Does Google Care If A Link Is Underlined? – SEO FAQ

Author: Gab Goldenberg

A visitor dropped by my site asking whether Google cared about a link’s styling. I got in touch with Matt Cutts, and he was nice enough to take a few minutes to share an answer. Here’s what Matt said:

“This is something that can go both ways. On a graphics-heavy site where it was the design idiom to go non-underlined until you hovered over a link, I wouldn’t foresee that being an issue.

If we thought that people would doing it in a deceptive way though, that could be higher risk. I documented a good example of this here:

On that post, Matt addresses spammy links. In particular, he highlights the use of javascript to hide the fact that links are links. The javascript prevents the cursor from changing to the “this-is-clickable-hand-icon.” Simultaneously, the link had CSS applied to make it look like ordinary text…

So if it’s just a style element, Google probably doesn’t care. If it’s being used to deceive users, particularly in conjunction with other code that will make it impossible to discern a link short of viewing the source code, then you’re taking risks.

As an aside, it’s better usability (see Conversion Dr’s test),  to make links underlined, since that is what users expect. If you MUST go non-standard, tedster and other WMW users have some worthwhile comments. And the dean of usability himself, Jakob Nielsen, has this Alertbox with particular detail for intranets etc.

P.s. It’s worth repeating that at the end of the day, the ranking paradigm at Google is user experience, though brand building is also key, so why not check out my brand building guide for SEOs and Internet Marketers?

If you liked this seo faq, why not add my rss feed to your reader? Or if you want to read more right now, check out this related tip to sexify your SEO and please both SEOs/web designers.


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  1. I KNEW IT!! hahaha Good to know for sure, thanks for the post! Take care, Nate

    Comment by Nate at Plasticprinters - March 13, 2009 @ 11:18am
  2. So, now Google is in charge of our usability? Hmm. I know some design freaks that are different. They don't like the normal standard hyperlink. So instead, they bold links instead of underline, their intent is not to deceive users but instead to cause a different trend. A trend of different style links. For example. Gab, look at your site. Below and on your side bar, I see links. Links that are not underlined but they do something when hovered over (lighter blue for those links below, or blue background for the side navigation). Plus, I think it's kind of funny how you linked to his blog. :D '" then "/hidden-links/" Good times. Good times. :) My beef is not with the paid links (that's for another day) it's with their idea that they decide what a link should look like. Sure. Intent is important but what about those outliers? People who use bold. Or something different. Where TO THE USER it's obvious it's a link but to a simple bot it's a manipulated link? Does Google penalize those too? Or devalue them? I hope not because that would drive me nuts. But I hope I'm taking it too literal and Google isn't saying "We must use underlines" cause that would suck for some and not keep the democracy of the web, a democracy. :)

    Comment by Joshua Sciarrino - Refuge Design - March 14, 2009 @ 12:11am
  3. Lol np, glad you liked it Nate.

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - March 14, 2009 @ 8:16pm
  4. Josh, you misunderstood. If you read Matt's post, he's talking about links that are completely identical to the rest of the text. No bold or anything, plus css/javascript to avoid any hover effect. In other words, bolded rather than underlined links are fine by Google. However, some of your users may have difficulty with that, if you check out the posts I linked to.

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - March 14, 2009 @ 8:18pm
  5. Thanks for the followup Gab. I guess I jumped to conclusion. :/ Sometimes I take things too literal. But it's also good to know that the Google 'gods' allow you to have a diverse noticeable link. I'm sure the KISS method applies (mainly for usability with links) but I got some friends that try to do things crazy different. I assumed that the question was more literal and I'm glad those assumptions were corrected cause it definitely got me worried. Although, if it were true, it wouldn't make any legit since for Google to do, I wouldn't put the extreme past Google. :/ Anywho. Thanks again Gab for the followup, I appreciate it. =)

    Comment by Joshua Sciarrino - Refuge Design - March 14, 2009 @ 9:03pm
  6. Np, glad to have clarified things. Matt's been generous in explaining their stance, so I don't think it would be fair to knock em about something that isn't even their position! Besides, it seems reasonable to me.

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - March 15, 2009 @ 2:03am
  7. Good information .. even these small details can really matter in your rankings. The problem is Google don't tell you when they change policy on these areas. Thanks to Matt Cutts to explain the current situation, but would like Google to be a little more open when they do change the rules. We are not all 100% black hats, and we actually like to follow "most" of the rules.

    Comment by Steen Öhman - March 15, 2009 @ 4:50am
  8. Fair point. I'd suggest subscribing to Matt's blog and Google's Webmaster Central blog as well, in that case. Cheers Gab

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - March 15, 2009 @ 3:09pm
  9. I can see many good changes occurring with Google in the 2-3 years. Usability will def. play a factor. I think eventually things like bounce rate will have heavy weight for rankings. We already see the transition to a branding type of approach. Time to clean things up a bit.

    Comment by Nick Stamoulis - March 16, 2009 @ 12:41pm
  10. The bounce rate signal was described by Matt Cutts as noisy, and something he's skeptical about. I have to agree. Since that's been a factor ppl have talked about, I know BHs using botnet traffic to try and move competitors' sites, so you can't rely on it that much.

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - March 16, 2009 @ 7:58pm
  11. Bounce Rate isn't a good indicator. David Harry has been reading a bunch of patients. And exposing the reason why this isn't a good indicator for a factor. I'd read some of his posts about bounce rate.

    Comment by Joshua Sciarrino - Refuge Design - March 17, 2009 @ 2:31am
  12. Wikipedia is a prime example of a site that does not underline links and they do just about as well as any site can do in Google.

    Comment by Sockmoney - March 17, 2009 @ 8:28am
  13. Excellent resource Josh - thanks for sharing!

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - March 17, 2009 @ 12:59pm
  14. Touche!

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - March 17, 2009 @ 12:59pm

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