What impact does experimentation have on your SEO ranking?

Optimising your website is essential to attract the right visitors, create lifelong customers, and guarantee them a positive experience.

This much, we already know.

But, often, there are questions about how this works with SEO and whether Website Optimisation can damage your SEO rankings. During a test, as we are changing content, there can be some concern that this will affect Google rankings as you could be displaying different things.

The main thing to remember is that Google encourages AB testing and believes that performing any sort of test poses no inherent risk to your website’s search rank. However, this is only the case as long as you avoid certain things and abide by the rules that Google itself suggests so that its algorithms do not penalise your website. There are also certain things our experts know to avoid or incorporate so you can get the best results from both your SEO and optimisation efforts. Below, we will explain how you can limit the effect of AB Testing on your rankings and how pages are indexed, allowing you to focus on SEO to drive visitors to your site – and experimentation to get them to convert.

Is it all about mitigation?

No, there are very clear benefits to CRO, and how they can work hand-in-hand to improve your SEO output.

Consider what makes a page successful in Google’s eyes – we have two categories. One is the traffic that comes to the website, including where they come from – this speaks to its popularity and authority. The other is focused on what people do once they reach the website – do they immediately leave and go somewhere else, or do they continue to stay with the page, use it, and get value from it – this speaks to its usability.

Google aims to get people to the right website as quickly as possible, not to send users through 50 websites before they get an answer.

The goal of CRO, and the biggest opportunity to work in tandem with SEO and paid activity too, is to make the experience more user-friendly, useful and relevant to everyone who comes to the website. Doing so will undoubtedly improve your SEO scores/ranking, not hurt them.

What rules do I need to follow to avoid AB Tests hurting my SEO?

As mentioned above, there are some ‘rules’ to be followed to ensure that Google knows you have the best intentions when optimising your website. It’s important to remember that Google rewards usability, and they share the same goal in that they want your content to be discoverable, accessible, and easy to understand. The main purpose of the below steps is to ensure you are making this clear to Google, so they know that your intentions are good. For example:

No Cloaking

This essentially means you should not use an experimentation tool to change the spirit of the page. Google themselves had an optimisation tool (Google Optimize) up until recently and are pro testing. They said, ‘Optimizing your web pages benefits site owners as well as users by increasing conversions and by presenting the most desired information more efficiently.’ This shows that they are aware of the positive impact that testing can have, and as their main purpose is making the right content available to people who want to see it, as long as the variation you are testing not substantially different in scope and content, then you will be fine.

Site Speed

Site speed is a factor that Google evaluates for its search ranking. So, when you are changing elements of your website, as long deploying an experimentation tool does not drastically change the loading speed of your page, your rankings should not be impacted.

This has been a challenge with experimentation platforms, but the introduction of Core Web Vitals helps provide some focus here. Site speed, or Performance in general, focuses on metrics like Cumulative Layout Shift – how much does the page jump around during the loading process.

Where some platforms experience poor content-flickering as experiments load in, Webtrends Optimize has a solid strategy for masking that has been known to reduce CLS to almost-0, improving it for websites in some cases.

Ensuring your tests load in without flicker or any jumpy behaviour is critical to maintaining good performance scores, and thus not hurting your SEO efforts.

Running a long experiment

Google looks at a variety of signals when judging your web pages. This includes the raw HTML of the page, anything it can scrape, and also data collected from all browsing users.

Over a short-term, it’s this variety of input that helps ensure one AB test is unlikely to hurt your indexing of content or rankings. However, having long-running experiments (optimals) served through the platform can and will, over time, show itself to Google as the default website and therefore should be indexed.

Best practice is to update your website with the winning variation’s content/functionality as early as possible and remove the experience from your testing platform. This, of course, is on the assumption that your website delivers better performance for building a web page than the “modified” version assembled by the AB Testing tool.

Content Duplications

The original content you have on your site plays a big part in determining a web-page’s organic rankings. Therefore, it is important to keep this content on-site instead of replacing it with fully dynamically generated content.

Experimentation is the best thing to do in conjunction with SEO

The important thing to remember is that testing/experimentation shouldn’t impact SEO as long as you do it properly.

In fact, website optimisation is the natural partner to SEO.

The idea of SEO is to improve your website to increase its visibility in Google (and other search engines). You want your site to be easy to find and be explored by potential customers in search engines. This helps more users to discover your content and products.

The trend in SEO for some time has been for search engines to be more in tune with delivering what people are looking for, rewarding sites that provide information that keeps users on the page (and site) for a good period of time, indicating they found what they were looking for.

Rewarding quality, engaging content, that is well presented and provides a good user experience (UX) is to the benefit of everyone. Long gone are the days of tricks like spamming keywords and the like. It’s not sustainable and it’s not what the user wants. Experimentation tools like Webtrends Optimize, are there for they very purpose of optimising the content on your website, to provide the best experience for your users when they get there.

Be that testing and/or personalising different experiences, using customer engagement tools like hello bars and exit intent messaging to talk to your visitors, or providing other similar content or products using social proofing or recommendations engines.

Therefore, the two disciplines should complement each other and work together to improve your user experience and goals of your website – be it sales, form fills, providing information, whatever.

Utilising these simple best practices above in your experimentation programme will ensure you are not penalised, and Google and the other search engines are aware of what you are trying to achieve.

If you would like to learn more about how you can partner CRO and SEO to get the most out of your digital strategy, get in touch to speak to one of the team.