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Hidden Links: Navigating SEO & Web Security Challenges

By the Rhino Rank team
1st Apr 2024

Are hidden links affecting your website’s SEO and security?

In this blog post, we will explain why hidden links exist, how they can affect your website’s performance and SEO metrics, and how you can find and fix these secret links quickly and efficiently.

Key Takeaways

  • Hidden links are a deceptive tactic used in black hat SEO to manipulate search engine rankings and can lead to penalties from search engines like Google; they can be hidden in various ways including matching font color to the background color, using CSS styling code, or embedding the link in non-visible page elements.
  • Detection of hidden links can be achieved through manual inspection of website source code or by using automated tools and SEO crawlers, which enable you to quickly identify these concealed links.
  • Protecting your site from hidden links involves carrying out regular website audits, ensuring up-to-date security measures are in place, implementing antispam measures, and removing or disavowing any links that could damage your website’s reputation.

What are Hidden Links?

Google defines hidden text or links as “hidden text or links is the act of placing content on a page in a way solely to manipulate search engines and not to be easily viewable by human visitors.”

Put simply, hidden links, as the name suggests, are hyperlinks that are intentionally concealed from website users. They can be embedded in text or images, linked through punctuation marks, or even hidden behind complex HTML styling that prevents the text from being highlighted or the cursor from changing to a pointer, both common indicators of a link.

These hidden links are not created by accident. Rather, they are a carefully crafted black hat link building technique and are used with the sole intention of manipulating search engine rankings. For example, link invisibility can be achieved by matching the text color with the background, making it impossible to spot with the human eye, but ensuring the link is still easily accessible to search engines. This ultimately provides an additional layer of deception in terms of web security, making it harder to find hidden links in websites.


Types of Hidden Links

Hidden links come in many different forms, including:

  • Code – JavaScript and CSS can be used to create hidden links that only reveal or activate under specific conditions, such as when a computer mouse hovers over them. Custom CSS can also be used to make the link text appear invisible, or for a link to use properties like ‘display:none’ or ‘visibility:hidden’.
  • Images – Hidden links can be embedded within the alt tags of images, be part of tiny one-pixel images, or even be placed behind larger images on the page.
  • Text – Links can be hidden within text using whitespace characters like non-breaking spaces or zero-font-size text, which makes them nearly impossible for users to detect visually.

These techniques can also be used to hide links, ensuring they are invisible to website users while still being indexed by search engines.

The Purpose of Hidden Links

Hidden links exist for two reasons:

  1. They serve as a tool for manipulating search engine rankings, as although the links are undetectable by website users they can still be crawled and indexed by search engines. The goal is to artificially enhance the website’s PageRank and perceived authority, thus boosting its online visibility and keyword ranking positions.
  2. Hidden links facilitate covert website spamming. This appeals to black hat SEO practitioners who want to inundate websites with backlinks without the knowledge or consent of the site owners. This tactic often involves the use of automated bots, targeting high-traffic platforms such as discussion forums, and exploiting security vulnerabilities to embed hidden links within existing content.

The Impact on SEO

The impact of hidden links on SEO cannot be underestimated. These deceptive practices are considered a form of black hat link building and can lead to penalties from search engines like Google. This can cause a website to see a reduction in online visibility and organic traffic, and in the most severe cases a website can be completely de-indexed and removed from the search engine rankings altogether.

Over the years, Google’s algorithms have been enhanced to enable them to identify hidden links and distinguish them from natural backlinks. These algorithms use nofollow attributes and other web signals to analyze linking patterns and anchor text relevance, assisting in identifying and penalizing unnatural link building behavior. This is important because Google rewards websites that partake in high quality backlink building with better search engine rankings.

Even if you are unaware of hidden links on your site, you may still face Google penalties for having low quality and spammy inbound links pointing to your site. Therefore, the best SEO practice is to ensure that all inbound links are easily identifiable by both website users and search engines.

Detecting Hidden Links on Your Website

Having grasped the concept of hidden links and their impact on SEO, you might wonder – how do you find find hidden links in websites? Detection can be achieved through two main methods:

  1. Manual inspection of a website’s HTML code
  2. Using automated tools, such as SEO crawlers and link checkers

Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, and often, a combination of both is used for effective detection.

Manual Inspection

Despite the high efficiency of automated tools, the significance of manual inspection cannot be overlooked. To manually find hidden links in a website, you need to access the page’s source code. This can be done using a web browser’s right-click menu and selecting ‘View page source’.

After you gain access to the source code, the next step is to use the search function to find key link identifiers, such as “link rel=” or “href=”, which will help uncover all embedded URLs on the page, including external links. You can also use this method to inspect the source code to identify any abnormal or suspicious anchor text or JavaScript that may disguise hidden links.

It’s a good idea to perform regular audits of your website’s link structure, including a manual inspection of the source code, to identify any hidden links that could affect your site’s SEO.

Automated Tools

Although manual inspections are effective, they can be laborious and time-consuming, especially if you have a large website, run multiple different websites, or don’t have access to an experienced web developer who can help interpret complex website code. This is where automated tools can be a big help in terms of auditing efficiency.

SEO crawling tools like Screaming Frog, Ahrefs, and Google Search Console can be used to quickly scan a website’s code and identify spammy or hidden that might otherwise go unnoticed. Browser security plugins and toolbars can also perform quick checks on websites to detect the presence of hidden links and help block malicious URLs.

