The Hidden Truth on Hidden Content

Melinda, a digital marketing specialist and account manager, is always on the move. She's usually either jumping from client meeting to client meeting, or chasing around her two young daughters.

Here at Site-Seeker, we have been pushing our clients to create quality content with longevity. I have always been a big advocate of providing informative, resourceful content. You know, the kind of content that makes you want to bookmark it or share it! Once we create that awesome content, we have to be very careful about how we present that content to users and Google.

Although the topic is not new, we have recently been revisiting the hidden content discussion. For quite some time now, we have known that Google, the biggest of all search engines, does not recognize hidden content.

What does Google consider hidden content? Content that appears within “click to expand” menus or tabs is considered hidden, and therefore not crawled by Google. An example:

When Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller was asked about hidden content, he said that pages with “click to expand” menus and tabs may be “discounted” since you’re “hiding” it from users. In other words, Google may not rank the page for the content within those features since they know users do not see the content.

Let’s stop and think about that. Google does not give credit to content that is hidden from users at first glance. This makes sense when I think about it. My interpretation is that if the content isn’t significant enough to put right out in front of your visitors, then why should it have much weight? I see these tabs as a reason to use for duplicate content that still may be needed (like a description of a pair of shoes).

Recently, we have taken the opportunity to do some testing. Pages that we added “click to expand” menus and tabs have not performed as well as they have without them. We have seen as much as a 25 percent decrease in organic traffic to these pages since adding these mentioned features. The tabbed content was relevant enough to gain traction from Google before it was hidden, so once we “hid” the content, the drop occurred.

In simpler words – and in Google’s train of thought – if you don’t show the content, it must not be important. The Google rankings proved that.

Before we wrap up this hidden content discussion, there is one more consideration to take into account when talking hidden content. So the question is: Is there a time other than duplicate content where you can hide content and NOT have your content discounted by Google? Yes! You can hide content on mobile using “click to expand” menus and tabs as long at that content is visible on the desktop version.

Here’s what Google says:

“Hidden content can be discounted in ranking, but if the content is visible on the desktop version of your site, we can crawl it and use the information for ranking your mobile site as well since we can share indexing signals between the desktop and mobile versions.”

So I will leave you with this: Putting that time into creating unique content will benefit you in the long run, but be careful about how or where you place it. You wouldn’t spend a year training for a marathon just to forget to set your alarm the night before. Don’t hide expertise and crucial information that your audience is looking for on the web.