All About Website Testing and Google Search

All About Website Testing & Google Search

Recently, Google has provided a great insight into Website Testing & Google Search. Taking into the queries about whether website testing—such as A/B or multivariate testing—affects a site’s performance in search results, Google has come up with a set of guidelines that are significant for testing any website. But before we cite the details, a little briefing on Website Testing is necessary.

Website testing means trying out different versions of your website (or a part of your website), and gathering data about how users respond to every single version. With this, one can ascertain which version shows the best performance – which of the versions results in the most purchases, or signups, or whatever you want the users to do. Once the test is concluded, you can update your website with the best content out of the lot.

A/B testing is running a test by generating multiple versions of a page, each with its own distinctive URL. When users try to access the original URL, some of them are redirected to each of the variant URLs. In this way, you can assess the effectiveness of each page by comparing the behavior of the users pertaining to different pages.

Multivariate testing is using software to change different parts of your website quickly. With the help of variations you can test multiple parts of the page; be it a heading, a photo, or the ‘Add to Cart’ button, etc. The software will show variations of each of these sections to users in varied groupings and then you can statistically evaluate which of the variations are the most successful.

Now, we shall bring up the imperative guidelines for running an effective test with minimal impact on your site’s search performance, as stated by Google.

  • No cloaking: Cloaking—showing one set of content to humans, and a different set to Googlebot—is against the Google Webmaster Guidelines, whether you’re running a test or not. It should be ensured that you’re not deciding whether to serve the test, or which content variant to serve, based on user-agent. It has to be remembered that infringing Google Webmaster’s Guidelines can get your site demoted or removed from Google search results. So, act wisely.
  • Use rel=“canonical”: Google suggested that if you’re running an A/B test with multiple URLs, you can use the rel=“canonical” link attribute on all of your alternate URLs to indicate that the original URL is the preferred version. Google recommend using rel=“canonical” rather than a noindex meta tag because it more closely matches your intent in this situation.
  • Use 302s, not 301s: As per Google, if you’re running an A/B test that redirects users from the original URL to a variation URL, use a 302 (temporary) redirect, not a 301 (permanent) redirect. This will help in making search engines aware that this redirect is temporary & it will only be in place as long as you’re running the experiment. So, they should keep the original URL in their index rather than replacing it with the target of the redirect (the test page). JavaScript-based redirects are also satisfactory.
  • Only run the experiment as long as necessary: The time required for a trustworthy test depends on factors like your conversion rates, and the amount of traffic your website gets. A good testing tool should tell you when you’ve gathered enough data to draw a reliable conclusion. Once the test is concluded, you should update your site with the desired content variation(s) and remove all the elements of the test as soon as possible, such as alternate URLs or testing scripts and markup.

If Google discovers a site running an experiment for a needlessly long time, it may construe this as an endeavor to mislead search engines and thus, it will take the necessary action in view of that. This is particularly true if you’re providing one content variant to a large proportion of your users.

Google enunciates that all these recommendations should result in your tests having little or no impact on your site in search results. However, depending on what type of content you’re testing, it may not even matter much if Googlebot crawls or indexes some of your content variations while you’re testing. Furthermore, if Google crawls your site often enough to notice and index your experiment, it will perhaps index the subsequent updates you make to your site fairly fast once you have finished the experiment.

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