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So what can we do?
First, let me repeat: Doing the following may get you de-listed from Google. Still, I believe there are times when experimenting with organic landing pages, in the name of improving the user ex-perience, is justified.
Here are a few things it might be worth trying:
1. Create a new page (one that you believe offers a better experience) and send 50 percent of your natural search traffic to it. Send the other 50 percent to the version of the page that the spiders picked. Measure the conversion impact of the new page. If the new page beats the old one by a lot, have it reviewed by SEO experts, implement their recommendations, give it the same name as the old page and hope for the best.
Keep in mind that there is a line here. It's one thing if 50 percent of your traffic sees the same page as the spiders and 50 percent sees the new page. If 99 percent see the new page and 1 per-cent see the same as the spider, that's probably another story. You have to pick the level of risk you are willing to take.
2. Change a small amount of content on the page to create a clearly better user experience, but leave the bulk of the page unchanged.
The problem with many natural search landing pages is that they are highly specific and they do not contain some of the more general content that lives on the home page, so you might, for example, add a line or two of text at the top of the landing page that introduces the company or talks about your returns or security policy.
This is more likely to be a risk. If the content is minor and clearly improves the user experience, then you may be able to justify the move with Google if the company questions the tactic. If the content fundamentally changes the page, there might be trouble.
3. Change the content to be more relevant to second time visitors. Since the spiders do not allow cookies, they always see first-time visitor content.
It is fair to assume that if a person is manually checking to see if the spiders see the same page as real people (highly unlikely, given Google's preference for automated systems) they will also see first-time content. A minority percentage of your visitors from the search engines will be visiting for the second time, but I believe this is a pretty safe way of creating a better user experience without getting on the wrong side of the search engines.
The net is this: The idea of creating or changing a site specifically for the spiders has always been, and will continue to be, counter-productive. The search engines perform a needed service, and this is not about how we can get around them.
On the other hand, we need to create great, relevant and compelling pages for our prospects and our customers, and as the search industry expands, the search engines will need to begin to take into account the fact that relevant content means changing content. In fact, as Google and the others move toward offering personalized search results, it will soon become virtually impossible to have a consistent ranking, since personalized results mean that everyone will see different list-ings. Then, perhaps, it will become easier and less risky to explore with changing content on organic search landing pages.
In the meantime, it may be worth the risk of losing a bit of rank in the name of a better user experience.
Jamie Roche is CEO of OTTO Digital, and president of Offermatica. Read full bio.