On August 25th, 2011 wrote on the subject of SEO.

Google’s hidden text in Google Plus posts- a violation of their own guidelines?

I’ve been playing about a bit with Google Plus posts this morning, and with the recent share of Vic Gundotra’s Icon Ambulance post I know a lot of people have been viewing the same page that led me to dig a little deeper into Google Plus pages.

Take a look at the source code of the cached version of this page- scroll down and you’ll notice a lot of names appearing in the source code within the <span class=”To”> tag. This tag appears to contain the names of almost everyone who has shared the post, and in this particular case this is a lot of names. On the page this either appears as:

or in some cases:

As seen in this example from one of Larry Page's posts

I’m not yet able to determine why some pages do display some of this text and why others don’t- it doesn’t appear to be influenced by the number of shares, comments or age of post from what I’ve seen. In any case this still contains a list of names hidden from the page:

hidden text google plus

In order to determine whether Google Plus pages were ranking for people’s names included in the hidden text I decided to run a small experiment. I took this Google Plus post from Matt Cutts and decided to check the rankings of the first 2 pages of Google UK for 38 of the names included in this span tag:

Out of the 38 names I tested for this URL only 2 ranked this URL within the top 20 results. This isn’t a massive feat but I’m sure we’d see more results if we rolled this out across the thousands of post URLs indexed, or expanded the depth past the second page of search results.

This goes to show that the usernames contained in the hidden text can (and does) rank which may be a violation of Google’s Guidelines on Hidden text and links.

Now I’m 100% positive that this isn’t deliberate- I think this is simply a classic case of a developers oversight… another classic example of why SEO needs to be baked into the development process from the very beginning- no matter how big an organisation you are!

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