homepage Welcome to WebmasterWorld Guest from
register, free tools, login, search, pro membership, help, library, announcements, recent posts, open posts,
Pubcon Platinum Sponsor 2014
Home / Forums Index / Google / Google News Archive
Forum Library, Charter, Moderator: open

Google News Archive Forum

This 46 message thread spans 2 pages: 46 ( [1] 2 > >     
How does Google react to H1's Modified by CSS?

 10:41 am on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

I know it was popular to use CSS style sheets to define an H1 tag with small text, so as to get the boost from Google while maintaining the asthetics of the site.
I heard about this over two years ago and I figure that if Google hasn't caught on yet, it soon will. Several months ago one of my clients asked me about doing this and I told them don't do it because I felt it was spammy. Today, I found out they ignored my advice. So my question is how does Google treat this situation?
Does it only rely on spam reports to detect this or does it have the ability to check it with its crawlers?

I want some feedback so as to convince them to remove this code before they launch their site. Please help me to build a case against it :)


Receptional Andy

 10:47 am on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

Why is everyone obsessed with CSS and Google all of a sudden? ;)
Using CSS to resize elements of a page is how you make pages look nice, not an underhand SEO trick.

Please read this recent post on the same subject:


If Google punished sites that resized headings, they would be punishing many, many legitimate sites who use CSS to control layout and appearance, not for 'beating' Google.

If you ask me your client is right - let them use the code. I will happily name sites of mine using resized headings and you can report them to Google as often as you like, they won't ban them. because they are doing nothing wrong.


 11:01 am on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

It's very hard to say what Google would or wouldn't object to during human review. Assuming that more than one person performs editorial reviews, there can presumably be minor differences in their attitude to certain tactics.

If a customer of mine wanted their H1 set to 1px high text I'd tell them they can't. If they wanted something similar to default font size but in bold, or a different colour, or whatever, I wouldn't be concerned. If they wanted small-ish text in the H1, but with a long chain of keywords, I'd tell they can't.

After all, the main use of H1 is for human visitors. It should be prominent, and unlike TITLE Google doesn't seem to place much emphasis on H1 anyway.

> ...does it have the ability to check it with its crawlers?

An engine could parse CSS for inheritance, specificity, etc., but what would they do with a <SPAN class=blue> inside an <H1 class="two classes> inside a <TD style="font-size: 1px;"> inside a <DIV class=hidden>.

They'd presumably wish to identify the prominence of the text in the most common browser (IE6/IE5). I don't think it happens now; Googlebot doesn't routinely download LINKed CSS anyway.

Receptional Andy

 11:08 am on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

>If a customer of mine wanted their H1 set to 1px high text

Exactly, but that isn't resizing a heading, that is trying to hide a heading, which to me is two different things.


 11:10 am on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

Andy is right

Reducing the size of H1 when used in context should be no problem.

For maximum safety, you need to consider how it would look if it 'earned' a hand inspection after a spam report.

For example, if you have 30 words in an h1 tag all reduced to the smallest size and "re-positioned' at the bottom of the page, then you could be in trouble if hand inspected - especially if lumped together with a load of other 'marginal' SEO tactics.

Alternatively, an H1 tag used for a normal heading reduced to similar size to your content text - should be OK.


 11:18 am on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

Well, there are ways and there are ways to detect <H1> abuse.

Simply detecting an <H1> text resize can leave plenty of margin for doubt: should the cutoff be 18pt, 24pt, 13pt or what else? What is to be considered normal text size? 12 pt, 14pt?

However <H1> abuse detection would be more likely to succed if it detected the proportion of <H1> to <H2> to <H3> to <P> and other text styles.

A page that was only <H1>, styled to be 12pt or 14pt is a ripe candidate of abuse. A page of 8% <H1>, 12 <H2> and the remainder <P> all styled to be 12pt, is probably not a spam attempt.


 11:28 am on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

Actually, my client wasn't doing things extremely spammy. I was just nervous that Google would notice the reduced size. The client used the modified h1 to change the color and have about the equivalent to font+1. And they planned to use it only as a short title on several pages.
So are they right? I don't mind admitting I'm wrong. I just don't want to approve something which could cause problems down the road.

brotherhood of LAN

 11:30 am on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

If I were Google, I'd waste no computation on CSS. Measuring style/stylesheets/multiple stylesheets/multiple fontsizes/multiple tags sounds like a very expensive business. I'd simply assign a weight to all the unique tags you decide to use on a page and measure them relatively. You could have a 200px <h1> tag, it would measure the same as 1px in my book, it would depend on how many words you stuff into them and how many other tags are used/how many words are in them too.

