SEO-Aware Split Testing
Often, marketers want to create several variations on content for a particular URL in the interest of observ-
ing which one converts the best. It is typically an ongoing optimization process, and many different varia-
tions may be served over time to that end. This is called
The problem with split testing is that, if it isn’t implemented correctly, it may result in complex prob-
lems. When implementing changes on a page, there are actually three important effects to analyze:
The variation of the performance of the page in search results.
The variation in the page CTR.
The variation in the conversion rate for visitors that land on your page (the primary purpose of
You don’t necessarily want to sacrifice CTR or rankings for higher conversion rates. But if you do split
testing, it’s good to be aware of these possible consequences.
This complicates matters, because it introduces other factors into the performance equation. For example,
if a page converts
as well, but doesn’t rank at all, it may be a net loss for a web site that is driven by
organic search. Therefore, you must consider search engine optimization principles when making any
changes for split testing.
Ideally, all changes would be purely aesthetic. In most cases doing so would not affect the rankings or
CTR of the page — which would make it easier to analyze your results. If the changes are more profound,
such as changing the on-page content, the page search engine rankings can be influenced, and this must
also be taken into consideration as a performance factor.
One method employed to collect data for split testing is to randomly show page A or page B and track
conversion rates for each. Unfortunately, when done incorrectly, this practice can confuse search engines or
raise red flags. This is the other problem with split testing. At worst, implementing this will be perceived as
spamming and/or cloaking.
There are three different approaches to implement split testing:
Redirect requests for a page to other pages with variations randomly
Use internal program logic to display the variations randomly
Implement temporal split testing
The first two methods are similar in that they randomly display variations of a page. However, redirects
are not ideal in this situation because they may confuse search engines, and they should be avoided. There
fore, we recommend using internal program logic. This is consistent with Matt Cutts’ recommendation in
That implies some light programming. For example, if you have five versions of a web page,
, you can use
to display its variations, like this:
$id = rand(1,5);
include(‘page’ . $id . ‘.php’);
// performance tracking code here
Chapter 13: Coping with Technical Issues
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