Late last year Search Engine Roundtable posted an article about the usage of tabs, accordions, and hidden content in websites. This article was a quick overview of how these design elements will negatively affect SEO within a website.
The article seemed to lie under the radar and most people missed it. It’s so far under the radar, I haven’t heard much about it since I read the post in November.
I decided this topic needed further discussion because a lot of designers and website owners are using WordPress accordion and tabbed content plugins without knowing the negative affect it has on the health of their website.
An Example of Accordion or Tabbed Usage of Content
Below is an example of tabbed content illustrated in a .gif image. It simply means that content is hidden behind a tab or other element until the user clicks to view and/or read more of the content presented.
Tabs and accordions have been widely used in WordPress because they offer an easy method for presenting a lot of information without overwhelming the user. This is very common on e-commerce product pages or information heavy websites that present legal, scientific, or technical content.
Up until I read the Barry Schwartz’s article I was a fan of tabbed content. Heck I even had tabbed content in our store product pages. That being said, I removed the tabs from our product pages as soon as I read this article.
Why this Google Announcement Matters to Website Owners and Content Marketers
Google has publicly stated they are ignoring content that is hidden behind tabs or accordions. Or at least in many cases they consider this content lower in value because it is not presented to the user on page load.
In a Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout a Google employee stated hidden content is considered unimportant and therefore not index worthy. If content isn’t indexed, it won’t show up in the search results page and it won’t help the page or website’s overall SEO efforts.
Google’s suggestion was as follows:
If you want that content really indexed, I’d make sure it’s visible for the users when they go to that page.
That is a game changer for people who watch the search engines closely and try very hard to stay in their good graces. I’m one of those people and this is why I stopped using tabbed content immediately.
If You’re Using WordPress
While this applies to all websites, I’ll address how this pertains to WordPress users. If you search for “tabbed content” and “accordion” inside the WordPress plugin repository you’ll find almost three thousand plugins listed.
Some popular WordPress plugins include:
- WooCommerce – Downloaded 6,077,319 times
- Shortcodes Ultimate – Downloaded 1,161,764 times
- Squelch Tabs and Accordions Shortcodes – Downloaded 24,189 times
- Accordion Shortcodes – Downloaded 24,534 times
- Tabby Responsive Tabs – Downloaded 41,828 times
- WordPress Post Tabs – Downloaded 136,326 times
- Tabs Shortcode – Downloaded 22,897 times
If you are using any of the above plugins or the thousands of other options available, review your website content to see if the hidden text is index worthy. If it is, consider removing the tabbed or accordion feature so Google will spider and index this content.
If you are using WooCommerce, consider adding an extension plugin called WooCommerce Expand Tabs. This plugin will remove the tabs and make all the product information search engine friendly.
Isn’t it sad that we are all scurrying around to keep Google happy?
In my opinion Tabs and accordions are very good design elements which enhance the user experience.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Google (for once) adapted their policies to suit design rather than always the other way around?
Sometimes I think that Google forgets that it would be nowhere but for all the free content that is available to it from businesses, webmasters and designers.
Rebecca Gill says
I do wish I knew the core reason for this decision by Google, but I know I will most likely never be privy to such information. This leaves me to focus on adapting to Google’s policies to make sure our content is best presented for users within search.
Their rationale makes total sense that it is secondary info. But, I love the cleanliness and functionality that tabs give a page. I consider it good design even if it is not indexed.
Good to know, but I have just googled some of my “hidden” content (I have tabs on my home page) and it is all indexed. I guess this is a future Google algorithm update, so we’ll have to be cautious.
Perhaps a nod toward Google’s growing emphasis on mobile experience.
Steve Glick says
I’ve sometimes wondered about this. Tabs and accordions can really improve the user experience. But I guess we’ll have to ask ourselves if the content hidden behind any tab is most important for ATTRACTING people to the website via search engines – or is that content more important in terms of people USING the information once they are on the page. – That may be hard to differentiate in many cases.