Of course, I'm not Google.


 1:11 pm on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

If I were Google, I'd waste no computation on CSS.

CSS is very important to find out if someone is spamming. I've found plenty of examples of this on a page:

<div style="visibility:hidden;">
<a href="linkfarm1">WIDGETS</a>
<a href="linkfarm2">WIDGETS</a>
<a href="linkfarm3">WIDGETS</a>

At the moment google doesn't seem to have worked this one out. I imagine this is the most obvious use of spamming with CSS.
I've found competing sites to mine who have backlinks like this being counted by Google. Very annoying.

Receptional Andy

 1:41 pm on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

Google is definitely susceptible to CSS hiding at the moment, but when and if they introduce any rules about this, I am still confident that heading sizes and legitimate CSS usage will never be penalised.

As Nick W said in the thread I linked above, the only way to catch out CSS spammers is with humans checking, as is the case with cloaking on Google at the moment.


 3:42 pm on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

I guarantee that next on Google's list of spam filtering will be CSS tricks, if they are not being addressed already. CSS tricks afford unscrupulous designers way too many ways to cheat the system. Hidden text and links, text-on-same-color-background, reduced-size h1 tags, and so forth pose problems so obvious that I do not see how Google could fail to address them. I personally would NEVER use CSS tricks, and I fail to see how reducing h1 size to 14pt or less could be perceived as "legitimate."

Receptional Andy

 3:48 pm on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

> I fail to see how reducing h1 size to 14pt or less could be perceived as "legitimate."

Really? If I make a site, I start from the very basics - plain text with approriate headings, paragraphs etc. and then slowly build up the aesthetic side of things. Maybe I want very small headings in my final design and opt for all headings 14pt and all body text 12pt.

Please explain to me why this is not legitimate and how this represents me trying to fool google into ranking my site well.


 4:02 pm on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

Please explain to people who crosslink many of their sites why doing so is not considered legitimate. Legitimacy is in the eye of the beholder, I guess, but lines have to be drawn somewhere. The h* tags historically (whether by intention or not) set visual prominence on the page. H1 is used for text which is to be most prominent. If you want headings to be only slightly more prominent than body text, why wouldn't you use h2, h3, or h4? Okay, I admit that there are scenarios in which reduced h1 tags could be implemented with innocent intentions. However, the potential for abuse is quite large. I do feel that Google will be forced to address it, and because of that I will personally not drastically size-down h1 tags or do anything else with CSS which might trigger future spam-filters.

Receptional Andy

 4:11 pm on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

>>Please explain to people who crosslink many of their sites why doing so is not considered legitimate

Nearly everyone who posts on WW because they have been cross linking do so extensively, or also use other less than approved techniques to get their sites ranked well artificially. I agree that it is wise to stay on the side of caution, but I think this whole debate is getting a bit far fetched.

The H1 tag is a very minor factor in Google's ranking algorithm. Resizing the H1 tag (as long as it is still visible) does not break any of Google's webmaster guidelines.

My conclusion: H1 tags are not going to trigger any spam filters. Google obviously want to remove as much spam as possible from their index, and stuff that's hidden by CSS certainly fits this description (and breaks google's current guidelines) header tags do not and it would be a complete waste of Google's energy to devote any time to regulating how sites control H1s with CSS. Surely that's just common sense?

If you make changes to your site for your visitors (like making headers look nice) then don't worry about Google's spam filters. If you are making changes to try and improve your ranking, think carefully about how Google will view your efforts. Forget about H1 tags unless you've got 1px tags with 100s of words in them or something.


 4:38 pm on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

Agree entirely Fourdegreez, but we won't get any change out of the guys here ;-)
Much simpler for G to drop any weighting given to H tags, and another spam potential is eliminated.


 4:51 pm on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

If I were Google, I'd waste no computation on CSS.

