Collapsed or Tabbed Content is Fine With Google

In the past week, not just one, but two of my clients pointed out things they’ve read online, which say that Google cannot index the text in tabbed or expandable elements.

The first client phoned me last Friday concerning an FAQ page that we had built for his site, which had dozens and dozens of collapsed questions.  Someone had phoned his office trying to sell him SEO services, and they told him that all those “answers” were invisible to Google.

I told him that wasn’t true, and while he and I were on the phone, I showed him how a doing a text snippet search in quotes from one of the answers in his site, would let Google find that page immediately, and it did.

Was the telemarketer lying to him? No, I don’t think they were lying (this time) – More likely, he was just reading old outdated information, because Google has been able to index that content for a while now.

The second instance was just today, with a very well educated client, who is preparing his new site for launch any day now. He had *a lot* of content in those collapsible elements, and he became concerned after reading something from Whitespark, in their Local SEO Guide  where it says this –

One thing to keep in mind is that Google ignores “click to expand.” You might think, “Oh, well, I want all this text on my homepage. We’ll just put it in a “read more,” and when you click it, it expands.” Google has come out and said that . . . So here’s a good example of what that is. You click that, and then it expands. You click this, and then it expands. Google has come out and said this in a Hangout. This is John Mueller. He’s a search engineer at Google. He replaced Matt Cutts as our source of information at Google. He said that they’re just going to ignore that content.

I answered that this wasn’t true anymore, and that was an old article. I promised he’d be fine with his expandable sections, and told him I was positive, but that didn’t fully instill confidence, so he found more details from others, like this GREAT article from Backlinko (Brian Dean, where he says this:

41. “Hidden” Content on Mobile: Hidden content on mobile devices may not get indexed (or may not be weighed as heavily) vs. fully visible content. However, a Googler recently stated that hidden content is OK. But also said that in the same video, “…if it’s critical content it should be visible…”.

and this:

43. Content Hidden Behind Tabs: Google has said Do users need to click on a tab to reveal some of the content on your page? that this content “may not be indexed”.

but I completely disagree, and I can prove it.

How Can I Prove it?

At the time this post goes live, I won’t immediately be able to prove it, but as soon as the page is indexed, you’ll see that it’s true.

First, I’m going to make some content that is hidden, like this…



Will my expandable content be indexed by Google?

Of course it will, and it’s been nearly two years since it was a problem.  I’m 100% confident that this sentence will get indexed, and I’ll stake me reputation on it. You can see if it’s indexed yet by clicking here.

What About Content in Tabs?

Well, I admit I’ve never tested that before, but I’m pretty sure it’s fine also. Let’s find out, by making these tabs…

Will this text get indexed by Google? Of course, because it’s visible right here on the page. But what about the other tabs? Click on them them to see…

How about this one? Will this text also get indexed by Google? I’ll bet it will indexed just fine – You should be able to see that it’s been indexed  tomorrow if not even sooner… You can see if this tab is indexed yet by clicking here.

What about three tabs? Will all this content on this tab also get indexed by Google? You bet it will and I should be able to prove it very soon. You can see if this tab is indexed yet by clicking here.

I’m going to stop at four tabs, because I think you get the point, don’t you? All of this stuff is going to be indexed. You can see if this tab is indexed yet by clicking here.

As more and more people access sites from their phones, and as developers try to make web pages look better, they’re going to get more and more creative.

Tabbed and expandable content makes for a prettier page, and makes long pages easier to consume. Additionally, there’s evidence to suggest that this type of click interaction between the user and your web page can signal engagement to Google too, which is always a plus for SEO.

Can You Rank Better Without Tabbed or Collapsed Content?

I admit, I don’t know, and it’s true there are some reports like this one, stating:

Although it is being indexed, what we’ve found is Google typically assigns greater value to pages with content that is immediately visible on page load.

It seems to be the consensus that Google does index hidden/tabbed content (as long as it isn’t dynamically loaded through AJAX technologies). However, it also demotes pretty inconsistently, and is likely NOT an ideal element to ensure the best possible search results if the page’s content is quality, relevant, and valuable to users.

In my limited experience, we’ve seen nothing but positive results come from adding content to pages in a tabbed or expandable manner. Although that article does suggest a method to test it by removing the elements and seeing if the page ranks better, I’ve not yet tried that, but I may.

I have to admit that it does make sense though, to use these elements sparingly, and not put your most important content all into hidden areas.

But Google has a mission –  i.e. a responsibility  – to sort the entire web, so being able to crawl, index and rank anything we can throw at them, and not automatically devalue something just because it’s been prettied up, just makes sense. That’s what I’d want to do if I were Google.

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Scott Hendison:

View Comments (7)

  • Have you also tried to search for the text in tabs/collapsed boxes without ""? I have and I didn't find your page.
    A company I have previously worked for had a bit of a duplicate content problem. So if you searched for some text from their "hidden content" Google often showed some obscure pdf-files instead of the well-linked pages where the text was hidden. I'll have to admit that this was before "mobile first".

    • Thanks for the feedback, and I just tested - I was 3 for 4 in finding the selected snippet without quotes somewhere in the results. The only test I ran that was *not* found without the quotes, was the sentence "You bet it will and I should be able to prove it very soon." That makes sense, since this page really wouldn't be at all relevant for a search in any way. I realize this isn't a very scientific test, but I do stand behind my opinion that Google has no problem with tabbed content.

      • Well, Google might know you. Have you tried something like startpage? I still can't find your page on page 1.

        By the way: I have to admit that the "always visible" content also does not always rank #1 ...

        • No, I haven't tried startpage, but are you seeing something different there, than in a normal Google search?

          • Well, Startpage is - as far as I know - not personalized. Google on the other hand might show you stuff based on your past behaviour ...

  • HUGE thanks for this info.
    I am creating a site and using some OLD sckool trickery that I want search engines to see, but not my website visitors.
    changing the "Highlight section" and leaving the featured text blank makes the entire section look like a wide divider with a semi-transparent " V " (which can be justified right and REALLY unobtrusive.) I dig it... especially being an AMATEUR web designer.
    Thank you again for the head's up on visibility to search engine info.

    Sizzlin' Skillet Productions/ Chef David Edelstein
    sizzlinskilletproductions.com (coming soon)

    • You're welcome - The fact that you've called it "trickery" though, and left your name and link, means you might be in trouble with Google. Better call it "creative presentation" ;)

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We are all slaves to Googles wishes, like it or not.