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Basically, I have this site that recently lost a lot of traffic after I optimized the html, the exact reasons to which are uncertain. The graph of impressions (times a page appears on search listings) is continuously going down like an e^-x function. Because the content, previously occupying five pages of tables, now fits within a few paragraph tags, the menu now occupies about 80% of the live html code and I am starting to have doubts wherether this affects the "similar pages" factor that Google punishes.

Questions:

  1. As far as I know, Google ignores invisible material and the submenus are only visible when hovered over. Has anything at all changed in this area?

  2. If I ajax in the submenus, leaving only the main eight menu items to load, will I be punished for "hiding" information?

  3. Is the idea worth testing or is it frankly retarded?

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Could it be that because you have trimmed the content down, your relevance and keyword count has dropped? how are you hiding the menus? are they DIVs that are style="display:none;"? AFAIK google does still ignore hidden content. –  Darkcat Studios Jun 11 '12 at 16:29
    
The content itself is exactly the same, the only difference is the structure and the side menu that I have added. <table><tr><td><table><tr><td><table> ... is now simply changed to <p> or <h2>, that's the only actual difference. And yeah, I don't recall anybody saying that Google now counts invisible display:none material. –  Name Jun 11 '12 at 16:34
    
right ok, hmm, maybe the non tabular layout and lack of H1's ?? have you asked this in google's webmaster tools forums? might be worth a shot. –  Darkcat Studios Jun 12 '12 at 7:12
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There's several elements to your question which have been asked here before:

As far as I know, Google ignores invisible material and the submenus are only visible when hovered over. Has anything at all changed in this area?

Google parses the content inside your HTML, so it can see all content that is manipulated by the DOM using CSS (Hide/show/toggle/hover) etc. Rudimentary JavaScript can also be executed by Google as well. To get an idea of what Google "sees" when parsing your page, try the Google Preview tool (when your page is indexed) or the "fetch as Google" tool inside Google Webmaster Tools.

If I ajax in the submenus, leaving only the main eight menu items to load, will I be punished for "hiding" information?

See this answer regarding Ajax & SEO

Is the idea worth testing or is it frankly retarded?

Probably neither - you want to look into how Google can determine boilerplate text on a web-page to determine what area is "content" and what isn't (Header, Nav, Sidebar, Footer etc). Validate this by looking at other large, well known sites that operate similar to yours with large menus, and you'll see that your concerns aren't really worth too much thought.

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Thank you for the information. –  Name Jun 18 '12 at 13:13
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