Are You Optimizing Your Site When You Should Be Optimizing Your Traffic?

Are You Optimizing Your Site When You Should Be Optimizing Your Traffic?

If you’re like most marketers, you don’t live in an ivory tower.

You try to follow “best practices” with your marketing campaigns and site, but with your limited resources, you have to spend your time on the tactics that make the biggest difference.

Unfortunately, most best practice recommendations don’t take real life into account. Not every company has a well-managed CRM, a call tracking platform, a solid testing strategy and a big testing budget to boot.

While this sort of setup is obviously ideal, most marketers have to make do with far less.

Their CRM is a joke, calls aren’t being tracked and their testing strategy and budget is…well, let’s just say it’s hypothetical.

If this sounds like you at all, at some point you may have found yourself wondering, “What should be my top priority—the one thing that will get me the most bang for my buck?”

In most cases, the answer to that question boils down to one of two things: improving your traffic or improving your website.

Site Traffic vs Site Testing

A few years back, the focus of online marketing was primarily on driving more traffic to your website.

After all, if you have a 2% conversion rate and 10,000 site visitors per month, you’ll get 200 conversions/month. Double your traffic and you’ll get 400 conversions/month.

Back when traffic was cheap and easy to acquire, that model worked fairly well.
But then, things got competitive.

As a result, the price of traffic went up and people started looking for ways to get more conversions out of the traffic they already had—and CRO was born.

Now, as marketers with limited time and resources, we have to decide, should we focus on traffic or CRO?

Both are valuable and can increase the output of your marketing…but if you have to choose one to work on first, which should it be? Traffic or testing?

Odds are, the right answer is “traffic.”

Now, I know this isn’t the popular answer these days. When the pros and cons of these two options are compared, page testing often comes out on top.

After all, no matter how much traffic you drive to your site, if you don’t optimize your conversion rate, your return-on-investment will never improve. But is website testing the only way to up your conversion rate?

It turns out that you can do a lot more with traffic than simply drive more people to your site.

Traffic optimization is the art of getting the right traffic to your site—the kind that converts—and avoiding the rest.

This tactic can increase your conversion rate, drop your cost per conversion and prepare your site for future testing all in one fell swoop.

To show you how all this works, let’s take a look at a simple hypothetical case study. I’ll stick to round numbers for simplicity, but the principles here apply to almost any business.

Hypothetical Case Study: Acme Widgets, LLC

Let’s say you are marketing widgets for ACME Widgets, an eCommerce company that sells $200 widgets.
One of ACME Widgets’ primary marketing channels is a Google AdWords campaign which yields 5,000 clicks per month at an average cost-per-click of $4 ($20,000/month of ad spend).

ACME wants its marketing to be more effective and asks you to choose between optimizing their traffic or optimizing their site.

Let’s pursue both routes and compare the outcomes.


Since ACME Widgets wants a better conversion rate, it decides to start by investing in a little A/B testing.

Half of its traffic (2,500 clicks) goes to their original page and half goes to their new and improved page (better user interface, new headline, orange “buy now” button…all that jazz).

At the end of a month of testing, the old page produces 100 conversions and the new page generates 120 conversions.

In other words, their conversion rate just went from 4% (100/2,500) to 4.8% (120/2,500).


That’s a 20% increase in conversion rate!

It’s statistically significant, too, so you’re dancing in the streets and writing case studies. Needless to say, ACME decides to switch over to the new page.

The next month, ACME gets 240 conversions instead of their usual 200 conversions. Since ACME is an eCommerce company, those 240 conversions are worth an extra $8,000 in revenue.

It doesn’t get much better than that…or does it?


What if the company had taken a different approach? What if, instead of focusing on their converting traffic, they’d focused on the visitors who didn’t convert?

If ACME hadn’t done landing page testing, the conversion rate would have stayed at 4%—200 conversions out of 5,000 clicks.

That leaves 4,800 clicks that didn’t convert.

The question is, why? Was there something wrong with their landing page? Or was there something wrong with their traffic?

As it turns out, most companies spend the majority of their advertising budgets driving the wrong traffic traffic to their site.

For example, over the past two years, we’ve audited over 2,000 AdWords accounts at Disruptive Advertising and made a few surprising discoveries:

  • In the average AdWords account, all of the conversions (yes, all of them) come from just 6% of the keywords in the account. The other 94% produce no conversions whatsoever.
  • The useless 94% of keywords accounts drive 72.1% of the ad clicks.
  • Those irrelevant clicks eat up 75.8% of the company’s ad spend.

