How to Avoid Google Penalties with AJAX and display:none

Stick to the Code That Works for Others

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As you may have read about by now, Google’s Matt Cutts participated in a fairly lengthy Q&A session at SMX Advanced in Seattle. One interesting question that Matt got was about how webmasters should deal with display:none and AJAX without being penalized by Google.

Cutts recommends making sure that whenever you write your own mouseover code that you don’t roll your own custom solution, which he says might do some really weird things that nobody else has done before.

Matt Cutts "We write our algorithm so that we try to detect all the common idioms, so if you’re using a mouseover sort of thing where you mouseover this menu and there’s five more links here, or some text or stuff like that, we try to handle that in all the common cases," explains Cutts.

"So whenever we’re parsing through css or looking through javascript, we’re trying to detect hidden text we try to specifically make sure we don’t accidentally trigger on somebody who’s got mouseover code, so if you’re using common mouseover code, go and find sites that are very well known, and you use code the same or similar to that, in terms of how the mouseover works, you should probably be fine," he adds.

"We want the algorithm to trigger on when you use display:none and you’re sending it 9,999 pixels that way, and you’ve got four pages of text, and it’s really, really irritating and our users complain about that," Cutts continues. "So we do our best, and when we spot that there are problems, we try to iterate and improve the algorithm, but I dont’ think we have very big issues with false positives in terms of that."

The summary of Matt’s advice here is that to be safe, just make sure you don’t write your own completely weird code from scratch. He says to look and see what other sites are doing.

The guy who asked the question asked him if his advice is basically to just copy other people’s code. The audience found this amusing, and Cutts was quick to defuse the notion that this is what he is really saying. 

"I think you’re oversimplifying it a little bit," Cutts said. "I don’t want you to commit theft on someone else’s code. But there are for example, libraries that are released…script.aculo.us and things like this that are well known that you can use that aren’t just copying other people’s code."


What do you think of Matt’s advice when it comes to display:none and AJAX? Does this limit creativity with regard to code creation? Tell us what you think.

Stay tuned to WebPronews for more coverage of the SMX Advanced conference from Seattle (that goes for articles and for video). You will also be seeing more info from Matt’s Q&A session, specifically.

How to Avoid Google Penalties with AJAX and display:none
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  • http://www.dataflurry.com Website Marketing Joel

    Great information, I prefer information from the mouth of Google. Thanks for the update.

  • http://www.siteswithoutwalls.com Kristine S

    The only thing that is difficult about the display none is when it comes to accessibility. While it is not ideal to use it for the skip nav in accessibility (displayed when rollover is better), some companies will not allow the display of the skip nav link. I asked Matt about this and he told me to play it safe it is best not to use it. Unfortunately, that limits options when corporate directives do not allow for the link to be on the page.

  • http://www.getmaxed.net Max International

    My site has just been penalised and I’ve been hunting around to find out what it might have been. This post just trigged what it might be. Thanks! I had added a hidden link that was required for a javascript popup.

  • http://www.eztrip.com/ Loose Gemstones

    Loosely translated, this seems to say:

    “Look, our crawlers and system can have some problems with untested coed and falsely score your website as spam, or using spam techniques, which will cause a large reduction in overall trafic and subsequent sales.

    It is too bad that google would not be more clear about best practices. Telling us to use ‘code that already exists’ is like asking me to find an accurate and ethical lawyer.

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