In most organizations, testing programs face hurdles caused by culture, alignment, and a lack of resources. Sometimes, however, testing is misinterpreted as a challenge to an ongoing strategy or tactic. Common examples of this include the conflict between testing and brand managers, testing and creative departments, and testing and product teams. Another example is testing and SEO. For companies that rely on PPC and SEO strategies for acquisition, testing—which could change the carefully sculpted pages of a website—is a frightening proposition. But, just like the other conflicts mentioned above, the fear of testing is based largely on a lack of understanding of the process. In fact, testing and SEO managers can even work together.
When an SEO manager sees a homepage test that has replaced his keyword-dense headline with one that makes an emotional appeal to the customer, he may panic. But it’s important to realize that this new variation served by a front-end testing tool doesn’t change the page that gets crawled by search engines. Most spiders pull the source code directly, not the code of the page after the testing tool has made changes. This means the search engine will always see the control, even if your visitors see an active test.
When it comes to implementation, it’s important to communicate that winning copy changes should be seen as a proof of concept, not a mandate. That winning emotional appeal can be modified to include important keywords if necessary. Of course, better alignment could help sync the efforts of both teams from the beginning.
Testing and SEO Have Different Approaches but the Same Goal
Another point of friction in the relationship between testing and SEO managers comes from the fact that each has a different approach to the same goal. Testing, you know, is mostly focused on increasing conversion—helping visitors to a site complete a productive action. SEO, on the other hand, is an acquisition strategy, focused on getting more visitors to the page in the first place. Ultimately, however, both testing and SEO are meant to drive business growth.
“For every $92 spent online to acquire traffic, only $1 was spent to proactively convert this traffic.” – Kevin Lindsay, Director, Product Marketing, Adobe
Seen this way, it’s clear that keeping the two separate—let alone thinking of them in conflict—is silly. If testing improves conversion, having more visitors only magnifies its success. If SEO drives more visitors, improving their conversion makes the effort more profitable. The tactics are certainly different, but in the end SEO and testing are just two factors in the same customer lifetime value equation.
But What Does Google Say?
If you’re trying to convince an SEO manager of the merits of testing, there’s probably nothing more persuasive than the position of Google itself. Fortunately, the leader in search has taken a clear stance on the merits of testing. As long as it is not used to cloak, bait and switch, or otherwise deceive users, Google has stated that evidence of testing may actually increase a website’s standing in search.
If your business relies on SEO for acquisition, it shouldn’t conflict with testing. Instead, you should see acquisition and testing efforts as two parts of the same system, to paths toward the same goal. By including SEO managers in brainstorming sessions and reporting meetings can help both teams improve their efforts—and build another advocate for testing in the organization, too.