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Learn Google’s Guidelines for Safely Testing a Website in Search

Small business owners have options when it comes to testing their websites in search. They can consult an Internet marketing expert for tips on how to find the right combination of elements to launch a compelling website. They can just wing it and hope that what they have created will have visitors knocking down Google’s search engine doors. On the other hand, they can refer to the original source on safely testing a website in search. After all, small business owners should follow Google guidelines, if they expect to attract new customers to their businesses.

Type of Website Tests

Website Testing
This is when you test your website or different sections of your site. You collect data that gives you insight on how users reacted to each version. Google downloads software that accurately tracks the version of your website that garners the most purchases, most email opt-ins, or blog comments. Once you finish running the website test, you implement the version that attracted the most users. This version is typically the one that has the most compelling content.

A/B Testing
Savvy business owners test individual web pages, such as Squeeze and About Us pages, to find the optimal combination of high quality content and a call for action. Each page will test with a unique URL, which makes calculating the results much easier. When users try to access the original URL, your site will direct them to the page variations. A/B testing is popular among ecommerce sites that promote multiple product lines.
Multivariate Testing
Sometimes, small business owners do not have the time to conduct the tests to determine website optimization. Therefore, multivariate testing is the best option for testing multiple website component combinations within a short period. You test changes to different sections of your page and Google utilizes software that displays variations of the changes to users. The software compiles statistics to analyze the most effective combinations under the same URL.
Content Experiments
It sounds as if it comes from a black and white science fiction thriller, but content experimentation is just a more detailed analysis than A/B or multivariate testing. You can test up to five different versions of a web page, each that has a different URL. Google offers this test through its popular small business tool, Google Analytics.

Google’s Testing Guidelines
Google has very specific guidelines that discourage the practice of cloaking, which is showing human visitors one variation of your website and showing Googlebot a different version. Violating this guideline can get your small business website removed from Google’s search results, which will severely limit your online presence. One way to avoid this unseemly practice is to end your testing as quickly as possible. Google believes excessively long testing is an attempt to deceive search engines. A good testing tool, with clear parameters, should return results you can use to make decisions in a timely manner.
A/B testing presents a couple of issues for which Google has established guidelines. Google recommends that small business owners use the rel=”canonical” link attribute on all alternate URLs. This attribute makes it clear that the original URL is the preferred version of your web page. Redirects are another issue that can affect website traffic. During an A/B website test that redirects users from an original URL to a temporary URL, make sure you redirect with the temporary 302, instead of the permanent 301 redirect. This instructs every search engine that your redirects are only temporary, thus the search engines should keep the original URL in their indexes.

Move from Website Optimizer
Google wants small business owners to know that Website Optimizer is no longer available as a testing tool. You should use Google Analytics Content Experiment to test your website. Google strongly encourages you to remove all Website Optimizer tags. Google no longer redirects users for you site, so remove the tags, update the original page with the new content and features, and redirect users who have bookmarked your variation pages to the new pages.
Google always offers new ways for webmasters to maximize the effectiveness of their small business websites. The testing guidelines of today will probably give way to new testing guidelines that Google may introduce within the next year. The dizzying pace of Internet marketing change means you need to stay on top of the changes to ensure your small business continues to grow its online presence.

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