Is Your Crappy Traffic Foiling Your CRO Efforts?

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is a great way to get more out of your online marketing campaigns.

After all, traffic takes a lot of time and expense to generate, so getting more out of your existing traffic is an easy win, right?

If only things were so simple. Image via imageshunter.

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t a simple matter of setting up a test or two and waiting for the conversions to roll in. According to VWO, six out of seven A/B tests fail to produce meaningful conversion rate improvement.

Is it really that difficult to come up with a page variant that drives more conversions? Or are there other factors involved?

To answer that question, you have to look at one of the basic assumptions behind CRO — you are testing relevant, interested traffic.

The rationale behind this assumption is fairly simple. If your traffic is a good fit for your product or offer, they should convert. If they aren’t converting, there must be something about your website or landing page that is hindering the conversion process.

Maybe your call to action doesn’t jive with your audience… maybe your page is missing an important element… maybe your form is too long… or too short

The list of potential problems goes on and on.


Fortunately, with a little research and a few well-planned tests, you can usually see marked improvements in your conversion rate — by making sure you have the right traffic.

Right ads, wrong clicks

Simply putting together a great ad and reasonable targeting does not guarantee you’ll drive the right traffic to your site.

For example, last year I promoted a blog post on Facebook called “How to Spice Up Your Love Life With Google AdWords.”

Facebook Ad

The post was a humorous exploration of a unique way to use IP address exclusions in AdWords — an article I expected would be well received by my audience.

I’d run quite a few sponsored posts on Facebook before, so I had a pretty good feel for my target audience (typical CTR, conversion rate, etc.).

Not surprisingly, the sponsored post got a lot of clicks. What was surprising, though, was how few of those clicks filled out my lead gen form — my conversion rate fell through the floor.

At first, I couldn’t figure out what happened. I hadn’t changed my targeting. I hadn’t changed my blog, so the CTA and other page elements were basically consistent. The overall response to the blog post was very positive, so the article seemed to be working for my audience.

So why was my conversion rate so poor?

To figure out what was going on, I took a closer look at my Audience data and discovered something interesting. My CTR was up, but the extra clicks were coming from a very specific demographic: 55+ year-old women.

Click for larger image.

Apparently, a lot of postmenopausal women were connecting with the “Spice Up Your Love Life” angle.

Now, most Baby Boomers aren’t looking for the services of a digital marketing agency, which explained the low conversion rate.

There wasn’t anything wrong with the blog post — we were simply driving the wrong sort of traffic to our site.

The online marketing focus of our previous sponsored posts had served as a natural filter for the 55+ year-old crowd. This time, however, the idea of improving your love life was even more appealing to the 55+ demographic than it was to our normal demographic!

As a result, we got lots of clicks — but clicks without any real chance of converting.

After changing my targeting to exclude people over 50, my CTR dropped and my conversion rate improved by 57% overnight. Yes, I was driving less traffic to my post, but I wasn’t paying for worthless clicks anymore, either.

AdWords isn’t any better

You’d think things would be better with paid search advertising. After all, you are bidding based on intent, so you should be able to tightly control your traffic.

In theory, yes.

In practice, no.

Over the past two years, we’ve audited over 2,000 AdWords accounts. After looking through thousands of AdWords campaigns, we discovered something surprising:

That alone is a major problem, but it gets worse. As we dug in further, we discovered that the 88% of keywords that aren’t producing conversions account for 61% of ad spend.

Now, one of the big advantages of PPC advertising is the fact that you can limit who sees your ads to the audience of highest intent. However, even in PPC marketing, the average company wastes 61% of their budget on the wrong traffic!

When over half of your traffic has no chance of converting, it should come as no surprise that 86% of A/B tests fail.

You can’t make the wrong traffic convert

“But Jake,” you might ask, “isn’t it all a numbers game? If you get enough traffic to your website, you’ll eventually get some conversions.”

The problem with pushing the wrong type of traffic to a page is the fact that the wrong type of traffic never converts. They simply aren’t interested in what you have to offer and no amount of optimization will make them interested.

For example, back in October 2013, we published an article on our blog called “6 Killer PPC Branding Tactics Even Freddy Krueger Loves!

It was a halloween-themed content piece that drove a ton of organic traffic to our site. Overnight, we started seeing hundreds of organic visits to the post per day. In fact, the blog post got more hits than our homepage… for over a year.


On the surface, it looked like a runaway content marketing success. The post was ranked on the first page of Google and sent thousands and thousands of visitors to our website.

However, despite all that traffic, we still haven’t seen a single lead from the post.

No one called. No one filled out our form. No one even bothered to open up a chat and say, “Hey, I really enjoyed your article!”

What went wrong?

The post is clearly about pay-per-click advertising, and the search term “ppc” gets 110,000 searches per month. The article was relevant, insightful and talked about points that were relevant to our brand and company.


So, why didn’t anyone convert?

As it turned out, our post was showing up on the first page of Google, but it wasn’t showing up for the search term “ppc.”

It was showing up when people searched “Freddy Krueger.”

I don’t know what all those thousands of searchers thought they were going to get when they clicked “6 Killer PPC Branding Tactics Even Freddy Krueger Loves,” but they definitely weren’t searching for an online advertising agency.

As a result, even with all that traffic, no one ever converted.

Start with your traffic

No amount of CRO will make the wrong traffic convert.

