I am signed up for tens of email lists from leading SEO professionals and online marketers. I do my best to read the majority of the content that lands in my inbox, or certainly the ones that are most relevant to my role as Head of SEO.
Whilst some of the emails that land in my inbox can get skimmed over, one that never fails to catch my attention is the Search Pilot weekly email from Will Critchlow. This particular email is a weekly split test, showcasing some really important SEO elements that we should all be testing to improve our performance.
It starts with a quiz which is conducted on LinkedIn where they ask their followers what they think will be the outcome of testing a specific action. It’s always interesting to see how people in the industry think something is going to turn out vs what actually happens.
A member of the team then writes up a more in-depth blog post to show what was tested and what the outcomes were. It’s a great way to learn more about this crucial SEO tactic and one that prompted me to write this post for people wanting to learn more about SEO split testing.
So here goes.
In the ever-evolving world of digital marketing, staying ahead of the competition is crucial.
When it comes to SEO, there is a game-changer that can take your website’s performance to new heights: split testing.
This powerful technique has become an important tool in the online landscape.
Split testing allows marketers to compare different versions of a webpage to determine which one performs better. By testing variables such as headlines, call-to-action buttons, and layout designs, you can make data-driven decisions that optimise your website’s conversion rates and search engine rankings.
In this post, we will explore the benefits of split testing and how it can have a significant impact on your SEO strategy.
What is split testing?
Split testing, also known as A/B testing or multivariate testing, is a method used to compare two or more versions of a webpage to determine which one performs better in terms of conversion rates, click-through rates, or other key performance indicators.
This technique involves dividing your website’s traffic into different groups and showing each group a different version of the webpage. By analysing the results, you can identify the version that yields the best results and make data-driven decisions to optimise your website’s performance.
Split testing allows you to test various elements of your webpage, such as headlines, images, colours, call-to-action buttons, and layout designs. By making small changes to these elements and measuring their impact on user behaviour, you can uncover valuable insights that can significantly improve your website’s conversion rates and search engine rankings.
The importance of split testing in SEO
In the competitive world of SEO, every small advantage counts. Split testing plays a crucial role in optimising your website for search engines. By testing different versions of your webpage, you can identify the elements that have the most significant impact on your search engine rankings. This information allows you to make informed decisions about optimising your website’s content and structure to improve its visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Whilst you might choose to conduct a specific test on a specific page, often, the findings of that test can be applied to pages across your website.
For example, split testing can help you identify the most effective headlines, meta descriptions, and content formats that resonate with your target audience and attract more organic traffic.
It can also help you understand how different design elements, such as the placement of call-to-action buttons or the use of images, affect user engagement and conversion rates.
By continuously testing and refining these elements, you can create a website that is not only visually appealing but also optimised for search engines.
How split testing works
Split testing involves a systematic process that allows you to compare different versions of your webpage and measure their performance. Here’s how it works:
- Identify the variable to test: Start by identifying the element or elements you want to test. This could be anything from the headline, colour scheme, or layout design to the placement of call-to-action buttons.
- Create different versions: Create multiple versions of your webpage, each with a different variation of the element you want to test. For example, if you want to test different headlines, create multiple versions of your webpage with each version featuring a different headline. It’s often best to compare just one thing at once, otherwise, it becomes tricky to understand exactly which change performed best.
- Measure and track: Monitor the performance of each version of your webpage by tracking key metrics, such as conversion rates, click-through rates, or time on page. This data will help you determine which version is performing better. You should determine what you want to measure before conducting the test so you are clear on the outcome.
- Analyse the results: Once you have collected enough data, analyse the results to identify the version that yields the best performance. Look for statistically significant differences between the versions to ensure that the results are reliable. To ensure that something is statistically significant, you will need to run the test for a certain period of time or attract a certain number of visitors. For sites with low traffic volumes, split testing can be tricky to determine a statistically significant result.
- Implement the winning version: Based on the results of your split test, implement the winning version of your webpage. This could involve making changes to your website’s design, content, or structure to optimise its performance. If you tested something that can be rolled out to other pages, you should be able to do so confidently based on the results of your test.
- Repeat the process: Split testing is an ongoing process. As you make changes to your website or introduce new elements, continue to test and refine your pages to ensure that you are always optimising for the best possible results.
By following this process, you can make data-driven decisions that have a significant impact on your website’s performance and SEO.
Types of split tests for SEO
When it comes to split testing for SEO, there are various types of tests you can perform to optimise your website. Here are some common types of split tests:
Test different headlines to determine which one attracts more clicks and improves your website’s click-through rate. Consider testing variations in length, tone, and format to find the most effective headline for your target audience. This can be applied at page title level or H1 tag level depending on what you are looking to uncover with your test.
Another common test is to try changing the other headings on a page including H2 and H3 tags for example. You can read more in a Search Pilot case study on rephrasing H2 tags to questions.
