A/B testing is massively overlooked in the SEO world. Most teams are too busy pumping out content or chasing new keywords that A/B testing is seldom included in their SEO strategy.
But A/B testing (aka, split testing) may be one of the best ways to tap into Google’s mind. By experimenting with various rankings factors one at a time, you can collect evidence to support (or disprove) existing theories and more easily see what moves the needle.
SEO, after all, isn’t simply a matter of following a list of prescriptive rules. It is, rather, an evolving science—one that can’t be cracked without constant experimentation.
How do you A/B test in SEO?
If you’ve ever managed a Google Ad campaign, then you’ve likely A/B tested various keywords, headlines, and other components of your ad or landing page to see what leads to a higher conversion.
A/B testing in SEO is similar in that it entails strategically testing components of your webpage. Just like your ad campaign, you could test everything from the copy that appears in SERPs to the content on your landing page. The end goal is to see what has the most impact on your SEO Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), like clicks, impressions, click-through rate (CTR), and conversions.
A/B testing for SEO vs. PPC
With the above said, there are some key differences between split testing for SEO versus split testing for PPC:
- SEO requires more time between tests. After you make a change to your webpage, you’ll have to give search engines time to re-crawl your page, evaluate, and rank them. Unlike in PPC, where you can adjust your search terms and immediately see changes in traffic, SEO requires several weeks to several months for rankings (and any resulting uptick in traffic) to sink in.
- You split pages, not audiences. When you run an A/B test on your ad campaign, you typically split your audience into two groups: 50% of your audience will see Version A of your ad or landing page, while the other 50% sees Version B. However, when running an A/B test for SEO, you divide a stack of similar pages (e.g., all /blog pages) into one control group and one variant group. This is because you can’t simply duplicate your pages and ask Google to send 50% of traffic to one version but not the other—plus you want to avoid duplicate content issues.
- SEO A/B testing works best on large sites. Because SEO A/B testing requires you to split pages, this type of experimentation only really works on large sites with multiple pages that use the same template and earn lots of traffic. At RankScience, we typically run tests on sites that have at least 100 similar pages, such as 100 product pages, 100 review pages, or 100 blog posts.
Benefits of SEO A/B testing
It’s worth mentioning that testing your SEO strategy has more than one benefit. Aside from potentially raising your rankings, A/B testing can help you to…
- Improve the user experience. SEO best practices are intended to improve a person’s experience with your site. For instance, a tweak to your page layout could result in a well-organized, easy-to-read page. This could ultimately lead to better site engagement and—quite possibly—more conversions.
- Minimize risks when making UX or SEO changes. A/B testing offers some protection against experiments-gone-wrong. Instead of rolling out a change to your whole site at once, you limit your changes to a select number of pages. This contains the amount of damage done to your site if your test doesn’t pan out as hoped, and allows you to recoup performance levels faster.
- Justify investments in key opportunities. A/B tests are a great way to put new theories to the test—and if you’re able to show positive returns, you could more easily rally your team and resources to take further action.
7 SEO-based A/B tests to try
So, where is the best place to start? There are tons of different experiments you could run, depending on the issue or goal you’re trying to achieve. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Title tags
Title tags are your first line of defense. They’re the organic equivalent of Google Ad headlines—or the first piece of copy people will see on your SERP. It therefore benefits you to test new variations of title tags if your current ones aren’t receiving a lot of love (e.g., you’re ranking high on SERPs, but not receiving clicks to your page).
Test different variations of your title, asking yourself, is there a certain phrase that works best? Does word placement in the title tag matter? Or is there a call-to-action that is more effective?
In a recent experiment with Coderwall, an online community for developers, we tested a simple tweak to the title format. By simply adding “(Example)” to the title of roughly 10,000 site pages, we saw a 14.8% increase in clicks and a 59% increase in site traffic over the course of a few months. View the full Coderwall case study.
2. Meta descriptions
Meta descriptions are similar to your Google Ad descriptions. They support your title tag with more context and detail that helps to draw your user in. Note: you should test your meta description separately from your title tag so you can more accurately attribute any positive or negative impacts.
