A / B testing is a great way for online marketers to optimize their website for their readers. Sometimes an image or a piece of text can make the difference between a doubting visitor and a new customer.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a way to organize your website in such a way that it is clear to search engines what information your website has to offer and why your content is relevant enough to put the top of the search results.
However, A / B testing and SEO seem difficult to reconcile at first sight. With A / B testing you have partially duplicate content that often changes. That while search engines work by building an index of information. But that’s pretty difficult if you do not have a fixed content, or a lot of duplicate content, one of the big sins in SEO.
Fortunately, the soup is never eaten as hot as it is served. As long as you make it clear to Google’s spiders which content they have to index, Google does not really care what you do on your website.
This article discusses four ways in which you can ensure that you can perform A / B testing without worries and that you will lose SEO value or see a decrease in your organic traffic (for example by a penalty).
A technique that some A / B testers use is ‘cloaking’. Cloaking, or hiding, is showing one version of your website to the Googlebot user agent, and another version to your regular visitors.
The idea behind this for A / B testing is that you want to exclude Google’s spiders from the test by showing them the ‘real’ version. Because cloaking is widely abused for black hat SEO practices, Google is very strict against this and can even lead to exclusion of your website in the search results.
So make sure that your visitors do not distribute different versions of your A / B test based on user agent. Google does not care that their bot gets a version or another, but that the user experience of the bot is the same as that of a random visitor.
Use ‘rel = canonical’
If you run an A / B test with multiple URLs, then you can add the rel = canonical element to your page to indicate to Google which URL you would like to have indexed.
Google recommends using the canonical element instead of the noindex tag, because it is closer to your intent. You do not want certain content to be indexed, you only indicate that there is duplicate content, and which content is original. This way Google can also group and index these pages as such. If it is technically not possible to use a canonical, be sure to include a noindex tag in HTML, HTTP Header or robots.txt (preferably all).
Use 302 redirects
The most common way to redirect a page is to use a 301. Imagine moving content from one page to another page, you do not want to completely specify the URL of the old page. You never know where there are still links to that page, and it is a shame if new visitors get a 404 report. In addition, there can be a great SEO value on the link that you should not simply throw away. With the 301 you actually pass a moving message: you let the browser, but also the spiders of search engines, know that the page has been moved to a new URL.
In A / B testing, 301 redirects are often used to redirect visitors from the original URL to a test version. But in the case of an A / B test, it is not a permanent move, but a temporary move. After completing the test, the original URL will simply be used again. The 302 redirect has been created for this purpose: that is a temporary redirect.
So if you are working with a redirect for A / B testing, make sure you use a 302 header.
The most important thing for search engines is that you make it clear that they do not have to throw your original URL completely out of their index, but that it should only be temporarily used. At a next indexation by the spiders they will check again whether the redirect is still applicable, and if not, then the old URL is simply restored.
When the test is complete, make sure you have a 301 redirect. You do not want 2 different URLs with virtually identical information from the same domain in the search results. So make sure that when your test is finished you put a 301 header on the URL that lost the test to the URL that won the test. Is it in your A / B test package that the original URL always remains and that the test results are processed on it. Then make sure that the test URL refers to the original URL.
This problem often occurs on websites where A / B testing is done by own code in combination with eg Google Analytics.
Do not run a test longer than necessary
The time needed to run a reliable test has been written about it. It depends on various factors, including the number of visitors and the number of conversions; a good test tool will tell you exactly when your test has reached significance. For example the A / B time calculator of VWO.
When you have completed the test, you should actually remove the variations of the test as soon as possible and update the website with the winning content you want to use. So also remove the elements of the test, such as alternative URLs and test scripts.
When Google notices that a test runs longer than can normally be expected, they can interpret this as a way to redirect search engines, possibly a disguised way of cloaking. This can occur especially when you show a certain variant to a very large group of users in your A / B test.
Testing content or visual elements
An A / B test can be done in many forms. You can test different headlines, you can test the tone of your content or the form of your call-to-action, you can test different images, complete layouts of pages, etc. But a test can also simply be the location of a button, a text or an image, or the color.
What you test makes a big difference to the possible impact of your A / B test on your search engine optimization. Google spiders and other search engines only look at the content of your page. Whether a button is left or right does not (always) matter for Google. The order of elements in your HTML is important. Even if you have a white website with black text, or a black website with white text; it’s all the same for the Googlebot. Google is not about very detailed content either. If you have a page about an online marketing course, it makes no difference to your SEO whether it is on your call-to-action button “Register now!” Or “Register now!”; that is not the content of the page that is relevant to the search engine.
From Conversion Optimization the label on your buttons is certainly important. This is also important for your link profile because Google wants to see a diverse anchor text profile. If you have a website or a specific page and everyone always links with the same anchor text, then that is a signal that this is not a natural link profile. So for the specific page and its SEO value, Google does not matter what the label of a button or an anchor text of a link is, but this can have an influence on the page to which the button or link links.
Of course it can not hurt to set up a good hierarchy and to use the correct redirects, but in situations where the content of a page is actually the same in terms of content, there is actually no impact of your A / B test on your SEO.
Test your content
You can test the impact of different headings, tonality, calls-to-action, images in your A / B tests and how it affects the behavior of your web page visitors.
The web crawlers , while traveling through the net, are only analyzing the written content of your website. This means that the position of the CTA button on the web crawler web page, for example, does not matter.
The same applies to the color of the text or the website itself. The web crawlers are therefore not interested in the details of your content, but the design of your CTA button plays a major role in conversion optimization.
You can test the effect of various headings, tonality, suggestions to take action, pictures in your A/B tests and how it influences the conduct of your website page guests.
The web crawlers, while going through the net, are just examining the composed substance of your site. This implies the situation of the CTA catch on the web crawler page, for instance, does not make a difference.
The same applies to the shade of the content or the site itself. The web crawlers are along these lines not keen on the subtle elements of your substance, but rather the plan of your CTA catch assumes a noteworthy part in transformation advancement.
Do not overdo it with testing
How long you should run the A / B test depends on various factors, such as the number of visitors and the number of conversions you have achieved. A good A / B tool will tell you when the critical mass of data is collected to deliver a meaningful result.
After completing the test, you should delete as many variations as possible and use the content that has performed best in the tests. In addition, you must delete the alternate URLs and test scripts.
Finally, keep in mind that the search engine may interpret it as an attempt to deceive if the A / B test runs longer than necessary to disguise methods such as the cloaking discussed above. This is especially a problem if you show your page variations of a large number of visitors.
A / B testing is an essential conversion optimization tool and should be used from time to time to improve the performance of your web pages. I hope this article has given you some insight on what to look out for in your A / B tests so as not to lose any of your SERP ranking.
Basically, A / B testing should not adversely affect your SEO efforts if you follow the previous instructions. So do not be confused and best start by optimizing your website with A / B testing today. I would be very happy about inspiring comments.