Question for someone: Some accordions can be configured to be in an auto-open state and maybe even collapsed after a specified time. If everything is expanded for a split-second and then quickly closed, will the search engines index all of it? I’d think they could index a page faster than a human eye could detect the quick open/shut action. (I’d bet that, for whatever reason, it wouldn’t be the answer I’d hope for!!)
Thanks for bringing this to our attention.
Rebecca Gill says
Based of the verbiage in the video, I would assume content set to auto expand would be indexed as it is immediately visible to the user. But then again this is Google, so the only real way to know for sure is a little trial and error.
Heather Wood says
I missed that article. I wouldn’t of known about tabs and seo if it wasn’t for your article. Very interesting and kinda make sense. If the information is important, I guess it should be moved to it’s own page. hmmmm something to think about for sure! Thank you!
Håkon Stillingen says
I reported this as an issue on Woocommerce Git repository in October 2013 after trying to get a site accepted for Google Rich snippets (the approval process is discontinued I believe) https://github.com/woothemes/woocommerce/issues/3867
After reporting the issue on Woocommerce Git repository I ended up disabling product review to avoid tabs. After a wile there was a commit for this issue, but I have not tested this. WooCommerce Expand Tabs looks like a plugin worth checking out.
Rebecca Gill says
We haven’t had an issue with Woo reviews either with or without tabs. Adding the Yoast extension for products definitely helped push the review data to WordPress.
Olaf Lederer says
Thanks, for bringing that to my attention!
I use accordions for long FAQ pages mostly and I have these page because I would like to get found for this content 🙁
The tabs for WooCommerce are an issure for sure and I hope WooThemes will create an alternative for theme. Okay lot of work to get done!
Seth Nickerson says
Now that it’s been a few months since Google’s announcement, and a couple of weeks since you wrote this article, have you seen any change in your rankings / visibility as a result of getting rid of tabs?
The site I am examining right now uses tabs on all product pages,The content is there when I view a cached version of the page (text only), but if I search for a text string from a deeper page, that text never appears in the result displayed in search results.
As a result, I can’t get into the top 10 for a lot of terms where I had that visibility before.
Tom Bright says
^^^ Bump. Its been a few months since this was noted, what has been the results? I too will start to experiment with this, but a nice way that I believe you can check is by looking at the google cache of your page, and pull up the ‘text-only’ version. In my site’s architecture, this clearly has not captured the expandable text behind tabs/accordians etc…
I have ample confidence that the text is still cached, but I have at least 1 specific scenario which absolutely agrees with what you’ve said, in that the weighting of text behind these UX elements are completely nerfed to an almost useless effect on the pages ability to rank.
Sanket D. says
Question – what happens to the content that is within the first tab (the active tab). For example, in the gif you shared, on page load, the ‘Description’ tab is active and that content is available for the user as soon as the page loads – does anybody know if Google considers this important or this is also pointless?
This is such a shame to be honest – these content blocks help so much with design and UX. When will Google stop being a prissy prick?
Sanket, any content that is visible on page load will be indexed completely and will not be devalued, including content within any tabs.
It is also worth noting that any content behind tabs, accordions or any other user interface hidden on initial page load is not completely disregarded. However, it is devalued accordingly.
you can have tabbed content and it still works for SEO. Any experience with this?
Here’s a couple of references:
Our community’s FAQ page CloverdaleHOA.com is heavy with homeowner questions and I really hoped for an accordion function I could easily install – it’s so clean and easy to use. Alas, not WordPress so easy for me. With that I’ve used an accordion plugin for another site and it’s beautiful, it also functions on the search engines nicely. Reference http://epohoa.org/faq . And am I that concerned about SEO – not really because the question is what the visitor want’s answered. Google is swell in that it’s transparent with results so the article makes no difference to me. I’m not looking for hits, I’m looking to satisfy the visitor’s question. (epohoa is currently being redesigned from Joomla to WordPress, we’ll see how it handles an extensive list of FAQs.)
Rebecca Gill says
Nancy if incoming traffic from search is not a priority for that page, focus on usability. If tabs make the content more usable, then that is the best route to take. I never suggest compromising usability for the sake of SEO.