Welcome, padawan, to the next stage in your SEO training. If you’re here, that means you’ve already mastered Search Engine Optimization basics like Local SEO and you’ve got some killer on-page SEO with copy that is making you rock the Google rankings. Now you’re ready for the next step: learning the vitally important, but often overlooked discipline of A/B testing copy as part of SEO maintenance.

What It Means to Test Copy for SEO

Where you rank in a search engine is not a static thing. It fluctuates as the engineers at Google mess with the algorithm, as other businesses rise or decline in the ranks, and as you perform your SEO monthly tasks, among dozens of other reasons. Performing ongoing SEO maintenance and copy experiments means being aware of this state of constant change, and self-auditing your site to see where you can improve. Since you’re here to learn about maintenance, you’re already a master with on-page copy, right? If not, check out the linked article and then pop back here.

To get a Google-ized view of your webpage, a great place to start is Google Search Console.

This amazing tool is free to use, and lets you view your website as the Google bots see it. When the bots crawl your site, they aggregate this data and use it to determine the search rankings. So when you use GSC, you are able to see which pages on your site are doing the most work, which need a tune-up, and what queries your site shows up for.

A/B Testing Your Website Copy

Once you’ve got an idea of which pages are your all-stars, and which need to get whipped into shape, you can start testing your copy. A website is not a billboard, it is an ever-changing thing that you can constantly tune and adjust. Not only does your copy need to be better than the competition’s, but it also needs to be fine-tuned. The way you do this is by A/B testing.

Sometimes called a split test or a copy-split test, A/B testing harks back to your high school chemistry days and the good ol’ scientific method. Here’s how it works. The “A” is your page as-is. Make a note of the copy, links, metatags, and so on, and gather data for a set period of time on how that page is performing (three days, a week, a month, etc). Once you have your data, do a little keyword research, see what the competition is doing with a tool like Moz’s free SEO peeker, then choose a single variable to change.

In the case of on-page SEO, this variable can be almost anything on the page, from the copy, the headings on the page, or the links to other pages. Don’t change them all, do one at a time, then wait and gather data, so you can isolate which changes are succeeding or lagging behind.

Once you change the content on a given page, it becomes your “B” page, and what you do next is… wait. Gather data (using Google’s Search Console or a similar tool) for the same amount of time on your “B” page as you did for “A,” then compare them. If “B” performed better, that becomes your new “A” and it stays. If it did worse, you swap it back to the original “A” and perform the test again, trying different keywords, links, tags, and so on. It’s a slow process, but being methodical is the only way to make sure it works.

Sometimes all you get from doing an A/B test is a few percent boost in traffic, which is a modest success, but nothing to scream about. However, if you use the tools we’re about to talk about in conjunction with your A/B test, you can make massive gains for minimal effort.

Using Google Trends To Find New Keywords

Google has an awesome feature called Trends that’s free and can help massively with your SEO maintenance task list. To pump up your SEO gains, every two weeks or so you should hop onto Trends for an hour and do searches for key terms that relate to your business. What you’re looking for is new stuff that you didn’t see last time you looked at Trends.

These rising trends are a signpost showing you where a big influx in search rank might come from next. Using your business sense, research, and a fair bit of intuition, you can transfigure a rising search trend into enhanced content for your site by adding search terms to your copy in your next A/B test.

Employ Google Alerts So You Don’t Miss SEO Opportunities

The final tool to help you make a clean sweep with your site’s consistent SEO maintenance is to use Google Alerts. Google Alerts is an extremely simple tool, but its power is difficult to overstate. Simply put, Alerts lets you tell Google to send you an email anytime a certain phrase pops up in the news or high in search rankings.

You should definitely have the name of your business and your founder as alerts, at a bare minimum. Beyond that, we’d recommend setting up alerts that relate to your industry, specifically focusing on new technologies, new competitors, and up-and-coming thought leaders. If you start getting alerts about a New York Times article about businesses in your field, you can scan the article and look at the keywords that are there, and use them in your next A/B test, or create a new webpage full of those juicy terms to catapult you up the search rankings.

If A/B testing copy for SEO sounds like a ton of work, well… it is. It’s very worth it, especially since most people ignore anything beyond the first two or three rankings in Google, and getting yourself up there can be life-or-death for a business. We’d be happy to work with you and create an SEO plan that can help your business continue to grow, while you focus on what you do best. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re still the padawan and letting a master guide you.


Contributing Author Post: Lucas X. Wiseman is two parts writer, one part dungeon master, with a sprinkle of PNW rainwater, art & woodworking for flavor.

Find him here or on Twitter.

Hire Gravitate. Get Results.