Conversion Rates

Everything You Know About Conversion Rate Optimization Is Wrong

By Larry Kim March 17, 2014 Posted In: Conversion Rates Comments: 27

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…

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!

AdWords Performance Grader

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment.


Monday March 17, 2014

Jay Joseph (not verified) Said:

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 :)


Tuesday March 18, 2014 (not verified) Said:

Thanks for info!

Tuesday March 18, 2014

Chris (not verified) Said:

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 -

Tuesday March 18, 2014

Linda (not verified) Said:

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?

Thursday March 20, 2014

Milad Oskouie (not verified) Said:

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.

Thursday March 20, 2014

Adrien B (not verified) Said:

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.

Monday March 24, 2014

Steph Woods (not verified) Said:

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

Wednesday March 26, 2014

ravi janardhan (not verified) Said:

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.

Thursday June 12, 2014

Kyriacos Hadjisoteriou (not verified) Said:

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

Friday June 13, 2014

Janel (not verified) Said:

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.  

Friday June 13, 2014

Elisa Gabbert Said:

These are based on an analysis of our customer accounts.

Tuesday July 01, 2014

Kristin Bush (not verified) Said:

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.

Friday July 11, 2014

john divramis (not verified) Said:

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

Tuesday July 29, 2014

monika (not verified) Said:

Great stuff thanks for this post

Thursday August 07, 2014

Sharon Hay (not verified) Said:

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

Friday August 15, 2014

bellasmith938 (not verified) Said:

great to have one like this 

Thursday August 21, 2014

Destiny (not verified) Said:

Thanks for the article, I thought it was fascinating! 

Friday September 19, 2014

Minivps (not verified) Said:

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?

Friday September 26, 2014

john (not verified) Said:

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.

Friday October 10, 2014

Rabia (not verified) Said:

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

Monday October 20, 2014

hassan (not verified) Said:


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

Wednesday November 12, 2014

Kelsey (not verified) Said:

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

Tuesday November 18, 2014

angelinarobort (not verified) Said:

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.

Thursday November 20, 2014

John Crenshaw (not verified) Said:

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?

Friday November 21, 2014

Rabia (not verified) Said:

for sure the combo of words are really awesome !

Wednesday November 26, 2014

Customer Care Numbers (not verified) Said:

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

Thursday December 11, 2014

Thomas (not verified) Said:

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.

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