Updated: Apr 26, 2019
With so many ways of presenting content on a website, it’s important to know exactly how your presentation is going to affect your SEO.
Ironically, one way of presenting content is through the use of “hidden” content.
While content isn’t actually hidden, it may not be initially presented to the user. Hidden content is found in a few different ways, including expandable or collapsable content areas or through the use of navigable tabs within the body section of a page.
As a major disclaimer: this discussion is not about the black-hat practice of hiding content. We’re strictly discussing hidden content as described above (expandable, collapsable, etc.).
So how does expandable and other forms of hidden content affect your SEO?
Hidden Content & SEO
Let’s simplify things: if we’re looking to understand whether expandable and other hidden content is bad for search, it’s best to go directly to the main source – Google. And when it comes to Google, what better source than Matt Cutts?
If you aren’t already familiar with the name, Cutts is the head of the Google Webspam team. Essentially, he’s in charge of the team tasked with deciding what factors influence – either positively or negatively – Google search results.
When first asked about hidden content in 2011, here is what Cutts had to say:
So far, we’re told hidden content isn’t a problem assuming you aren’t directly trying to manipulate the Google SERP. Cutts maintains this stance in a later video when asked again about hidden content.
But wait! There’s more!
All signs are pointing to the idea that hidden content is OK for SEO, right? Cutts has stated not once, but twice(!) that this type of content isn’t an issue as long as you aren’t intentionally (or at least in the eyes of Google) attempting to manipulate search results.
Unfortunately, this may not be entirely true, either. Enter, John Mueller.
Mueller is another important member of the Google team, officially given the title of Webmaster Trends Analyst. While Cutts has repeatedly stated that Google doesn’t take issue with tabbed content, Mueller offered a different opinion (skip to 10:55 in the video below).
According to Mueller, hidden content has always been reduced (though he doesn’t quite describe to what extent) on Google SERP.
Even though these seem conflicting, it actually makes a bit of sense. Google may not have an issue finding or indexing this type of content on a technical level, but from a searcher’s standpoint, hidden or collapsable content may be less than ideal.
Mueller brings up a good point: if users are forced to search through tabs or other collapsable content to find the information they initially thought they would receive, why would Google serve the content as a top result?
So what should you do?
With the conflicting opinions, this is the type of situation when you may consider just playing it safe. Your content may be OK according to Cutts, but according to Mueller, your content may not be served up the same as other content on your page.
Fortunately, there are simple alternatives if you choose to “unhide” your content.
Anchor links are designed specifically to help users navigate within a specific page.
Rather than have users click through to tabs or other collapsable content, you can create anchor links pointing to the different content within your page. This helps in more than one way:
1. You easily describe to users where to find information and send them directly to the information they are looking for.
2. Google and other search engines crawl these anchor links, which helps find and index your content.
Here are a few resources for the basics on coding an anchor link on your page:
Create New Pages
It may seem overly simplified, but you can create new pages based on your hidden content.
If you want to ensure that your content gets seen by users and indexed in search results, it may be best to create entirely separate pages based on your hidden content. So rather than have a navigation of hidden content (expandable, collapsible, tabbed, etc.) with your Overview being the default content shown:
Overview | Features | Facts | Reviews
You can create pages based on your hidden content:
Not only does this help users easily navigate your site, but it also builds assets for your website – an important long-term investment for your SEO.
So while hidden content may not make or break your website performance, it might be wise to think critically – both from an SEO and visitor standpoint – about the different ways you’re serving up your content.