Can you say “colossal waste of money?”

With that in mind, let’s take a look at ACME Widgets’ AdWords campaign. If we assume that ACME’s account is about average, that means 75% (rounding up for simplicity’s sake) of their clicks have no chance of converting.

That’s right, no chance of converting.

No matter how optimized the page is, 3/4ths of ACME’s traffic has no interest in buying ACME’s widgets—they are simply the wrong traffic for ACME’s business.

So, what does this mean for ACME Widgets?

Well, if you could eliminate that 75% of wasted clicks, you could save ACME $15,000 in ad spend. As a result, they would spend $5,000 to produce 1,250 clicks and 200 conversions.

But this time, you would only be paying for the right traffic. As a result, their conversion rate would jump from 4% to 16%—without running a single test!

Comparing Traffic and Testing

There’s no doubt that site testing is a good way to improve online marketing, but when it comes to “bang for your buck,” traffic optimization is often the logical first choice.

Here’s how ACME Widgets’ two optimization options compare side-by-side:


Can you spot the winner?

Applying This Idea to Your Company

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing against testing. In fact, once you’ve got the right traffic on your site, CRO can do wonders for your business.

However, if (like most marketers) you’ve got the wrong traffic on your site, the easiest way to improve your conversion rate is to improve the quality of your traffic.

After all, test results are much less informative when you test one group of people and then make inferences about another.

Take psychology, for example. 67% of test subjects in psychology studies are undergraduate college students, but the results of those studies are used to make assumptions about all of humanity.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have my entire nature judged off my behavior freshman year.

The same goes for site testing. If your test sample is primarily made up of people who aren’t really interested in your product/service, how much can you really learn from your tests?

On the other hand, if you optimize your traffic first, then your tests will be a much better gauge of what your target audience wants from your site.

That Sounds Nice, But Does It Really Work?

At Disruptive Advertising, we’re big believers in the power of both traffic optimization and CRO. However, we recognize that if we aren’t putting the right traffic on a client’s site, we’re handicapping the potential of our CRO efforts.

Ideally, we like to do both traffic and conversion rate optimization at the same time, but as I pointed out previously, many businesses aren’t set up for “ideal.”

For these clients, we start by systematically cutting out their wasted ad spend. Here’s what happens to their marketing campaigns:


As you can see, when our clients stop wasting their money on search terms that aren’t converting, their spend drops. Then, as we figure out the best ways to drive the right traffic, conversions (and their conversion rate) rapidly begin to climb.

Guess what? Once the conversions start pouring in, our clients suddenly have the breathing room to start using CRO.

And that’s when the real magic starts to happen.

Understanding and Optimizing Your Traffic

So, what’s the trick? How do you use traffic optimization to improve your conversion rate?

Obviously, traffic optimization is—like conversion rate optimization—a complicated process, but there are a couple of easy questions you can ask to improve the quality of your traffic and your testing.

Even if you aren’t directly involved in managing your online marketing campaigns, it’s still a good idea to go over these points with whoever runs your campaigns to make sure that your traffic and CRO efforts are well aligned.

Do You Know Who Your Traffic Is?

If you don’t know who your traffic is, how they got to your page and why they are on your site, it’s going to be hard to run an effective test.

The same idea applies to your traffic. If you aren’t strategic about your advertising, you’re going to end up with a lot of the wrong people on your site.

Fortunately, he easiest way to get a feel for your traffic is to look at your targeting and your ads.

For example, I recently audited an AdWords account for a company that was targeting the keyword “translate.”
Now, they were trying to market corporate translation services, so I could see why they chose this keyword. After all, it got more than 150,000 searches per month.


However, the company spent $60,000 on this keyword before they realized that this keyword wasn’t sending the right traffic to their site. In fact, after spending all of that money on tens of thousands of clicks, they didn’t have a single conversion to show for it.

Was it a problem with their website? No.

Other keywords were sending traffic to the same site and same pages and producing conversions.

The problem was that people who searched for “translate”-related terms on Google weren’t interested in corporate-level translation services.

Sure, a lot of people clicked on their ad, but even the most optimized site would never turn a search for “translate happy birthday into spanish” into a business translation services lead.

Simply looking at who your marketing is targeting and why people are clicking through to your site can provide a ton of insight into why your traffic is or isn’t converting.

And, as an added bonus, the better you understand the traffic you are testing, the more likely you are to come up with hypotheses that deliver results.

Are You Using Your Traffic Data?

