How to A/B Split-Test Your SEO

SEO A/B Testing

Table of Contents

Tell me if this sounds familiar… You are spending a lot of time or money writing blogs. Every time you look at your traffic report, it’s the same thing…some multiples of zero for your real-time traffic, your page views are in 100s, and you are at the mercy of spending ad dollars to keep your page views in hundreds. OR You are writing blogs and have some success, but you don’t know how to describe your success. Because you don’t really know where that success came from or how to replicate it for your future content. OR Your blog traffic has been riding on a straight line constantly for a long time, and there is no visible or incoming incline on that traffic graph. We all been there, and as I was writing this, I could still feel the pain I felt back then. So I’m sure it’s the same for you too. Whether you are writing professionally for your personal blog (just like yours truly) … or whether you are writing for a business, at some point, you start to wonder what I can do better? How can I understand my successes better? How can I double or triple my organic growth? You search for solutions online and see SEO marketers, Youtubers, and other bloggers sharing their Google Analytics pages, showing amazing results, and creating more confusion. So, what is the problem here? The problem majority of us face at the very beginning or after a while of blogging is that we simply track our success back to the origin. In some cases, we might look at the metric and say, “People like learning about trends and Social Media…So I’m going to write about TikTok,” and we just ride that train until we can’t ride it anymore. How scalable can that be? Not so much. You either run out of content or run out of fuel at some point. So, I’m here to help you identify other ways to make your blog initiative successful. By the way…you can apply this in all your creative content. But that is a story for another day.  One thing I will promise you now… I promise my solution doesn’t involve you being patient. Don’t get me wrong, patience is very important but let’s first learn how to plant the seeds right and then exercise our patience. I’m here to discuss split testing with you as a solution to:
  1. Understand your SEO success and replicate it across other parts of your content strategy
  2. Increase your organic traffic, engagement, and conversion 
I will explain:
  1. What is A/B Testing?
  2. How to Perform A/B Testing
  3. When Do You Need to A/B Test?
  4. How to Run a Split Test?
  5. Challenges to Look Out for While Split Testing SEO
Before diving in… Why do you think SEO split testing is relevant and essential for you, especially in 2022? As I explained in my digital transformation series, we are moving towards a significant transition in content strategy. Content in a traditional format is not going to work in the future. Instead, it will be all about telling the right story to the right audience in the most engaging way. Organic traffic will go above and beyond just getting the users through your doors. It will be about getting them through the right door and telling them the right story once they stop by. Product marketing will no longer be about forming differentiation bullet points, product features, and classifications and calling it a day. Instead, it is about humanizing your brand, inspiring your customers to use your products, and teaching them how to be your advocates. You can achieve some of that by looking at data. Part of it will be to also understand every aspect of user connection with your stories. That is where the A/B testing comes in. Are you still with me? Let’s dive in…

What is A/B Testing?

Simple version, A/B testing is a form of testing a hypothesis around single or multiple modifiers and showing it to different groups of randomized audiences to see which one performs better. Statistical SEO split-testing involves:
  • Get the pages with similar goals and intent on your website.
  • Dividing them into two groups.
  • Presenting them to the test and control group.
Once changes are made and given to the two groups, monitor the single or multiple changes’ impact on the SEO and organic traffic.

How to Perform A/B Testing?

To perform an A/B test, you have to select your subject first and create two different versions. Then, in simplest form, you can focus on one change between the two versions and see which performs better when put in front of an audience. And it can be as simple as changing the color on the web page or as complex as a complete website change. The two versions are then put in front of the test and control group, 50% looking at the original version and the other 50% looking at the modified version of the test variant. Once the test is done, you can identify the performance between the two versions by analyzing the data gathered.

When Do You Need to A/B Test?

Depending on what you are split testing, the effort and the cadence will differ. Something like a mobile application will require a constant split testing process. Same with e-commerce websites that rely heavily on increasing traffic, improving UX/UI to constantly improve their sales and revenue. In B2B space, the split testing effort can be different. It will depend heavily on your goals. A/B testing can be an effective way to find and troubleshoot pain points around the website and the user funnels. For example, identify where your users are dropping the most in the sales funnel and fix it. Other ways to use A/B testing in this space are changing your CTAs, content, or even the navigation on the website. Possibilities are endless… However, what you choose should be aligned with a goal. In general, an app can be tested for any content or aspect of the web page. Some of the examples that come to mind:
  1. Your headline and subheading
  2. Content
  3. Google Ads or Paid Advertisement Wording
  4. Subject lines
  5. Call-to-action and placement of it on the page
  6. Navigation
  7. Offer
  8. Color and design

How to Run a Split Test?

