Can A/B tests or on-site personalization wreck your Google ranking?
From a technical point of view, there are four main risks that need to be taken into consideration when optimizing or personalizing websites:
Risk #1: Cloaking –
Cloaking involves presenting one version to search engine bots and a different version to human users, for the purpose of manipulating and improving organic rankings. This is a huge issue in terms of SEO risks and a harsh foul against Google’s official Webmaster Guidelines. Targeting content variations specifically to search engines User-Agents (such as “GoogleBot”) and other variations to human visitors is considered cloaking, and a big no-no.
Risk #2: URL and Content Duplications –
URL Duplications – Sometimes, when running online experiments, the CMS duplicates some of the site’s URLs for different test variations. Generally speaking, from an SEO point of view, on-site duplications are a relatively minor risk in terms of a real penalty, unless they were initially created as an attempt to manipulate organic rankings. Nevertheless, to resolve this possible risk, we recommend a fairly easy fix – implementing a Canonical tag element on each duplicated URL. With Canonical tag elements in place, there’s no risk of duplication, and all available “SEO Juice” will be migrated to the original, canonical URL.
Content Duplications – With on-site optimization and personalization, websites deliver different content variations that are tailored for different individuals. When the original content plays a big part in determining a web page’s organic rankings, it is vital to keep this default content on-site, instead of completely replacing it with a fully dynamically generated content (even-though Google can crawl it). In addition, keeping the original content can also act as a failover mechanism for unsupported test groups or individuals.
Risk #3: Wrong Type of Redirect –
Risk #4: Web Loading Performance –
We all know site speed is a major user experience issue and a deal-breaker. It has also been incorporated in Google’s organic web search ranking algorithms since 2010, among 200+ other ranking signals. Some users are concerned that a/b testing or personalization tools may negatively affect the loading time of their webpages, and the truth of the matter is that sometimes it just might. But it depends on the use case and implementation method, and as always – there are ways of minimizing the effect.
Here at Dynamic Yield, our tracking script is loaded asynchronously and as such, should not affect page load time. Additionally, we work with Amazon Cloud Servers and deliver content directly through its CDN servers. We can also send content to your company’s own CDN, if needed. Lastly, it is important to note that we have an uptime of almost 100%. We power more than 10B page views a month with some of the world’s most demanding customers, who wouldn’t stand for latency on their site and most likely, neither would you.
- Google acknowledges the use of A/B testing and personalization.
- You should be testing all the time and improving your overall user experience.