Why You Can’t Out-CRO Bad Traffic

by Today's Eggspert

Last updated on July 25th, 2017

Optimizing conversions promises to boost revenue and get you more customers. Increasing the percentage of website visitors who click through, sign up and eventually buy from you has dramatic effects on transaction figures. And it’s not like it doesn’t work really well, when it’s done right.

Say you have a website that gets 3000 visitors a month – a hundred a day. Conversion rate is 2.35% – the cross-industry average rate. You’re getting 70 customers a month.

Increase conversion rate by just 1% and you’ll have 100 customers a month – a 70% increase in actual conversion numbers, from a mere 1% increase in the conversion rate.

The other way to get more customers is to leave the conversion rate the same and get more traffic. The same website could see the same increase in customers by having 4,250 visitors rather than 3,000.

It’s obvious from these figures that CRO holds out a promise to businesses. The trouble is, that promise relies on convertible traffic.

Those 3000 visitors likely contain a high number of people who will never convert. And getting more traffic is relatively easy – the trouble again, is that much of it won’t be convertible however strong your CRO game is.

If you’re attracting people who will never want to buy from you, there’s nothing to ‘optimize’ – they don’t want what you have to offer and they never will.

A/B Tests Won’t Tell You What’s Wrong: The Wrong Traffic Will Snarl Up Your Tests

CRO lives and dies on testing. But most testing protocols assume that you’re getting a steady stream of relevant, useful traffic. You need the traffic to be OK for the test results to be usable. Too often, that assumption is already made and businesses start with the certainty that they can solve the problem by improving the UX of their landing page in some way.

things that move conversion needle

CRO techniques driving conversions. Check out that 93% for action-oriented copy! – Image Source

So you set out to alter landing pages, moving buy buttons, making the call to action a different color, or whatever.

The problem is, most A/B tests don’t produce usable results. You can’t make meaningful decisions based on them. When you do, nothing important changes. And the main reason for that is that the traffic they’re testing isn’t sufficiently relevant.

How widespread is the problem?

You’d expect to find that some businesses are more or less on point, some are attracting a boatload of useless traffic and most are somewhere in the middle. But you’d be wrong.

Jacob Baadsgaard, CEO of Disruptive Advertising, says he’s conducted over 1000 AdWords audits and found that on average, 100% of the conversions come from 12% of the keywords. So in the area where you have the maximum possible control over who sees what, nine-tenths of most people’s PPC effort – and 61% of their budget – is wasted. It never produces a single conversion.

The Wrong Traffic Doesn’t Convert. Not Now, Not Ever. And You Get The Wrong Traffic From…

The wrong search terms

Neil Patel talks about this over at QuickSprout, where he identifies the problem like this: ‘You’ve built up a good size audience, but it’s not a cohesive audience. In other words, the people in your audience are too dissimilar to each other.’

If people click through for irrelevant reasons, they’re showing up in your analytics as increased traffic, but they’re not really ‘visitors’ – it’s more like they’re lost. Time on page won’t always reveal this – sometimes folks will stay and read the whole blog post or watch the whole video, looking for whatever it was they clicked through to see in the first place.

Digging deeper, Neil says, often reveals that search terms have been chosen without enough thought: they’re selected on the basis of your niche, but they don’t reflect an interest in your product. As a result, you might get more traffic by ranking for those search terms, and you might even get more top-funnel metrics like pageviews. What you won’t get is conversions because you’re attracting an audience that is fundamentally uninterested.

Time to Look Hard at Your Traffic

If you’re spending money on banner ads or PPC, scoring the wrong traffic is money down the drain. And 88% of PPC ads are dead losses to marketers. Their only effect is to drag the campaign into the red and generate non-lead, non-converting traffic.

If you’re focusing on organic traffic, guess what? It comes to you from SEO and content marketing, and all of that costs money, time, effort, attention. If you’re spending all that, and all you get in return is people who misspelled their search terms, there goes your ROI.

In the last couple of years, sales people have had to learn from marketers as their tech stack moves them closer to the level of automation and data analysis marketers already took for granted. But marketers need to learn from sales too: ‘lead quality’ – or traffic quality – counts. (You’ll also be needing their data.)

The convertibility of traffic going into the top of the funnel will have a huge effect on everything downstream.

If you’re not getting the conversion rate you’d like to see, maybe before you A/B test everything to death, take a look at your traffic.

Optimizing Traffic by Source

Converting traffic differs by source. The more personalizable and targetable the source, the more convertible the traffic: Email is way more convertible than paid search. Referring sites provide the highest-converting traffic, organic search the least.

traffic vs. concerting traffic

Traffic source counts: email brings in almost as much converting traffic as search. Image Source

You can segment traffic by source in Google Analytics as well as other analytics tools. But while it might provide general strategic information, it doesn’t provide the detail to determine strategy within channels. How should you do that?