However, while automated tools are useful in uncovering hidden links, they can sometimes generate false positives, so it’s important to manually verify their findings to avoid removing legitimate links.

Reporting and Removing Spammy Hidden Links

Once the hidden links have been identified, the next step is to report and remove these links from your website before they damage your online authority and credibility.

The first thing you need to do is report these links to Google. While Google does not use user reports to take direct action against reported hidden links, it does use the data to refine its spam detection systems. Reporting hidden links contributes positively to the quality of Google’s search results and protects users from harmful content.

However, merely reporting these links isn’t enough. Removing these hidden links is mandatory if you want to avoid receiving penalties from Google and other search engines.

Google’s Disavow Tool

Google’s Disavow Tool is a powerful resource in the fight against spammy or low-quality links.

To disavow links, you will need to create a text file that lists all of the URLs or domains you want to be ignored by search engines when they crawl your website and submit this through Google Search Console. Remember, disavow lists are specific to each property, meaning that separate disavow files must be created and submitted for different site versions.

This tool provides an effective way for website owners to clean up their website’s link profile and avoid penalties from Google.

Monitoring Backlinks

Monitoring your backlink profile and keeping track of any new backlinks that are created is essential to identify and address spammy hidden links that can harm a website’s SEO and reputation. Link analysis tools such as Majestic, SEMrush, and Ahrefs can provide detailed insights into a website’s backlink profile.

By regularly monitoring and analyzing backlink profiles, website owners can ensure they adhere to SEO best practices.

Protecting Your Site from Hidden Links

The detection and removal of hidden links is just the first step in the process. The next step, and arguably the most important, involves safeguarding your site against the threat of hidden links in the first place.

Protecting your website from hidden links often involves a combination of:

  • Regular audits
  • Ensuring plugin and theme security
  • Implementing antispam measures

Maintaining a proactive stance in website security can facilitate early detection of hidden links, helping to avoid search engine penalties and strengthening businesses’ defenses against black hat SEO tactics.

Regular Audits

Conducting regular audits is fundamental to safeguarding your site against hidden links. Audits help website owners identify and remove spammy embedded links that compromise their site’s SEO performance and security.

By quickly spotting and removing these links, you can protect your website’s reputation and user experience. Regular audits ensure your website stays in good standing with search engines and provide a safe browsing experience for your visitors.

Plugin and Theme Security

Guaranteeing the security of plugins and themes is another crucial element in protecting your site from hidden links. Regularly updating and fixing your site’s plugins and themes is vital to protect against vulnerabilities that could be exploited to insert hidden links.

Web Application Firewalls (WAFs) can also be used to monitor traffic, detect system attacks, block hacking attempts, and protect sites against vulnerabilities that could result in a hidden link being added to your content without authority. By filtering and overseeing HTTP traffic, these WAFs can separate and hide malicious signals from authentic traffic, protecting against various intrusion techniques.

Some of the most popular WAFs include:

  • Cloudflare WAF
  • Barracuda WAF
  • Citrix WAF

Antispam Measures

Link spammers often make malware or use automated bots to covertly post hidden links on websites without the site owners’ knowledge. To combat this, antispam plugins and extensions are crucial. These tools block link spammers and prevent the addition of hidden links to websites.

A prime example of an effective antispam plugin is Akismet. This plugin is designed for Content Management System (CMS) platforms and helps filter out spammy comments, form submissions, ads, and other site interactions that might contain hidden links. By blocking these potentially harmful interactions, Akismet and other antispam plugins, help protect your site from the damaging effects of hidden links.


As we’ve seen, although hidden links can manipulate search engine rankings, the cost is high. Search engines like Google employ sophisticated algorithms to identify and penalize sites that use black hat SEO techniques. Therefore, maintaining a clean, transparent linking structure is paramount for improving website’s SEO performance and reputation.

Navigating the world of spam and hidden links can be daunting, but with the right knowledge and tools, you can effectively manage these invisible threats. By following the strategies and tips discussed in this guide, you can ensure your site is protected against hidden links and random link building, remains secure and in good standing with search engines.


Frequently Asked Questions

What are hidden links?

Secret links, more commonly called hidden links, are concealed hyperlinks that aim to manipulate search engine rankings. They are typically visible to search engines but not to regular site visitors.

Are hidden links bad for SEO?

While hidden link building can temporarily boost a site’s ranking, creating links that are intended to be hidden can negatively impact the site’s long-term SEO performance and result in hefty Google penalties.

How can I detect hidden links on my website?

To detect hidden links on your website, you can manually inspect the source code of each web page for suspicious anchor tags or JavaScript, or use automated tools like Screaming Frog and Ahrefs to scan the code of your website and identify any spammy or hidden links.

How can I protect my site from hidden links?

To protect your site from hidden links, conduct regular audits, keep your plugins and themes up-to-date, and implement antispam measures. Doing so will help you identify and remove hidden links, and block link spammers from accessing your website without permission.

Do hidden links manipulate search engine rankings?

Yes! Hidden link schemes aim to deceive browsers and artificially inflate search engine rankings, all while funneling users toward unrelated or dangerous content.

How can I report and remove spammy hidden links?

To report and remove spammy hidden links, you can upload a disavow file to Google Search Console which will inform search engines that these links should be ignored when they crawl your website and calculate your PageRank. Regularly monitoring backlinks can also help identify hidden links, allowing you to then remove them from your website.