Experiment Results: Can Hidden Content Rank Well?
Last month I learned that one of our clients had a legal requirement to display a lightbox-style notification prior to allowing access to full page content. We tested performance of content behind tabs in the past and know that Google’s search snippets don’t highlight terms not immediately visible on the page. The question was whether Google would also reduce page’s ability to rank for queries not immediately visible on the page.
We created 4 pages, each containing the same keyword. Two pages would hide the content until user dismisses the lightbox pop-up and the other two page would show content by default. At first our pages contained random groups of numbers following the test keyword, however Google eventually decided to only show one. We then switched to randomly generated sentence structures and re-submitted to Google’s index. All four pages are still visible in search and haven’t changed their ranking order since the start of our experiment.
In our particular setup, Google gave no special preference to visible content. The first result in our test was in fact a page which hides the keyword which matched our search query:
Interestingly, in our case Google chose to highlight the hidden keyword (see top and bottom result):
We believe this is due to partial visibility (see below), but further tests are needed to confirm this.
We were satisfied with these results and have advised client that their disclaimer will not cause any ranking issues.
The Best Practice
I discussed my results with John Mueller yesterday at SMX in Munich and was advised that despite my results it’s still the best and safest practice to show any important content and keywords in the visible part of the page. John wasn’t ambiguous at all when he said that Google prefers visible over hidden content. There is a chance that the search engine treats my little test pages (fresh URL, outside of website template and patterns, unusual content amount…etc) differently then they would regular or more established pages.