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25th November 2015 |  Written by

Does Hidden/Tabbed Content Still Get Picked Up By Google?

As we look to strike a balance between quality content, SEO and user experience – we must now factor in that tabbed content may no longer carry the value it once did in Google’s algorithmic eyes.

And just for the sake of it, we have done this blog post in tabs…

We had a client website with an FAQ page that generated a lot of long tail traffic, mainly due to the number of questions, and answers on the page.

Being so long in length, we decided to improve the user experience by placing the answers inside an accordion.

Not long after doing so, we saw organic traffic drop to this page:

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Then not long after that, we came across this article on Search Engine Round Table that had snippets of insight from John Mueller which suggests tabbed or hidden content will be discounted, “since Google knows you’re hiding it from users”.

Whilst we don’t have access to the data, we can confirm that as a test we de-accordioned the page back to its original state, and slowly the traffic returned to its previous levels, which in isolation backs up the notion that tabbed content is now de-valued.

When investigating further, we found that if you performed the “site:” command on the site in question, and searched for content that appeared in a question, the FAQ page was returned and the text searched for appeared in bold in the result snippet.

If we did the same and searched for an answer, the FAQ page was retuned, but there was no indication in the snippet of the content we had search for.

This suggests that Google knows it’s there, but isn’t placing any relevance/ranking value on it – so the page will just not perform as well.

The frustration here was we wanted to follow best practices regards user experience, making it easy for users to navigate information on a page – but, whilst providing useful long tail content via questions and answers.

By “hiding” the answers, people were no longer finding the page, and so the useful long tail content lost its search value.   Which leaves you questioning what’s more important – user experience or search traffic.

So the question we wanted to answer was, is it possible to accommodate both.

We set up some test tabbed content using a number of CSS/JQuery techniques to see if any still get picked up by search engines:https://www.returnondigital.com/content-experiment/

On each of the 7 tests, we have implemented song lyrics into tabs.

In experiment #6, we find if you search for any of the hidden lyrics, the page is returned, but the lyrics are not highlighted in the SERPs:

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This was the same code we applied to the FAQ page on the client site, and as the page is returned  but the text isn’t displayed in the snippet, we would assume that this content is devalued, based on the traffic drop we saw on the actual site.

On all the other tab experiments, the search result did show the lyrics in the snippet:

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Note: this has been a long standing experiment, previously only 1 page/tabs returned a bold query in the snippet.

For example, a few months ago, this search saw no bold snippet returned:

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But now it does:

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The conclusion we would come to is that the initial algorithm tweak that saw hidden content devalued is being refined over time, and that Google is starting to place more value on tabbed content and not treating it as being hidden, but as being implemented in a way that improve user experience.

But it also looks like some implementations, due to the CSS or JQuery config, are still being devalued.

So if you have found that traffic to a key page on your site has dropped due to the fact it could be considered hidden, it may be worth experimenting with different tab configs in order to strike a better balance between SEO and User Experience.

There was no impact on hidden/tabbed content’s ability to rank. It is however, weighted differently and subsequently doesn’t perform as well.  You then need to decide (possibly) on user experience Vs search traffic.  Or find a tab that “works” – and it appears there are some that do.

Your Comments

  1. Dave,
    I like the update on this. However I have a very personal opinion about coded tabbed content and “content that looks like tabbed but it’s not.”

    My opinion is that if you make it “look like tabbed” for usability purposes, but it’s not, then it’s fine and there should be no problem. If you use a traditional method (hashbangs?), there could be issues.

    Nice example above, btw.

  2. I would say that hidden tab stuff is bad Ux (most of the time). I could figure out what the heck was going on when I read this post and it seems to end without having addressed the issue sensibly. Oh, the content is hidden up above I finally figured out. I think Google does exactly the right thing, in making the hidden content a very low ranking factor for the page because as a user it is hidden and not the focus of the page.

  3. Great post! It was featured on Moz’s Top 10 Newsletter for this month! Congratulations :).

    I have two questions – which Accordion script were you using, was it custom made or just using jQuery UI?
    Do you think that using a well known library, such as JQuery UI would yield better SEO results?

