Ultimately, most of us are optimizing our sites for search engines with a purpose that extends beyond site traffic. Whether the goal is newsletter signups, lead generation, or sales, most of us are trying to turn our hard-won organic site traffic into something more.
Conversion rate optimization is the practice of testing website pages to improve site conversion rates.
With organic search often the leading driver of website traffic, it’s especially important to optimize that traffic once it reaches the site to further increase the ROI from organic traffic.
But there are three main pitfalls you’ll want to avoid. While you’re optimizing site conversion rates, don’t mess up your SEO in the process!
If you’re performing a standard A|B test, where you’re testing one page layout against another, you may have two separate pages with separate URLs you’re testing: “Page A” and “Page B.”
If you’re using a tool like Google Analytics Experiments, then Page A houses the code that selects which version of the page the visitor will see, redirecting that person to Page B in certain situations.
Overall, it’s a great system — except when considering SEO for that page. Many times, the content for Page A and Page B may be identical, only varying layout or imagery.
This type of test can accidentally lead to duplicate content being listed in search engine results because many testing tools, including Google Analytics Experiments, do not automatically block search engines from indexing test pages.
That means there is a likelihood that you can have the same page ranked twice, essentially with the same content.
In other tests, you may be reworking the paths that visitors take through the site.
We’ve been doing a test on my own website recently to decrease the number of steps it takes for a visitor to reach specific content, reducing the clicks to potentially extraneous pages.
However, in a test like this, removing pages from a path during a test can also inadvertently remove them from search engines.
In the case of my own site, for instance, the pages in between were optimized for certain keywords. What happens to those pages if they are not included in a test path?
If you’re not careful, as with pitfall #1, they can disappear from view if the search bots can’t readily find them.
If you’re running a longer term test, this can definitely be a problem. What happens if the test page becomes more popular with inbound links than the original page?
In a way, that’s great! But what if the test page doesn’t convert as well? That could be a problem.
To solve these potential pitfalls for SEO, during testing I recommend using the canonical tag.
The canonical tag is by far one of my favorite SEO applications — you can give all of the SEO credit for a page to another version of the same page while avoiding using a redirect. Love it!
So while you’re testing, be sure to add the canonical tag to the B version — the version you are testing against the original.
Once a winner is found in your test, you can remove the canonical tag from Page B. If Page A is the winner, create a 301 redirect for Page B pointing to Page A.
In this case, creating a 301 redirect for the test version ensures that if any visitors linked to or bookmarked the Page B during testing, they (and search bots) will be redirected to Page A.
If Page B is the winner, then you’ll want to create a 301 redirect from Page A to Page B. Given that Page A is the original and may likely have search rankings or inbound links, it’s important to retain that value and now pass as much of it as possible to the new Page B.
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