Google’s Website Testing Guidelines

Posted on October 26, 2012

Google’s Website Testing Guidelines
Website testing is very serious business for any digital marketer; there are many different ways to go about it. Big businesses have the option to leverage teams of experts and sophisticated software analysis, but if you’re a small business, your options are a little more limited. You could hire an outside internet marketing expert for tips on how best to arrange the elements of your website to create a compelling user experience that drives users to convert to paying customers, or you could just not test at all, and hope to that what you’ve have will help you rank high on Google search. But if neither of those options appeals to you, and neither of them should, you could go straight to the source, and check out Google’s guidelines to make sure your website can be crawled and indexed by Google.

Split Testing

There are several different kinds of tests available, each with its own pros and cons. Let’s take a look at some of them here:

Website Testing
This is a single website test that allows you to test either the whole, or different sections of, your website. Through software analysis, you can track which versions of your site attracted the most customers, and how many of them became paying customers. You can even track other metrics as well, such as how many of them opted in to a mailing list, or made blog comments. This test will help you determine what version of your website has the most compelling content.

A/B Testing
This form of testing involves testing individual web pages, like the Home page for example. Typically, you would create several variations of the same page, adjusting the content/images on each one. Whenever someone visits your website by going to the main URL, they will be directed to one of the variations at random. This will help you find the correct balance between high quality content and call-to-actions, and is often favored by e-commerce sites that promote multiple different product lines.

A bit of a note when using A/B Testing, Google recommends that you use the rel=”canonical”” link attribute on your alternate URLs, to ensure that the original version is the preferred one. Additionally, when redirecting users from an original URL to a temporary one, make sure to redirect with the temporary 302 redirect, and not the permanent 301 redirect to ensure that search engines keep the original in their indexes.

Multivariate Testing
Much like A/B Testing, Multivariate testing has you showing several different variations of a page to potential viewers, but on a much finer scale. Through this type of testing you’ll be able to make changes to individual sections of your webpages, and combinations of those changes are what’s displayed. Google’s software then compiles and analyzes the statistics to determine the most effective combination of elements for that particular URL.

Content Experiments
A variant/combination of A/B and Multivariate Testing, content experiments are a little bit more detailed, and separated. Up to five different pages can be created and assigned its own URL, and each page can be tracked and analyzed on a number of different points. Google offers this form of testing through its popular Google Analytics tool.

Notes for Testing
When testing websites, keep in mind that Google strongly discourages the practice of “cloaking”, that is, showing users one version of your website, and showing Google’s crawlers another. Excessive “cloaking”, or even excessively long testing periods, can get your website permanently removed from Google’s search engine results, and not showing up on Google these days is practically a death sentence for your online business. Use of good analysis tools configured with the correct parameters is key to getting results in a timely manner.

Additionally, the Google Website Optimizer service is no longer available, so you should use Google Analytics Content Experiment to test your website. The company recommends that you remove all Website Optimizer tags, update the pages to the latest material, and redirect your users accordingly, as Google will no longer redirect users for you.

The rate at which internet marketing is developing these days is staggering. Business owners at all levels should be aware of all the changes that are being made to keep expanding your online presence, as it is expected that current testing guidelines will change within the coming years.