Google’s John Mueller clarifies that one violation of the webmaster guidelines will not get a site banned from search results.
This was stated by Mueller in a Reddit thread where an SEO was concerned about a competitor allegedly manipulating search rankings with invisible, keyword stuffed text. The SEO wants to know why they’re being outranked by their “cheating” competitor.
In response, Mueller says the hidden text alone would not be enough for one site to outrank another. To that end, it’s not enough to get a site banned either.
“A site is not going to outrank your site just because of hidden text. We use many, many signals for ranking. Inversely, just having hidden text on a page won’t get the site banned from Google.”
Despite being a longstanding violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines, hidden text by itself will not result in a manual action. In fact, Google factors these kinds of things into its algorithm because many sites have accidental hidden text.
“Lots of sites get things wrong, lots of sites have text accidentally hidden (or even purposely hidden until you interact with the UI) — sites aren’t perfect and so our algorithms work to deal with these imperfections in a reasonable way.”
Related: Google’s John Mueller: How Google Decides on Manual Actions
Why does the “cheating” competitor have better rankings?
Ultimately, when it comes to search rankings, Google tries to serve the page best matches a user’s query – imperfections and all.
“Sometimes that means the top ranking site – the one our algorithms currently think is a good match for a user’s query – is one that does a lot of things technically incorrect.”
So, hidden text by itself will not help or harm a site. According to what Mueller says, you should not be concerned if you spot a higher ranking competitor with hidden text on their site. If they’re outranking you, chances are their page provides a better solution for the user’s query.