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

Keep up with the very latest developments in the digital marketing world

By Dave Ashworth
on 25/11/15

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.

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