UPDATE - 1/25/2017
Over the past few years Google hasn't been giving full value to pages that used tabbed content.
Google previously saw tabbed content as "hidden" content. The algorithms they had in place identified that hiding content (including content that was accessible and visible under tabs) was deceitful to users. Although they loosened the reins later on, tabbed content was still being viewed by Google as less important than un-tabbed content, since it was "hidden" under tabs.
Late last Fall, Google rolled out a major mobile-friendly update that's designed to value a better mobile experience in terms of finding and accessing information in a clean, organized and easily understandable layout.
What does this mean?
It means tabbed content is now acceptable on mobile AND desktop. It also means tabbed content will not hurt your SEO; In fact, tabbed content will now be indexed equally and given fair SEO value.
Bottom Line: Google is now actively indexing and valuing tabbed content for SEO.
This does not mean everyone should start tabbing content; however, sites that have lots of categorical information (i.e. specs, benefits, PDF lists, etc.), can feel safe knowing that adding tabbed content will no longer hurt their SEO.
Over the past couple years, accordion or tabbed content has become a popular way to simplify pages suffering from "information overload."
The goal of accordion-style content was to provide a better user experience (UX) through the ability to dynamically switch between tabs of content -- based on a specific set of information the user was seeking.But while this may be popular with UX and design professionals, the approach may be damaging your search results. There are several different design styles for tabbing content, but no matter how you slice it, the content is still considered to be "hidden" by search engines like Google.
How exactly does tabbed content hurt the value of your website?
Learning from the "Big Boys" -- How eBay and Amazon Manage This
Let's start by looking at how two monsters of the internet (eBay and Amazon) manage "mega-information" from a stylistic perspective.
eBay is a good example of a website that utilizes accordion/tabbed content appropriately. The website provides all of the most important information right there on the main page for users to see. Only non-essential, supplementary information is tabbed, like recommended accessories, product photos, and so on. Here's an example from one of their product listing pages:
Amazon is a good example of a website that favors a non-accordion style. Instead of using tabs, the website utilizes topic anchor links which, when clicked, drop users down to that section of the page.
Now, most websites do not have the level of authority that eBay and Amazon do, so it's important to look at how accordion/tabbed content can impact smaller, lesser known websites (particularly in the B2B, manufacturing and industrial industries).
What Does Google Say About Tabbed Content SEO?
In Feb 2015, Google publically stated they are ignoring hidden/accordion/tabbed content when determining search rankings. In Google's eyes, "hidden" content was considered unimportant or secondary, and therefore, not worthy of indexing or attributing value. The folks at Google stated pretty clearly that if you wanted content indexed, you better make sure it's visible to users when the page loads.
It seems Google has slightly altered their stance since last year's statement, and will typically index accordion/tabbed content... but it will be treated differently and demoted in value.
How We've Seen This Play Out With Our Clients
Although it is being indexed, what we've found is Google typically assigns greater value to pages with content that is immediately visible on page load. In other words, these pages typically appear higher in search results than websites with hidden/tabbed content. We've also discovered that even PDFs often outrank product pages with hidden/tabbed content!
It seems to be the consensus that Google does index hidden/tabbed content (as long as it isn't dynamically loaded through AJAX technologies). However, it also demotes pretty inconsistently, and is likely NOT an ideal element to ensure the best possible search results if the page's content is quality, relevant, and valuable to users.
How Do I Avoid Tabbed Content But Still Provide a Good User Experience?
If you think pages of your website contain "too much information", avoid the urge to slap on a bunch of tabs. Instead, leverage the power of anchor text, where you click on a subtopic and immediately drop to that portion of the page.
Full content disclosure through the use of anchor text navigation will be rewarded by Google. It will also ensure a delightful user experience - resulting in a Search Engine and UX win-win!
What If My Website Already Uses Tabbed Content?
Now you may be saying to yourself, "My website already uses tabbed content. How do I know if it's negatively impacting the value of my page?"
If you're not convinced you need to make a change, we recommend running a test by re-formatting just one of your pages. This is not at all difficult to do -- the 10 easy steps involved in this are:
1. Log into your Google Analytics account
2. Choose only Organic Traffic from the "+Add Segment" portion
3. Click "Behavior" from the left-side navigation
4. Click "Landing Pages"
5. Look for 2 accordion-style pages on your website that currently draw approximately the same amount of traffic. These will become your "test subject" and "control."
6. Choose the page with the lesser amount of traffic as the test subject and pull out all the content that is currently in a tab. Include this in the body of the main landing page.
7. Remove tabs from that page only.
8. Next, define what subjects on the page require anchor text to improve the user experience.
9. Create the anchor text and links.
10. Take 3-6 months to monitor the results via Google Analytics.
If I Don't Used Tabbed or Accordion Content - What Else Can I Do to Break-Up Text?
Aside from anchor text, the best ways to break up walls of text on non-accordion pages include topic sub-headings, PDFs, videos, photos and infographics. These elements not only add more visual interest for users, they also show Google that this page is the biggest and best resource out there for "X".
The Bottom Line: Balance UX and SEO when Building Content
The end goal is making sure the pages of your website are comprehensive, interesting, valuable and crawlable, while still maintaining a delightful user experience.
If certain pages of your website could use a boost, unmasking tabbed/accordion content may be the key!