Testing Search, SEO, and Search Results


At a Glance

Understanding how people find your website, service, or product is critical to any SEO strategy. Running user tests help you build and improve campaigns to direct traffic where you need it.


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Search engine optimization (SEO) testing helps you identify the website elements that contribute to high performance on the search engine results pages (SERPs). You may also want to know how customers use your native search engine on your website to find content. 

The UserTesting Platform allows you to understand your customers better, how they get to your site, and what they do once they get there.


When it comes to search and SEO, you can test:

  • Keyword research and identification
  • Competition research and analysis
  • On-page optimization (website pages, title, content, call-to-action buttons, etc.)
  • Off-page optimization (link building)
  • Ranking, traffic, exit pages, and page views
  • SERPs
  • Paid search ads
  • Search behaviors
  • Meta tag data
  • Structured data
  • Answer boxes
  • Internal links
  • High bounce rates
  • Mobile optimization
  • And the overall user experience

Types of Search and SEO Tests

  • Unmoderated user tests are an excellent place to start if you want to observe how users search for content and navigate to or within your site. Have contributors complete their search across a series of tasks, and then (if available on your UserTesting plan) review the insights in your Interactive Path Flow. Note that within your tasks, you can explicitly ask contributors to use your design's search, ask them not to use search, or observe what they do on their own.
  • A/B tests present users with one of two design versions (an A version or a B version). Use A/B tests to see how users respond to different search ad designs, CTA buttons, or webpage layouts. Read more about A/B testing in our article. If testing two designs within the same test, use the Balanced Comparison feature (if available on your plan).
  • SEO split testing is similar to A/B testing, except you're comparing two groups (a test and a control) containing similar pages/designs. Use SEO split testing when testing different versions of product pages, category pages, or blog posts. You can read more about this approach in this article by SEOClarity.net.
  • Live Conversations are moderated interviews you conduct with contributors. You can run tests in real-time to see how contributors search for what they need and then ask follow-up questions in the moment. Learn more about setting up a Live Conversation in our articles.
  • Short tests are available on the UserTesting Flex plan and can help you get focused feedback from higher sample sizes. Run short tests for CTA button preference or initial impressions of a website's credibility. Please read our article on short tests for more information.
  • Card sorts are helpful when you want to know how customers categorize information, which can be beneficial when trying to understand how users search for things. For example, you can use open card sorts to see what keywords users generate if they had to search for a new car. Read more about how to leverage card sorts in our article.

If you're still looking for inspiration, check out the marketing templates in our Template Gallery for topics like "Ad testing," "Discover needs and frustrations," "First impressions," "Mobile app navigation," "Social influencer discovery," and more. 

Example Test Plan

Here are some questions and tasks you might use when testing your search or SEO strategy:

  • Written Response: Think about a National Park you would like to visit and enter the name into the text box.
  • Written Response: Now, imagine you are looking for information about that National Park. What keywords would you use to search?
  • URL Asset: You have been taken to a new site. Move on to the next task when you're there.
  • Task: Using the search function, use the keywords you mentioned previously. Stop when you see the search results.
  • Rating Scale: On a scale of 1 (inaccurate) to 5 (very accurate), how accurately do the search results reflect your expectations?
  • Rating Scale: On a scale of 1 (not likely) to 5 (very likely), how likely are you to select one of these search results?
  • Verbal Response: Spend 1-2 minutes explaining how relevant these search results are to the National Park you were looking for.
  • Task: Without clicking on anything, show and tell us what you would do if these results were NOT the information you were looking for.
  • Task: Now, show us what you would do to explore these search results further.

Best Practices for Testing Search and SEO

  1. Use screenshots when running preference tests. This will ensure that views/clicks on paid search ads don't affect the data collected in the backend.
  2. Pair quantitative A/B tests with qualitative preference tests. If you run tests with high sample sizes, also run qualitative tests to help you piece together the 'why' behind interesting trends and patterns you notice.
  3. Try testing one or a few elements at a time. For instance, run a test on just a section or a title of a webpage to get more focused results.
  4. Use a mix of multiple choice questions and open-ended questions. This will help you learn how each user felt about certain situations in their search.
  5. Ask questions related to Google's Quality Rater Guidelines. These could be questions like, "Would you trust the information presented in this article?" or "Does the information on the page seem valuable to you compared to other pages in the search results?" These can be good questions to include in the verbal tasks of your test plan.

Learn More

Need more information? Read these related articles.

Want to learn more about this topic? Check out our University courses.

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