Everything You Know About Conversion Rate Optimization Is Wrong


Conversion is a key element in your paid search strategy; after all, if you're not actually turning lookers into buyers at a high rate, what are you advertising for? Conversion rate optimization enables you to maximize every cent of your PPC spend by finding that sweet spot that convinces the maximum percentage of your prospects to take action.

But what is a good conversion rate? If you're already achieving 3%, 5% or even 10% conversion rates, is that as high as you're going to go?

We recently analyzed thousands of AdWords accounts with a combined $3 billion in annual spend and discovered that some advertisers are converting at rates two or three times the average. Do you want to be average, or do you want your account to perform exponentially better than others in your industry?

Through our analysis of this massive amount of data on landing pages and conversion rates, we were able to identify some common traits of the top converting landing pages. What do they have that you don't? Believe it or not, there isn't much standing between you and conversion rates double or triple what you're seeing today. But the way you’re going to get there is totally counter to typical conversion rate optimization wisdom.

what's a good conversion rate on adwords

In this post, you'll learn a step-by-step, replicable process for boosting your conversion rates, all backed by data insights from the best (and worst) performing advertisers in the market. Our recent conversion rates webinar is available in full at the end of this post. Today, we'll cover:

Are you ready to find out why everything you thought you know about CRO is wrong? Here we go…

No time to read this post? We have the free PDF download for you! 

Why Conventional Wisdom Around Conversion Rates is Silly

Learning that the experts you've been listening to all along are wrong is a bit like learning for the first time as a kid that mascots aren't real. Underneath that fluffy suit there was just a sweaty unshaven guy. Everything you've learned about conversion rate optimization is a bit like that: shiny and pretty on the surface, but seriously lacking in substance.

How is everyone getting it so wrong? Primarily, if you're singing the same song as everyone else, you can really never be anything more than average. When all of the gurus are all preaching the same optimizations, and all of your competitors are listening to them, how are you supposed to stand out?

The Classic Conversion Rate Optimization Test is Silly

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Great Conversion Rate Optimization Fairy Tale. Once upon a time, a self-professed marketing guru told you it's really important that you optimize your site. They shared one example where the author changed the button color, or the font spacing, or the image. Lo and behold, the advertiser's conversion rate jumped by 2-7%.

good conversion rate

Amazing, right?! Um, no, not really. These are really basic, run-of-the-mill A/B testing best practices. Yes, you should be doing these optimizations on an ongoing basis, and you're probably going to see small, single-digit increases in your conversion rate – but it's not likely to shoot you into the 10% or greater conversion bucket.

Let me show you what happens with those gains generated by these small tweaks on your page. Here's an example of a landing page split test; the gray line on the bottom is the first page version we were running. The blue line is the second version we ran against it. In the beginning, the new page far outperformed the old. Awesome, right?

conversion rate optimization tests

Except as you can see, the gains were not long lasting. In fact, the "better" page would eventually plateau. We began running 20 to 30 tests at a time and saw this pattern across our tests. We call this a premature testing dilemma. You see an early lead but shortly down the line, the early lead disappears.

This isn't true all of the time, of course. However, we found that in the majority of cases, small changes like line spacing, font colors, etc. = small gains. If you want big, serious, long-lasting conversion gains, you need to move past these spikes that last only a couple of days or weeks.

Why does this happen? Often, it's because the total volume of conversions you're measuring against are low to start with. If you're looking at 50, 100 or even 200 conversions across your entire test, small changes can seem more impactful than they really are. A couple of conversions might mean a 4% conversion increase if there are only 50 conversions total, because your sample size really isn't big enough to start with.

It's Time to Stop Moving the Chairs Around

conversion rates

When it comes to landing page optimization, you can stay really busy doing small things that have little impact. It's like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. We need to move past this mentality to the big tactics and optimizations that will dramatically change your performance and fortune.

First, we need to know:

What is a Good Conversion Rate?

Hint: it's a lot higher than you may think.

Conventional wisdom says that a good conversion rate is somewhere around 2% to 5%. If you're sitting at 2%, an improvement to 4% seems like a massive jump. You doubled your conversion rate! Well, congratulations, but you're still stuck in the average performance bucket.

