In episode 8, Mike King and Zach Chahalis of iPullRank discuss why automated testing needs to be incorporated into your SEO strategy.
Mike and Zach share thoughts on the obstacles that may be preventing SEOs from conducting automated testing and how SEOs can work with developers to perform these test.
They also give some insight into how you should approach conversations around automated testing internally to demonstrate the true value.
How many times have people rolled out some codes of production and then accidentally no index their entire site?
It’s a common SEO horror story that you hear all the time and just having the ability to signal to a developer while they’re still working on their code is the fastest way to ensure something is going to get fixed.
You don’t want to have to wait until after something has been deployed and then tell them “Hey, you did it wrong. ” And then have to write up a story, get it back in the queue, when is it going to get into the sprint? No. Fix it before you break it. It’s an obvious thing that would be of value.
And it also kind of speaks to a development workflow that already exists. They have test cases for other things, so why not also incorporate SEO into that as well.
So I’ll give a little bit of a story time, but first I do want to caveat, when we are talking about automated testing, it needs to be both pre and post launch of any deployment, right?
So that is the big thing I see a lot of folks doing too. They may only do one. They may only just test it in their QA staging environment. Great, but sometimes you push code live and it does have unintended consequences in doing so. So story time with that.
I used to work with a Fortune 100 brand who back in the day, they had eight servers. Four were used for production, four were used for staging. Whenever they wanted to push deployment, they swapped them. And what they didn’t account for when they were doing that is that the robust text stayed with the server.
So they pushed live a robust text file that had just had one line of code. Disallows slash.
So you’re talking about Fortune 100 brand. The site organically generating at least 250 million a year in revenue. You’ve just basically told Google to remove your entire site from it.
So that’s where automated testing comes into play. I’m actually the one that caught that problem with them, but it’s because I set up automated testing for those particular use cases.
So the automated testing helps to catch that type of scenario. Before you, for lack of a better word, shoot yourself in the foot, destroy your site from an organic visibility standpoint.
I think the biggest barrier is just that people don’t know what it is or really what their role as an SEO is in doing it.
The expectation isn’t that you as an SEO are going to configure tests or write code for tests. That’s not it. It’s more that the SEO is kind of acting like a product manager and saying, these are the test cases that we want to account for.
And so, defining what the data set needs to be, defining how those things will be checked for is pretty much the, the job as far as making this happen. And then also determining which test is severe enough that if it fails, it should fail the build entirely, versus what is something that should just be a warning.
It really comes down to some of the basic stuff that you have to understand about SEO. How do you prioritize, how well do you understand how the site is built and configured, so that you can determine the right sort of test.
So it’s really the barrier to entry is just like technical skill.
I think there’s a couple things.
I 100% agree with what Mike just threw out there. Some of the things I also used to see is a lot of sites or companies are working with a third party development group, or even their in-house development org. Developers aren’t often keyed into SEO considerations, requirements, why things are important.
They might just look at a title tag and say, I’m just going to drop a word in here. Half the time that’s why you see home as a title tag.
But when you’re looking at situations like that, they don’t know to be looking for those things. So automatically there’s a little bit of an education barrier that exists there, but in some cases it’s not their jobs.
A lot of companies do not have a QA group or any form of testing group that goes live with it. So if the development group’s not even aware of this, let alone caring that it might be an item and no one else is looking at it, there’s a “if a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around to hear it” type thing. So that’s a big piece that I see there.
I also see in some cases, some companies struggle with defining their test cases because their site has problems. So for example, they may want to make sure their internal links point to canonical URLs. Cool. If the site’s currently broken in that way though, you’re gonna struggle trying to get a QA team or a dev team to understand what a good test case looks like. What should be happening is we fix this and then here’s what that test case looks like.
So there’s often a little bit of a knowledge gap on that side too, that usually you’re fixing something technical, SEO wise, and you need to make sure those test cases account for that.
I think this one is simple. Do you wanna avoid the site breaking and losing traffic or not?
I don’t even think this is something you should try to like build a business case for it. I think the business case is obvious and it’s more like, this is insurance so that we are doing everything we can to ensure that we are not susceptible to doing dumb things like no indexing our website.
So again, being that engineering teams typically already have testing in place, it’s not so much that you’ve got to bring this net new idea in.
It’s really like, here’s a good thing that we should consider if we want to avoid potential problems. Because the reality is that we’re all up against the algorithm changes and what our competitors are doing, or whatever. You still wanna make your best effort to avoiding whatever you know could go wrong.
It’s really just like buying an insurance policy for yourself.
My cheesy analogy is gonna be, it’s like buying a home security system because you want the peace of mind for it. Same thing. But in this case, you’re approaching it from two angles.
One is that preventative nature and you’re trying to prevent something from happening. I’ve also seen many companies make the use case for either building automated testing rules internally, or acquiring a third party tool, which there are a wide variety of them, like SEO Radar and Little Warden and all these ones that’ll do it off the shelf for you. Making the proof case for investing in it at that point because something broke or because they saw a revenue drop in something.
So if you’re not making that case before something breaks it, it’s not a hard proof case to say, we broke this during our last release. It eventually cost us, let’s say, $30,000 in revenue.
I’m just picking the number, but even an off the shelf you can get away for probably less than a grand a year if you wanted to. By building those things internally and maintaining them yourself, it just becomes a factor of how much do you wanna lose?
Title: Founder and CEO
Bio: An artist and a technologist, all rolled into one, Mike King is the Founder & CEO of the enterprise SEO and content strategy agency, iPullRank. Mike consults with companies all over the world, including brands ranging from SAP, American Express, HSBC, SanDisk, General Mills, and FTD, to a laundry list of promising eCommerce, publisher, and financial services organizations.
Mike has held previous roles as Marketing Director, Developer, and tactical SEO at multi-national agencies such as Publicis Modem, iAcquire, and Razorfish. Effortlessly leaning on his background as an independent hip-hop musician, Mike King is a dynamic speaker who is called upon to contribute to conferences, webinars, and blogs all over the world.
Title: Director of SEO
Bio: Zach Chahalis has over a dozen years of experience in digital marketing focused on developing and executing SEO strategies for Fortune 500 brands including Genuine Parts Company, GameStop, Michaels Stores, Sodexo, CoStar Group, and Global Payments Inc.
Zach also has experience working both agency-side and in-house with companies of all shapes and sizes ranging from local universities and regional home builders to national hotel groups and multinationals. Additionally, Zach leverages his experience and degree in business administration to develop data-driven marketing strategies beyond SEO, including developing several national loyalty rewards programs as well as leading analytics implementations and PPC campaigns for large brands.
Zach is also the co-founder of the ATL SEO organization.
Referree: Garrett Sussman
Title: Demand Generation Manager