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Continuum Using Hidden Links

Posted in: Search Engine Optimisation by Richard Hearne on July 9, 2007
Internet Marketing Ireland

It’s one thing when an Irish SEO company promotes blackhat cloaking, but quite another when an Irish SEO company uses hidden links on it’s own site:

Continuum hidden links

I noticed this before, but a new thread on CreativeIreland is rehashing the topic. While normal business etiquette would say that you should not bash your competition, in this case (and any other cases where I believe ‘SEO’ companies are hurting the industry here in Ireland) I’m quite happy to name and shame. Here’s what Google has to say about this particular practice:

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?


I wouldn’t mind, but Continuum certainly don’t look like fly-by-night types. I don’t know anyone over there, but judging by their client list they appear to be at the higher corporate end of the market.

But if your SEO provider uses this type of technique on their site wouldn’t you be just a little insecure about your own?

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  1. Those links aren’t hidden, I can read them just fine – when I open the web page that is. Your own image is too small, and distorts the text, making it appear unreadable when it’s actually not. If you wanted to present a true and accurate picture, why not do what everyone expects and show the full resolution image on clicking your above image?

    It’s true that it’s a poor choice of colour, and the reason behind the choice may have been not to draw too much attention to it, but if you can see and read them, they’re NOT hidden.

    Now, white text on a white background – that would be hidden.

    Comment by John — July 9, 2007 @ 9:22 am

  2. Hi Richard,

    I saw that before and gave them the benefit of the doubt – poor colour contrast, rather than deliberate cloaking.

    But looking at it again, it’s below the footer, the grey is too light a colour to be readable. I tend to agree.

    Having said that, if they made it more visible and perhaps put it above the footer, it could be a useful page element, like the sitemap-like thingeys you see on some modern designs.


    Comment by Lar — July 9, 2007 @ 9:48 am

  3. John, that’s absolute nonsense in fairness. It’s deliberate black hat SE link baiting and an absolute disgrace coming from an established web agency. You could try reporting it to Google and see what happens (…and no, I don’t intend to… karma and all that)

    Comment by Ken — July 9, 2007 @ 11:04 am

  4. Hello john@anon

    I’d love to get your take on exactly who those links are for? If they are for the users of the site in question then don’t you think they are a little difficult to read?

    You are very correct that I should have linked to the page in question. That was an error on my part:

    hidden links?

    I’ll let others make up there own minds. In my view those links are not published for humans, and while I can appreciate including navigational links for spiders to crawl, I don’t appreciate using #E0E1E2 on #FFF background. (Of course you wont get this by email given that you didn’t leave a real address, but I have a suspicion you might be back to check the page somehow.)

    @Lar – I think it’s clear that the links aren’t there for people. Not sure why because people might actually be interested in those links. In my opinion this was a case of the site in question pushing the boundaries of what’s hidden and what’s not. Deliberately? I don’t know. I’ll let people decide for themselves.

    Missed you on Thursday last. Hope fatherhood isn’t mistreating you :grin:

    To both – thanks for commenting.

    Comment by Richard Hearne — July 9, 2007 @ 11:24 am

  5. Cheers Richard,

    made the OpenCoffee, but just for a wee while before I had to head into the office.

    Fatherhood is terrific, can’t believed I sired such a little angel!

    Are you still in Thailand?


    Comment by Lar — July 9, 2007 @ 11:31 am

  6. The links look like they are intended for spiders, so I would consider that to be blackhat. I’d love to know how Continuum justify them.


    Comment by Michele — July 9, 2007 @ 1:35 pm

  7. I wonder is there a Golden Spider category for SEO? I’d say Continuum would probably clean up.

    Comment by Ken — July 9, 2007 @ 1:38 pm

  8. If those links are not hidden and for readers wouldn’t one say its a ‘bad design’ in terms of accessibility? ;-)

    Comment by Gavin — July 9, 2007 @ 3:33 pm

  9. @Michele – I wouldn’t mind but it’s ‘blackhat’ of the least sophisticated form.

    @Ken – Jazus, the Golden Spiders must be coming up shortly again. That should be fun :mrgreen:

    @Gavin – I doubt there’s any easy out for Continuum on this one. I’m going to shoot them a mail and see if they want to clean up their site.

