The Potential Dangers of Dynamic and Hidden Content

Justin Taylor - May 20, 2019

Content and SEO go hand in hand. It’s hard to have success in either, without the help of the other. How you display your important content on a page can have a large impact on that page’s rankings and SEO performance. Although there are many ways to display content on a web page, there are two that could lead to a negative impact in SEO performance. The two methods that could be cause for concern are when content is “dynamically displayed” or “hidden.” To know why dynamic and hidden content could affect your SEO efforts, it’s important to first know how a Search Engine works. If you’re already familiar with how search engines work, feel free to skip to the next section, “Differences Between Dynamic & Hidden Content.”

 

A Primer on How Search Engines Work

When a search engine finds a page, it crawls the page’s source code, renders the code very similarly to how a user would, and then indexes the page so that it can return it for a future search query. Although search engines are incredibly sophisticated these days, they still have some limitations that can hinder them from interacting with complex and new technologies and code. As web design and development technologies advance, the ways in which content can be displayed on a web page evolve as well. Some of those techniques, like dynamic and hidden content, can have negative effects on a pages organic performance if important content is not accessible to search engine crawlers.

Differences Between Dynamic & Hidden Content

To a user, it may sometimes be difficult to discern the difference between regular content, dynamic content, and hidden content, but to search engines, it can be a world of difference.

  • Dynamic content: Dynamic content refers to content that changes based on a user’s preferences, behaviors or interests, and is generally powered by technologies like JavaScript. The easiest way to identify dynamic content is to copy a portion of the copy, view the source code of the page, and search for the copy there. If the copy is not contained in the source code, then it’s likely to be dynamic. However, the best method is to have a knowledgeable technical SEO expert provide guidance.
  • Example: The product page for Belgian speculoos and cinnamon pretzel sticks below on https://uk.graze.com is pulling in content dynamically. When you select the ingredients accordion option, it opens up and shows copy. This copy is not accessible in the source code, but is “pulled” onto the page dynamically after you click the ingredients option.

Example before selecting the ingredients accordion menu

Example after selecting the ingredients accordion menu

  • Hidden content: Textual content and links that are not directly visible to users without some sort of action (like a click), but can be found in a page’s source code are referred to as hidden content. This differs from dynamic content because the code is found in the page’s source code (meaning that it’s easier for a search engine to crawl, i.e. access). To view the content, a user typically has to take an action on the page
  • Example 1: The following Sherpa Rider product page from Lee uses tabs for it’s description, fabric & care, and delivery & returns sections. The content within these tabs is “hidden” from users, but is contained in the source code of the page, making it accessible to search engines.

Example before clicking on the “Fabric & Care” tab

Example after clicking on the “Fabric & Care” tab

Potential Dangers of Dynamic & Hidden Content

The use of these techniques to display content is not always a bad thing. In fact, they can help create a more positive user experience. However, it’s critical to assess how you are using these techniques when it comes to the display of content that is important for that pages organic rankings and performance. If you are using one or both of these techniques, here are a few scenarios that could be cause for concern:

  • Least Severe: Hiding content on a page that is not a core part of the page, or important for the pages organic performance. This is the least likely to negatively impact your SEO, because even though content is hidden from users when the page loads, search engines can still access the content in the source code of the page, and the content is not critical for the page’s organic performance.
  • Moderately Severe: Dynamically displaying important content on a page, but loading the content as soon as the page loads (without a user needing to take an action, like a click, to see the content). Please note that this is very dependent on the type of technology you are using to display the content. This can lead to issues, as some search engines may not be able to “see” the content.” Other more advanced search engines like Google may also have trouble if the technology that you are using is not compatible with their crawler. However, this is not the most severe, because there is a chance that you won’t see any noticeable impacts to your SEO performance. Even though the content is not in the source code of the page, more advanced search engines like Google are likely to be able to access it as long as everything is configured correctly.
  • Most Severe (Avoid using this method to display important content if at all possible): Dynamically displaying important content on a page that requires a user to take an action before it will load should be avoided. This type of display technique is the most detrimental to your SEO efforts because search engines, even Google, are highly unlikely to access or see the content at all. This is because search engines stop at the point of “user interaction.” They don’t click, scroll, or otherwise take actions beyond simply loading a page.

Did you ever think that making a decision about how to load content onto a page could be so complex? In general, wherever possible, we recommend that if you have important content, it is immediately visible to users without requiring them to take an action, and is delivered within the source code of the page. Using newer technologies to improve user experience and differentiate your company and brand are great, and we highly encourage their use when done in an SEO friendly manner.

Given the many nuances to this subject, and slight changes that can push the use case from positive to negative very quickly, we highly recommend that you receive feedback from a technical SEO specialist on your specific use case of dynamic or hidden content. Contact us today if you are interested in learning about our experience with technical SEO or Web Development technologies.

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