True, you could create a page that anyone would convert on, but even if you create an offer that convinces the wrong traffic to convert, they won’t turn into sales — which is what ultimately matters the most to your business.

So, before you spend weeks running page optimization tests, take a good look at your traffic. Are you setting your tests up to fail?

Consider the following:

  1. Who is your target audience, really? The more you understand your audience, the more effective your ads will be at bringing the right sort of traffic to your page.
  2. What’s your target audience’s pain point? Your product or service solves someone’s pain point. As a marketer, your job is to convince your target audience that you can solve their problem, which means your ads should use your target audience’s pain point to filter and prep potential traffic for your website. That way, when they get to your site, they should immediately connect with your solution.
  3. Do you have great message match? The tighter you can tie your ads and landing page to each other and to your audience’s pain point, the better your traffic quality will be.
  4. Are you paying for clicks that don’t convert? Dive into your analytics data and see where your money is really going. Stop paying for the wrong traffic.

Improving your traffic will naturally improve your conversion rate. Furthermore, it will also improve the effectiveness of your CRO tests, because you’ll actually be optimizing your page for the right traffic!

Traffic matters

If you want to achieve show-stopping conversion rates, you need an awesome website experience and the right sort of traffic. If you don’t have both, creating a profitable marketing campaign will always be an uphill battle.

You’ve heard my two cents, now I want to hear yours. How have you seen traffic undermine CRO tests?

About Jacob Baadsgaard
Jacob Baadsgaard is the Founder & CEO of Disruptive Advertising, a Utah-based PPC agency that uses PPC, CRO and ROI-focused analytics to grow businesses. When Jacob's not working, you'll find him hanging out with his beautiful wife and three daughters or on the river fly fishing. Connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.
» More blog posts by Jacob Baadsgaard


  1. Corey Zeimen

    Good points. Always segment your traffic sources for your CRO, and at an adgroup level using PPC only traffic to do it right.

  2. kashish

    So nice, simple and, at the same time, interesting tips.
    Great work. I have recommended your post to my friends)

  3. ocakorganizasyon

    After all, traffic takes a lot of time and expense to generate, so getting more out of your existing traffic is an easy win, right?…

  4. teknikserviskocaeli

    Sarah’s our quiet, sassy CRO designer. Always well dressed and hardworking, she is one of our client’s favorite people to work with. On the weekend she’s baking macaroons or is getting fitted for custom opera gowns.

  5. kocaelibilgisayarservisi

    Good points. Always segment your traffic sources for your CRO, and at an adgroup level using PPC only traffic to do it right.

  6. dhanush

    Liked the way you presented the topic
    nice write up
    thanks for the share

  7. Henry

    This is a awaken buzz for me. Sometime i don’t know what do i getting traffic for. Thanks a lot.

  8. Roshan Virk

    Great article man! Always a good reminder to remember all the factors involved. Has to be a perfect website and perfect traffic to get insane conversion rates.

  9. Hadas Spektor

    Great article!
    Like you wrote, it’s always assumed that traffic conversion rates are flexible – can be manipulated by messaging, offering, button location and more but many times, this just doesn’t happen.

    I want to share my predicament:
    You talked about the problem of getting traffic that never converts, which hinders any landing page testing you may want to do.

    I’ve recently encountered the opposite problem – I uses to use a landing page template that converted like crazy but it was incredibly ugly and didn’t fit the brand look and feel so we created a new one.

    While the new one looked completely different, the messaging was consistent and the product offering and how-to was much clearer and yet conversion rate to sign up was exactly the same. EXACTLY. This made me think that maybe design was a non-issue for this audience so I started experimenting with other things – added a video, removed a video, changed the social proof, played with the button text and more (all in different tests and then a few changes per test to see if some of the explainer vars were correlated) and still – conversion rate barely moved.

    This was a good problem to have, obviously, because conversion rates were high to begin with, but is it possible that a product would just be THAT appealing that no matter the landing page, people sign up anyway…?

    • Jacob Baadsgaard

      Great story, Hadas! This is a perfect example of how the right traffic can be more important than your actual landing page. As long as your offering is a great match for your audience and your landing page doesn’t get in the way of converting, the right traffic should convert.

      When you’ve got the right traffic, the effectiveness of CRO will vary a lot depending on what you are trying to sell and the receptiveness of your audience to your offer. It sounds like everything lined up perfectly for you in this case!

  10. Marcelo Furtado

    Great post, Jacob. Thanks for sharing with us. My question is: what did you do with the “Kruger post”? We have a couple of posts on our blog generating great traffic similar to this… Do you recommend deleting the post?

    • Jacob Baadsgaard

      Good question, Marcelo. The Kruger post is still up on our website (you’re welcome to click on the link in the post and convert…it’ll make my day!). ;-)

      In all seriousness, though, even without producing any conversions, a blog post like this isn’t always bad. If people aren’t bouncing immediately, it can even help improve your site’s overall SEO ranking.

      Just don’t expect that traffic to convert.

  11. Monse Olguin

    Clear and insightful article! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience, Jacob. I think this ‘guide to creating landing pages that convert’ pairs really well with your article.

    Take a look –

    • Jacob Baadsgaard

      Nice guide, Monse. Once you’ve got the right traffic, a guide like that is an excellent way to get every last conversion out of your audience.


    my conversion rate fell through the floor.


    thanks for this amazing post man which I liked a lot here and