Chief Technology Officer & Photographer | Irvine, CA

Header Image SEO – is it trickery?

Ok, so I have this client, which will remain nameless, but he’s currently attending a SEO seminar in CA and apparently there is some guy from Google there. Well, my client starts asking him about different SEO topics, one of them being SEO spam – or basically just trying to trick the search engines.

I did some SEO work on his site a few months back, and one of the main changes was to switch up his header so that when CSS was disabled, there would still be descriptive text read by crawlers because the hidden span would then be shown – as it was hidden using CSS. He asked the Google guy if this considered spam and sure enough, Google guy says yes, but Chuck believes different – hell, I know of several other sites that are developed this way, are they doing it wrong too?

Google says no to text behind an image or text hidden by CSS – but I’m describing the image – so am I wrong?

Can I have some support here? Basically its like this – an H2 tag with a background image set via CSS, within the H2 tag, there is a span with a class tagged to it to hide the text – that’s it. When the CSS is turned off, the hidden text appears – thus a web crawler can read it as it contains valuable information describing the content of the site and is basically a textual representation of the image. Can someone put up some supporting links to information to support either side (mine or Google guy)? I know Google is great and all, but that doesn’t mean all their employees know everything – for all I know, Google guy could be the receptionist for the kid center…


  1. We use the image replacement technique in xhtml/css all the time, and no sites have ever been blacklisted. I don’t know if this is exactly what you’re talking about, though? We use it mainly for header and button replacements, just as you described. I wouldn’t call it spamming, this is how 99% of w3c valid websites are built now. Just as if your hlf logo here was a background to an h1 tag, instead of using the img tag. Now there are ways of abusing this by hiding blocks of text with relevant keywords. I’ve seen it done on the local competitors websites a while ago. That’s definitely spamming.

  2. Yeah, that’s totally what I’m talking about. I’m not spamming, nor does it remotely appear as spamming, but my client is dead set that since the Google dude said it’s “spam”, that his site is going to get blacklisted. I just want some more ammunition to give to the guy before just saying “ok, I’ll change it” – as I’d rather give great advice, than be a “yes-man” all the time!

  3. Susan Moskwa says:

    Looks like Chuck has found some good references for you. If you happen to know the name of that “Google guy,” I’d be happy to chat with him about the nuances of this technique (which, as you’ve observed, is neither “100% spam” nor “0% spam”).

  4. noel says:

    IMHO, the technique itself isn’t spamming. If it is used to display text as a replacement to the image and describes the images, then it is valid. However, if the use is to maliciously put some text and keywords that can manipulate your rankings, then that’s spamming.

    The question is, how can google know which is which through it’s algorithm. Well, that’s their problem. As of now, I don’t think this is automatically penalized. But I’m pretty sure they know this technique. It’s just a matter of time for them to figure out an effective algorithm to penalize websites spamming using the hidden text via CSS technique.

  5. Haris says:

    image replacement with css technique can be an answered but it still have some problem, because the image will gone if image block function in some browser was activated. Any idea?

  6. If they have image blocking functionality active on their browser, I’m not worried about them. For starters, its dumb to turn off images in the current state of the internet to get a full browsing experience, however, your site should be designed well with CSS so when this situation occurs (by a dumb user turning off images, or a web crawler that won’t index binaries) it still displays alternative text to the image that was supposed to be displayed.

  7. Sankar says:

    Nice discussion.

    As per the above conversation, I came to know that present people who are using this technique aren’t penalized by google. In future, if google optimizes their algorithm then the guys who are using this technique may be effected. However not a problem, at present it’s doing well. Glad to know that. :)


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