There are two ways of split testing: a standard split test and SEO split testing. Think of the standard split-test as the traditional split testing. This form has been around for a long time and is being used by marketers to test out multiple variations of a test subject and gain user feedback on its ease of use. As the online environment changed and things became more complex, and personalization became a requirement; the form of split testing also changed with it to become more sophisticated than before. As a result, some companies started offering split testing as an additional service or part of their website package. Two that come to mind are Optimizely and Adobe. These two companies use scripts to split the traffic into test and control groups to present the variations and capture data. These testing methods include multivariate testing, user testing, and SEO testing. The aim is to increase organic traffic and optimize the web pages for maximized conversion. In SEO split-testing, variations of the hypothesis are being tested with the difference that the test should be conducted in a way that can be crawlable and indexable by the search engines. Now on to how to perform an SEO split test… There are several steps to doing so:
  1. Identify your hypothesis—Find out what you are willing to test on your website. What is your hypothesis? For example, your hypothesis can be, “I can expect a higher traffic to my blog pages if I create an article type schema.”
  2. Group all the pages that are statistically similar to the hypothesis on—Once you decide what your hypothesis is, select the page you would like to test this hypothesis on. Is it something like changing the title tag or metadata? Is it more towards content? Product Pages? Categories? In this case, you chose your hypothesis to run on the blog page. From here, you group all your blog pages and put them in test and control groups.
  3. Implementation of the test element across the pages—Implement the test on the page(s) that you selected that are statistically similar in nature and can be tested for your hypothesis.
  4. Review the results—Review your KPIs. Monitor your results and determine if there were any positive changes in ranking and traffic in your test group compared to the control group.
  5. Pull back from the test to make improvement—If you receive positive results, begin applying the changes to the rest of your content or the pages. If you receive negative results, pull back and change the hypothesis.
  6. Repeat the cycle—Continue testing until you identify points that positively change the traffic and conversion on your website.
I referred to the test subject as “page,” not content. Since the test can run both on the content of the body and the actual pages, I want to explain the split test at a high level but remember that possibilities are endless with split testing. More you focus on the architecture of your site, the pages, and more technical aspects of the website, heavier development might be required, and you will need more justification to include that in your website efforts. Content is easier to start your split testing because it is more directly aligned with the audience’s intent to visit.

Challenges to Look Out for While Split Testing SEO

Remember earlier I said that you should be selective about what you choose to perform a split test on? Historically, 1 out of every 8 SEO split tests yields acceptable results. It is not a guarantee to always get the right results from the split test. And…In my opinion, that is the beauty of it. You want to learn, make mistakes, and improve your marketing initiatives through trial and error. To me, templatizing literally EVERYTHING about digital marketing is just wrong. Today something works that tomorrow might not anymore. Algorithms might change the expectations. External factors might change user behavior. So constant pivot, constant learning, and constantly changing are essential in all aspects of digital marketing. I digressed… What are the constraints here?
  1. Choosing the wrong test subject—A/B testing requires additional effort from all the creative teams. It is a waste of time and the resource to test things that really don\’t impact your conversion. Instead, put the majority of the focus on high-traffic web pages or those that have a direct impact on your hard KPIs.
  2. Overcomplication of the test—I previously mentioned that testing multiple things at once is a possibility. However, overcomplicating things to the point that you can\’t keep track of your test subjects will not yield positive results. There is a way for running a multivariate A/B test that we will get into in future articles.
  3. Choose your audience wisely—The split test will require a great sample size audience. Otherwise, the sample population will not be a great representation of the entire population. Also, the sample must be randomized; otherwise, it will skew your data and not yield an effective result.

Take Away

SEO testing can be very easy and very complicated. However, it is important to implement that into your marketing strategy. Why? There is something to suggest change based on a theory. There is another to make changes that are statistically proven to positively change the outcome of your initiative with a 90%+ confidence level. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is very important to any digital marketing strategy. Continuous testing will help you understand your strength and weaknesses. Split testing, in general, requires a lot of time, effort, and resources. Start small and see what yields back. Then, invest your return into making additional improvements and experience more growth.

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