SEO ranking factors are incredibly complex and the everyday legal marketer isn’t likely to stay informed on the latest algorithm change from Google. However, sometimes an item of note might change the way digital marketers do things – if they only knew about it. That may be the case with the latest information coming to light regarding the SEO impact of collapsed content on a web page. Here is a breakdown of this latest SEO update for law firms.
For a long time, conventional wisdom dictated that material inside hidden and collapsed tabs was indexed and ranked in totality with other web content. There have been multiple tests and case studies completed to prove whether or not this was the case, and Google was vocal that such content receives full weight in their ranking algorithm. Since 2016, Google’s official position on the matter has been that content hidden in accordions, tabs, etc. for a better user experience will be given full weight and not demoted. This is important because at one time, Google’s ranking factors did demote such content. Since that time, Google staff has confirmed this position many times.
Gary Illyes from Google said on Twitter “AFAIK, nothing’s changed here: we index the content, its weight is fully considered for ranking, but it might not get bolded in the snippets. It’s another, more technical question how that content is surfaced by the site. Indexing does have limitations.”
Despite Google’s assertions, contradictory research is coming out all the time. In fact, some case studies suggest that simply making content hidden behind accordion drop-downs visible by default can improve SEO ranking.
Most recently, an SEO expert named Dan Shure found that his site experienced a “really big boost” in rankings for “extremely competitive” terms after he decided to make the content that was previously hidden behind accordion drop-downs visible by default. For context, he mentioned that the content was below the fold in this situation and this was both on mobile and desktop interfaces. Additionally, the content was mostly FAQ oriented and by showing the content by default to users (where they didn’t have to click to expand it), the content showed a boost in rankings. Furthermore, his case study noted that the content, while collapsed, was fully rendered in the HTML. That indicates that the Googlebot did see it and index it, but it did not rank well.
This is the most recent case study released on the topic, but questions regarding hidden content have come up many times before. In 2018, one agency conducted several studies on three sets of mobile-first websites with similar authority. Their results showed that – despite Google’s claims – content hidden behind tabs and accordions remained devalued. The pages did rank, but not enough to compete with a site that doesn’t hide the same content.
When asked about such instances, John Mueller of Google stated:
“I’m not convinced by these kinds of anecdotes, but YMMV. In my opinion, it’s often also a better user experience to make content visible by default. I like seeing SEOs test reasonable things, and I like seeing the results either way. I don’t think this needs a “you must do X” from Google.”
The ultimate lesson on this SEO update for law firms is to test things for yourself and be careful what you place in collapsible sections. Every site and query has its own landscape, so testing is the only way to know what will work for your website. If removing the collapsable content feature is simple for you to do, try it and see what happens. You can judge if doing so is hurting your user experience and what is happening to your rankings.
If something is important to your user experience, don’t hide it. Keep in mind that most factors affecting SEO – as with many things in the digital world – come down to the user experience. If you structure your site in the way that’s best for your visitors, you’ll experience better performance on search. In the meantime, don’t be afraid to test between collapsible content and content that’s visible by default, and see what happens.
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