Hiding Keywords in 2015 with noscript tags – SEO Experiment

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Winston Ong

I'm a Sydney based SEO consultant and search marketer. I blog about unique SEO topics the main sites don't talk about, and like fiddling around with real world SEO experiments that shed light on the limits of Googlebot.
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In my earlier post on using <noscript> tags for ensuring good SEO when using lazy loaded images, we observed that Google is able to properly crawl, index and will rank pages for keywords inside alt tags contained within <noscript>.

This gave me an idea to see if Google would do the same for <noscript> tags even when there is no equivalent content in JavaScript. The question is –

Is it possible to hide keywords for SEO in 2015?

Firstly, let’s familiarise ourselves with the context of on-page keywords that can be crawled by a search engine, but are not visible to an actual user.

Anyone remotely familiar with key principles of modern SEO will tell you this is not a feasible or advisable idea, and the concept of ‘tricking Google’ has not existed for a long time. In the early days of search engine optimisation, common ideas to increase keyword relevance (even when the real content was not particularly relevant) included hiding keywords with tiny font, matching the font colour with the font background, positioning text off screen with CSS or hiding text behind an image.

Similarly, adding text to the keywords meta tag became so abused that since 2009 Google has explicitly stated that it does not use the tag at all for web ranking.

Here is a quick demonstration of this:

On this old page I kept in Google’s index, I inserted a lengthy, randomly generated phrase into the meta keywords tag:

keywords meta tag

I re-submitted the page via webmaster tools, waiting 4 days to allow for any indexation delay, then tried to retrieve the page through a search for the key phrase:

keywords search

We can see clearly that Google ignores the keywords within the keyword meta tag and does not surface the page.

But would this work using a <noscript> tag?

At the same time I added the above meta keywords, I also inserted a randomly generated keyword phrase into a different page  (my old SEO audit service page) using an image and attached alt img tag with the keyword content within a <noscript> tag:

noscript tag

This is actually the identical tag I used in my previous lazy loading SEO experiment. The reason I used the same tag was to view the difference in results pre and post insertion to a new page where the equivalent image does not exist.

Here’s the SERP screenshot prior to inserting the <noscript> tag on the new page (the pages being ranked are the result of my previous lazy load SEO experiment):

lazy load experiment

And now after adding the <noscript> tag:
noscript experiment

It worked!

Despite the page not containing the keywords (in a manner visible to users) or even image that is referenced in the <noscript> tag, Google still decided to rank the page for alt text keywords. It even positioned the page above the previous text pages on my personal website at the time I took the screenshot.

What does this mean?

In 2015, you can hide keywords on a page using <noscript> and still get ranked by Google

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Here’s Google’s official stance on using <noscript>:

Not all hidden text is considered deceptive.  For example, if your site includes technologies that search engines have difficulty accessing, like JavaScript … using descriptive text for these items can improve the accessibility of your site.

In the same document, <noscript> is then suggested as a tip that a website could employ for JavaScript content. However the catch is you are only meant to ensure the content matches exactly what is contained in the JavaScript. Clearly, Google has not, and is not currently employing any checks to ensure pages that fail to do this do not rank.

*A note about on-page experiment references: if you follow the listed links to pages used in these experiments, you’ll notice the tags I’ve written about are no longer present. This is because I don’t wish to run experiments counter to the spirit of Google’s guidelines longer than necessary to demonstrate a point and take the required screenshot.

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