SEO tests are a critical component of any SEO strategy. After all, after you've implemented site changes in an attempt to boost search traffic, you need to have a proper understanding of whether or not those changes had a positive effect.
For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, let's quickly cover the basics: what SEO testing is, and why you should do it.
What is SEO Testing?
SEO testing is the process of determining which website appearance choices lead to better performance on the search engine results pages (SERPs). The results can then be used to determine if the respective changes should be implemented further, or undone.
When I say SEO testing, I'm referring to the "optional" areas within SEO where one configuration, design, or phrasing of the page may cause a web page to perform better in search results (that is, gives your web page higher rankings).
This means changing title tags to test click-through rate (CTR), adjusting content length to test rank position, including or excluding visual elements to test bounce rate …. and so much more.
Testing can also tell you more about where to best spend time and other resources to grow your program further. This is not to be confused with SEO considerations while performing site tests such as A/B tests for SEO.
Why Test in SEO?
By now, you've likely noticed how difficult it is to define a single, surefire way to rank well in an organic search.
The Google algorithm consists of hundreds of ranking signals, after all, but as Kevin Indig points out …
Google also adjusts the weight of these signals based on the query.”
This means that it’s not enough to follow an SEO checklist of best practices to rank well and provide a positive user experience.
Pro Tip: Search engine optimization should always be looked at as search experience optimization: always strive to give your users the best experience.
Enterprise marketers look at SEO like a science: they form a hypothesis of what may bring in positive results and run tests to either prove or disprove those hypotheses and inform their SEO strategies.
This way, you can confirm what works for your site, vertical, and most importantly, audience.
As practitioners, we can never be sure how a particular strategy or technique we use is going to work. We know how it’s supposed to work, but too many variables might affect the desired outcome.
This leads to a predictability dilemma, but there is one way to find out what works (and what doesn't): SEO testing.
Testing in SEO allows you to …
Often SEO projects are labor intensive for development or marketing teams. Consider a broad SEO project like "refresh blog posts” or "increase page speed." While both projects may be good for SEO and potentially for your search engine rankings, it’s hard to justify the internal cost at face value. With testing, you can break it up and "test" on some pages (like one blog category or one page speed improvement) to prove the success before rolling out to larger projects.
With an SEO test, a configuration or tactic can get a proper evaluation to see if it's worth continuing or scaling the project site-wide, allowing resources to be spent on other projects.
Testing helps get more done. A well-measured SEO test that shows a market opportunity and growth potential is more likely to get internal support.
What Can You Test in SEO?
There are no limits to what you can test in SEO.
Because you can work on almost every on-site and on-page SEO element, you can also test their effect on your rankings and other metrics.
#1. Meta Tag Data
Test and validate different metadata to improve the click-through rate. This could mean altering your title tag or meta description (although with SEO testing, it’s best to test one element at a time to prove out its success).
Here are some changes you can make to your metadata:
- Target keyword placement
- Including numbers
- Add or remove brand name
- Emotional language (negative superlatives)
Title tags and meta descriptions can have a huge impact on CTR. Remember, after a Google search is made, users can see the metadata of a page as a part of a search listing in addition to the page's URL (but it's not a guarantee that Google uses your copy!).
This can either draw in their click, or keep them scrolling — which is why it’s so crucial to monitor the changes closely!
In fact, case study research shows the overall positive trend of CTR resulting from adjustments to the metadata over time. These changes wouldn't have been implemented if it weren't for tracking and testing the results.
Ready to test your metadata? Start here: Improve Search Visibility with a Title Tag Test
#2. Schema / Structured Data
Adding structured data to your search listing can give you a rich result on the SERP. This is a great way to increase your search visibility and real estate (i.e. take up more space).
Structured data is also easy to test because it can be applied using JSON that doesn’t disrupt the main code of the page.
There are plenty of schema types that can result in rich results. You may be familiar with:
- FAQ schema
- Star schema
- Review schema
Look at this listing that’s implemented the FAQ schema:
(This SERP listing takes up more real estate with the FAQ schema.)
It certainly increases the listing’s real estate, but does it increase CTR?
Put all the pages receiving the structured data into a Page Tag and find keywords for a test group (ideal keyword here should rank less than 7, in the running for the Answer Box). Keywords should also be selected that show any associated Rich Snippets you may be targeting with structured data such as Price, Ratings or Reviews.
Pages receiving this test and winning the associated Rich Snippet should receive an increase in CTR and outperform their expected CTR based on their ranking position.
Again, this is another opportunity to boost the user experience – starting right on the SERP!
We tested the FAQ schema to see the impact on search visibility and CTR. Here are the results.
Even better: you don’t need to be a developer to implement schema. Use a schema markup generator to create and deploy schema with a few clicks.
#3. Answer Box
Something that's come up a lot lately is using different content formats to try to win Answer Boxes.
There's no real "do this and you'll end up in the Answer Box," but you can test out things like adding lists to content to make it more Answer Box-friendly so the listing can appear at the top of the search results page.
Select keywords that are already ranking, say, in the top 5 for the test before making content or technical updates to optimize for this listing.
#4. Content Coverage and Relevancy
Adjust your body copy to cover a topic with more authority.
