Looking Up The Funnel: Web Conversion Strategies By Traffic Source

Many marketers start their conversion optimization efforts by looking at the behavior of a visitor once they arrive on a website. Which buttons are effective in attracting clicks? What type of product images encourage cart additions?  What messaging seems to work on a particular landing page?

But a journey down the conversion funnel always starts elsewhere:  the display of a banner ad, the entry of a search query, the appearance of a link – even a blank browser window poised to accept a type-in address.

In short, not all traffic to a website is created equal, and these individual sources must be taken into account when crafting strategies to increase conversions.

Targeting Specific Sources Of Traffic

Which traffic sources are likely to generate the highest conversion rates? According to one case study, paid search is the most effective converter. Another cites social media referrals as a conversion hero. Still another clearly shows that direct traffic outperforms any other source of referrals.

There are numerous reasons why conversion benchmarks by traffic source are unreliable. Obviously the nature of the target website plays a role in conversion. Established ecommerce brands like QVC or Amazon will almost always perform better than relatively unknown sites, even if they sell similar products at a similar price point.

The specifics surrounding a particular source of traffic are also important.

An email campaign targeting previous customers who have specifically opted into a mailing list will have a much higher success rate than an identical campaign blasted to 100,000 random email addresses purchased from a list vendor. A high-budget paid search program targeting only branded keywords will likely do better than one making low bids on generic keywords.

The devil is in the details, so don’t dismiss out of hand any given traffic source because of a supposedly low conversion rate, just as you shouldn’t aggressively pursue purportedly high-converting traffic that may turn out to expensive and ineffectual. Through trial and error you’ll be able to uncover traffic sources that convert at a reasonable rate for a reasonable price.

This is not as simple as spending more on those sources which offer the highest conversion rate, however. In calculating return on investment you must also account for the cost of the traffic and the average revenue that each conversion from that source brings in. So display advertising, for example – a notoriously bad converter – may turn out to a profitable traffic source for your website because the cost of impressions is so low, and the volume so high.

Matching The Message To The Medium

Insofar as it’s feasible, you should endeavor to direct traffic from different sources to an appropriate location on your website. Whether that location is a specifically designed landing page or an existing page on your site, the message on your site should mirror the messaging of the off-site traffic source.

It’s not always possible to send different types of traffic to custom landing pages. But it is often possible to change the message that appears on a single page based on the source of traffic.

Perhaps the most widely-known example of this strategy is dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) for pay-per-click campaigns (I’m speaking here of dynamically inserting search keywords on the landing page, not to be confused with dynamically inserting keywords into the PPC ad itself). The offer on the landing page remains constant regardless of the keywords used to discover the page, but the message on the landing page is changed to include references to those keywords.

Below I describe a number of conversion strategies for specific types of traffic, but often, variations on this sort of mechanism can be used to increase conversion rates. Whatever the source of traffic to your site, you’ll have a much better chance of converting visitors if you use customization to better meet their expectations.

Optimizing Traffic From Organic Search

While it might not seem initially that you can do much to boost conversions from organic search, it is certainly possible to align the messaging that appears in your search result snippet with what the visitor sees when they click through to your site.

The title and meta description of a page is usually what appears to visitors in search results, and the message they see once they click through to the target page should be closely aligned with the promise, if not the actual wording, of the search result snippet.

Your search engine optimization efforts themselves should anticipate the relationship between organic search traffic and conversion. Both in regard to external link development and internal linking, SEO efforts should be geared toward having the right page rank for the right term.

Build deep links so that the appropriate target page appears in the search results for any give term. If you’re successful in ranking for “blue widget” the search result should link directly to the blue widget page, not to the home page where the blue widget is one or more clicks away.

Optimizing Traffic From Paid Search

In many cases, employing a landing page that reinforces and logically progresses the message of a paid search ad offers the best chance of converting paid search traffic.

Aside from the exact control over messaging that a landing page provides, it also provides the opportunity to test different elements of the landing page in order to improve conversion rates through the life of a paid search campaign.

In the absence of a specifically designed landing page, the target page for any given pay-per-click ad should at least be closely aligned with what’s advertised. For an ad that matches the keyword query “Nikon camera” ensure the visitor lands the category page for Nikon cameras – not cameras in general, and certainly not the home page.

While this is very much conventional wisdom it bears repeating, as it is still extremely common to see ads centered on very specific keywords link to a single, generic click-through location.

Optimizing Email Traffic

Like paid search, custom landing pages are likeliest to perform best for email campaigns, though like paid search this is dependent on the details of the marketing message. Unlike paid search an email may present links to a number of offers, and it’s perfectly acceptable to link to, say, individual product detail pages if that’s what the email is advertising.

Whether the click-through targets of an email campaign are custom landing pages, static pages on the site, or a combination of both, in almost all circumstances email allows you to personalize the on-site targets.

This degree of personalization ran range from a dynamically-inserted greeting at the top of a page welcoming the visitor, to personalized product recommendations based on their previous behavior on the site.

Optimizing Direct Traffic

Visitors that arrive at your site from typing in its address or clicking on a bookmark are likely to be repeat visitors. They are also likely to enter your site through the home page.  Armed with this knowledge there’s a couple of things you can do to encourage these visitors to complete a website goal.

For visitors that you can positively identify as repeat customers, either by tracking cookies or a login, personalize their visit based on their preferences and past behavior. If they’ve previously made purchases, display items related to those purchases.

If they’ve visited the site before but exited before checking out, remind them of the items that remain in their shopping cart, possibly providing further incentives to complete the purchase by offering a discount or free shipping.

Home Page Personalization - Zappos.com

Optimizing for direct traffic at Zappos.com home page.

In the image above, the relatively generic block on the left is displayed by default. The block at right is displayed to a logged in Zappos user, and shows items related to recently-made purchases.

This sort of personalization may not be feasible, either because your site is not collecting data that can be used to dynamically modify page content, or because such mechanisms are beyond your technical capabilities or budget.

You can at least ensure that you keep your home page fresh, displaying new offers without interfering with the main navigation and search functions.  Return visitors will have something new to explore, and fresh content certainly won’t negatively impact the experience of first-time visitors.

Display, Social Media, Partnerships & Beyond

What I’ve outlined above are only examples of how site locations can be aligned with traffic sources:  whatever the source of traffic to your site, the more consideration you give to the source of traffic, the better your chance of converting those visitors when they land on your site.

Landing pages for a display campaign should reflect not only the message, but also the look and feel of the banner responsible for click-throughs to the site. The landing page for a pay-per-click ad will rarely work well for a campaign that originates from your Facebook page. Inbound traffic from a run-of-site campaign on a partner site will convert at a higher rate if the landing page is designed to leverage the interests or demographic profile of visitors to that partner site. And so on.

As a general rule, improving conversion rates based on specific traffic sources is a matter of fulfilling a visitor’s expectations. Your site will perform best when you try to determine, for each source, what promise motivated a visitor to come to your site, and then deliver on that promise once they arrive.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Conversion


About The Author: is an SEO consultant specializing in organic search, and writes on search issues at his blog SEO Skeptic. He has worked in SEO since 2005, following ten years as a website designer.

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  • http://www.reedge.com Dennis

    Hi Aaron,

    Thank you for this post, I think your right that optimizing for different traffic sources is important an can uncover a significant conversion increase. Love to invite you to use reedge.com since I think most of your suggestions can be done fairly simple at first in our tool and after proven to be succesful hardcoded.




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