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Is Tabbed Content a Google Ranking Factor?

Tabbed content can help improve the user journey, but how does Google crawl it?Is this a ranking factor?

In-page tabs and accordions are user interface (UI) controls that improve the user experience by splitting content into logical sections.Page visitors can then switch between the different views by navigating each tab or clicking to reveal a new section of text in the accordion.

But how does this affect the SEO value of hidden content until the user actively navigates and shows it?

Over the years, many have questioned whether Google still uses this type of hidden content in its ranking algorithms.

let us wait and see.

Disclaimer: "Hidden" content is a ranking factor

The question here is whether Google is deprecating or even ignoring what was originally hidden from users with UX/design elements.

It's important to note that, for example, we're not talking about hiding text in order to manipulate the algorithm by using CSS to place it offscreen or hide it in the background.

Tabs and accordions are used to organize page content in the same way as the eponymous content in the old school world of paper filings.

tabs-and-accordion-files - Accordion and Tab Tabs

On a web page, tabs are usually arranged horizontally.

Users can flip from one tab to another to display new content without loading a new page each time.

With an accordion, the user can click to open each folded panel, usually closing other folds when a new section opens (but not always, which can result in very long pages of text).

Tabs and accordions can be used to:

  • FAQcontent.
  • video script orDescriptive content for accessibility.
  • user comment, which can be truncated, but give the user a "read more" option.
  • Viewscomplex subject.
  • on a single pagetype of information.
  • there are more.

Evidence of Tabbed Content as a Ranking Factor

Here's what Google's Webmaster Guidelines say about content hidden in tabs:

"By default, make important content of a website visible.Google is able to crawl HTML content hidden in navigational elements such as tabs or expanded sections.

However, we believe that these are less accessible to users and believe that you should display the most important information in the default page view.

Matt Cutts tackled this question from a webspam perspective in his 2013 answer to the audience question, "How does Google handle hidden content that becomes visible when a button is clicked?

There are good usability reasons for using an accordion or tabbed structure to let users hide and show content, he said.

As long as you don't try to cheat with hidden, over-optimized text, you won't trigger any spam actions.

This tells us that Google doesn't treat a well-structured and well-formed tab or accordion as hidden text.

However, does the content in these tabs have the same weight as the page content that is always visible?

In 2014, Google's John Mueller was asked about reports of Google ignoring content when rendering pages that users couldn't see unless they clicked the "click to expand" button.

Mueller said,

"...I think we've been doing something similar for a long time, and if we can recognize that the content is actually hidden, then we'll try to discount it a little bit.We see it's still there, but users can't see it.Therefore, it may not be the key to this page.

He noted that he was referring to accordions and tags, and suggested that if you want content to be indexed, make sure it's visible to users.

Evidence against tabbed content as a ranking factor

The problem is that, aside from the above excerpt from the webmaster guidelines, the advice on tabbed content is quite old.

Google's views on what makes a great user experience have changed, especially when it comes to mobile.

In 2016, Google's Gary Illyes responded to a question on Twitter asking if content in in-page elements such as accordions was devalued on mobile devices, and his answer was clear:

"No, in a mobile-first world, what's hidden for UX should have full weight.

Mueller recently confirmed in the March 2020 Google Webmaster Central Office Hours that tags and accordion contentwill notDevaluation.When asked:

"In a mobile-first indexed world, will hidden content behind tabs and accordions still depreciate in value - for example, because users are less likely to see it?"

Mueller responded:

"No.Specifically, we do consider anything in HTML when it comes to content on mobile pages.

So if at some point something is visible to the user, we will include it in the index.This is completely normal.

Tabbed Content as a Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

Content is a ranking factor – you don’t devalue that content by giving users control over what they see and when.

Tabulating content is basically the same as displaying content without pressing the Tab key.

So, is that content tabulated and ultimately important?

We know that with mobile-first indexing, Google gives tabbed content the same weight as the rest of the text on the page.

The content is the key part, not the fact that it's tabbed.

There are many ways to "hide" tabbed content - some of which keep Google from crawling it.

If Google can't crawl content, it won't see it or help you rank.

When used properly, tabbed and collapsible content can also improve the user experience, especially on mobile devices.

If you try to use hidden text fraudulently, you risk partial or entire site penalties.

Again to be clear here: the key part is the deception, not the fact that the content happens to be deceptively flagged.

As a best practice, use these elements from a strictly UX perspective.

Take a look at how Google itself uses the accordion structure on its Search Console help resource page:

google-accordion-Google Singer Organ png

The accordion is used as a navigation tool to display FAQs.

Clicking on a question will open a separate page with answers in longer format.

This aligns with both UX goals and SEO goals.

Users can easily view all broad topics at a glance and drill down to more specific issues.

Instead of 15 or 20 somewhat disjointed answers in the core body content on and off the home page, they can then navigate to a more focused page and dig into their chosen response.

From an SEO perspective, each individual answer is stronger as an authoritative answer to a specific question on its own page.

Start by thinking about how you can improve your visitor’s journey and content experience.

Often, this is exactly what you need to do to improve your SEO.

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