…From Search

Draw targeted traffic from SEO by identifying the longest-tail keywords your top performing visitors are responding to, and finding long tail keywords that match their subject. Then target those long tail keywords with blog posts. At the same time, target the short-tail equivalent with web pages designed to target between 3 and 5 keywords.

Standard best-practice rules for SEO apply – if you haven’t got your hX tags, meta descriptions, image ALT and Title tags and so on working for you, then you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. But if you do, it’s mostly about identifying and pursuing the keywords associated with your best visitors – the ones who become your best customers.

PPC offers its users a way to generate accurately segmented traffic, then direct that traffic to targeted landing pages. Used right, PPC is a great way to make sure that your traffic is qualified.

But PPC traffic suffers when business owners shoot for search terms that are ‘kind of relevant.’ Somewhere in that relevancy spectrum, between a search term that is literally exactly what you do and one that’s only technically related, lies the cut-off point where you’re basically throwing your money away – and that money drain continues at every step of the funnel thereafter, as you work to wring conversions from totally inappropriate traffic.

How to fix this?

Start by looking at conversion rate per search term. In your quarterly conversion rate records per search term, you’ll find terms that have literally never converted. They probably never will. Don’t forget to do a quick ‘sanity check’ – but you can usually dump these terms. Then look at PPC spend on a per-conversion basis. You should be able to allocate budget on a scale that granular and push PPC efficacy forward by reinforcing your successes.

Avoid needlessly escalating PPC costs by looking to your CRM and site data. If you’re an ecommerce business, then you’ll have a ton of purchase data that you can use to target PPC more tightly. Look at:

  • Geolocation
  • Time of day
  • Purchase amount
  • Demographics

Geolocation matters especially if you’re a local business, obviously, but it can have surprising effects on national or international businesses too. Demographic, purchase, timing and location data often come together to define high-value customer segments that you can target your PPC campaigns at to ensure that you’re getting the right traffic, before you begin trying to convert that traffic.

‘Optimization comes in the form of search, and it comes in the form of conversion,’ says Daniel Threlfall. ‘We must do both.’

…From Content

google Panda and content

Image Source

Content marketing can be optimized to bring you the right traffic. Just like PPC, it’s important to do this holistically – focus on delivering value to the ideal customer rather than on one specific metric, though data from purchase and onsite behavior, CRM and conversions should all be used to guide you.

There are two ways to do this and they illustrate how easy it is to fall right back into the trap of chasing traffic. If you start with search terms and think, ‘how can I get traffic based on this search term?’ You’ll likely find it’s relatively easy to draw traffic for high-ranking search terms. Use those terms as headers in blog posts, attach them to infographics and so on.

That content is based on your desired outcome: get traffic. OK. But it’s more effective in the long term to base content on your ideal customer’s desired outcome. Rather than building content around search terms and then trying to address it to the right audience, build it for the right audience and then optimize it to make sure they’re as likely as possible to see it and interact with it.

To figure out how to accurately target your convertible traffic, head over to Google Analytics.

Check out the ‘New Vs Returning’ report to identify highly engaged users. It’s unlikely that these users have arrived at your site repeatedly, only to discover that it wasn’t what they were looking for. They’re people who are regularly deriving value from your content. Use Advanced Segments to figure out where the majority of your engaged traffic is coming from.

Next step? Use GA’s ‘Frequency’ report to identify highly loyal repeat visitors. To identify your core audience look for people who regularly visit when you post. Again, use Advanced Segments – this time, Visits With Conversions and Visits With Transactions if that’s relevant – to identify users who are profitable audience members.

The content they like is the content whose traffic is worth having. Compare conversion rate on the top 20 posts these audience members like, compared to the top 20 posts by traffic alone, and you’ll see what I mean.

From here, build out content that’s optimized to draw traffic like this. Identify high converting traffic sources, and concentrate your promotion efforts there. Using GA to do this takes the guesswork out of it and gives you some figures to work with.


CRO is a powerful tool for increasing conversions, But it needs to start with traffic that’s convertible. Convertible traffic is more expensive and difficult to acquire, but radically outperforms ‘average,’ majority-nonconvertible traffic. If you want your business to grow, you need to start looking at traffic as leads from the get-go and carefully targeting the most convertible, engaged and profitable visitors.

About the Author: Richard Bayston is a freelance blogger and copywriter covering tech, digital marketing and content strategy for SMBs. I’ve also been known to write on health and fitness. Find out more: Richard@RBCopywriting.com or @RBCopywriting. The rest of my time is spent arguing amicably with my wife and Googling the answers.

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