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The dark side of link building: hidden links

7 minutes of reading
The dark side of link building: hidden links
Category SEO

In order to get your site ranking higher on Google, you need to build links from other sites back to your own. However, not all links are created equal, and some of them can actually work against you if used improperly or in the wrong way. Hidden links are just one example of this – if you don’t know what they are or how they’re used, you may end up using them in ways that will end up hurting your site rankings. Here’s what you need to know about hidden links and why you should avoid them in any link building strategy.


First comes first. A link is a hypertext that either allows you to access a file, directs you to another web page, or informs you that the document or site has been moved. In the context of search engine optimization, a link is considered natural when it comes from an authority website in the same niche as your content, versus paid links, which are advertisements for commercial sites and services that typically Pay Per Click.

On the other hand, a hidden link is an invisible link that uses either JavaScript or CSS to hide text and other links from appearing. These links are often mistakenly seen as a shortcut or a way to load content in the background without the need for a website redesign. Sometimes, they are placed in image tags and so the second site will only show up if the image is clicked. Other times, they might be embedded in the HTML of the original site.


  • One type is called cloaking, where an affiliate site will hide their tracking code by changing the color or text so that it blends in with the site’s background, meaning you won’t see it if you’re not looking for it.
  • Other types, such as those in advertorials or off-site advertising, can appear on sites that provide content rather than advertising, thus confusing consumers and driving down the reputation of both your site and the one you link to.
  • Another type is known as inline linking, which hides links to a page within the text on another page.
  • Even worse, some webmasters engage in surreptitious linking for their own financial gain at the expense of both the website they link to and any future search engine rankings for those sites.

Why are they an illegal SEO practice?

The idea behind a hidden link is that it won’t be indexed by search engines. Why? Because…

Manipulating search engines

One sneaky way that people try to manipulate search engines is by using hidden links. It’s always tempting when you think of a great link, but it can lead to disastrous consequences. The search engine might reward you for your hard work in the short term, but if you get penalized, then all that work goes right down the drain. Google looks at the anchor text and what website it leads to, they are constantly on the lookout for cheaters and those who try to fool them.

Spamming websites covertly

Spamming, or making links to websites covertly by using hidden links, is both harmful and risky. Spammers use this tactic in order to promote their own websites to a webmaster’s web site, hoping the webmaster will see the hidden link and subsequently add it back to his/her site. Most often, the strategy succeeds when someone has outgrown a forum but needs one last website approval before they can close that chapter in their life.

Tricking web visitors into installing malware

Unfortunately, people can embed a hidden link as a web address in an innocent-looking e-mail. The recipient clicks on the link expecting to see a webpage, but instead their computer is infected with malware. In some cases, they may even give away their passwords and other sensitive information to the hackers.

Search engines such as Google do not approve of the use of hidden links in SEO. This is because search engines rely on the authority, relevance, and quality of a website in order to rank it on their first page. When links are hidden, there is no way for them to determine whether or not they should be ranking a site high in its SERPs. They will also not know what that site has to offer because the links were intentionally disguised as images instead.

Black Hat SEO and penalties for hidden links

Hidden links in an SEO strategy are a risk. Google is constantly updating their algorithms and removing sites from their index as a result of penalizing them for black hat strategies like hidden links. There’s no way to predict what the consequences will be from running your business on the dark side, but there’s more risk than reward with hidden links.

Black Hat SEO and hidden links can easily lead to getting penalized. The SEO benefits are too few, so most people will agree that using them isn’t worth the risk. Luckily, there are plenty of alternative techniques available if you’re looking for help with your link building efforts.

Are there situations where you should use hidden text?

If your website only has one page and there is no content that can be used to build links to the page, you may be able to use hidden text. However, this method is still not recommended and should only be used in emergencies as it carries a high risk of being discovered by search engines and penalized or banned from the index.

How to find hidden links?

Find hidden links by testing your site in multiple browsers and operating systems. Find any external links that point to the same URL but have different URLs. Open the page in each browser and see if the link changes. If it does, you’ve found a hidden link.

Hidden links can often be also found by visiting a site’s source code and using CTRL+F. Start with the H2 or H3 tags, then search for any external links with anchor text such as click here. The links in the next section are only two examples of what you might find in your research.

Is it possible to protect against hidden links?

There are several different ways to protect against hidden links, and the level of protection you have will depend on what you’re trying to accomplish. To make sure that your site does not include any hidden links, you can manually check your URLs for any .htaccess or .htpasswd files. These files create hidden links, because they don’t show up in the web address and the link is protected by a password.

Yes, while it is difficult to tell whether or not a hidden link has been placed on your site without looking at your backlinks and seeing if there are any unnatural links, it is possible to protect against them by installing a plugin on your WordPress site that blocks hidden links. Some common ones that you can try include NoFollow Plus and Disallow Tool.

One of the easiest ways to get penalized for using hidden links is to sign up for a link building service. The service promises tons of high-quality backlinks from premium domains and major publications, but hidden links are a key component in their methodology. They might not disclose this until after you have paid them.

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Hidden links are just not worth the risk. Your website could end up banned by Google or penalized with penalties that your site simply doesn’t deserve. And while hidden links may seem like an effective way to generate quick links, they often result in a less than optimal linking profile. It is always better to follow the White Hat SEO rules and principles.

Aleksandra Pietrzak
Curator at the National Museum in Poznań, graduate of Art History at the Jagiellonian University and Contemporary Art at the Pedagogical University of Krakow, curator of exhibitions and author of scientific and popular texts. A lover of contemporary art, literature and travel.
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