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Google on Using CSS to Hide Internal Links

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Google’s John Mueller answered a question in a Google SEO Office Hours hangout about hidden internal links in the footer. He explained why it’s not a big deal in terms of getting penalized but that it’s more an issue of site improvement.

That’s a little surprising because hidden links have traditionally been seen as a big issue.

Hiding Links is Not Cloaking

The person asking the question appears to have misunderstood what the word cloaking meant as he used that word to describe internal links that were hidden by the use of CSS.

Typically this can be done with the CSS display property that can make an HTML element completely disappear from a web page and not affect the layout.

The display:none CSS declaration can be used to hide links anywhere on a web page.

Screenshot of Google’s John Mueller Discussing Hidden Links

Google's John Mueller discussing hidden links

The person asking the question was concerned about a new client who he said was cloaking links on the website.

The SEO related that he was surprised that the site was able to hide links in the footer for at least nine months without Google issuing a penalty for them.

His concern was that the client won’t be motivated to do anything about the hidden links since it’s been that way for so long and the site was not penalized.

He wanted clarification about the lack of penalization and whether this is something to fix right away.

Cloaking is Not the Same as Hiding an Internal Link

John Mueller asked the SEO what kind of cloaking was involved and the SEO shared that the client was hiding internal links in the footer with CSS.

Mueller correctly responded that hiding links is not cloaking.

Cloaking means showing one kind of content to Google (for ranking purposes) and a different version of the content for users.

The word cloaking denotes when the real content is hidden from Google, usually by the use of a script that detects when Googlebot visits and switches the content to something else. That’s cloaking.

So Mueller first clarified that what the SEO was dealing with was hidden internal links and not cloaking.

Google Theoretically Dislikes Hidden Links But…

Regarding the footer links hidden with CSS, Mueller expressed that it’s not necessarily something the Google web spam team would be concerned about.

Mueller said:

“I think that’s something that theoretically we don’t like that.

But I don’t see the web spam team taking action on that. Because especially when it comes to internal linking like that, it’s something that has quite a subtle effect within the website and you’re just essentially just shuffling things around within your own website.

I think it would be trickier if they were …buying links somewhere else and then hiding them.

That would be problematic, that might be something that our algorithms pick up on or that even the web spam team at some point might manually look at.”

Spam Team Won’t Take Action for Hidden Internal Links

Mueller explained why the Google web spam team probably wouldn’t take action against hidden internal links.

John Mueller:

“But if it’s within the same website, if it’s set to display none then …”

Mueller paused a moment to think then continued:

“I don’t think it’s a great practice. If you think it’s an important link then kind of like make it visible to people.

But it’s not going to be something where the web spam team is going to take action and remove the site or do anything crazy.”

Hidden Links Are an Opportunity to Improve the Site

In response to a follow up question John Mueller expanded on his answer to explain how he sees this as an opportunity to make the site better.

The person asking the question followed up to ask if Mueller was advising him to leave it as it is.

Mueller responded:

“Well I wouldn’t leave it as it is. I would see it as something to try to improve for the long run in the sense of like if you think this is an important link to an important page then it’s like… just be straightforward about it.

Because users are going to use it too or maybe if users don’t care about it maybe it isn’t actually an important link.

But I wouldn’t see it as something where I like drop everything, we need to fix this, this week kind of thing.”

Insights

The Value of Re-framing Question Around Site Visitors

John Mueller employed a nice trick for solving an SEO problem by reflecting on how it affects site visitors.

For example, if the links aren’t useful for site visitors on the web page then they’re probably not good for SEO purposes either.

Presumably the site owner is concerned that the links might affect web page conversions and that’s why the links are hidden so that users focus on completing a purchase.

From an SEO perspective that page is about selling a product so internal links to some other products might not be altogether relevant anyway for SEO purposes.

But if they are relevant to users then they may be relevant for SEO purposes.

Identifying whether something is good for SEO can often be solved by asking how it affects site visitors.

Google Not Overly Concerned About Hidden Internal Links?

The other interesting insight is that the web spam team is not overly concerned about internal hidden links

It appears to be more a matter of poor insight into what’s good for SEO than getting away with something at the expense of Google’s algorithm.

Citation

Hiding Internal Links with CSS

Watch John Mueller answer the question at the 17:09 minute mark:

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Google to pay $391.5 million settlement over location tracking, state AGs say

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Google to pay $391.5 million settlement over location tracking, state AGs say

Google has agreed to pay a $391.5 million settlement to 40 states to resolve accusations that it tracked people’s locations in violation of state laws, including snooping on consumers’ whereabouts even after they told the tech behemoth to bug off.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said it is time for Big Tech to recognize state laws that limit data collection efforts.