In this analysis, we started with all accounts we can analyze and went back a period of 3 months. We removed those that didn't have conversion tracking set up properly, those with low conversion volumes (<10 conversions/month), and low volume accounts (<100 clicks/month), leaving hundreds of accounts for our analysis. We then plotted where the accounts fit in terms of conversion rate.

conversion rate distribution

So what is a good conversion rate? About 1/4 of all accounts have less than 1% conversion rates. The median was 2.35%, but the top 25% of accounts have twice that – 5.31% - or greater. Check out the far right red bar – the top 10% of AdWords advertisers have account conversion rates of 11.45%.

Remember, this isn't for individual landing pages – these advertisers are accomplishing 11.45% conversion and higher across their entire account.

Clearly, this isn't some anomaly; this is perfectly attainable. If you're currently getting 5% conversion rates, you're outperforming 75% of advertisers … but you still have a ton of room to grow!

best conversion rates

You should be shooting for 10%, 20%, or even higher, putting your conversion rates 3x to 5x higher than the average conversion rate. Aspire to have these landing page conversion rate unicorns in your account.

But Conversion Rates Are Lower in My Industry…

That's entirely possible. We segmented conversion rate data by industry to see whether these insights held true for all marketers. Here's what we found in an analysis of four major industries:

conversion rates by industry

There's a lot of flux there; e-commerce has a far lower average conversion rate, especially compared to finance. However, check out the Top 10% Conversion Rates. They're 3 to 5 times higher than the average for each industry, so we can see that the rule holds across the board, regardless of industry.

The flip side, of course, is that if you're in a high-performer industry like finance, 5% really isn't a fantastic conversion rate. If you're comparing yourself to the average across all industries, you're really deluding yourself into thinking you're doing better than you are. In truth, the top 10% are doing almost five times better.

Even if the average conversion rates are lower in your industry, the top advertisers are outperforming you by 3-5x or more.

The Top 10% of Landing Pages: What Makes Them Tick?

What do these top 10% of landing page unicorns look like and how are they killing the competition the way they are? We went through 1,000 landing pages and performed a qualitative analysis, in order to find the common traits among the best performing advertiser landing pages in the market.

Here are my top five tips to help you reach landing page unicorn status:

1. Change the Offer

Across all of the high-performing landing pages, we saw massively creative and differentiated offers. Companies often have a default offer, their go-to, which may be the same or very similar to what all of their competitors are doing. Lawyers, for example, will offer a free consultation. Software companies will offer a free trial. They're unimaginative and not very creative.

How can you get creative with your offer? In our case, we realized that offering prospects a free trial of WordStream software really wasn't very imaginative or compelling. We had to think outside the box (don't you love that phrase?) and come up with something different and unique; something more tangible and compelling than just sending them to a software trial to find their way around.

landing page offer

What we came up with was our free AdWords Grader, which actually gives people an account evaluation report, with recommendations to help them improve their AdWords strategy. This was a HUGE turning point for us. Prospects loved it and conversions went through the roof.

So how do you know if your offer stinks? If your conversion rate is stuck at 2% or lower, you're not there yet. But the real way we figured out how our offer stunk was by asking our customers. We added one form field on our landing page form to ask people what they wanted our help with – and it wasn't a free software trial.

Brainstorm, ask your customers, and come up with more unique offers to test. You'll never know which one is the winner until you try some new offers out.

2. Change the Flow

Sometimes, you're putting up barriers to conversion without even realizing it.

landing page test

In the above example, you can see the first landing page version and just how much information people had to provide before they could download the software trial. Clearly, this was too much for many prospects. It was daunting and discouraging – not the kind of user experience you want on your landing page.

conversion rate optimization

Here you can see their new landing page iteration, which turned out to be an exponentially better performer. They've changed the flow so that anyone can download and install the file. At the last step, the user is asked to register the software. At this point, they've already spent 10 or 15 minutes with the software and are far more likely to invest the time in completing the information form.

This was actually so effective that they were overwhelmed with conversions. They ended up backing off slightly and using the registration to find more qualified leads, by asking for the information one week after the download, once their prospects had time to sit and get to know their software. Changing the flow helped them boost conversions, but also manage lead quality in a far more effective way.

Here's another great example, where the advertiser realized their landing page offer didn't necessarily speak to the person who would be performing a search. In their case, a loved one or friend might be seeking help.

landing page optimization tests

This advertiser decided they would let the visitor choose their own flow. This was incredibly effective not only for conversion, but also in segmentation for their remarketing and lead nurturing efforts.

