Site optimization or traffic optimization: Which delivers better results?
Knowing where to invest in online marketing is crucial for search marketers with limited budgets and resources. Columnist Jacob Baadsgaard explores whether you're better off investing in higher-quality traffic or conversion optimization.
You hear a lot about user experience (UX) testing these days. As an online marketer, you’re supposed to test your site, test your landing pages, test your app… basically, the mantra is, if you’re not testing, you’re wasting money on bad design!
No argument here.
But, while I’ve been a big fan of testing and conversion rate optimization (CRO) for almost a decade, I’m also a very practical sort of guy. CRO is a great idea, but sometimes you have to pick your priorities as an online marketer — especially if you’re in charge of marketing a smaller business with limited resources.
For marketers in this sort of situation, choosing where to spend your time is just as important as choosing where to spend your marketing budget, which begs the question:
Should you focus on improving your traffic quality, or on improving your site experience?
Now, don’t get me wrong — in a perfect world, you’d optimize your site and your traffic quality simultaneously. But most of us have to operate under less-than-perfect circumstances, and we need to spend our time where it counts.
A quick thought experiment
Of course, every campaign and business is different, so there is no “one size fits all” answer to the traffic vs. testing debate. But, to get a little perspective on how traffic optimization and site optimization can affect your marketing campaigns, let’s take a page out of Einstein’s book and run a little thought experiment.
Since this is Search Engine Land, let’s imagine that you’ve set up a paid search campaign for your company. On average, your cost per click is $4, but you’d like to change that.
Over the past few months, you’ve spent $20,000 on this campaign, and your ads were clicked on about 5,000 times.
Check out all that traffic! With that many visitors, you should be rolling in conversions, right?
At first glance, it certainly seems that way, but if we assume that your account is about as effective as the average AdWords account, you spent three-quarters of that $20,000 marketing budget on traffic that has no interest in converting.
In other words, you wasted $15,000 on the wrong clicks.
The simple fact of the matter is, most AdWords accounts spend 76 percent or more of their budget on search terms that have never and will never convert. (To learn more about this problem, check out this article and this article.)
As a result, you thought that $20,000 was paying for 5,000 potential customers when in reality, it was paying for 1,250 potential customers:
So, while it only costs $4 to get a visitor to your website, you’re spending $16 to get a potential customer to your site. No wonder you’re not rolling in conversions!
Optimizing your site
At $16 a pop, it’s clear that you need to give every potential customer who reaches your site the best possible experience. After all, you need to squeeze every last conversion out of those 1,250 prime visitors.
So, you decide to run an A/B test.
Unfortunately, while it looks like you’re testing an audience of 5,000 visitors, in reality, you’re really only testing a subset of those visitors — the 1,250 visitors who actually might convert.
As a result, while on paper your test looks like this:
You’re really only testing this:
Sad as that is, it still gives you enough traffic for your A/B test. So you set things up, spend another $20,000 on the campaign, and review your results.
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