    Comment by Richard Hearne — July 9, 2007 @ 4:19 pm

  10. I don’t recognise those links as been blackhat. The links aren’t hidden, they are perfectly legible in my brower. They each link to unique and relevant content too so they can’t be described as ‘link baiting’ either.

    It’s not blackhat in my eyes. It’s greyhat if anything.

    A lot of websites put links in their footer in a simlar manner. Fair enough the links on 9rules are more prominant but that’s a design feature.

    Comment by Cormac — July 11, 2007 @ 2:13 pm

  11. Well on my browser, they’re barely legible. And I have 20/20 vision! I would imagine you’re in the vast minority, Cormac.

    Comment by Ken — July 11, 2007 @ 2:19 pm

  12. …small minority, small minority!

    Comment by Ken — July 11, 2007 @ 2:19 pm

  13. Cormac

    I can see the links in the footer of the 9rules website clearly.

    I cannot see the links in the footer of the Continuum site.

    You might be able to see them, but I would have to agree with everyone else’s assessment that your eyes must be working differently ….


    Comment by Michele — July 11, 2007 @ 2:35 pm

  14. I don’t like your minority tactics Kenneth. I wasn’t expecting you to play that card :(

    For the sake of clairty > This is what I’m currently looking at.

    As far as I’m aware my eyes work the same as yours Michele, but I have only tried out the one pair.

    Comment by Cormac — July 11, 2007 @ 2:51 pm

  15. Minority tactics got me to where I am today. Always side with the winning team, Cormac.

    What you’re seeing is definitely a whole lot different to what I’m seeing, I can tell you that. I’ll FTP a grab when I get home later this evening and you can see for yourself.

    Comment by Ken — July 11, 2007 @ 2:54 pm

  16. @ Ken – I’ll save you the trouble :)
    @ Cormac – I’d have to agree with the others on this. This is what I see

    Comment by Martina Skelly — July 11, 2007 @ 3:10 pm

  17. Mmmm, that’s certainly more ‘cloaked’ than my screenshot Martina. But either way I wouldn’t regard it as Blackhat.

    Comment by Cormac — July 11, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

  18. Yeah, that’s pretty much what I see Martina! How can you not consider that Black Hat, Cormac? The links are practically hidden to the common man and are only there for the sole purposes of SE’s!

    Comment by Ken — July 11, 2007 @ 3:22 pm

  19. I don’t think it adds anything to the user experience when it appears like that. I think many of us in our ‘new to SEO’ days had the wonderful brainwave of hidden links, before realising that (a) it’s not such a unique Eureka moment and (b) not all that advisable.

    This could be a sign of a lack of in-house expertise at Continuum…

    Comment by Martina Skelly — July 11, 2007 @ 3:24 pm

  20. Ken, if the link were completely hidden then yes, I would regard it as blackhat. I just had a look at the footer from my Mac and the links appear bright as the day to me. It certainly isn’t honest but I wouldn’t go as far as to call it BHat.

    Comment by Cormac Moylan — July 11, 2007 @ 4:49 pm

  21. Cormac – I’d be interested to know why you think the links aren’t honest? And in what context?

    I just want to say I’m not averse to creating navigational funnels that are primarily for search engines, but I think that they have to be very visible to all and sundry in order to comply with the SE guidelines. I think this case is borderline at best. I have my own view on the intent here, but I will leave it up to everyone to form their own conclusions.

    Best rgds to all,

    Comment by Richard Hearne — July 11, 2007 @ 5:03 pm

  22. Dishonest SEO or Black Hat SEO? If there’s a difference then fair enough, but they’re pretty much the same thing.

    Comment by Ken — July 11, 2007 @ 5:05 pm

  23. Richard, it’s because the links are more focused on pleasing bots than users, as you mentioned. It’s not 100% dishonest but it’s not 100% honest either. I can see the links from both my work PC and my make, the links are visible but they aren’t as clear as they should be.

    Ken, if you think the text used on Continuum’s website is hidden then you should check a post of mine from a few months ago regarding Matrix Internet.

    That’s what I call hidden text.