Call-to-action (CTA) button variations
A very common split test and one that has been shown to yield positive results is to test different designs, colours, and text variations for your call-to-action buttons to determine which one generates more conversions. Small changes to your CTA buttons can have a significant impact on user behaviour.
Layout and design variations
Test different layout designs, colour schemes, and visual elements to optimise user engagement and conversion rates. Consider testing variations in the placement of key elements, such as your CTA buttons or navigation menu, to find the most effective design for your website.
One recent Search Pilot test looked at the impact of adding product descriptions above the fold which resulted in a 14% uplift in organic traffic on desktop.
Test different variations of your website’s content, such as the length, tone, or format. Experiment with different types of content, such as blog posts, videos, or infographics, to determine what resonates best with your audience and improves your website’s search engine rankings.
Page structure variations
Test different variations of your website’s structure, such as the organisation of your navigation menu or the placement of important content sections. Small changes to your website’s structure can improve user experience and make it easier for search engines to crawl and index your pages.
By testing these different variables, you can gain valuable insights into what works best for your website and continuously optimize your SEO strategy.
Analysing the results of your SEO split test
Analysing the results of your SEO split test is a critical step in the optimisation process. Here are some key considerations and best practices for effectively interpreting and acting on your test results:
- Statistical significance: Ensure that you have collected enough data for statistical significance before drawing conclusions. Small sample sizes can lead to unreliable results, so be patient and wait until you have sufficient data.
- Quantitative and qualitative analysis: Look at both quantitative data, such as conversion rates and bounce rates, as well as qualitative feedback from users. Combining these two types of analysis can provide a more complete understanding of the impact of each variation.
- Key performance indicators (KPIs): Look at the key performance indicators you defined at the beginning of your split testing campaign. Compare the performance of each version of your webpage against these KPIs to identify the version that performs the best. Focus on the metrics that are most relevant to your goals, such as conversion rates, click-through rates, or bounce rates.
- User behaviour: Dive deeper into the data to understand how user behaviour differs between the different versions of your webpage. Look at metrics such as time on page, scroll depth, or engagement with specific elements to gain insights into user preferences and behaviours. This information can help you refine your website further and improve its overall performance.
- Segmentation: Consider segmenting your data to gain a more granular understanding of how different user segments respond to the different versions of your webpage. Look for patterns or trends among different segments, such as demographics or geographic locations, to tailor your website’s content and design to specific audience preferences.
- Identify clear winners: Identify the variations that performed significantly better than others. These are the winners that should be implemented permanently to improve your website’s performance.
- Iterative testing: Split testing is an ongoing process, and the insights gained from one test can inform future tests and optimisations. Use the results of your analysis to guide your next round of testing and continuously refine your website.
- Document and learn: Document your test results and learnings for future reference. Keeping a record of your experiments and their outcomes can help you build a knowledge base and avoid repeating past mistakes.
By carefully analysing split testing results, you can gain valuable insights into your website’s performance and make informed decisions that optimise your SEO strategy.
Common mistakes to avoid in split testing
While split testing can be a powerful tool for optimising your website’s performance, it’s important to avoid common mistakes that can invalidate your results or lead to misleading conclusions. Here are some common mistakes to avoid in split testing:
- Insufficient sample size: Ensure that you have a sufficient sample size to obtain reliable results. Split testing requires a significant amount of data to achieve statistical significance. Avoid drawing conclusions from small sample sizes as they may not be representative of your target audience.
- Testing too many variables at once: Limit the number of variables you test in each split test to ensure that you can accurately attribute the results to specific changes. Testing too many variables simultaneously can make it difficult to isolate the impact of individual changes and can lead to confounding results.
- Not testing for long enough: Give your split test enough time to collect a sufficient amount of data. Avoid drawing conclusions too early as the performance of your webpage may fluctuate over time. Consider factors such as seasonality or weekdays versus weekends when determining the duration of your split test.
- Not segmenting your data: Consider segmenting your data to gain insights into how different user segments respond to your webpage variations. Failing to segment your data can lead to generalisations that may not hold true for specific audience segments. Tailor your website’s content and design to appeal to different audience preferences.
- Ignoring qualitative feedback: While quantitative data is essential in split testing, don’t overlook the importance of qualitative feedback. Collect feedback from users through surveys, interviews, or user testing to gain insights into their preferences and behaviours. Qualitative feedback can provide valuable context that complements the quantitative data.
- Testing insignificant changes: Testing minor or insignificant changes may not yield meaningful results. Focus on elements that have the potential to drive significant impact and prioritize testing those.
- Lack of documentation: Failing to document your split tests and their outcomes can make it challenging to track progress and learn from past experiments. Keep a record of your tests to build a knowledge base and avoid repetition.