When testing your meta description, try emphasizing your unique value proposition or using punchier text. You could also test various CTAs within your description to see what yields a higher CTR.
3. H1 headers
The H1 header tag is often used for the first headline of your page. Or, if you own an ecommerce site, then the H1 is likely used for the product name on your product pages or the title for your category pages.
The H1 has multiple purposes: it engages your reader while also helping Google to understand the contents of your page. (On some occasions, Google may even use your H1 to auto-generate title tags on your behalf.)
Make sure your H1 tag accurately represents what’s included on the rest of your page. Try testing more creative copy to improve user engagement and reduce bounce-offs. Or, try using a different variation of your keyword to see if that helps with readability and, possibly, rankings.
4. URL structure
You’ve likely heard that Google prefers shorter URLs. While there is no concrete URL length to target, de-cluttering your URLs could help with site navigation and the appearance of your search snippets. Searchers may additionally trust simpler, cleaner URLs over complex ones.
For this reason, it’s worthwhile to strip out unnecessary words (like “the” or “an”) from your URLs and make them more concise. Prioritize readability and focus on the main subject/keyword of your page in your URL. See if improving the structure of your URL helps with clicks from SERPs or organic visibility.
5. Rich media
Think about the last time you clicked onto a blog or product pages. What did you see? You were likely met with colorful imagery, charts, or other helpful media—not just a wall of text.
Similarly, a first-page worthy page knows how to use media thoughtfully. When A/B testing media on your page, swap out your images or experiment with more images (as an example) and see how that impacts user engagement. Test new button styles, user-generated content, size charts, and more.
By enriching your content, you could see a number of benefits: longer time on page, lower bounce rate, higher conversions, more social shares of your page, and/or more organic backlinks.
6. Content depth
Google tends to stifle thin content from SERPs, though it’s a common SEO myth to say that every page needs to include 2,000 words or more. The ideal length of your page could vary depending on your topic and objective. But more importantly, you shouldn’t prioritize a specific word count over simply having in-depth content.
To that end, you could systematically test how much more information you should provide on certain types of pages. For instance, if you have hundreds of product pages that only feature a small blurb and several bullet points about your product, then try adding full paragraphs or new sections of information to your page.
If done well, this should improve everything from your user experience to conversions, and content relevance to rankability.
7. Page copy
It goes without saying that your page should be detailed and thoughtfully written. However, if visibility or engagement is low on your page, you’ll want to try tweaking the vocabulary, angle, or tone of your copy to better resonate with your target audience.
Furthermore, using a tool like ContentEdge, you can analyze your page for reading level and natural language. ContentEdge will show your related terms to include within your content to improve its relevance—though you should always seek to consult a subject matter expert if you yourself aren’t familiar with the topic at hand. Speak on what you know and you’ll have an easier time appealing to search engines and readers alike.
Read More: NLP and SEO: Everything You Need to Know
Other SEO A/B testing FAQs
How do I know which version of my test is successful?
Determining which version of your A/B test is successful involves data analysis and statistical significance. This is why using an A/B testing tool is vital to the success of your experiments. At RankScience, we use ContentEdge and our own A/B testing tool to take the guesswork out of determining which A/B tests are winners. Our platform uses a 95% confidence interval to determine a winning variation among a stack of pages. This way, you can accurately and strategically make decisions about SEO changes that will make the most positive impact on your KPIs.
When do I stop testing?
The short answer? Never! Not only is Google always changing its algorithm, but your customers also changing too! That is why you want to constantly test your pages in order to stay ahead of the curve and ensure that you are always looking for new ways to boost your metrics and sales—and to ultimately make your customers happy.
The bottom line: test relentlessly
There’s a never-ending queue of experiments you could run when it comes to SEO. Algorithms and people are always changing—the worst thing you can do is get too comfortable with rote habits.
Keep an eye on new SEO recommendations. Jot your questions down. Test your hypotheses. And if you ever need help, tap our team. Schedule a demo with us any time and see how we can help you to plan your next A/B testing plan.