bottom or sides of the page. - If you see any suspicious empty regions, click and drag with your mouse they way you would if you were selecting text. If text magically appears, you have hidden text. (See animation to the right)
  • In your browser, pull down the "view" menu and select "source" This may be a bit confusing but look for paragraphs of readable text (not code) that does not appear on your page when you look at the page.
  • If you have any images on your page, hover over them with your mouse for a second or two. If a few words or even a sentence appears near the mouse, that's ok. If an entire paragraph appears or lots and lots of words that don't read as a sentence appear, that is bad. It is a sign that your designer has tried to stuff too many keywords inside the image's alt tag. (an alt tag is designed to give meaning to the image for people who are visually impaired and need to use screen readers.)

Advice for B&B web design

  1. If you are having a new site built, make sure your designer does not use hidden text or hidden links.
  2. If you have an existing site that has hidden links or hidden text on any of the pages, remove it as soon as possible.
  3. If you are looking for a new designer or website promotion specialist, examine the sites in their portfolio. If you spot any hidden text or hidden links among their examples, either walk away, or at least be specific that they are not to use it on your site under any circumstances.

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