Our clients personally use our AI-driven content writer, Content Fusion, to realize better rankings and more impressions over time.
See how enterprise brands use Content Fusion to win big: Drizly Finds 92% Higher CTR on Top-Performing Pages With Content Fusion.
To accomplish this, take the keywords or pages where you rank within striking distance (just off page 1) and tag them for the test.
Optimize each page in the tag with suggestions from Content Fusion.
(Use a AI-driven content writer to cover a topic with authority.)
Bonus: Use Traffic Potential to forecast the benefit of improving the content in the tag if there's a need to demonstrate the business case beforehand.
#5. Content Format
The way you present your content to readers after they click through can have a significant impact on metrics like bounce rate and time on page.
Again, everything comes back to the user experience.
Here are some on-page elements that you can test in your body format:
- Content Length
A good test is to experiment with short versus long formats of the content, or simply adding more relevant or semantically related keywords.
Do users scroll through? Does it capture attention from the beginning?
Is there enough white space? Do users prefer a glossary in the form of anchor text at the top of the page?
#6. Engaging Elements
Engaging elements like pictures and videos can be a huge bonus for the end user experience, but be mindful of their effect on page speed.
You can run a test to see if these elements are essential, or if this dampens page speed enough to have users bounce.
Videos can also be tested to see whether or not they appear in the video carousel on the SERP, which can be a great way to earn more visibility.
Recommended Reading: 8 Tricks to Creating Engaging Content
#7. Calls to Action
You’re probably already familiar with this challenge: When do CTAs perform best?
Maybe you earn more conversions when there is a clear CTA at the top of the page instead of half way through the content. The opposite could be true, too.
The beauty of SEO testing is that everything is specific to your site.
Another consideration with CTAs is the form they’re presented in. Conversion results may differ if the CTA is presented as a button or an in-line text link.
#8. Internal Links
Internal links act as the glue that connects your pages and topic clusters together, but where do your internal links get the clicks that lead visitors deeper into your site? (This would minimize your bounce rate.)
Or, how does the anchor text used impact users’ experience or that page’s overall rankings?
An SEO test can answer all of these questions and lead you to the most effective approach.
#9. User Experience
There are endless ways to enhance the experience of a website. From the variations in presenting content, to colors, and format. Try mobile improvements and page speed if it’s possible for only a portion of pages to receive the enhancement.
But remember, the user experience begins with proper usability! (A site audit can help with this, although if you deal with smaller website SEO, you can use individual SEO tools, like an SEO checker, to check for usability issues).
A Simplified SEO Testing Technique in 6 Steps
#1. Identify something to test.
Time to put those testing ideas to action! There are many ranking factors that search engines use in their algorithm to determine rankings, and many on-page SEO components that make a page unique.
So, as we saw above, the subject of your test can be an adjustment to a page’s content, meta values, design, or a performance update to improve page speed, for example.
#2. Group the landing pages receiving the variable.
This is ideally pages from a unique business category or page template, e.g. “hats” or “category pages.” The URL structure should help you group your pages respectively.
#3. Find keywords associated with the landing pages.
Shoot for 2-5 keywords per page if possible. Tools like the Research Grid and Search Analytics are great for finding the top keywords associated with each page.
#4. Implement the variable on the landing pages in the test group.
#5. Review KPIs.
Review key performance metrics such as Average Rank by the test Keyword Tag and site metrics like Traffic, Conversion Rate, Bounce Rate, and Time on Site by the test Page Tag.
Note how the test groups (keywords and pages) trend against the controls to find evidence of your SEO test taking effect. This step may be the most difficult in SEO, as the directions of these KPIs can be nuanced.
#6. Decide if the test impacted SEO positioning.
If CVR or CTR improved without rankings it may be worth leaving the test element in place or continuing the strategy.
Ideally the Average Rank of the test Keyword Tag also improved compared to the control.
Learn how to measure the performance of your SEO test with seoClarity.
We can only speculate on correlation but these are the kinds of trends we want to see! Be sure to note any seasonality factors that could affect traffic or rankings before confirming impact too. For a tighter statistical approach, you can build on these metrics with these steps from Kissmetrics among other models.
Best Practices of SEO Testing
While many SEOs have testing methods they prefer most (A/B, multivariate, on/off), enterprises need to be cautious with, when, and how they test. All companies buy into the need for testing, but visibility can drop fast and recover slowly.
Here’s how we see large enterprises approach their testing:
- Test in small batches. Pick one, a few, or a section of pages to test.
- Test non-strategic pages first. A full-blown content test on your #1 traffic page is a huge mistake!
- Try isolating web browsers to test the smaller traffic population. If you know the majority of your traffic comes from Chrome or Edge, try directing traffic from Firefox to your test to mitigate user impact.
Proper testing and measuring the impact of SEO enhancements is critical to any SEO campaign. They are useful for building new projects and learning the impact of site optimizations, and also site updates happening outside of requests from the SEO team.
Capturing SEO improvements and projects as "tests" can go a long way in building a high performing SEO program. Like a tree falling in the forest: If an SEO breakthrough occurred, but there was no testing approach in place to perceive the impact, did it really happen?
Rest assured knowing that your various SEO decisions have an impact on search visibility.