Using A/B Testing with SEO to Enhance Website Performance
By Michael Ferrari
| November 7, 2023| Advanced SEO
A website is a multi-functional tool. On the public-facing side, it needs to attract and inform your customers and then sell them your product or service. Behind the scenes, it needs to be optimized for search engines so that they show it to people who are searching for what you offer. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is how we do both. A/B testing is how we optimize a website most efficiently.
Understanding A/B Testing in SEO
A/B testing in SEO is a marketing approach that compares the performance of two different versions of a website or landing page.
We then track each version to see which performs better in search results and engagement. A/B testing can be found in print advertising, TV commercials, radio ads, and pretty much every marketing medium out there.
In website optimization, A/B testing takes careful planning and patience. The two versions of the page being tested are designed to capture the same audience, so they need to be different enough to measure performance but similar enough to attract the target customer. The way each word and graphic is placed on the page is deliberate.
The elements that stand out most to a digital audience are where we focus most of our testing:
- Calls to action (CTA)
- Headlines and section headers
- Button text
- Meta descriptions
The results of A/B testing are powerful. Side-by-side reports show the impact of each decision on user behavior. We then leverage that data to create a fully optimized final page that will perform well in search results and user conversions.
The Role of SEO in Website Performance
Search engines rank a high-quality website in search results based on keyword matches and user intent. But there’s more to it than that.
Users interact with the website to see if it meets their search goals. Search engines measure user behavior on the site to determine if it provides a good experience, then improve or reduce the site’s rank in future searches for the same keywords (another good reason to track your target keywords).
The idea behind SEO is that you’re providing quality content that brings users to your website and produces a good experience while they are there.
User experience can be measured by time spent on your page, navigation behavior, and interaction with site components. If your content is relevant to the people clicking on your site, it’s likely optimized and will improve search rankings.
How A/B Testing and SEO Work Together
A/B testing allows you to use real data to improve your site’s usability, which can influence how well it ranks.
When you run two versions of a landing page, the A/B testing platform (more on that in a minute) will show which elements of each version generate the most engagement. The best of both versions can then be applied to the final product – an optimized web page that holds a user’s attention and, considering its technical and content needs are met, moves to the top of the search engine results page (SERP).
What the A/B testing approach does in marketing is allow you to avoid guesses and gut instinct in favor of measurable data. Sometimes the most subtle copy shifts make all the difference in increased conversions on your site.
Steps to Integrate A/B Testing with SEO
As previously mentioned, A/B testing your site takes careful planning and execution. When you review your reports, you need to be able to isolate as many variables as possible.
Determine Your Tracking Tool. The easiest, most hassle-free way to set up an A/B test is to use an established A/B testing platform. AB Tasty, VWO, and Crazy Egg are just a few of the most popular platforms out there. The benefit of using a platform like this is that it’s easy to set up your A/B test and track, monitor, and decide on the results.
Start by identifying your goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). What do you want the page to say, what do you want the user experience, and what actions qualify as conversions on your website? Think more broadly than sales; sometimes, a conversion is submitting information into a form.
Set up A/B tests with your goals in mind. Once you establish a goal, you can track it within the A/B testing platform. As mentioned earlier, one of the best benefits of these tools is that they collect all the user data while the test is running, so you can constantly monitor it.
Implement the winning changes. Once you have a healthy data set, implement the best-performing keywords, phrasing, and page structure. Keep analyzing the data for additional adjustments, and continually monitor the site’s rankings. You’ll find new opportunities for improvement over time.
What is a simple A/B testing example? Write a header that mentions “Certified Professionals” and another that mentions “Qualified Professionals” to see which one gains more traction with users. Sometimes, it really is the difference between a few words!
Challenges and Considerations
As with anything, A/B testing comes with potential challenges and considerations. Below are just a few, but if you’re careful and operating above board, there shouldn’t be any major issues.
Webpage changes can impact SERP performance. When you launch the results of an A/B test or make changes to your site, you may see an initial dip in your rankings. This is part of the process, and we expect it to happen. Search engines need time to crawl and adjust the site updates in the index.
Beware of Cloaking. There is a risk of triggering a search engine’s filters with A/B testing, as the process can sometimes closely resemble cloaking—a big no-no in the SEO world. However, using a well-established A/B testing tool is an easy way around this, as search engines recognize them. If you are worried about it, this handy cloaking test tool can help you verify that you’re running things properly.
Listen to the data, not your gut. As mentioned earlier, A/B testing is a strategy, not a guessing game. Each set of tests needs to be consistently tracked and analyzed so that the final version of the webpage can be published.
Though A/B testing takes time, effort, and a lot of follow-up, the long-term return on investment is worthwhile. By integrating A/B testing techniques into the overall SEO strategy, we reduce uncertainties about page performance. Because we test the page elements, we know exactly what works and how to use it.
If A/B testing looks like a more efficient and surefire way to improve your website’s SEO, contact us to review your current data. Running A/B testing on your site is a more advanced marketing strategy than most business owners will invest their valuable time exploring. Pen Cap Online Marketing can partner with businesses to customize a A/B testing plan that produces measurable results.