What is Conversion Rate Optimization, and how does it work for PPC?

Digital marketing teams strive to bring traffic to websites. The hope is that visitors arrive to find the content they are looking for, converting into a fully-fledged lead that can then be nurtured by the business. Ultimately, the company wants to create a base of loyal, brand advocates.

A critical part of the strategy is conversion rate optimization (CRO). When talking about conversions, it refers to the percentage of visitors who complete a goal or action via your media. Media typically applies to your website or blog, but can also relate to paid advertising and social channels. An action is not limited to purchase but can refer to signing up to a newsletter, subscribing to a service or filling out a form. Essentially, gaining visitors is only the first step. Marketers must look to get value from the traffic that comes to their site by optimizing it.

Conversion rate target differs by the industry as the graph below from Google Adwords demonstrates.

conversion rate optimization

Source: WordStream.com

What is Conversion Rate Optimization?

The aim of conversion rate optimization is the process of improving your content, across all channels, to increase conversion rate. The benchmark will depend on your industry. A website with a high conversion rate means it has high-quality content, a good structure, is responsive on mobile devices, and easy for visitors to use.

Every page or ad can be an opportunity for conversion, and each must be taken into consideration when optimizing your activity.

Starting with conversion rate optimization

If you search via Google, there are plenty of conversion rate optimization frameworks that exist. The frameworks will help you plan and execute optimization campaigns. As a general rule, you can split conversion rate optimization into five phases.

Phase 1 – Research

Before taking any action, identify the areas that need improvement. Just because something is working for a competitor, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for your visitors.

Firstly, use analytics to see what visitors are doing on your website, gathering hard data rather than relying on gut feeling. Google Analytics has lots of useful metrics from demographics, to page load speeds, bounce rates and traffic sources.

Recording user behaviour on your website is an excellent way to see if they are browsing as intended. For example, you might have a great search tool at the top of the page that nobody is using. Repositioning it could be the answer, but it requires proper research. Customer feedback, surveys, and focus groups are efficient methods to get both quantitative and qualitative data.

Phase 2 – Hypothesis

From your research, it should be possible to come up with an explanation of the results. With the results, it is time to propose potential changes that can affect the areas for improvement. For example, you may hypothesize that:

“Adding customer ratings to product pages will improve the volume of customers adding items to cart by 10%. At the moment, there is a high drop-off rate when viewing products, and I believe adding customer ratings will provide better trust before making a purchase.”

A hypothesis must have an apparent reason why you are testing actions and be measurable.

Phase 3 – Prioritization

The P.I.E framework developed by Chris Goward at WiderFunnel is one of the most popular models to help you prioritize your hypotheses.

Potential – Work out which pages are performing the worst can improve the most

Importance – Select the ones with the most valuable traffic

Ease – Choose the pages within the easiest scope to optimize. For example, a single homepage will be faster to work on than multiple product pages, and lower risk. 

Phase 4 – Testing

There are many ways that you can run testing. For instance, a change could be put in place for the first 1,000 visitors to your website to see if conversion improves against a small volume. It is essential to run a test for long enough to gather data that is statistically relevant. Running an experiment with 100 visitors may show an improvement in conversion, but you need to consider whether that sample size is large enough to be accurate.

Marketing teams will typically run A/B testing on any changes made to pages or advertising. An A/B test involves sending customers to different versions of the same page. For example, 50% will go to the original homepage, and 50% is directed to the new page that has gone through optimization. Once enough time has gone by, and there is sufficient data from both versions of the page, the same process happens again to test and learn continually.

Phase 5 – Learning

At this stage, you are ready to conclude testing. Optimization is more than just seeing if the conversion rate improved following your hypothesis. Let’s assume that you made an amendment to the homepage, which gave an uplift of 5% in the conversion rate of people subscribing to a newsletter.

If you were to deploy the change, does the additional revenue cover the cost involved to develop it? For example, if you created a brand new banner on the page, it could have taken significant design effort, causing cost to outweigh the revenue generated from conversion rate improvements.

Conversion rate optimization is not something that is run ad-hoc. After a successful hypothesis, teams must analyze the results thoroughly and then go back to Phase 1. There will always be areas for improvement.

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What can be optimized?

Different elements of websites can be part of a content optimization campaign.

First, have a landing page that keeps customers on the site must be a priority. The opening page that a visitor hits is usually a useful guide to the usability and structure of the rest of the website, and tells a story about the brand. Techniques include moving call to action buttons, manipulating white space, or adjusting colours and graphics.

Relevant, clear, and engaging content will hook visitors into a page. The top of most websites will present a headline an is the first thing people see. Amazon has a clear structure and a headline around shipping, most likely as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Visitors instantly see the message when hitting the landing page.