To sort the good clicks from the bad, you need to track everything and have a system in place to make sense of your findings.

At a minimum, you should be:

  • Tracking impressions and clicks. This data will tell you how people are responding to your advertisements and give you a feel for what people are expecting when they arrive on your site.
  • Tracking conversions. This should be a no brainer, but you wouldn’t believe how many business are only doing a half-baked job of conversion tracking. If you aren’t tracking everything, how can you tell the right traffic from the wrong traffic?
  • Tracking revenue. This is the natural extension of conversion tracking. Hypothetically, you could optimize a page to convert the wrong traffic, but those conversions would never become sales. If certain traffic sources don’t turn into sales, they need attention.

Once you’ve got the right analytics data in place, optimizing your traffic becomes fairly straightforward.

For example, if you are using AdWords, you might run a Keywords report and create a filter for keywords with

“Conversions < 1” as follows:


With a filter like this, you can easily see which keywords are leading to conversions and which keywords are driving the wrong traffic. Once you understand which keywords produce results, you can use that information to guide your CRO efforts.

You can use this sort of analysis with all sorts of marketing channels.

If you’re tracking things properly, most analytics platforms will show you exactly who your target audience is and how they are getting to your site. From there, you can eliminate what isn’t working and boil your paid traffic down to the visits that really matter.

Remember, for effective CRO you don’t need more traffic. You need more of the right traffic.


In marketing, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the things you should be doing.

I’m sure some people will argue with me about this, but in my opinion, if time and resources are limited and you have to choose between optimizing your site and optimizing your traffic, I’d pick traffic every time.
To put it simply, you can’t test your way out of the wrong traffic.

However, if you’ve got the right traffic on your site, CRO is an incredibly powerful way to get even more out of your marketing campaigns.

You’ve heard my two cents, now I want to hear yours.

I’ve taken a fairly strong stance in this article—do you agree? Where do you recommend that businesses with limited time and resources put their focus?

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Join the conversation Add your comment

  1. wao! what an insight. i 100 percent agree with you. CRO will be useless if the wrong traffic is being generated. what also amazes me about SME business owners today is that, they dont look at their analytics and even if they do, most of the dont set the right goals and put funnels into place.
    CRO is ood when the traffic is right, but for a short fix, traffic optimization is better

  2. Awesome article Jacob!
    I would be curious to have your insights on those 2 questions:
    How do you cope with attribution matters when optimizing traffic for a small business with no specific tool?
    Keywords that are not last touch converters may contribute with others?

    You talk about CRM and I supposed you meant that GA or other WA tools do not offer
    Customer lifetime value linked to sources of traffic.
    How to make sure that we don’t cut out high value customers sources of traffic if we don’t have any info on LTV?

    Many thanks for your feedback


  3. Great post, Jacob!
    Fully agree with the approach. Looking further – different traffic brings different customers. Some buy quickly but cheap others took longer time to close the sale. Here we took this fact in our analytics too. The result was we manage to cut PPC spending 3 times on ineffective keywords.

  4. Absolutely, this has been an issue lately. It’s easy to get tempted into ranking just to rank and get vanity metrics.

  5. Great insights. You point out what most digital marketing strategy conversations miss: everything starts with the “right” traffic!

    Getting the traffic definition right is so, so important as the upstream volumes have the greatest leverage on downstream conversions and ROI. Your post focuses on qualified traffic from paid marketing channels, but I suspect there are some interesting opportunities to explore with organic and subscribers too.

    Thanks for spurring the discussion.

  6. Counter intuitive approach Jacob. It’s interesting to see companies try to push for higher conversion rates while A/B testing nearly everything on their site except the actual traffic that is coming. Maybe it’s because getting traffic is seen as “hard or expensive” and you should just work with whatever you got.

  7. Great article. I was just discussing this with a client so this article will be a great resource for them. I always tell clients, it’s better to have 100 people a day visit your site that are really interested in your product vs. 1,000 who aren’t interested in buying anything. Well done!

  8. Such good insight. I feel like this is common sense to the basic principle of marketing: solving the right problems for the right market. So many times when we are focusing on thousands of other things we miss powerful easy solutions right in front of us. Thanks for making this plain and even how to get the keyword report in AdWords.

  9. I’ve always thought the easiest way to improve your cost per conversion is to dump useless traffic that never converts.

    I don’t care how much traffic I get, I care about how many conversions I get, how much they cost me and how much they are worth.

    So thanks for the article. It is spot on!


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Are You Optimizing Your Site When You Should Be Optimizing Your Traffic?