So what's the takeaway here? Find the flow that works best for your prospects and use it to boost conversion rate and qualify your leads.

3. Use Remarketing as a CRO Tool

On average, 96% of the people who visit a website will leave without ever converting to a lead or sale. Remarketing helps you get in front of these people with targeted, relevant messaging as they take part in other activities around the web, like email, watching YouTube videos, using social networks or searching for information.

Check out my post at Moz for a deep dive into this incredibly effective tactic.

4. Try Out 10 Landing Pages to Find 1 Unicorn

Let's talk about effort for a minute. What do you need to put into CRO to find your own unicorn landing pages? To understand this, let's look at the relative abundance of these top performers:

great conversion rates

Sometimes you get lucky, but if you want to achieve these top 10% landing pages across your account, you need to replicate the above steps multiple times and perform testing on an ongoing basis.

On average, you should be testing four unique landing pages – with varying offers, flow and messaging – to find that one awesome landing page. If you want to find a unicorn landing page – that top 10% page that sees your conversions reaching 3-5x the average – you need to test at least ten landing pages.

Here, we've analyzed an e-commerce account with 1000 unique landing pages. About a third of traffic goes to the top most-trafficked landing page in their account. When we dig deeper, we see that about 80% of traffic goes to just the top 10% of landing pages.

landing page conversion rates

You don't need to make thousands and thousands of landing pages. You need to find the top performers you already have and focus your efforts there. How can you improve their performance? Cut the fat, stop wasting time on the low performers – in fact, just get rid of them. If you have just one great landing page, it's smarter to focus your efforts there.

Here's more proof that burning the midnight oil creating dozens or hundreds of landing page variations isn't the best use of your time:

number of landing pages

Here, we've plotted out tens of thousands of accounts by conversion rate vs unique landing pages. We don't see a strong correlation between increased number of landing pages and increased conversion.

If you're after the top performers, quantity does not necessarily equal quality.

5. F%@# Conversion Rates

Wait, what??

conversion rates

Stay with me here. Higher conversion rates, on their face, seem awesome. However, if you're converting less qualified leads, you're actually throwing MORE money away, because those leads cost you money.

I want you to focus on landing page optimizations like the above that move you in the direction of higher quality, more qualified lead generation, not just more conversions.

Key Takeaways

So what have you taken away from this? I hope you can get the following to stick and use these tips to guide a more holistic, effective conversion rate optimization strategy – the kind that will boost your conversions, but bring better lead quality, as well.

  1. Most landing page optimizations are like moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic. Small changes = small gains.
  2. Insanely focused and strategic landing page optimization brings 3-5x the conversions AND improves lead quality.
  3. In some industries, even 5% conversion rates aren't that impressive. If you're stuck in the 2-5% conversion rate bucket, you have a ton of room to grow.
  4. Get creative with your offers and test multiple different offers to find the one that resonates best with your audience. If you want to get really crazy (you know you do), find different offers that can help you qualify leads in the process.
  5. Identify the obstacles keeping prospects from converting and get those roadblocks out of the way by changing the flow. Test different variations to find out exactly which path to conversion works best for your audience.
  6. Use remarketing to recapture people who showed intent but didn't convert.
  7. Test smarter, not more often. You need to test 10 unique landing page variations to find 1 top performer, but this goes far beyond changing a font color and calling it a landing page variation.
  8. Trim the fat in your account and ditch your lowest performers. Focus your energies on the top 10% of landing pages that earn 80% of traffic.
  9. Always, always keep your eye on the prize, which is making more sales or generating leads most likely to convert to sales. Don't let high conversion rates take precedence over lead quality or you're going to spend more qualifying leads. You need to find the sweet spot where everything works like a well-oiled machine.

You made it! For all the awesome from our recent conversion rate optimization webinar, see the full video below:

If you missed our last webinar, make sure you check out The Secrets Behind Ads with 3x the Average CTR. Our goal is to help you get every aspect of your AdWords account working at peak performance.

Now go forth confidently, young marketer, to slay competitors and wow prospects with your newfound conversion optimization knowledge. Give our free AdWords Grader a spin to see exactly where you're at with your current landing page strategy, then start making smarter changes that will rocket you past your competition.

