A/B Testing and SEO
If you can measure it, you can improve it. This is the maxim of online testing. Testing increases your conversion rates. Split Testing or A/B Testing is the most simplest forms of testing which involves dividing visitors randomly into two groups and showing each a different version of your landing page, Call To Action (CTA) and sign-ups. The objective is to see which version performs better in terms of conversion, click through rate (CTR), lead generation etc.
How A/B Testing works?
The test is operated by creating two unique versions of the web page- one is your “control” webpage, while the other webpages have some sort of variable.
Each new webpage created will have its unique URL, so if someone wants to visit your webpage, A/B Testing tool redirects some of the people to the newly designed variant pages.
Since each webpage has a unique URL, it’s common to wonder: How will this affect your SEO? Will Google bots be able to follow different versions of the same webpage?
SEO and A/B Testing Implications -
Luckily, there are a few ways to make sure that your website’s SEO doesn’t get affected while performing A/B Testing.
No Cloaking - What if you set things up for Google bot to always see your original content page? That’s cloaking. Never show crawlers what humans are not seing on your website. Webmasters cannot crew things up any more than distinguishing which test variant is seen, according to user agent. Some of the webmasters even make sure that Google bot sees only their original content, which we know is not permissible. Doing so, will get your site removed from SEO result page.
Use 302s redirects and not 301s redirects - 302 is basically a temporary redirect so it can be used to allow search engine bots know that the page they have found is only temporary and this arrangement is in place only as long as the test is running. This, in turn keeps your original URL in their index as opposed to your temporary pages. Redirects based on Java scripting also works well.
Use rel= “canonical”- The page that has the rel=canonical tag situated within the header of a web page will instruct the search engines what page is the original source. With this, you make clear to the search engines that you are performing a test and that all test URL’s are just variation of the original URL.
Set your control page URL as the canonical and group other variations to be treated accordingly by the Google bots.
Keep your test run within a limited period of time - Time is an important factor to consider while running an A/B Test. It is always recommended to shut down the test after a few months otherwise Google might ask you to close all your alternate web pages and remove all the elements of test as soon as possible. In case there is a single variation page, you are serving your users with, that’s the web page Google would like to keep it.
Following the above mentioned suggestions ensures that your SEO will remain intact even during the website’s testing period.