How does google actually treat content hidden in tabs or click-to-expand?
Understanding how Google treats 'hidden' content that is not visible to the user as soon as they land on a page of a website can have a fundamental impact on how site owners present information to their audience. We’re not talking about old-school cloaking tactics, or presenting different content to search engines than to users. Instead, we mean content that is presented on tabs or in 'click-to-expand' fields – legitimate methods of making large amounts of copy more easily digestible to readers.
Will your site be penalised for presenting content in this way? As usual, Google’s guidelines don’t give us any clear 'yes' and 'no' answers. Here, we help you get to grips with what the guidelines actually are and how to apply these guidelines to your own website.
- November 2014 – Google’s John Mueller stated that Google “may not” index or rank hidden content. In a Google+ Hangout the following month, John repeated this, stating that hidden content would be “discounted” and has been for a number of years
- 21 July 2015 – Google’s Gary Illyes, contributing to a Stack Overflow forum thread, provided clarification of this by stating that this type of content is given “way less weight in ranking”
- 27 July 2015 – In a separate Stack Overflow thread on the same topic, Gary Illyes again confirmed that “[Google] will index that but the content’s weight will be lower since it’s hidden”
A couple of key things to note here:
- Elements such as drop-downs used to house additional navigation or functionality like social sharing buttons are not an area of concern – these guidelines relate specifically to core page content
- In general, Google will not display or highlight text that is hidden from initial view using the display: none CSS command within a search snippet. This means a page that has hidden content relevant to the query may be shown in the search engine results pages (SERPs) but that the snippet will not display that relevant content, which may discourage the user from clicking through
What does this mean for my website?
Advanced CSS techniques can also be used to hide and reveal content using the :hover event. It is possible that Google will take these methods into account in the same way as display: none in the future.
It is therefore necessary to consider the principles Google promotes and reach an informed conclusion on the best approach. There is no single blanket recommendation and therefore each page must be assessed on its own merit.
Why does Google devalue hidden content?
For example, say a user searches for a term that is matched on a page but only in the hidden section. The user then clicks the search result to go through to that page but can’t immediately see the information they’re looking for because it’s hidden. They give up and return to the search results or head to another website.
This, in Google’s assessment, would not be a high quality user experience and the content within the hidden sections is therefore down-weighted.
How to decide whether content should be hidden
For site content, the core principle to consider is this:
Hiding content that is considered secondary to the main topic of the page is acceptable. However, it is essential that thought is given to determining an appropriate balance to ensure this method is not overused.
Consider the following:
- Would the user expect to see the content immediately when the page is loaded?
- Does the content explain or answer key concepts relating to the topic of the page?
- Does the content include key information that will inform a user’s purchase decision?
- Would hiding the content otherwise damage the user experience of the page?
- If the content is secondary to the page topic, would it benefit from being on its own page?
There are a few key points to note here:
- Product information is exactly what a user would expect to see when landing on a product page
- The content includes key information that will inform a user’s purchase decision
- This content is clearly relevant to the main topic of the page (the product itself) and so arguably should not be hidden
- It is not as relevant to the product itself and the user would not necessarily expect to see the additional detail at first glance
- However, it is undoubtedly useful information for the user, and so it may be worthwhile taking out the additional click and making it immediately accessible when a user lands on the page. Testing the addition/removal of this information to determine its effectiveness will demonstrate what works best
- Website owners must take a considered approach and use this method only to hide content that is of secondary importance to the primary topic of the page, or that covers related topics
If you have any questions about potential hidden content within your site, contact our technical SEO team.