And as always, if you have any questions about our data, strategy or the tips outlined above, fire away in the comments!



Jay Joseph
Mar 17, 2014

Another fantastic article!I had to pop in today because I've been focusing on CRO more and more, and wanted to thank you for this content, as well as great stuff in general.I'll definitely be trying a few of these myself, #2 in particular was great because it's a reminder that I should be optimizing not just single aspects of the company in any given round, but multiple layers i.e. not only improved CR but lead qualification at the same time.It's a great reminder of a quote I try to live by: "The only way to get smarter is to play a smarter opponent."It's easy to get tunnel vision, so starting the week off with not only a good reminder of why I need to play better, but some tips I can monetize immediately as well, is much appreciated :)Cheers!!

Mar 18, 2014

Thanks for info!

Mar 18, 2014

Good summary, I believe it's important to not get obsessed over one metric. You need to understand the context and include other metrics to know if you're successful or not. I wrote more aboout this in a recent post - http://blog.hotdogsandeggs.com/one-measly-metric-is-never-enough

Mar 18, 2014

Ah!  Wish I could get my clients to truly understand CRO!  Good intro article. How do you think CRO could be applied to product pages that are also used for comparison shopping engines? For example, Google Shopping uses promo text. Any though as to how one could use that offer area?

Mar 20, 2014

Great post, Larry. We agree, focussing too much on one metric can be harmful. Instead, you should really focus on how conversion rate optimization fits into the broader goals of the business and how it can impact financial metrics, rather than narrow web analytis metrics.

Adrien B
Mar 20, 2014

This is very true in B2B : sometimes, optimizing the conversion rate on a landing page will just increase the noise.Whenever possible, keep track of your AdWords stats all over the Sales cycle, so that you can know at the end which campaigns/pages/keywords lead to real opportunities, and which don't.

Steph Woods
Mar 25, 2014

Excellent article. Love all the conversion rate data. Do you have something similar for B2C?

ravi janardhan
Mar 26, 2014

What a great post!

It's a refreshing reminder to do CRO and the possibilities it throws open in terms of increased conversions and leads validation.

Thanks for stats & relevant links.

Kyriacos Hadjisoteriou
Jun 12, 2014

Great post, based on sound research. No wonder it ranks high on google search ;)
Keep it up!

Jun 13, 2014

Where are you getting your figures for conversion rates averages? Was this from personal testing experience or did these figures come from a study somewhere? I would like to reference these numbers but want to be sure of the source... Thanks.  

Elisa Gabbert
Jun 13, 2014

These are based on an analysis of our customer accounts.

Kristin Bush
Jul 01, 2014

Thanks so much for the great article and for highlighting our CTA ad for our healthcare client - much appreciated! We take our clients target audiences' behaviours and thought process seriously in everything we do. We need to speak directly to the various audiences and make sure to hit on what they specifically are seeking out - nothing generic.

john divramis
Jul 11, 2014

This is an increadible article! l am usign it as a source on my blog in greek language with the title how to double your sales

Jul 29, 2014

Great stuff thanks for this post

Sharon Hay
Aug 07, 2014

This article offered some great insights to those conversion percentage myths.  Thank you!

Aug 15, 2014

great to have one like this 

Aug 21, 2014

Thanks for the article, I thought it was fascinating! 

Sep 19, 2014

I have a conversion rate of 5.85% on my Google adword ads. We work in VPS hosting industry, do you guys think this is a good conversion rate of it's below the average?

Sep 26, 2014

its great how we're all talking about 'converting' viewers to leads or sales like they're long-grain rice that we're just shoving into our great big steaming conversion hoppers, grinning like uncle ben on christmas morning. this is really humanizing and not at all kind of weird and soulless.

Oct 10, 2014

can't even express my feelings to share this brilliant article>>

Mar 01, 2015

Thanks for another excellent post. The place else may
anyone get that kind of info in such an ideal approach of writing?
I've a presentation subsequent week, and I'm on the search for such information.

Oct 20, 2014

Hi,Really interested to know what is the average conversion rates for SEO agencies, it would be great if you can give me an idea, as I’m entering into this field and dont have a clue.thanks alot

Nov 12, 2014

Interesting chart on the conversion rate x number of landing pages. Nice articel!

