Hidden Internal Link for BlackHole SEO

New York Times company aggregator pages indexed by GoogleBlack Hole SEO, large popular websites are all jumping on the Internal Linking optimization strategy using aggregator pages for all stories on the topic, usually companies. This is either done in plain site, or through a bunch of Hidden Internal links within the content, using CSS to make these links appear as normal text. Only a mouse over will trigger an affect that shows the word is actually a link.

For one of the worse offenders in Black Hole SEO, just check any story by the New York Times on a large tech company, they don't link to the website of Apple, eBay or Google, but rather link to the page which aggregates all the NYTimes stories on those companies. This way, The New York Times has added more than 3,000 pages into Google which do not add a lot of value other than the information which is probably available on the corporate websites of these companies already. As was mentioned by SEObook here: "The New York Times, seems reluctant to link to anyone but themselves. This is especially annoying when they write about websites. "

Screenshot on the right: New York Times company aggregator pages indexed by Google, currently more than 3,000 pages indexed.

Although I would rather see The New York Times link out to the companies they are writing about, I can see the need for the Newspaper to drive more pageviews for its survival. At least The NYTimes is using visible links where everybody can see their Black Hole SEO strategy.

Hidden Internal Links for the WIN; Ultimate Black Hole SEO

When reading Techmeme, I came across a story on a popular tech & business media site, which is using the Black Hole SEO strategy, but hides their internal links from the public. While these links do not fall under the definition of hidden links in the Webmaster Guidelines from Google, I wonder why the internal links to the aggregator pages are hidden with css, instead of just being in plain sight for any of the users. The Google webmaster guidelines say this about hidden links (emphasis is mine):

Hidden links are links that are intended to be crawled by Googlebot, but are unreadable to humans because:

  • The link consists of hidden text (for example, the text color and background color are identical).
  • CSS has been used to make tiny hyperlinks, as little as one pixel high.
  • The link is hidden in a small character - for example, a hyphen in the middle of a paragraph.

If your site is perceived to contain hidden text and links that are deceptive in intent, your site may be removed from the Google index, and will not appear in search results pages. When evaluating your site to see if it includes hidden text or links, look for anything that's not easily viewable by visitors of your site. Are any text or links there solely for search engines rather than visitors?

Here is a screenshot of the source code of the site (I removed the actual domain name of the website):

Hidden links in Content for Internal Black Hole SEO Link Juice

 In total 9 different hidden links to internal aggregation pages about companies or technology platforms or products. These include (in order of appearance):

  • Android
  • iPhone
  • iOS
  • Samsung
  • iPhone 5
  • Motorola
  • Google
All other links, which are visible for the users by the underlined blue text, are also going to internal pages, articles written in the past. Why are so many websites afraid of linking out? Afraid of giving competitors more SEO juice? I believe linking out to other websites is a key feature of how the web works. I'm happy if I can link websites I like, where I found interesting information or companies from which I enjoy their products. And although me or my website do not make such a big difference, then more authoritative websites like the ones mentioned above here, I'm happy to help build the Internet.
Be part of the Internet, or I will start ignoring you! Linking out to original sources, company homepages and product pages is, IMHO, part of your journalistic duty!
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Comments

  1. Nakul Goyal says:

    Completely makes sense. Great point, and it kind of makes sense of when and how big websites become brands, when people are naturally talking about them, writing about them and linking to them. Nature of the internet. Big sites should not be worried about linking out to known brands, websites etc. I understand the concern when talking about a cookie cutter website, bad neighborhoods etc. In that scenario, rel=nofollow, _blank should do the trick. But then what if that website closes, site changes etc, 404, then it’s a bad user experience for the linking website’s users.

  2. Dennis says:

    @Nakul,
    Thanks for your comment.
    You can easily use a program like Xenu LinkSleuth or Integrity to check of link rot.
    As soon as any of your external links give you a 404, you either remove the link, or set up a new destination for the link.
    This should be the normal maintenance for any large media website.

    Even if it’s a lot of work, I personally think it’s a worse user experience if I need to go look for the original source of a story, than when I can simply click on a link within the story. I would be ok if that site opens a new window, if the website is afraid of loosing readers.

  3. Nakul Goyal says:

    Absolutely. It’s clearly not a great user experience to see all stories for Apple, Google, eBay etc when clicking on that link, when you actually expect that to go to a particular website, source etc. I have seen that happen several times myself when browsing around, reading news etc.

    This is definitely not a SEO best-practice, but over optimization efforts. Controlling the flow of link juice.

  4. Dennis says:

    @Nakul,
    What’s more, flowing Juice using links hidden with CSS is in my book a clever but deceiving practice.

  5. netmeg says:

    Pageview journalism; keep the users on the site *no matter what*

    I have a number of sites that are quoted and excerpted on news sites all the time. Almost *none* of them will put an actual live link to me – the most I will get is a citation which is not clickable.

    This is also true of media sites such as for radio and tv stations.

    They do not want you to leave their site or risk missing even the smallest bit of ad revenue.

    I had a managing editor of a major television news website try to tell me it’s because they couldn’t vouch for the veracity of the site, but when pressed, she admitted that she was ordered not to link to *anyone* as a matter of policy.

  6. [...] On itself, I don’t see any problem with what these companies are doing, I would probably do the same thing if I was running the SEO team for these companies. However, the links in the stories are not giving the reader the best user experience. A little bid more shady is if a website is using hidden, through css, internal links to amplify the internal tag pages; which I described here: Black Hole SEO through Hidden Internal linking. [...]