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MozCon 2019: Rob Ousbey – Running Your Own SEO Tests: Why it Matters and How To Do It Right


Continuing on with our Ignite Search MozCon blog series, where we discuss some of the most influential and informative presentations at the 2019 MozCon Digital Marketing conference in Seattle, Washington. In this week’s blog post we will be discussing Rob Ousbey’s presentation ‘Running Your Own SEO Tests: Why It Matters & How To Do It Right?’

Who is Rob Ousbey

Before jumping into the presentation, we would first like to introduce Rob Ousbey. Rob is equipped with over 10 years of SEO experience and currently leads a team of digital marketing experts as the VP of Distilled. Distilled is an online marketing agency with offices in London, New York and Seattle. Furthermore, Rob has joined the Moz team to help build the tools and data that will bring tremendous value to businesses of all sizes.

rob ousbey profile picture

Now For The Presentation Details

Rob started the presentation by acknowledging the age gap in the audience. In doing so he empowered the younger generation to take action and explore the ever changing cues in today’s world. He explained how SEO has changed 10 years ago and provided the top 10 ranking factors in 2005, as seen in the image below:

seo is changing - rob ousbey

Google’s goal (back then) was to be the go-to portal to the internet. There was a direct relationship between users experience and Google’s search results. Rob summarised listed them as the following:

bad user experience - rob ousbey - Copy

Google wanted to measure user experiences and did so by enquiring directly on the Search Results Landing Page (SERPs), as seen in the image below:

measuring user satisfaction 2005 - rob ousbey - Copy

So what changed? Well Google ended up with more data than any other company and eventually became a machine learning first enterprise.

Contemporary SEO

Search engines such as Google is now, more than ever, are capable of drawing in data and insights on users search experience from numerous metrics. With a mission statement such as:

google mission statement 2020 - Copy

In short, Google’s objective is to provide right answer to the user’s search queries. As Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, has simply expressed,

‘We are moving from a company that helps you find answers to a company that help gets things done’

Today, there are well over 200 search ranking factors to consider when implementing your SEO activities. Paired with numerous studies by reputable firms such as WordStream, Backlinko, Searchmetrics – just to name a few, how do we know what course of actions to take when that will yield significant improvements in rankings for our clients and businesses alike?

Conduct Your Own SEO Tests

Through a series of examples, Rob was able to walk through his analysis on a few ‘top SEO practices’ that has been accredited to improve your rankings.

These examples were coordinated through Rob’s very own DistilledODN – an A/B testing tool from Distilled.net.

Test 1: Ad Floods

This site contained numerous pop-ups and ads that obscured the content. We had anticipated this would have a significant impact on search visibility.

test 1 movie site example

And that is exactly, what had happened, as seen in the image below:

test 1 results decline in traffic

Test 2: Premature Sign-up Form

Upon visiting this site, a request to sign up and register as a member would pop up prior viewing the contents itself.  Similar to the previous test, Rob anticipated that search visibility will decrease.

test 2 premature pop up example

And again, that is exactly what had happened, as seen in the image below:

Test 3: A Reputable Site

Rob’s experiences on Forbes website had demonstrated to be tedious. He explained upon his visit, he was bombarded with unrelated video content, pop-ups and ads, as seen in the image below:

test 3 forbes website example

Although, Forbes receives an average of 700 new links a day, Rob continued to stress that SEO is changing, and in the last year Forbes’s search visibility had declined by 35%

So where do we go from here? Simply put, Rob recommends testing the impact of SEO changes. While having to implement the ‘top SEO practices’ based on other SEOs’ experiences, it would be near impossible to identify which activities contributed to the improvement in your traffic or, worst, which activities contributed to the decline in traffic.

The A/B Process

While some SEOs may suggest monitoring the data after implementing the changes, Rob explained that changes in data post implementation may be a result of seasonal and market trends. He suggested conducting a test against a parallel universe – the very essence of A/B testing.

He suggested having a control and a variant group with which SEOs should monitor the change in traffic.

a b testing - rob ousbey - Copy

We can anticipate 3 results to yield after the implementing the changes:

  1. Positive Test, whereby it is recommended to roll out the change throughout the whole website.
  2. Negative Test, whereby it is recommended to reverse the changes that were implemented.
  3. Null Test, whereby changes were ineffective and that an informed decision will need to take place.

Here are a few insights and tips from Rob Ousbey

  1. Optimising image alt text did not yield any change in traffic and search visibility. If the contents of the landing page already contain the target keywords, Google will be able to draw the relevance.
  2. Structured data had proven to improve traffic over 2 tests, however test 3, 4 and 5 yield no change in traffic.
  3. Changes in meta data can be crawled and indexed in a short period of time, and can be reverse just as easily.
  4. Google had claimed that they are able to render Javascript, however content loaded directly in HTML yield a 6.2% increase in traffic.
  5. Reusing old content resulted in an 8% increase in traffic.

What Can We Take Away From The Presentation

As SEO continues to evolve and change it is imperative we take the appropriate actions in our SEO activities. Through a series of examples and tests, Rob has explained that there is no overarching guideline to ensure positive SEO outcomes. It is best as SEO experts to test these changes ourselves and truly understand the implications of our efforts depending on the nature of the project at hand.

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