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Single examples, however, are generally not sufficient evidence to confidently dispute information that comes from the horse’s mouth. There are often a multitude of factors impacting organic traffic, so while a chart of organic traffic over time with an arrow pointing to the date we made a change to our website can present a strong argument of a cause-effect relationship, we still often lack the backing of a controlled experiment.
This case study is just one of many examples of when our test results have challenged what we heard from Google, in this case it was what happens when you bring content on page that was previously concealed behind tabs and accordions.
This chart represents the cumulative impact of the test on organic traffic. The central blue line is the best estimate of how the variant pages, with the change applied, performed compared to how we would have expected without any changes applied. The blue shaded region represents our 95% confidence interval – there is a 95% probability that the actual outcome is somewhere in this region. If this region is wholly above or below the horizontal axis, that represents a statistically significant test.
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The most important thing to know is that our case studies are based on controlled experiments with control and variant pages:
If you aren’t familiar with the fundamentals of how we run controlled SEO experiments that form the basis of all our case studies, then you might find it useful to start by reading the explanation at the end of this article before digesting the details of the case study below. If you’d like to get a new case study by email every two weeks, just enter your email address here.
Interestingly, when we looked at the results split between desktop and mobile, the positive effect was even more prominent on mobile than desktop, also challenging Google’s assertion that having content in tabs on mobile should not be a problem. Granted, this was with the caveat from John Mueller in 2016 that the content “is loaded when the page is loaded.”
Having the capability to test SEO changes in a more controlled fashion through SearchPilot has given us a new source of authoritative evidence on what does or doesn’t improve your organic traffic – regardless of what comes from the horse’s mouth or what best practice says.
Please feel free to get in touch via Twitter to learn more about this test, or to sign up for a demo of the SearchPilot SEO A/B testing platform you can fill in this form.
When Gary Illyes was asked about this type of content on Twitter in September 2018, this was his response:
How our SEO split tests work.
Regardless, it seems that for now from an SEO perspective, having your content visible on the page can be better for your organic traffic. It’s always important to remember that no two websites are the same, which is why we’d recommend testing this on your own site. Stay tuned for more insights from SearchPilot.
The constant dialogue between webmasters and representatives at Google has always been littered with SEOs sharing case studies with examples of when what they’ve seen out in the wild hasn’t lined up with what the powers-that-be at Google claimed should happen with its algorithm.
Another user responded to Gary saying he had authoritative tests proving otherwise, and we now have further evidence to support him with, that comes from a split test we ran on Iceland Groceries. In this test, we removed the tabs / accordions that were concealing product information like ingredients and nutrition facts when the page loaded, and instead made this text visible on the page when it loaded. Here’s an image of our variant v. control pages on desktop and mobile:
You can see the model and performance graph here:
As it turns out, this test resulted in a 12% uplift in organic sessions . More evidence to counter Gary’s claim!
If you’re interested in a short demo, please fill in this form and one of the SearchPilot team will ping you an email.
The “Wild West” days of SEO when marketers would use CSS to hide keyword-optimized content on their pages has come to an end (thanks to the Panda algorithm update in 2011), but mobile-first indexing has raised new questions.
Summary: Content that isn’t visible when a mobile page loads but might be visible to users at some point is indexed.
Collapsed content is content that is hidden by tabs, accordions, click-to-expand buttons, or display:none styling. Google began its mobile-first indexing push in July 2019, meaning that websites are indexed based on their mobile user experience (UX). Collapsible content is a valuable and expected part of mobile UX, which has prompted SEO professionals to wonder how this functionality affects search rankings.
What Is Collapsible Content in SEO?
Click-to-expand buttons are frequently used to measure a user’s interest in page content. This functionality is very popular for large publishers wanting to measure how far readers make it down a page by forcing them to click a button to reveal more text.
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If you analyze the Google statements above from that frame of mind, you’ll notice:
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“So, you know how Google started to fully render a page as a user would see it? So, I see reports that, when you have, like, on the website “click to expand” to show more content, that since, that Google’s ignoring the content in that “click to expand” because a user doesn’t see it unless they click to expand.”
Tabs and SEO involve a text box with set dimensions that will display different content based on which tab is active. The main question that the SEO community has about this functionality is whether the default open tab is weighted more than the tabs that are hidden when the page loads.
Collapsed Content in 2020.
John Mueller replied, “I think we’ve been doing something similar for quite a while now, where, if we can recognize that the content is actually hidden, then we’ll just try to discount it a little bit. So that, uhhh, we kind of see that it’s still there, but the user doesn’t see it, therefore it’s probably not something that’s critical for this page. So, that includes like the click to expand, that includes the tabbed UIs where you have all kind of content hidden away in tabs… those kind of things. So, if you want that content rally indexed, I’d make sure it’s visible for the users when they go to that page.
How does collapsible content affect SEO in a mobile-first world?
I believe that statements from Google representatives are generally true, but the assertions within these statements are often muddled. I also recognize that there is a significant amount of machine learning happening within Google’s systems, which can make it hard to isolate rankings factors with 100% certainty.
Accordion SEO Example.
Originally, Google made it clear that content that isn’t visible when a page loads is not as valuable as content that loads by default. After the introduction of mobile-first indexing (meaning that Google ranks pages based on what they look like on a mobile device instead of a computer), Google’s story on this matter changed.
According to Google, when collapsible content functionality is used on mobile devices it should have full SEO weight.
However, there are still reports from SEO professionals that claim rankings and what Google representatives have said about collapsible content do not align. Here’s what the MARION SEO agency has aggregated about this topic.
There has been confusion over the past five years about “hidden” content and where the line is drawn. If your website uses accordions, does Google weight the hidden content as much as page content that is automatically visible?
Search Engine Optimization professionals have been left to wonder whether the hidden text is valued as much as the copy that is automatically visible.