Aug 13, 2012 972 reads by Navneet Kaushal

Webmasters and search professionals rely on A/B and multivariate testing to ensure that they present appealing and relevant content before visitors. Recently, Google has posted some insights on conducting A/B and multivariate testing, so that webmasters can make sure their sites are not likely to be penalized for any issue.

So, whether you are testing visitor behavior on multiple versions of a page, or using software to alter various sections of your website to arrive at the most effective ones, follow these guidelines:

1. No Cloaking

Google has strongly advised against cloaking. As it says, “Make sure that you’re not deciding whether to serve the test, or which content variant to serve, based on user-agent. An example of this would be always serving the original content when you see the user-agent “Googlebot.” Remember that infringing our Guidelines can get your site demoted or removed from Google search results—probably not the desired outcome of your test.”

2. Use rel=“canonical”

For A/B testing, Google has advised the use of rel=canonical attribute. As per Google, “We recommend using rel=“canonical” rather than a noindex meta tag because it more closely matches your intent in this situation. Let’s say you were testing variations of your homepage; you don’t want search engines to not index your homepage, you just want them to understand that all the test URLs are close duplicates or variations on the original URL and should be grouped as such, with the original URL as the canonical. Using noindex rather than rel=“canonical” in such a situation can sometimes have unexpected effects.”

3. Use 302s, Not 301s

For A/B Testing, Google guides webmasters to use a temporary 302 redirect and not the 301 or permanent redirect. Quoting Google, “This tells search engines that this redirect is temporary—it will only be in place as long as you’re running the experiment—and that they should keep the original URL in their index rather than replacing it with the target of the redirect (the test page). JavaScript-based redirects are also fine.”

4. Don’t Run Experiments Longer Than Necessary

Google recommends the use of a good testing tool to estimate when required data to reach effective conclusions has been gathered. And then the experiment should be concluded so that your site is not penalized. As per Google, “Once you’ve concluded the test, you should update your site with the desired content variation(s) and remove all elements of the test as soon as possible, such as alternate URLs or testing scripts and markup. If we discover a site running an experiment for an unnecessarily long time, we may interpret this as an attempt to deceive search engines and take action accordingly. This is especially true if you’re serving one content variant to a large percentage of your users.”

When you follow these guidelines while testing, it is most likely to have small to no impact on your site’s SERPs. What do you think of these recommendations? Do share your views.

Google's Official SEO Guide on A/B & Multivariate Testing!, 5.0 out of 5 based on 2 ratings
Navneet Kaushal

Navneet Kaushal

Navneet Kaushal is the founder and CEO of PageTraffic, an SEO Agency in India with offices in Chicago, Mumbai and London. A leading search strategist, Navneet helps clients maintain an edge in search engines and the online media. Navneet's expertise has established PageTraffic as one of the most awarded and successful search marketing agencies.
Navneet Kaushal
Navneet Kaushal
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