No matter what type of business you run or website you’re managing, A/B testing is going to be crucial to success. This helps make sure that you have the best web design; the best landing pages, the best content, and so on so that you’re getting the best possible results from your audience. Not only is A/B testing important when you first get started with a new online initiative, but it’s important to continue to A/B test as your audience grows and evolves with trends in your industry or in the online space in general (a huge example: the mobile phenomenon).
Of course if you’re going to have a great A/B testing strategy in place, it’s important you keep your SEO in mind. This can be slightly different than just when you redesign your website because A/B testing can oftentimes be temporary. You haven’t yet decided to make a change—you’re just testing. This then leads to the question of SEO. Will it be affected?
A Quick Overview of A/B Testing
Once again, A/B testing is not a site redesign, which means everything mentioned in this article does not necessarily apply when thinking about your SEO during a test. When A/B testing, you’re creating different versions of a webpage and then serving one looking webpage (with it’s own URL) to half of your users and another looking webpage (again with it’s own URL) to the other half. You are then able to see which webpage produces the best results and therefore which webpage you should go with moving forward.
The changes on these two webpages can be incredibly small as well. For example, maybe you’re just testing a different placement for your CTA, or maybe your CTA is just a little bit different, or maybe you want to test a different color. It doesn’t always have to be a new webpage format entirely. To learn more about what A/B testing entails, visit here.
A/B Testing and How It Relates to Your SEO
The one thing that’s similar to a site redesign and an A/B test is that you want to keep the SEO you’ve built in tact. Fortunately, there are really only three major things to keep in mind and understand when it comes to A/B testing and the SEO implications:
This is easily the most important thing to remember when it comes to A/B testing. A 302 redirect lets search engine bots know that they came across a temporary page so they do not need to index the page or start flagging it for duplicate content. The redirect will redirect the bots to your “original” URL so there is no confusion.
This is more of a redirect for bots as opposed to your readers, but it can affect them as well. It’s important to keep in mind that sometimes your users may link to or bookmark a page that is associated with your temporary URL. A 301 redirect ensures that you’re still getting the proper link juice and credit for those links back to your original URL so that even when your temporary page leaves not all is lost.
Rel=”canonical” link attribute
This is an extra tag that you will want to put in place on all of the webpages you are testing. This ensures that Google will not index a test page and therefore you will not get flagged for duplicate content. It is essentially just another layer of protection alongside your 302 redirect.
This is also a tag that is used not only with a 302 redirect, but also a 301 redirect, which you can learn more about here. It is also used when you have a page with multiple URLs for tracking, filtering etc.
If you run your A/B tests too long Google may start to think that you mean for your temporary pages to be permanent pages or you forget to remove the 302 redirect. If a test is going on for more than 3 months, Google will want you to delete all of your pages and this may not be something you want to do. You therefore need to make sure your tests are last an appropriate amount of time so that you have control over the test and the webpages’ future.
According to a Performancing article, Google hasn’t actually talked about A/B testing and how it relates to SEO since 2009 when they said they encourage marketers to A/B test. Nonetheless, the article adds that it’s still “a great way to offer readers the best possible information in the best way, so not only is it something that won’t hurt your SEO, it’s something that will hopefully help it.” The sooner you can get started creating an A/B strategy the better—your SEO will be just fine if you follow a few of the tips mentioned above!