When Should You Show Off Your Hidden Content?

From a website design perspective, hiding content is a beneficial practice. Why? We like it for two reasons: firstly, having a minimalist site boosts load time, which keeps visitors happy. Secondly, an uncluttered website simply looks nicer. But then on the other side of the coin, we have to consider whether or not we’re limiting potential by making navigation more frustrating than it needs to be.

Right now we’re not going to get caught up in the question of whether hiding content is right or wrong. Instead, we’re going to look at the best (and worst) times to show off your hidden content.

The Quick Reveal

At a time when website load speed is one of the major obstacles standing in the way of achieving a perfect conversion rate, speed is everything. Today’s visitors expect an entire website to load within just 2 seconds, so naturally many businesses want their hidden website content to load at breakneck speed.

However, the problem with the quick reveal is that there’s not enough time to properly judge user intention, which has the potential to result in a very user-unfriendly website. Mouse tracking studies have found that website visitors will often use their pointer to guide their reading; they move the mouse in line with their eye movements. Now consider that every time the mouse quickly moves across hidden content, that content will be revealed, regardless of whether the user intended to reveal it or not.

The Slow Reveal

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the slow reveal. Of course, the good thing about the slow reveal is that it directly addresses the web design problem above: it allows adequate time to judge the intention of the user. On the downside, however, a slow reveal can suggest a slow, sluggish website.

In this instance, not only do we need to think about users getting frustrated waiting for the content to be revealed and leaving the website, but also about how it will affect overall online reputation. In order for a user to feel that a digital system is responding as it should, the system should react within 0.1 seconds, according to website response time research. Therefore, if we’re leaving time to judge user intent, it’s impossible to reveal hidden content at a speed which users won’t find to be slow and unresponsive.

The Solution

Identifying the right time to show off hidden content is all about finding that somewhat elusive middle ground. Research suggests that the best way to find this middle ground is through a two-part approach:

  • Part 1: Triggering some form of visual response
  • Part 2: Revealing the hidden content

The beauty of this two-part approach is that users can witness an almost instantaneous response (such as a change in text or background colour) when hovering over hidden content, while the content itself is revealed at a slightly slower rate to ensure that the user does fully intend to reveal the hidden content.

And if you’re wondering what the magic numbers are…

0.1 seconds for an initial visual response, and between 0.3 and 0.5 seconds for the big reveal!