- Not testing across devices and browsers: Ensure your split tests cover a wide range of devices and browsers to account for variations in user behaviour and preferences. Testing on different platforms can provide valuable insights and help optimise the user experience across all devices.
By avoiding these common mistakes, you can ensure that your split testing efforts yield reliable and actionable results.
Tools for split testing in SEO
There are various tools available to help you set up and analyse split testing campaigns for SEO. Here are some popular tools:
Google Optimise is a free tool by Google that allows you to create and run split tests on your website. It integrates seamlessly with Google Analytics, making it easy to track and analyse the results of your split tests.
Optimizely is a popular split testing platform that offers advanced features and integrations. It allows you to create complex split tests and offers powerful analytics and reporting capabilities.
VWO is another comprehensive split testing platform that offers a range of features, including A/B testing, multivariate testing, and personalisation. It provides a user-friendly interface and robust analytics to help you optimise your website’s performance.
Hotjar is a user behaviour analytics and feedback tool that can complement your split testing efforts. It allows you to visualize user behaviour through heatmaps, session recordings, and surveys, providing valuable insights into how users interact with your website.
Crazy Egg is a heat mapping and A/B testing tool that helps you understand how users engage with your website. It provides visual representations of user behaviour, such as click maps and scroll maps, to help you optimise your website’s design and layout.
These are just a few examples of the many tools available for split testing in SEO. Choose a tool that best suits your needs and budget, and make sure to familiarise yourself with its features and capabilities.
Benefits of SEO split testing
SEO split testing offers a multitude of benefits for businesses looking to improve their search engine rankings and increase organic traffic. Let’s explore some of the key advantages:
1. Improved conversion rates
By testing different variations of your website’s content, layout, or even call-to-action buttons, you can identify which elements resonate better with your audience and lead to higher conversion rates. This data-driven approach allows you to optimise your website for maximum impact and drive more valuable actions from your visitors.
2. Enhanced user experience
Split testing enables you to understand how different design and content elements affect user experience. By identifying and implementing changes that positively impact user satisfaction, you can create a more intuitive and enjoyable browsing experience for your audience. This can result in increased engagement, longer visit durations, and higher chances of conversions.
3. Reduced bounce rates
Split testing can help you identify the elements on your website that may be causing visitors to leave without exploring further. By testing different variations and analysing the bounce rates associated with each, you can pinpoint areas for improvement and make adjustments that keep visitors engaged and encourage them to explore more of your website.
4. Optimised SEO strategies
SEO split testing allows you to experiment with different keywords, meta tags, and content strategies to determine what drives the best organic search results. By identifying the most effective SEO tactics, you can optimise your website’s visibility and increase your chances of ranking higher in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Case studies of successful split testing campaigns
To further illustrate the power of split testing in SEO, let’s take a look at some case studies of successful split testing campaigns from Search Pilot. These are all generic changes that could be made to any site, testing everyday elements that can make a huge difference to your traffic, engagement, and conversions.
Can adding age ranges to titles boost organic traffic?
This first Search Pilot case study is from a customer in the care industry looking to provide more helpful information to their target market in search results.
They decided to test making their title tags more specific by adding age ranges for their services based on location to match what people search for on Google and improve organic rankings.
The customer also thought this change might improve click-through rates if Google reflected the change in search results.
This experiment led to a 4% uplift in organic sessions with 90% confidence.
This result could be attributed to adding more specific content in the title tags about the services offered in that location, which may have led to both an improvement in rankings for keywords specific to the age ranges and improved click-through-rates due to users having a better understanding of the offering from the search results.
Read more about the case study here.
Can adding pricing information client-side increase SEO performance?
Prior to testing the title tag did not contain any pricing information. The idea behind this test is to increase CTR by enticing users looking for the best deals, as well as improving SERP results by adding relevant information in the title.
Despite most of the people surveyed beforehand on LinkedIn expecting the test to show no conclusive change either positive or negative, the test revealed an estimated 12% increase in organic sessions. This could be due to increased click-through rates or ranking improvements due to the additional information.
Read more about the case study here.
Of course, not all tests reveal a positive outcome and that is one of the main reasons why we test. We see too many businesses going with a hunch and making changes to their website – either the design, the layout or the content itself, without really knowing whether the change will have a positive impact or not.
Split testing allows you to make changes to your site with much more certainty about the outcome and whilst you might need to wait longer before you make the change whilst you are in the testing phase, avoiding negative changes will always be worth the wait in the long run.
Split testing is an essential part of any successful SEO strategy and should be carried out on an ongoing basis to ensure you are constantly reviewing and refining the key elements of your website.
Whilst many businesses choose to split test before launching any major changes, it’s amazing how many marginal gains you can make each month by constantly testing across your site.
If you want to learn more about split testing, give us a call today and we would be happy to talk you through the process and what it can do for your business. Also, make sure you sign up for the Search Pilot email where you will find plenty of inspiration and ideas for things you could be testing on your site.