Google’s John Mueller has stated that using hidden text to provide context to screen readers will not cause any problems when it comes to search rankings.
A Twitter user asked Mueller about the potential ranking implications of using hidden text to make content more accessible.
.@alastc and I were discussing this just the other day. I wonder if @JohnMu has any thoughts on the ranking implications of hidden text often used to provide extra context to screen reader users? https://t.co/wZnz0wc1Yw
— Peter Kay (@NotFromBolton) February 20, 2019
Hidden text is ordinarily a negative ranking factor and considered a black hat tactic used to manipulate rankings.
However, there are certain use cases in which hidden text can enhance the user experience, such as providing extra context to assistive technology.
With respect to using hidden text for the purpose of assisting visually impaired users, Mueller says:
“That’s not a problem as far as I’ve seen.”
Hidden text used in this way is generally equivalent to the visible parts of the page.
Google recognizes the hidden text is not placed there for search ranking purposes, and therefore it will not have a negative impact.
In fact, Mueller encourages using hidden text to make content more accessible:
“Making things accessible to screen reader users is always a good idea.”
That's not a problem as far as I've seen. The content is generally equivalent to other parts of the page (describing functionality/images, etc), and is not placed there for search ranking purposes. Making things accessible to screen reader users is always a good idea.
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) February 20, 2019
In a Google Webmaster Forum response from 2016, Mueller goes into more detail about how Google crawls this type of hidden text:
“In general, what happens in a case like this is that we focus on the visible, primary content of the page, and de-emphasize the hidden / out-of-view content. So if you’re providing extra context & hints like that, that would be fine.”
He again adds that there’s no penalty or demotion for having such additional content on a page.