How to 3X AdWords Conversion Rates Without Touching AdWords


Over the last six months or so, one of my colleagues and I have been able to cut the cost of conversion by 2-3x, from over $325 per conversion to under $100. Here’s what that looked like:

rlsa cost per conversion

Pretty impressive, right? If you can cut your cost per conversion that much, you can drive way more conversions with the same advertising budget. So how did this happen?

What Happened?

It’s often extremely difficult to connect cause and effect in search marketing, because there are so many variables changing at the same time. However, this analysis was aided by the fact that I hadn’t made any changes to the campaign in question:

  • Did we change the landing page? No.
  • New bid strategy? Nope.
  • New ads? No. We ran the same ads over the entire time.

I had done nothing at all to the campaign over the period in question, as it was a smaller RLSA campaign that we didn’t bother focusing on because it wasn’t housing a ton of spend.

When I discovered CPAs had gone down so much, I needed to know what the heck was going. It’s not every day an untouched campaign goes bonkers like this!

The first thing I checked was to see if the CPCs were going down. That could play a huge role in lowering CPAs. But as you can see here, the CPC is steady from week to week, with the exception of August where I had to turn off the campaign for 3 weeks for budget reasons.

rlsa cost per click

It wasn’t that click prices were going down – it was that that the conversion rates were going way up. From the 2% range to the 7-8% range in recent months, as shown here:

adwords rlsa conversion rates

How Did Conversion Rates Triple So Quickly?

Here’s what was different: During the time period in question, the company ran Facebook ad campaigns targeting higher-funnel audiences corresponding to people who have the same interests and demographics as their buyer persona. The audience size was approximately 20 million people.

We bombarded this selected audience group with tons of different videos, ads, offers and content. On average people in the target audience saw the ads just over 10 times each between February and October of 2017, as shown here:

facebook ad campaigns reach

The Facebook ads generated clicks and conversions as you would expect from any pay-per-click advertising campaign.

But I believe the campaigns had an additional halo effect of creating a strong brand bias among the people who clicked through to the site, which profoundly impacted the RLSA campaigns, since they only target people who have previously visited your site.

Over the spring and summer months, we bought a ton of Facebook ads, bombarding their newsfeeds with ads (essentially manufacturing brand affinity), and the conversion rates for the RLSA campaign went up every month.

What we’re seeing here is that people with stronger brand affinity have higher conversion rates than people without any, because people tend to buy from the companies they have already heard of and begun to trust.

What does it all mean?

I’m a CRO skeptic. I think there’s a lot of the CRO bs out there that is just a bunch of smoke and mirrors.

Most of the time when people talk about conversion rate optimization they focus first on the obvious things like tweaking ad copy and landing pages or changing your bids – yes, these are all important things we must attend to, but they rarely yield sustainable 200-300% decreases in cost per conversion.

conversion rate optimization hacks

When it comes to increasing conversion rates and lowering CPA, the unicorn of all conversion rate optimization hacks is to create brand affinity among your target audience, for your business.

Quantifying the impact of brand affinity on direct response marketing is very difficult to measure, but this case study isolates a lot of the noise and illustrates the huge impact it can have on purchasing decisions.

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Nov 02, 2017

But how much did you spend on Facebook?

Nov 03, 2017

Agree with Rodrigo. AdWords Cost per Conv. does not reflect reality in this case. Costs of FB campaign should also be taken into account. How it would look like then?

Larry K
Nov 03, 2017

The Facebook ad campaigns were generating clicks and conversions on their own which were performing more or less similar in terms of ROI compared to the Google search campaigns.

My point was merely to say that in *addition* to the clicks and conversions that were generated from Facebook, we also saw conversion rates *across the board* go up (display ads, SEO, adwords, etc.). The easiest way to measure it just happened to be this one untouched RLSA campaign.

Nov 03, 2017

Hi I found this difficult to understand is there are lots of acrynyms and no explanation. I was hoping wordstream was for a small user rather than professionals. far too much jargon for the average user

Elisa Gabbert
Nov 03, 2017

Sorry about that Steve! We actually have readers with a wide range of experience and AdWords knowledge so some of our content is more advanced. As for the acronyms:

RLSA = remarketing lists for search campaigns
CPC = cost per click
CPA = cost per action
CRO = conversion rate optimization

Nov 04, 2017

its quiet possible and informational. paid traffic through Facebook and then retarget them on search. it is possible to increase results from Rlsa campaign from the other sources of traffic to the site.
good insight!

Nov 13, 2017

You must always use both platforms. We usually use search ads on AdWords and then retarget the visitors on Facebook. Also, doing brand awareness on Facebook and then retargeting on AdWords search does wonders :)

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