Does Using Folded Content Hurt Google’s Own SEO?

Does Using Folded Content Hurt Google's Own SEO? Hero Image

Google supposedly doesn’t care if the content on your pages is hidden within collapsible tabs – as long as it’s visible in HTML.

Multiple Googlers have stated in the past that hidden content (e.g., content hidden in tabs) is treated the same way as content that’s visible to users by default. 

But we’ve also seen anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

Doing some client work, I noticed that Google may in fact treat tabbed content slightly differently.

So I did some research looking at Google’s own content. 

Google’s support pages often get quoted or scraped and republished on other websites. Plus they use tabs to hide supplementary information, so they turned out to be perfect for my needs.

I quickly found a couple dozen pages with collapsed content on support.google.com. Here’s an example:

An example page with folded content from support.google.com

When you search on Google for the content of the tabs you see above, Google’s own page is being outranked by a spammy doorway page.

When I search for an exact fragment of Google’s support page, the spammy domain appears on position 1, while Google’s page – the original, canonical source of that fragment – ranks number two.

a search engine results page showing Google is outranked by a spammy page for its own content

Without having to look far, I found multiple other examples of this issue. Google’s canonical URLs were outranked by spammy domains in roughly 50% of all checks that I did.

Here’s the important question: What’s the main difference between the content on those pages?

The answer: Those spammy domains unfold the tabbed content.

See for yourself:

A spammy site that scraped Google's content and shows it without folding in tabs

Crazy, right? Does this mean you can outrank any page with folded content by scraping it and unfolding the content?

Well, no. I found many examples where Google wasn’t outranked by scraped sites that didn’t fold content into tabs.

But having inspected over 50 text fragments, I didn’t find ANY examples of Google being outranked for content that wasn’t hidden in tabs.

All data were obtained by manually checking SERPs using a VPN with a U.S. location, looking for exact text fragments in quotation marks. 

All this makes me wonder: Why are Google’s original pages outranked by crappy, malicious websites? 

I see two possible explanations:

  1. Google treats queries in quotation marks differently, prioritizing content that’s visible on the page for some reason.
  2. Google gives less ranking weight to content hidden in tabs than content visible on the page.

If the first hypothesis is correct, it’s not a big deal – very few users will look for your tabbed content using quotation marks.

But if the second hypothesis is true… It’s a huge deal.

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