Any content should exhibit a consistent style that represents your brand. For example, do not flip between formal and informal as people won’t know what to expect from you.

If you want people to convert on a page, there must be visible calls to action. eBay has plenty of clear action points as soon as you hit the homepage. The page is pointing me to search for products and use the menus.



Simple changes to the colour or text of buttons can impact response rates and conversion. For example, a simple change like below gave a 35.81% increase in conversion rate.

call-to-action button

Source: Unbounce.com

Site navigation is another element that often needs optimization. The customer journey on your site should be fluid, allowing visitors to follow a logical path to complete an action. A website that is easy to navigate will keep users on it, helping them find what they need. By default, this will ensure the conversion rate is optimized.

For example, a website like below might cause some trouble if a visitor is looking for a product.



In comparison, a reputable brand such as Forever 21, has a strong, clear navigational structure.



The speed at which your website pages load impacts the user experience and will affect the conversion rate. According to Semrush, a delay in load times of just one second can reduce conversion rate by 7%. The root cause can vary but image-heavy sites, have lots of embedded videos or are not geared for mobile, tend to have the highest loading speeds.

Conversion rate optimization for PPC

The focus for conversion rate optimization tends to be the website or blog of the business. However, there is also plenty that you can do to make sure pay per click (PPC) campaigns are working at an optimal level.

PPC can quickly generate traffic for your website. The ads can target those who are searching for you and ensure your brand is at the top of search engine results. PPC campaigns are straightforward to measure by analyzing clicks and views, while you have full control of spend.

However, PPC can lead to bidding wars and can end up being costly if not adequately managed. As well as that, the gains tend to be short-term as trends change and budgets vary. For example, a keyword could be very successful, causing competitors to bid on it and knock your down the rankings. You have to spend more to get the keywords that you want.

Due to the short-term nature and high cost of PPC campaigns, optimizing the conversion rate is pivotal.

Keyword performance

Analyze your keyword performance to understand where bids are or are not working well. There may be a batch of keywords driving traffic to the website, but then failing to convert once the visitors arrive. PPC budgets should align to the better converting keywords. Google Analytics and the Google Keyword Planner can help prioritize the ones to work on.

Make use of negative keywords

A negative keyword is a search term that you never want to rank for. For example, if you are a business selling shoes, you don’t want people to come to your site looking for handbags. With that in mind, adding “handbags” as a negative keyword will restrict the irrelevant traffic going to the site and improve conversion.

Consistent PPC and landing pages

Any advertising campaign with a call to action should send visitors to the right place. Let’s say you are a homeware store, and decide to promote free delivery on all living room décor. The call to action should send visitors straight to the living room page, not to a homepage forcing them to navigate on their own accord.

The other option here is to direct users to different landing pages depending on their profile.

Mobile-first PPC Ads

As 74% of mobile users use a search engine for research, with 93% going on to make a purchase, optimizing for mobile channels is imperative. Mobile performs better from a conversion and click-through rate and needs to be top of the list when designing PPC campaigns.

Prepare for long-tail search queries

Alexa and Google Home have transformed the way consumers want to search. The volume of voice searches, over typed searches, is growing daily. PPC optimization needs to account for voice searches being longer than a common search term. For example, we usually ask a question when talking, rather than typing a few words into Google. 

Measure conversions rather than clicks

A high click-through rate (CTR) can give the impression that a PPC campaign is performing well. However, if those clicks don’t convert, it could mean the ads are attracting the wrong kind of traffic, or the landing page needs further optimization. CTR and conversion rate needs to be measured together to find the right balance.

Use PPC for offers and promotions

Incorporating promotions into advertising can add a sense of urgency for those who do click through on ads. Time-bound discounts can improve click-throughs and also enhance optimize conversion. The ad below has a clear message, and selling point, meaning traffic to the site knows what to expect.

Google search

The same offers can be consistent on landing pages and ensure a smooth journey from click to conversion.

Testing campaigns

Just like a landing page or product page optimization, PPC campaigns must be thoroughly tested. A/B testing works well by using two designs to see, which prompts the better conversion. Ways of doing this could be having slightly different messages, offers or themes within your ads. An ad that works well via one channel may not necessarily work with within another.


Conversion rate optimization is an essential process for any digital marketing team. It creates a framework to iteratively improve both website and PPC performance, that will drive traffic, sales, and revenue. Moreover, with thorough research, it will help a business understand their customers and how they behave online. The knowledge that you gain from conversion rate optimization feeds into other areas of the company, shaping future strategies.

The key takeaway of this post is that conversion rate optimization is a continual process. Changing a website could work today, but in a fast-moving digital world, that change could have a lifespan of just a month, week, or even a day.

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