  4. Hi William,

    Thanks for the feedback. If you mean “tabs” that actually go to new pages, then in some cases I would agree it will a) keep the content tidy and b) improve the UX, though it really depends on the volume of content within the tab – you could end up creating a load of thin / duplicate pages and then face Panda issues.

    In general though, I think tabs are the way forward, you just need to find one that ticks all boxes, assuming you want to accommodate UX and SEO

  5. Hi John,

    I think it’s all about the implementation of the tabs as to whether or not they are UX – appreciate that the ones used above may not have been too clear, though I was restricted to a solution I could implement within the WordPress text editor 🙂

    Also agree that Google should place the focus on the content you see when you land on the page, but not necessarily that the content contained within the other tabs should be de-valued, or treated as “hidden”.

    As said in the post, when we first started experimenting, it seemed in all cases that tabbed content was being discounted, but now the suggestion (to us) is that over time Google are getting “better” at recognising whether content is hidden for manipulative purposes, or UX.

  6. Hi Mo,

    Thanks for letting us know, and for the comment.

    The accordion script was this one which does utilise jquery:
    http://inspirationalpixels.com/tutorials/creating-an-accordion-with-html-css-jquery

    I think it’s as likely down to the CSS properties as it is the Javascript. As said, when we first started experimenting, only 1 solution actually got picked up which we assumed, from looking at the code, was to do with how the content was initially configured within divs and css. Like with many instances of javascript, Google are getting better at crawling and indexing such content, so I’d say it’s a case of trial and error in choosing which type of tab you go for.

  7. I also totally missed the tabs on this page, until another guy mentioned it in the comments. I thought the article just ended quickly. This page deserves a Google penalty for bad UX. I’m not trolling, by the way.

  8. Hey Dave,

    Great article! I was following the same structure on one of my sites. Do you think changing it will have an impact on rankings?

  9. I think in the past it was a case of whether the content could be read with Javascript turned on. Nowadays, its more an issue of UX; Google considers content which requires a click to view it as poor practice and will devalue this content. John Mueller confirmed this a while back.

    I would be interested to see how traffic to these pages was affected after May 2015. I noticed that websites which have significant tabbbed, accordian or below the fold content were hit hard by the Phantom/Quality update. Did you find this too?

  10. Great article, Dave. I have a question… does google rank content that is not necessarily hidden, but is not easy to find unless we link to it on social media/emails?

  11. This is one of those things that Google is finding hard to reconcile. Searchability or UX? There in between lies the holy grail – ever elusive. Unless, of course, it’s not. Someone out there has to find a solution for this somehow.

  12. Thanks, now I have to spend my Friday changing half a dozen tab boxes!
    Out of interest, which was the version that worked from day one?
    Matt

  13. Hi Matt,

    I feel your pain! The one that worked from day 1 was #5:
    https://code.google.com/p/cuu12a1/downloads/detail?name=jquery.tabs.pack.js&can=2&q=

    Thanks,
    Dave

  14. Hi Daniel,

    It’s a fair point, we just decided at the last minute to put the tabs in and was restricted to a degree via WordPress – but it users miss the tabs, then it suggests Google do right by devaluing tabbed content.

    I’ll get on with making the tabs clearer.

  15. Hi John,

    The impact will depend on how much traffic you on any un-tabbed content – if it’s good quality long tail content, then yes, but if it’s thin/low traffic type content – e.g. a product spec or similar on an ecommerce site, then you may not see a difference – but, if users search for a product by something in the spec such as an ID, then it would.

    Basically, it really depends on site to site I guess – so see what works best for you – measure both traffic and engagement and see if either improves/decreases after making the changes.

  16. Hi David,

    The pages used in the test didn’t get any traffic to make an assessment, and we no longer have access to the data from the original site where we put the content in an accordion.

  17. Hi Irina,

    That would be a different angle, it’s more about site structure / architecture and internal linking – but if it’s not easy to find on your site, for both search engines and visitors – it’s less likely to rank well.

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