Dos and Don’ts of Accordions in Web Design

Here's a problem you may be facing on your website: you have a lot of content that you want to put on a single web page, but you don't want your user to have to scroll and scroll to find the info they want.

We've recently had some questions about when it's best to use accordions in designing web pages with this problem. But is that really the best solution? Lets look at the pros and cons.

What Are Accordions?

In web design, an accordion is something like a button or other element that allows users to expand and collapse sections of content on a web page. Accordion menus typically consist of a list of items, where each item represents a section of content. When a user clicks on an item, it expands to reveal the content within that section. Other items in the menu will collapse, ensuring that only one section of content is visible at a time. This makes it easy for users to navigate through a lot of information and find what they're looking for without having to scroll through a long page.

They can also be customized to match the overall design of the website and provide a seamless user experience.

So what's the problem?

The Problems With Accordions

Here are a few reasons why you might want to avoid using accordions on web pages:

Hidden Content

Accordions can frustrate some users who are looking for specific information. Users may have difficulty finding the content they need if it is hidden within an accordion. Hiding content behind navigation can reduce people's awareness of it since an additional step is required to access the information. Headings and titles must be descriptive and enticing enough to motivate users to take action and click on them. When content is hidden, people may overlook important information.

If most subtopics need to be opened to get answers or the complete story, an accordion may not be the best option. In this case, displaying all the content at once is preferable since scrolling down the page is easier than deciding which heading to click on. Fewer attention switches create a more seamless experience.

Cognitive Load

Every decision a user needs to make on a website, regardless of how simple, adds to a user's cognitive load. Accordions require users to click or tap to reveal content, which can increase cognitive load and slow down the information retrieval process. Making users click on headings individually to reveal full content can be burdensome, especially if there are numerous topics that people are interested in. Users who are not familiar with accordions or who have a limited attention span may be especially affected. Forcing a user to use links or buttons and waiting for content to appear requires effort and wastes time that users don't want to spend.

Poor Accessibility

Accordions can be difficult to navigate for users with disabilities, such as those using screen readers. They may have trouble understanding how the content is organized and finding the information they need.

SEO Challenges

Search engine optimization can be more challenging with accordions, as the content that is hidden within them may not be crawled or indexed by search engines. This can negatively impact your site's search engine rankings.

Mobile Usability

Accordions can also be a problem on mobile devices, where users may find it difficult to tap the correct section and expand it. This can lead to frustration and a poor user experience.

Printing

Accordions may not always play well with printers. Your web designer should make sure to optimize the pages so that content that is hidden inside an accordion actually prints. Otherwise, accordions may force users to print snippets of content one at a time, which is yet another burden for the user.


The Neilsen Norman Group has done some great research on accordions. You can about their findings in their article, Accordions Are Not Always the Answer for Complex Content on Desktops.

Of course, these issues can be mitigated to some extent by careful design and implementation, but it's worth considering these factors before deciding to use accordions on your website.

What Are Accordions Good For?

But it's not all bad! Accordions can be great in some specific situations. Here are a couple of them:

Focus on Important Information

Accordions can be used to highlight important information, such as key features or benefits of a product or service. This can help to draw users' attention to the most important content on the page. They can be great for lists of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) or expanding product descriptions.

Progressive Disclosure

Accordions can be used to reveal content progressively, allowing users to access information only when they need it. This can actually help to reduce cognitive load and make it easier for users to navigate complex information. An example of this is when you want the user to read through or follow a sequence of steps or instructions.


As long as SEO, Mobile Usability, Accessibility and Printing are kept in mind as part of the design process, those three potential issues can be solved. Again, it's worth noting that accordions can be effective in certain contexts and when used judiciously, but it's important to consider these factors before deciding to use them on your website.

Some Alternatives to Accordions

Often it's much better to display the information on a web page all at once where a user can scan it. If the concern is that a web page has too much information, there are some alternatives:

  • including a clickable menu or table of contents at the top of the page, that scrolls a user down to the appropriate section
  • including headings, images and/or other elements to break up the text
  • using typography and page design to break up the content

Final Thoughts on Web Page Accordions

As with any design element, there are pros and cons to using accordions on web pages. It's important to weigh these factors carefully and consider the needs of your users when deciding whether or not to use accordions on your website.

Blue Star Business Services can help you with these questions and more when it comes to designing a great website for your small business, nonprofit, or organization. Contact us today by filling out the form on our Contact Page or call us at 479-879-2068 to get started.

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