'Memory, like liberty, is a fragile thing.' -Elizabeth Loftus

Sometimes, Hidden Text is Good

by Ethan Glover, Mon, Nov 09, 2015 - (Edited) Tue, Nov 01, 2016

In a recent Whiteboard Friday, Dan Petrovic discussed a study he did for DEJAN.

The short of it is, he increased user engagement by hiding some text, and showing others.

The original article summarized the main points. Then, the user could click on certain text to expand into greater detail. The article gave the readers the choice on what they wanted to read and it increased how much they read.

After writing this, Petrovic found that the hidden text didn't rank well. The article hid all collapsible text by default. Showing everything by default and allowing users to choose the "5 minute version" fixed that issue.

Later Gary Illyes said that text in a JavaScript Array shown onclick, isn't indexed. The quotes here, for example, aren't indexed.

Curious, I asked him about using JS and HTML5 for use with collapsible text and tabs. He explained anything hidden by default has less weight in the eyes of the search engine. But it is still indexed.

This makes sense from a technical perspective, but not to the reader. I understand how hard it is to figure out how users interact with collapsible text.

It's a shame search engines can't see that if most users expand the text, than it must be important. But that's not plausible. I hope that in the future search engines learn to understand hidden texts better. What's malicious, what's not, and what's helpful.

For now, few sites will use this method that increases user engagement. Just because it harms them in the search engines. And that is not something that should be an issue for any website owner.