Anyone who has tried their hand at website SEO knows that it is an endless process of trial and error. While we can try to understand the algorithm by reading on vitals and metrics, we won’t know how well our changes will perform until they are already in place.
This is the only real way to test our SEO strategy before finalizing any changes. However, making changes and checking out their performance can be done in a more strategic manner.
In a nutshell—the game of ‘Poke the Bear’ is one that most SEO professionals have played with search engines. But doing this with wild abandon (or little planning, really), is like signing a death sentence for your rankings.
If you are looking to play it smart with your website revisions, read on!
3 Reasons To Do A/B Testing (And 3 Tips To Do It Well)
It’s as easy as ABC
More specifically, A/B testing. Experimenting with your SEO strategy without putting a method to the madness can feel like a lot like walking in the dark. Employing A/B testing into your SEO strategy can allow you to make smarter, more informed choices when evaluating how these changes are affecting your website performance.
What exactly is A/B Testing?
If you have been working as an SEO professional for a while, you would know that A/B testing is hardly a new concept.
For the benefit of newbies to the industry, however, the A/B test is a process in which all of the website traffic is directed to a specific page or another page type.
Half of the users will be served the regular page experience, while the other half of users will receive a modified page experience—containing the revisions you plan to implement on your site. Site A with no changes is your control specimen, while Site B, is your test specimen.
This method will allow you to take controlled risks that test the performance of your planned changes versus your old website.
The revisions you make can range from minor changes like visual elements, for example, banners at the top of the page, to major changes like the total overhaul of the intended user journey, such as a checkout flow or maybe a newsletter subscription.
Once you create your test site with these revised elements, you can then review its performance and decide if you would like to implement these changes permanently.
If the results were lower than your control site, you can continue to run A/B testing with other builds and optimizations before you finally find the right one that improves user conversion and metrics.
Now that you have a better understanding of what A/B Testing is, find out why you should give it a shot and discover practical tips for conducting successful A/B testing for your own website!
Reason #1 – Systematic Testing
One of the most overwhelming things about running tests is not really knowing where to start.
By following the A/B testing method, you can create plans for which changes you want to test out and systematically test them against your control specimen. In this manner, you can review what worked and what didn’t for each of the different test sites before deciding on what changes you would like to implement permanently.
This way, you avoid running the risk of making changes blindly.
Reason #2 – Calculated Risk
Making changes to your website in its entirety is an unwise decision that puts valuable traffic at risk. Instead of running the risk of losing that traffic, implementing an A/B testing method allows you to retain half of the traffic from your current website knowing that it works for you.
All while taking a calculated risk with the other half of users visiting your page, as they will be encountering the test site.
Whatever lost traffic you will take from that test specimen will at least be calculated and predictable.
Reason #3 – In-Depth Insights
When running A/B tests, one of the most valuable things you stand to gain from the process is in-depth consumer insights.
By running tests with this model, you can begin to isolate specific triggers that motivate your users to complete a purchase or navigate your website.
Once you single these triggers out, you can then use them as a basis for your succeeding test sites.
Eventually, collecting these insights will allow you to create a final test site with a build that integrates all of the triggers from user insights—a build that you can choose to implement permanently.
Now that you know what benefits you stand to get from implementing A/B testing, here are three actionable tips that you can do to run your A/B tests successfully.
Tip #1 – Do not make your control site and your test site too different visually
Making your two sites too different visually can make things difficult for you, users, and the search engines crawling your site. Your users may have difficulty even reaching your website if Google’s crawlers deem the two test sites too different and see it as an attempt to manipulate or game the searches. This can cause some serious damage to your rankings, and at worst? It can cause Google to ban your website entirely.
Even if your test sites are recognized and included in the algorithm, drastic differences can make it too difficult for you and your team to effectively analyze your insights. If the changes are too drastic, it may prove difficult to single out specific motivation triggers and factors that are vital to creating better test sites. These insights are too important to pass up because they will eventually lead you to a permanent and effective build that you want to move forward with.
Remember that even small changes like a different call to action can change the way that users interact with your website. In this case, less is definitely more!
Tip #2 – Brush up on search engine rules on A/B testing
Google not only allows A/B testing—it encourages it, especially if it improves the overall user experience. This comprehensive blog post by Google relays their rules on the matter, as well as a handy selection of different definitions and recommendations that help to minimize the damage that your experiment will cause to your rankings.
If you are new to the concept of A/B testing, Google even has its very own A/B testing tool called Google Optimize to run and manage your experiment. With Google Optimize, you can create multiple ‘Variant’ pages that can run against your control page. The tool also allows you to collect insights from these variants.
Tip #3 – Go into testing with a plan of action
Remember that testing willy-nilly can cost you major consequences in ranking. Examine your current website and meet with your team to go over a plan of action.
During this time, set specific goals that you want this experiment to accomplish.
Do you want more newsletter subscriptions? More traffic? More cart checkouts? These goals are what you will build your test sites around.
You can then plan a timetable for your experiment. When do you plan to launch it and how long do you plan to run it?
Remember that a testing period should only run as long as needed. It takes time for websites to be crawled, and the testing phase alone can put some traffic at risk.
This way, you can set a pace and a number of allowable test sites that you and your team will work on and test for their performance.
Now that you know why A/B testing is a useful and necessary process, put these tips to good use and plan out your own experiment. Each test build has the potential for greater performance, so put on your thinking caps and create a game plan that will serve users better and make your clients happier!
Marc Bartolome is a strategist and enabler of hundreds of successful digital marketing campaigns in SEO Services Australia. Always looking out for the little guys, he specialises in helping SMEs create a bigger impact online – which is why he writes blog posts like this.