It's not resizing of the heading text that is or should be considered to be "spam," it's using it where it isn't in fact a heading. It seems like it'd be pretty easy to for Google to count the proportion of words or characters in headings to normal body text, and act (filter, score, penalize, select for review, or whatever) on that instead of on the size. And doing so wouldn't require reading the .css file.

That's what I'd do if I were Google. :)


 4:51 pm on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

If you make changes to your site for your visitors (like making headers look nice) then don't worry about Google's spam filters.

While I suspect that's true, if an H1 is too big, just drop to an H2. Or a <B><Font size = whatever? Isn't that the classic approach?

Much simpler for G to drop any weighting given to H tags, and another spam potential is eliminated.

As is a good way of telling what a legitimately designed page is about. I'm afraid that would change would be more harmful than helpful. The ratio of headings to normal text sounds to me like a much more accurate measurement.


 4:54 pm on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

Much simpler for G to drop any weighting given to H tags, and another spam potential is eliminated.

But also eliminated would be a potential way to determine the relevant topic of the page. After all, if you drop from the ranking algorithms anything that might have "spam potential," what are you going to use to determing relevancy?

[edit: oops... dwilson was quicker on the draw!]

Receptional Andy

 4:57 pm on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

>we won't get any change out of the guys here ;-)

lol ;) and I'm going to agree with you too..

>drop any weighting given to H tags

This seems to be the most obvious choice from Google's point of view. My stance was against *penalising* content in H1 tags, which would be bad, although I think that this change would not beneift the algorithm in general.

[ooops nr.2] looks like I was beaten to it too! [/oops]


 5:03 pm on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

I think the new specs call for deprecating numeric header tags and replacing them with the simple <h> tag.

>>drop any weighting given to H tags

While they're at it, they could drop any weighting on the title tag and on text appearing between <p>ignore this please it could be spam</p> tags. ;)

brotherhood of LAN

 5:06 pm on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

understood JayC,

I usually have 10 words in an H1, and the rest in P tags. What i reckon is, that if I swapped them around, my P tags would count for more.

its like giving all tags a score of 1 and dividing it by the number of words in them. you just cant spam it, but as said in another thread, its an opportunity for an SEO to say to the bot "look, if you want to spider this, this is what it is"....instead of it treating each word as an equal to the rest of the words on the page.

writing a whole doc inside an H1 tag is like saying no words are any more important than any other on the page sorta thing....

my 0.02 on it :)


 5:42 pm on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

Google isn't going to dedicate resources to parsing CSS anytime soon. Whether or not we think resizing a heading tag is cheating isn't the consideration. The only consideration is whether or not spending the time/money to auto detect CSS tricks will have a substantial positive impact on the quality of the search results.

The reality is that most "CSS tricks" are infact done by designers who are thinking only about "look and feel" issues. Trying to attack spammers by coming up with a rule that dictates the proper size of a heading tag would be a huge waste of time. And it would lead to many sites that real searchers want to find getting dropped.

That in turn, would benfit the true enemy, because real spammers don't use CSS.

A better approach would be to simply put a reasonable cap on the number of words in a heading tag. If you find a page with 250 words in an <h1> tag, it doesn't really matter what size it is. That is a clear attempt to spam. Penalizing that will catch both the Mom & Pop spammer that added an extra paragraph to a hidden layer, as well as the corporate spammer that auto-generated 100k cloaked pages.


 9:05 pm on Mar 19, 2003 (gmt 0)

It's not just about heading tags. I agree with most people here that heading tags are not important and spammers will use much nastier tricks than that.

However, the tricks they can and do use are hiding parts of pages with CSS. Setting Z-indexes and visibility to hidden are really obvious and easy tricks which people do use, real spammers use.

There is no reason why any valuable content that should be indexed should be in a hidden div. If it is hidden, it should not be indexed.

Small Website Guy

 1:34 am on Mar 20, 2003 (gmt 0)

Google has to consider CSS, because with CSS you can put keywords into text that the human eyes can't see.

If the H1 tag is considered by Google, then it gives all kinds of opportunities to a webmaster who wants to game the system. With CSS, you can make H1 text invisible, or you can make it look just like P text. Surround your keywords with H1 tags, regardles of where they are in your document, and you've tricked Google.