Nov 18, 2014

As far as my knowledge of conversion rate is concerned I would say is the act of converting site visitors into paying customers. Infact, the above post gives a very advanced and brief knowledge too. It can be considered quite a reliable source to be known about the same.

John Crenshaw
Nov 20, 2014

Hey Larry, I've seen your conversion rate study - referenced in this article - talked about quite a bit lately and had a question.I was curious as to whether you guys only tracked certain conversion types or if everything is lumped in there. The reason I ask is an advertiser could be tracking everything from actual sales and leads to visits of key pages. More conversion types being tracked would obviously result in a much higher conv rate reported via the AdWords interface. I'm sure only counting converted clicks would help with that problem somewhat, but still wouldn't completely solve it. If you have one advertiser tracking far more conversion types than another, hence reporting a higher conversion rate, it doesn't necessarily mean the first advertiser is doing any better. Were you guys able to correct for that in some way in this study?

Nov 21, 2014

for sure the combo of words are really awesome !

Customer Care Numbers
Nov 26, 2014

Amazing article,i really enjoy it. thanks for sharing.

Dec 11, 2014

I started out the article very excited, but quickly resorted to skimming, then to just reading the headlines only.Like the detail, but it's a bit too much detail. I, as a guy who hates testing and looking at data, wish there was a cheap solution where someone would come and do all the testing for me or a plugin that will make small changes, test, them, collect data, crunch the numbers, and just optimize the pages/sites for me.Hello, a business idea for someone?But in all seriousness (but seriously, this would be a good idea for someone who likes testing), I think I'm going to have to bookmark this page and come back to it when my brain is feeling more refreshed in the morning.

H. T. Major
Dec 22, 2014

This is most amazing! I came looking for updated data on average conversion rates per industry, and came away with a whole great lot more than that. Thanks for the awesome tips to use for boosting clients' conversion rates.

Now if the text wasn't WAY TOO LIGHT not to cause eye strain, and if I could have buffered this page easily, that would've been truly fantastic! (No description, image, or even title were pulled automatically in Buffer, FYI.)

Thanks again.

Elisa Gabbert
Dec 23, 2014

Hi there, we're going through a redesign and experiencing some display issues! I hope you'll come back for more as we work out the kinks :)

Jan 26, 2015

What do you mean here by "Conversion rate"? Conversion from a visitor to a registered user, or from a visitor to a paying customer? It's not clear from the article :)

Feb 14, 2015

Its yet another master piece from wordstream. Well written with hot tips and let me try once as on your instructions.

Feb 23, 2015

I will try some of these techniques later this week.

Kenneth Shamu
Mar 05, 2015

Thank you for this resource. After 18 months of SEO I decided it was time to explore paid search. Wordstream keeps popping up time and time again as I search for answers to some PPC questions.

SEO Gereggi
Mar 13, 2015

every seo expert should read this article. all the techniques described can open our knowledge will correct development of seo techniques..

Mar 19, 2015

thanks so much for the stats and recommendations. I was looking for information that I could show my client in regards to what average and good conversion rates are. Hopefully this makes my meeting a little more successful.

Hasan Habib
May 05, 2015

Thanks a lot
The conversion rate and increasing it is a key concept for online marketer. Here is a good demonstration and real explanation that motivated me.

thank again

Aug 17, 2015

its amzaing what a little change can make!

Liza Ellis
Sep 16, 2015

This is an interesting read about how a content can be marketed. The through out statistics about the conversion rate are truly informative. I could really use them in my own knowledge. Thanks

Oct 21, 2015

Nice article about Conversion Rate, i totally agree with your tactics, it will be really helpful to jumped on good conversion rate. Thank you!

Oct 29, 2015

This article is highly misleading. It does not say what industry the statistics are taken from. It also does not say that conversion rates massively depend on what industry you are advertising. Our conversion rate is almost always 25% to 75% because the industries we advertise are for services where the need is urgent. If the need is urgent then the conversion rate will go through the roof.

I honestly think this article is being misleading on purpose because it is in the interest of wordstream to mislead on this. If people are given the impression they can improve their conversion rate by a lot, then they will be more inclined to pay money to wordstream. But they are not told by that such improvement depends more on what industry they are in.

