A/B testing SEO with Google Analytics

Whoa! The title of this blog post should have hit you like a ton of bricks. You see, I’m combining three different sub-industries together:

SEO = Search Engine Optimization
A/B testing = Well…A/B testing! (Like you can do with Google Website Optimizer)
Google Analytics = Web Analytics

Now, how in the world do we do A/B testing on our SEO efforts while using Google Analytics to evaluate the results?

On June 8th of this year, Google rolled out a new search index called Caffeine. This new search index collects and processes information across the web at a much faster rate of speed and accuracy than the previous search index. This means that you can update your website with new content and it is almost immediately indexed and available to be searched for on Google. Website owners who perform frequent updates to their site benefit the most, as Google will pretty much always have the latest version of your website in their search index.

A new search index that instantly updates itself also means that you can perform A/B testing on your organic search results and use a web analytics platform like Google Analytics to determine the rate of success or failure of your experiment. For example, let’s say that you are the owner of HardwareStore.com, and when a person searches for “hardware shop“, they see this organic listing:

As you know from reading our Search Engine Optimization blog over the years, the listings that you see in organic search results derive from the relevant web page’s “meta” tags (specifically, the title tag and the description tag). Before the launch of Google Caffeine, it would be several weeks, sometimes months, for your organic listings to be updated to reflect changes performed on your meta tags. Now, the changes are practically immediate. You can swap out the title and the description meta tags to deliver a different search engine result to your future website visitors who are searching for you on Google. Essentially, you’re running an A/B experiment to see which organic listing produces the best results.

Then what you can do in about one to two weeks after you’ve updated your meta tags is log-in to your web analytics tool and perform a date-range comparison to see what affect your change had on your site performance and task completion metrics, like in this example from Google Analytics:

As you analyze the above image, you can see that the change in your organic listings resulted in higher revenue and a higher conversion rate, which means that you should most likely keep the new meta tags for a while (but keep an eye on that average order value and crunch the numbers to determine if you really are more profitable in the long-term with a lower average order value and per-visit value).

Presto! You’ve successfully performed an A/B experiment with your SEO efforts, while using web analytics to measure the results!

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