 10:00 am on Mar 20, 2003 (gmt 0)

Hi All,

well let's see... one of my competitor is using...
hum hum: 2436 keywords of size 1 px, 145 keywords with links in H4 tags, and 3 keywords with links in h1 tags ... the whole thing in a div visibility set to hidden ... in a page where there is 30 'legitimate' words.


(legitimate means visible but with such a hidden div one cannot qualify any of their word a legitimate)

No seriously, Google doesn't seems to pick this up because they give them high ranking on these hidden keywords and even display them in the search result. So kieranshaw I definitly agree with you: Google should definitly discard any invisible div.

Made In Sheffield

 10:36 am on Mar 20, 2003 (gmt 0)

A few points I want to make:

H1 ratio measurement for spam detection.

While it might work for some sites, what if you have a page that has a heading and then a flash movie under it? The heading should be H1, but there would only be one other (X)HTML element on the page. Certainly not spam. What if someone has a framed layout and uses H1 on it's own in a header frame?

Using H2, H3 <font size ="X"> etc, instead of H1 for smaller headings.

This may work visually but what about the semantics of the document? H1 is the main header of the page, audio browsers will use H1 to indicate the structure of the document. All documents should start with H1, H2 for sub headings, H3 for sub sub headings etc. to be semantically correct.

Hidden Divs

I use 2 hidden divs on every page of my site in the style sheet that is used for visual rendering such an IE on screen. Am I spamming? No.

The first is used to hide my company address when on screen so that it is available if someone prints the page. The print style sheet activates it.

The second gives information about upgrading your browser for users with no CSS support. This is recommened by the Web Standards Project.

In fact I've just thought of a third hidden element on my pages, I use a style sheet switching feature that uses one of two images and hides the second.

There you have 3 legitimate uses for CSS hiding and I can think of more.

While I can't stand spam I think you've got to be open minded and think that something that is spam on one site could well be legitimate on another.

<added>I agree that the best way to go would probably be count pages as spam that have H1 elements over a certain length, or just ignore H1 elements over a certain length and ignore H1 elements if there is more than a certain (low) number</added>


[edited by: Made_In_Sheffield at 10:55 am (utc) on Mar. 20, 2003]


 10:53 am on Mar 20, 2003 (gmt 0)

Agree entirely with Made In Sheffield. You should strive to use appropriate structural markup in your documents - there's even people who say Google likes/rewards this.

To me, it is a worse offence to use a H2 or H3 instead of a H1 simply because it looks better (smaller), than using CSS to reduce the default font size and margins/padding of a H1.

H2 is a subheading within H1, H3 is a sub within H2, and so on. There are many good reasons why you shouldn't simply switch these for aesthetic reasons.

Receptional Andy

 10:55 am on Mar 20, 2003 (gmt 0)

Very nicely put Nigel.

I still say that the only real way for Google to stop people hiding SEO content with CSS will be human review of the site in question, which would need to be reported in a spam report. Otherwise genuine and ethical sites will be removed from Google's index, which is the last thing anyone wants.


 10:57 am on Mar 20, 2003 (gmt 0)


> There you have 3 legitimate uses for CSS hiding and I can think of more.

I'm using a hidden div to contain the full size pictures. It is only shown when the visitor points his mouse over the thumbnails. There's not a single word of text in this div. I don't feel like spamming either ;)


Made In Sheffield

 11:04 am on Mar 20, 2003 (gmt 0)

:) Exactly, it wouldn't be in the CSS spec if it didn't have uses.

I agree with Receptional_Andy, human review is going to be the only way to go for most CSS spam tricks. The web is huge and diverse and very hard to drop into an algorythm as "this is spam" and "this is not".

This has been shown with sites being penalised for cloaking that were simply using a content management system with no intention of spamming.

With Google's prominent position it has to be very careful what is penalises or some very big organisations could get very p***ed off.

This 46 message thread spans 2 pages: 46 ( [1] 2 > >
Global Options:
 top home search open messages active posts  

Home / Forums Index / Google / Google News Archive
rss feed

All trademarks and copyrights held by respective owners. Member comments are owned by the poster.
Home ¦ Free Tools ¦ Terms of Service ¦ Privacy Policy ¦ Report Problem ¦ About ¦ Library ¦ Newsletter
WebmasterWorld is a Developer Shed Community owned by Jim Boykin.
© Webmaster World 1996-2014 all rights reserved