May 05, 2016

I 100% agree and just had the same conversation with one of my employees. There are so many important factors this article leaves out, including audience targeting strategies (sometimes wide-net strategies have poorer conversion rates than short-net strategies but yield better outcomes downstream and vice versa), product or service they're selling, competitive landscape (example, some SAAS markets are so competitive, cost-per-click can be so high it forces hyper targeting in order to maintain positive ROI for this channel), go-to-market strategy (if you're #1 brand but sell through distributors, your relationship to your customer might be as experts/informational rather than purchase path, which affects the types of messages/CTA's you can be successful with, which in turn affects your conversion rates)...the list goes on and on.

Also their entire mention of sample size would only be an a-ha to people who are not qualified to be running marketing experiments, and the fact that they put that out there (as a data analysis provider) tells me they are preying on (excuse me, targeting) people who are easily prodded in directions/pov's that are beneficial to WordStream.

I agree most tests yield small gains, but the sum total of continuous small gains add up to when you move to an always-be-testing strategy, so I disagree with telling people to jump to big/multivariate tests in the hope that one out of ten will yield big results.

Anyway, bad taste aside, I do like what they’re saying in a lot of their tips. I think testing your offer is one of the biggest levers for uplift. I 100% agree with looking for obstacles placed in the path of prospects and removing them to create uplift. I agree remarketing is a thing. I agree on the strategy to focus on your top performers and kill the rest, and I agree to always focus on downstream outcomes rather than upstream metrics--in fact I think in this day and age there is no excuse for Marketing to not own size, velocity and outcomes from the downstream funnel and any team that reports impressions, clicks, CTR and "MQLs" (which is an outdated and super-unhelpful term used to describe an antiquated concept of marketing only having limited contribution to the top of the funnel) is playing a major game of Wizard of Oz with their leadership team.

All-in-all, WordStream you have a cool tool but this article is misguided at best, manipulative at worst. You can do better.

Matt Kohn
Dec 04, 2015

Fascinating and in-depth article. Really provided a lot of value with the various examples provided throughout the article. I personally resonated with the "stop moving your chairs around" comic as this often distracts people from what is most important in your design - that your message gets across clearly, effectively and quickly.

Thanks a lot for sharing here Larry.

Matt Kohn

Feb 20, 2016

Personally I never believe changing some font and color can increase Conversion rates! cause I believe every industry have their own standard average conversion! for example in past I works with some company and doing some grey are business and conversion really crazy, and we make millions dollar per month! and the most stupid is our product are not exist or shady! stuff like that, but since everyone never knew about how the product works, but they need the product so bad, so whether they like it or not they have to buy it! otherwise they can enter US, :D lol! thousands people buy it! actually we only get $14, but since the quantity are so huge and conversion are so big, we made millions of dollar per month!

if I remember our landing page, actually are quite old, not fancy and look like gov sites ;) if you know what i means lol :D but I can tell you guys, conversion rates, basically depend on industry and needs, about pic , font, and etc will not helping boosting conversions! but of course sales letter are important, because when I read our sales letter, its very genuine and etc, no lies or something like that! and its very different with what people suggestion from every SEM blog I reads! that said, we have to offer this and that , font color and etc!

as buyer, I always prefer with sales letter that genuine not like some CB affiliates with darks and big font, and very persuasive! but my point is, they will buy if we offer the right product, with the right people that want to buy! and no need lies or etc!

Jun 10, 2016

Super interesting approach Harrist, let me know your contact to have a word fella ;)

Y J shah
Apr 02, 2016

I would like to bring to your notice, that, In the resource section at the end of the post, the resource is not linked.

Must say, Great research done! Could you also share some (not more than 5) themes of personal site(with blog in it) which can benefit me as a sales and marketing consultant and trainer. Plus some examples of landing pages for training program, webinar, and so on.

If you could answer my question, i will be grateful.

With Regards,
Y J Shah.

Philip Edwards
Apr 09, 2016

Introduced a pop up with an offer on the landing page which is on the home page and a massive increase on conversion

Apr 25, 2016

Amazing article, I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks so much for sharing.

Eyal Matsliah
May 20, 2016

Awesome article.

What is an average conversion rate for information products that are over $100 with cold traffic ?


David Cornish
Aug 24, 2016

Really helpful for business website!! Thanks so much for sharing.


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