Are you using every SEO trick in the book, but still not seeing the revenue and leads you want? Then it might be time to ditch the trial-and-error techniques and start A/B testing (also known as split testing and bucket testing).
With A/B testing, you can find out what your audience (and Google) really thinks of your site and SEO tactics, choose the ones that generate the best results, and accelerate your growth, conversions, and sales for good.
How SEO Affects Real-World Performance
By its nature, SEO is all about rankings. After all, rankings are what define success in the world of search engines – if your SEO efforts are effective, then your site will rank higher. If they're not, then it's "bye-bye, first page" and "hello, page 205."
But it's important to remember that search engine rankings aren't stand-alone numbers. Instead, they work hand-in-hand with cold, hard performance metrics. These can include:
- Brand awareness: The higher a site ranks, the more people will see it in the SERPs. And even if they don't click on that result the first time they see it, they're more likely to remember it and its niche.
- Relevant traffic: Not all traffic is created equal. That's why although pay-per-click advertising (PPC) works, it's not always good for your brand's long-term health. But with an effective SEO strategy, you can attract more relevant traffic rather than simply the most traffic possible.
- Qualified leads: Just as with traffic, not all leads are good leads. By using smart SEO tactics that precisely target your ideal audience, though, genuinely qualified leads can be yours.
- Sales: Awareness, traffic, and leads are all well as good, but if they don't result in sales then you won't be able to experience the growth you're after. Thus, the ability to generate sales is one of the most important benefits of a high-quality SEO campaign.
Suffice it to say that great SEO can deliver a lot more than just rankings. It can also generate true performance boosts and help fulfill even your most ambitious growth goals.
Why A/B Testing Matters
Some may say that SEO is more of an art than a science, but those people likely haven't experienced just how effective A/B testing can be.
Generally speaking, A/B testing is the practice of comparing two versions of the same thing to see which performs better. The first, original version is called the control, while the proposed new version is called the challenger. Both can be referred to as a variant – for instance, the control could be called variant A, and the challenger could be called variant B.
When you perform an A/B test, you simply record how a group of people (i.e. sample size) responds to one variant, as well as how another, separate group of people responds to the other.
For instance, you could show one landing page and CTA to half of your audience, and another to the other half:
After performing an A/B test, the results you discover may be dramatic. That was certainly the case for one hotel booking site – it experienced a 52 percent higher conversion rate by swapping its homepage's horizontal form for a vertical one. Most importantly, it would've been impossible to conclusively determine that the form's orientation was responsible for the site's increased conversions if not for A/B testing.
That's the true beauty of A/B testing: As a more scientific method than just making changes and hoping for the best, it can pinpoint exactly which alterations have the most impact and unveil your audience's unique preferences.
How Does A/B Testing Work With SEO?
To be clear, you can't A/B test SEO in the same way that you can A/B test a checkout button or page layout. That's because you can't give Google two versions of the same page without running into duplicate content issues. However, you CAN use A/B testing with different traffic sources (like PPC) to help test how well you engage and convert your visitors, and then apply that to your organic traffic to drive up your organic leads and revenue...some of those cold, hard performance metrics we were talking about.
You can also get creative and use A/B testing to test individual SEO tactics to see which ones net the best rankings. This works best when you have a group of similar pages that you can split into a control and test group. If you have 50 product pages, for example, you could split them into two equal groups of 25 and use a different SEO tactic on one. Perhaps it's implementing different kinds of schema, or using a different format for your title tags. It could even be including videos or reviews. Then, you can compare which group ranks higher, gets more relevant keywords, or drives more organic revenue on average over time.
How to Use A/B Testing to Boost Your SEO Success
It's clear that A/B testing is worth the insights it can reveal, but how exactly do you do it? While the process will vary depending on your brand's unique needs and resources, it will likely look something like this:
- Identify problem areas and focus on one: It goes without saying that A/B testing is only useful if you know what areas you want to improve. For example, you could choose one of your under-performing landing pages – this will be your control. (Unsure where to start? You might want to perform an SEO audit.)
- Create a challenger: Once you've picked a control, create a challenger by changing one aspect about it. For instance, you could change your landing page's primary keyword, CTA, or button placement.
- Pick a tool: Unless you feel like figuring everything out as you go (we don't recommend it!), you'll want to choose a tool to expedite the A/B testing process.
- Keep an eye on your sample size: After choosing a tool and beginning your tests, be sure to monitor your sample sizes – you want them to be as similarly sized and demographically composed as possible. This is what will protect the integrity of your A/B tests and ensure the validity of their results.
- Compare results: Now, the fun part – it's time to compare the results of your tests to see whether your audience responded better to the control or the challenger. Whichever one garnered the better response will be the new winner, or champion. No matter the results, you'll have fresh and valuable insights about your audience's wants and needs.
- Make the appropriate changes, and don't stop measuring: Implement the changes indicated by the results of your tests, and be sure to continue analyzing the relevant metrics. After all, an audience's preferences are constantly evolving, so you need to stay on the ball if you want to keep their interest.
Best A/B Testing Tools
Not sure which A/B testing tool you should go with? These are some of the most widely-used (and well-rated) ones available:
- HubSpot Complete A/B Testing Kit: Comes jam-packed with guidelines, instructions, a handy calculator, templates, and much more. Oh, and it's completely free.
- Google Optimize: Another free option, Google Optimize uses your site's existing Google Analytics data to provide sophisticated testing and statistical modeling.
- AB Tasty: With both client-side and server-side A/B testing, plus a host of other services, AB Tasty provides a premium and polished experience.
- Adobe Target: A part of the larger Adobe Experience Cloud, Target offers multichannel testing and AI-driven automation.
- Oracle Maxymiser: Part of Oracle's Marketing Cloud, Maxymiser boasts real-time behavioral targeting and in-session personalization in addition to advanced A/B testing.
- Optimizely: By combining web A/B testing with full-stack experimentation, personalization and more, Optimizely gives brands a well-rounded digital experience platform.
Regardless of the tools you use, by using A/B testing to improve your site you'll be making your brand's SEO efforts even more effective. More of your visitors will convert and make purchases thanks to the elements you optimized with A/B testing, and that positive engagement will further boost your site's rankings. It's the kind of cycle that can take any brand's growth from "sustainable" to "skyrocketing."
So while you can certainly just keep following your instincts and choosing the SEO techniques that "feel" right, your brand likely won't achieve its maximum potential that way. If you want to get the best results possible and truly take your SEO to the next level, you need to stop guessing and start A/B testing.