SEO Split Testing Lessons from SearchPilot: Adding Easter Messaging to Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
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If you aren't familiar with the fundamentals of how we run controlled SEO experiments that form the basis of all our case studies, then you might find it useful to start by reading the explanation at the end of this article before digesting the details of the case study below. If you'd like to get a new case study by email every two weeks, just enter your email address here.
This week we asked our Twitter followers what they thought the result would be of adding seasonal messages to the titles and meta descriptions of pages on a travel site. This is what people thought:
The majority of our followers thought this test would be beneficial, with only around 10% opting for a negative impact. If you were one of the 10%, well done! That was the correct answer - the two tests we ran including Easter related terms in titles and meta descriptions had a -11.5% and -14.3% impact on organic traffic respectively.
The Case Study
The question of whether to include seasonal messaging in titles and meta descriptions comes up a lot - depending on the industry, it could be Christmas, Black Friday, Valentine’s Day, or a seasonal sale. The argument in favor is that searchers may include the seasonal term in their searches, and there may also be click through rate benefits even if users don’t search using that phrase.
We’ve previously written about a test where we added the current month and year into title tags in order to give an indication of freshness of pages. In that case, the result was positive, showing that it was beneficial in that case to indicate the timeliness of the content on the page.
This test was in a similar vein, but for a more occasional purpose - we wanted to test whether adding an Easter related phrase into title tags would be beneficial for a travel company (this test took place in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic).
We ran two similar tests in different language markets: a meta description test in German, and a title tag test in Spanish.
German meta description test:
Spanish title tag test:
Both of these changes are a simple addition of the phrase “at Easter” to the meta description and title respectively.
We ran both of these tests in the weeks leading up to Easter, with the intention of capturing search demand of people with plans to travel during that period.
Both tests turned out to have a significantly negative impact on organic traffic - the German meta description test had a -14.3% impact on organic traffic, and the Spanish title tag test had a -11.5% impact.
German meta description test result:
Spanish title tag test result:
Our conclusion from both of these results was that the Easter messaging wasn’t a significant enough factor to outweigh the negative impact it had on other keywords, and may have distracted from them. It may also have put off users who were looking to book flights for other times of the year.
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How our SEO split tests work
The most important thing to know is that our case studies are based on controlled experiments with control and variant pages:
- By detecting changes in performance of the variant pages compared to the control, we know that the measured effect was not caused by seasonality, sitewide changes, Google algorithm updates, competitor changes, or any other external impact.
- The statistical analysis compares the actual outcome to a forecast, and comes with a confidence interval so we know how certain we are the effect is real.
- We measure the impact on organic traffic in order to capture changes to rankings and / or changes to clickthrough rate (more here).