How to Find Hidden Text on a Website

By Elizabeth Mott

Hidden text often represents an attempt to influence search results.
i Scott Barbour/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Even the simplest-looking website design relies on complex code to produce the pages you view in your browser. Hidden text can lurk beneath the surface of visible design elements. Some of it actually appears on the page, cloaked from casual view. Through intentional inclusion or an intruder's efforts, other hidden text elements may turn up in page code, CSS or JavaScript files. You can reveal this buried treasure using the built-in capabilities of your Web browser.

Hidden Text vs. Style Options

Hidden text comes in more than one variant. In some cases, website designers use clickable mechanisms to conceal blocks of text until the visitor interacts with the page interface to reveal them. These techniques show up on FAQ pages, for example, which load displaying a list of common questions, each one a link to reveal the answer below it. Used correctly, these strategies represent legitimate uses of text. Other forms of hidden text consist of long lists of keywords. This text may hide in plain sight because its color matches the background of the page. The least obvious form of hidden text consists of coded material that doesn't show up on the live page presented in your Web browser.

Stuffing, Spamming and Hacking

When search engines rate your website as highly relevant to prospective visitors who seek the specific types of information you present, your site gains status in lists of search results. Early search engine optimization tricks relied on cramming website page code full of keywords that made such a page appear artificially high in relevance for those search terms. Contrary to past precedent, these tactics not only no longer work, they backfire. Search engines continually develop new ways to automate the search for hidden coded text, which they rate as spam, deprecating the status of websites that use it. Hidden text can also reveal that a site has suffered a malicious hacking intrusion, marked by the addition of irrelevant words, including references to pornography, bogus pharmaceuticals or other scams.

Revealing Text Through Selection

When you see a large area of blank space on a website page, it may signal the presence of hidden text. To reveal text that hides because its color matches the page background, you can double-click on seemingly blank space, thereby selecting any text that appears there. To avoid accidentally triggering any hidden links or code, use your browser's "Select All" command, typically assigned the keyboard shortcut "Ctrl-A," to highlight hidden text by making it an active selection. Use your browser's page-search capabilities, usually invoked with "Ctrl-F," to search for a word or phrase you know appears invisibly on the page.

Viewing Source Code

Web pages that include large numbers of keywords or rely on other hidden-text methods that place messages in website code don't reveal their secrets when you use your browser to select the text on the page itself. You can see these forms of hidden text when you view the source code that creates what you see in your browser software. The keyboard shortcuts and menu locations that open a freestanding window to displays source code vary among browsers. Once you open the source window, you can scroll through and search for text that hides in deactivated stretches of page code. Because some hidden text only appears in style-sheet files and other ancillary pieces of website code, you may need to open the files linked to the main source code structure to reveal these cloaked messages, especially if they result from a hacking attack.