August 16, 2012
Every website wants to attract the attention of readers, but it’s tough to know what readers prefer. You might have two different ideas about what your landing page should look like or think a certain type of content works better than another, and the decision should really be made based upon what your audience prefers. This is where A/B testing comes into play.
For those who are unfamiliar, A/B testing is a way to test different approaches and strategies to your website. Once you get the results, you’ll be able to see which method is more appealing to your readers; thus helping you know which choice will help you increase traffic to your site.
How A/B Testing Works
So how does the actual testing work? You run the test by creating different versions of the webpage you want to test—one is your control webpage, while the other webpages have some sort of variable.
Companies use A/B testing software such as Optimizely, Visual Website Optimizer, or Google Website Optimizer in order to complete an A/B test. Each webpage will have its own URL, so when someone wants to visit your webpage the software will redirect some of these people to the pages with the variable. A company can then decide which webpage was more successful based on things like time on site and activity.
Because each webpage will have a different URL, it’s common to wonder: How will this affect my SEO? Will Google bots be able to follow different versions of the same webpage?
A/B Testing and the SEO Implications
Fortunately, there are ways to make sure that when A/B testing your SEO won’t be affected. Below are a few suggestions Google offers for those worried about testing and SEO:
Using this link will let Google bots know that your original URL is the URL that you want them to follow. In other words, use this link on all of the webpages you’re testing, not on the control pages. Google explained that this is better than using a noindex Meta tag, which can sometimes cause problems and confuse search engine bots.
A 302 redirect is a temporary redirect. By putting this in place, you’re letting search engine bots know that the page they have found is only temporary; thus putting them back on the track of your original URL. This will keep your original URL in their index as opposed to your temporary pages.
This is true when uploading an article or performing a test. Do not think that you can trick a bot into following a certain webpage and trick users into following another. This is against the Google Webmaster Guidelines and Google has systems in place to catch websites for cloaking. If you’re caught, your site could be severely penalized.
There is no telling how long your A/B test will take, but the vast majority should not last over more than a few months. If Google catches that you have been running a “test” longer than you need to, they might intervene and ask you to shut down your alternate webpages. If there is one webpages that you’re serving to your users, that’s the webpage Google will want to keep.
Following one or all of the above suggestions should ensure that your SEO will remain in tact even during your testing period. Google has even mentioned that your SEO might not be tampered with even if you weren’t to take any of the above measures (but it’s good to eliminate any risk!).
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