    Comment by Cormac Moylan — July 11, 2007 @ 5:09 pm

  24. Yes, I remember Cormac. That was certainly a more serious crime!

    You’re entitled to your opinion but, IMO, the links on the Continuum site don’t serve the user at all and are only there for SE’s. To me that’s 100% dishonest. I don’t really believe in the longevity of SEO. More serving the user. And this kind of practice certainly falls into the category of ‘tricking search engines’ more than it does ‘delivering great content to the user’

    Comment by Ken — July 11, 2007 @ 5:15 pm

  25. Cormac – it was a good move to out them then. Well done. I actually got in touch with them at the time and asked them politely what did they think they were doing. They removed the links pretty quick then and I see their homepage has remained clean since.

    I have to say that I will often create links purely for search engines. However I will make sure that they are perfectly clear, and that the pages they lead to are purposed for humans first and search engines second.

    Best rgds

    Comment by Richard Hearne — July 11, 2007 @ 5:27 pm

  26. Ken you can serve the user in conjunction with SEO without it hindering the user. I think failing that principle is Continuum’s main mistake.

    And absolutely Richard, the user comes before the bot.

    Comment by Cormac — July 11, 2007 @ 6:24 pm

  27. Just to clear the air here – the color used by Continuum on the links in question has been changed to #A19F9F from the previous #E0E1E2.

    So I think this episode can now be drawn to a close.

    Thanks everyone who commented, rgds

    Comment by Richard Hearne — July 11, 2007 @ 6:42 pm

  28. I’m going to try and get away from the subjective “I can see them/I can’t see them” argument.

    From an accessibility perspective (not necessarily just blind users), the link colour is pants.

    Having put the link colours through a colour contrast algorithm, here are the results….

    The difference in brightness between the two colours is not sufficient. The threshold is 125, and the result of the foreground and background colours is 95.

    The difference in colour between the two colours is not sufficient. The threshold is 500, and the result of the foreground and background colours is 286.

    This would also apply to the links in the heading

    From a usability perspective, I’d have a suspicion that the links in the header/banner could too easily missed, something that could easily be tested through usability testing.

    All said, I’ve come across Continuum in a work capacity and they are extremely professional in everything they do. I think they’re suffering from the same “cobbler’s shoes” syndrome that we at iQ Content sometimes suffer from which is we know we need to fix our site, but we can’t put the time aside to do it, as we’re so busy mending other people’s shoes.

    Comment by Lar — July 11, 2007 @ 6:43 pm

  29. Hi again Lar

    Thankfully the industry here seems to be very vibrant at the moment – all ships are rising…

    I think we all suffer from that syndrome (good God – boy would I love to do something with this place :( )

    As I mentioned above (x-post) this seems to have been fixed now, and the colours used provide enough contrast to make the links visible.

    Now everyone’s going to be nagging you for the color tool :mrgreen:

    Rgds as always,

    Comment by Richard Hearne — July 11, 2007 @ 6:48 pm

  30. I actually ran the test after they had changed it (yikes).

    I should have linked to the colour contrast tool by Gez Lemon of Juicy Studio.

    I think there’s also one built into the free web accessibility toolbar.

    Comment by Lar — July 11, 2007 @ 7:02 pm

  31. Jesh, I was wondering what all the cuffufle was about I went there 5 mins ago and was able to read all the links, I thought you guys were losing it.

    Comment by McAWilliams — July 12, 2007 @ 11:52 am

  32. Heh, yeah I did the same McAWilliams!

    Comment by frankp — July 12, 2007 @ 12:00 pm

  33. All ye of little faith…

    Hi John, Frank

    Comment by Richard Hearne — July 12, 2007 @ 12:13 pm

  34. I like to call them believers. :)

    Comment by Cormac — July 12, 2007 @ 3:54 pm

  35. If you have to ask, “do you think these are hidden text?” you’ve already crossed the line. Clean SEO is never borderline SEO.

    Comment by Halfdeck — July 13, 2007 @ 12:56 am

  36. Maybe Continuum did this site,

    Comment by Craig — July 13, 2007 @ 6:09 am

  37. Hey Halfdeck – nice to see you.

    Craig – in fairness I don’t need to highlight all to read the links. They’ve just made very good use of the fold… interesting to see just how many links they have on that page thoguh :grin:

    Rgds to both

    Comment by Richard Hearne — July 13, 2007 @ 6:49 am

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