“I have been ringing the alarm bell on big tech for years, and this is why,” Mr. Landry, a Republican, said in a statement Monday. “Citizens must be able to make informed decisions about what information they release to big tech.”

The attorneys general said the investigation resulted in the largest-ever multistate privacy settlement. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, a Democrat, said Google’s penalty is a “historic win for consumers.”

“Location data is among the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects, and there are so many reasons why a consumer may opt out of tracking,” Mr. Tong said. “Our investigation found that Google continued to collect this personal information even after consumers told them not to. That is an unacceptable invasion of consumer privacy, and a violation of state law.”

Location tracking can help tech companies sell digital ads to marketers looking to connect with consumers within their vicinity. It’s another tool in a data-gathering toolkit that generates more than $200 billion in annual ad revenue for Google, accounting for most of the profits pouring into the coffers of its corporate parent, Alphabet, which has a market value of $1.2 trillion.

The settlement is part of a series of legal challenges to Big Tech in the U.S. and around the world, which include consumer protection and antitrust lawsuits.

Though Google, based in Mountain View, California, said it fixed the problems several years ago, the company’s critics remained skeptical. State attorneys general who also have tussled with Google have questioned whether the tech company will follow through on its commitments.

The states aren’t dialing back their scrutiny of Google’s empire.

Last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he was filing a lawsuit over reports that Google unlawfully collected millions of Texans’ biometric data such as “voiceprints and records of face geometry.”

The states began investigating Google’s location tracking after The Associated Press reported in 2018 that Android devices and iPhones were storing location data despite the activation of privacy settings intended to prevent the company from following along.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich went after the company in May 2020. The state’s lawsuit charged that the company had defrauded its users by misleading them into believing they could keep their whereabouts private by turning off location tracking in the settings of their software.

Arizona settled its case with Google for $85 million last month. By then, attorneys general in several other states and the District of Columbia had pounced with their own lawsuits seeking to hold Google accountable.

Along with the hefty penalty, the state attorneys general said, Google must not hide key information about location tracking, must give users detailed information about the types of location tracking information Google collects, and must show additional information to people when users turn location-related account settings to “off.”

States will receive differing sums from the settlement. Mr. Landry’s office said Louisiana would receive more than $12.7 million, and Mr. Tong’s office said Connecticut would collect more than $6.5 million.

The financial penalty will not cripple Google’s business. The company raked in $69 billion in revenue for the third quarter of 2022, according to reports, yielding about $13.9 billion in profit.

Google downplayed its location-tracking tools Monday and said it changed the products at issue long ago.

“Consistent with improvements we’ve made in recent years, we have settled this investigation which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago,” Google spokesman Jose Castaneda said in a statement.

Google product managers Marlo McGriff and David Monsees defended their company’s Search and Maps products’ usage of location information.

“Location information lets us offer you a more helpful experience when you use our products,” the two men wrote on Google’s blog. “From Google Maps’ driving directions that show you how to avoid traffic to Google Search surfacing local restaurants and letting you know how busy they are, location information helps connect experiences across Google to what’s most relevant and useful.”

The blog post touted transparency tools and auto-delete controls that Google has developed in recent years and said the private browsing Incognito mode prevents Google Maps from saving an account’s search history.

Mr. McGriff and Mr. Monsees said Google would make changes to its products as part of the settlement. The changes include simplifying the process for deleting location data, updating the method to set up an account and revamping information hubs.

“We’ll provide a new control that allows users to easily turn off their Location History and Web & App Activity settings and delete their past data in one simple flow,” Mr. McGriff and Mr. Monsees wrote. “We’ll also continue deleting Location History data for users who have not recently contributed new Location History data to their account.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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5 Tips to Boost Your Holiday Search Strategy

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With the global economic downturn, inflation, ongoing supply chain challenges, and uncertainty due to the Ukraine war, this year’s holiday shopping season promises to be very challenging. Will people be in the mood to spend despite the gloom? Or will they rein in their enthusiasm and save for the year ahead?

With these issues in mind, here are five considerations to support your search engine optimization strategy this holiday shopping season:

1. Start early.

Rising prices are likely to mean shoppers will start researching their holiday spending earlier than ever to nab the best bargains. Therefore, retailers must roll out their holiday product and category pages — and launch any promotions — sooner to ensure their pages get crawled and indexed by search engines in good time.

Some e-commerce stores manage to get their pages ranking early by updating and reusing the same section of the website for holiday content and promotions, rotating between content for Christmas, Mother’s Day, Valentine gifts, Fourth of July sales, etc. This approach can help you retain the momentum, links and authority you build up with Google and get your holiday pages visible and ranking quickly.

2. Make research an even bigger priority.

With all the uncertainty this year, it’s vital to use SEO research to identify the trending seasonal keywords and search phrases in your retail vertical — and then optimize content accordingly.

With tools such as Google Trends you can extract helpful insights based on the types of searches people are making. For example, with many fashion retailers now charging for product returns, will prioritizing keywords such as “free returns” get more search traction? And with money being tighter, will consumers stick with brands they trust rather than anything new — meaning brand searches might be higher?

3. Make greater use of Google Shopping.

To get the most out of their holiday spending, consumers are more likely to turn to online marketplaces such as Google Shopping as they make it easier to compare products, features and prices, as well as to identify the best deals both online and in nearby stores.

Therefore, take a combined approach which includes listing in Google Shopping and at the same time optimizing product detail pages on your e-commerce site to ensure they’re unique and provide more value than competitors’ pages. Be precise with product names on Google Shopping (e.g., do the names contain the words people are searching for?); ensure you provide all the must-have information Google requires; and set a price that’s not too far from the competition. 

4. Give other search sources the attention they deserve.

Earlier this year Google itself acknowledged that consumers — especially younger consumers — are starting to use TikTok, Instagram and other social media sites for search. In fact, research suggests 11 percent of product searches now start on TikTok and 15 percent on Instagram. Younger consumers in particular are more engaged by visual content, which may explain why they’re embracing visually focused social sites for search. So, as part of your search strategy, create and share content on popular social media sites that your target customers visit.

Similarly, with people starting their shopping searches on marketplaces such as Amazon.com, optimizing any listings you have on the site should be part of your strategy. And thankfully, the better optimized your product detail pages are for Amazon (with unique, useful content), the better they will rank on Google as well!

5. Hold paid budget for late opportunities.

The greater uncertainty and volatility this holiday season mean you must keep a close eye on shopper behavior and be ready to embrace opportunities that emerge later on. Getting high organic rankings for late promotions is always more challenging, so hold some paid search budget back to help drive traffic to those pages — via Google Ads, for example. Important keywords to include in late season search ad campaigns include “delivery before Christmas” and “same-day-delivery.” For locally targeted search ads, consider “pick up any time before Christmas.”

The prospect of a tough, unpredictable holiday shopping season means search teams must roll out seasonal SEO plans early, closely track shoppers’ behavior, and be ready to adapt as things change.

Marcus Pentzek is chief SEO consultant at Searchmetrics, the global provider of search data, software and consulting solutions.

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Google Home App Gets an Overhaul, Rolling Out Soon

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Google Home app

Google refreshes its Home app with a slew of new features after launching a new Nest gear. This makes it faster and easier to pair smart devices with Matter, adds customization and personalization options, an enhanced Nest camera experience, and better intercommunication between devices.

This revamped Home app utilizes Google’s Matter smart home standard – launching later this year – especially the Fast Pair functionality. On an Android phone, it will instantly recognize a Matter device and allow you to easily set it up, bypassing the current procedure that is often slow and difficult. Google is also updating its Nest speakers, displays, and routers – to control Matter devices better.

Google Home App New Features

  • Spaces: This feature allows you to control multiple devices in different rooms. Google has listed a few things by room: kitchen, bedroom, living room, etc., although it’s pretty limited right now. Spaces let you organize devices how you see fit. For instance, you can set up a baby monitor in one room and set a different room’s camera to focus on an area the baby often plays. With Spaces, you can categorize these two devices into one Space category called ‘Baby.’

Google Home app Spaces

  • Favorites: This one is pretty self-explanatory. It allows you to make certain gears as a favorite that you frequently use. Doing so will bring those devices into the limelight within the Google Home app for easier access. 

Google Home app

  • Media: Google adds a new media widget at the bottom of your Home feed. This will automatically determine what media is playing in your home and provide you with the appropriate controls as and when needed. There will be song controls if you listen to music on your speakers. There will be television remote controls if you’re watching TV. 

Google probably won’t roll out this Home app makeover anytime soon. But you can try it for yourself in the coming week by enrolling in the public preview, available in select areas.

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