What’s more important to focus on for your website, traffic or conversion?
Ah, the eternal debate (well, at least for me).
Should you focus on getting your traffic up for your website?
Or should you focus on improving your conversion on your website so that the current traffic is more valuable?
And yes, of course you could work on both, but if you wanted to focus on just ONE for, say, the next month, which would benefit you and your site, and most importantly your REVENUE, the most?
Say you have a site at widget.tld with 1,000 visitors a month and a 1% conversion rate and your average widget sale is $100 (nice even numbers, huh?). So you get 10 sales a month and gross $1,000. Getting your conversion up to 2% would instead earn you $2,000, but so would getting your traffic up to 2,000 visitors a month and keeping your conversion at 1%. So which would be better to do?
Let’s explore the pros and cons of focusing on each.
Pro for traffic: It’s easy
It’s easy. Sort of. On demand traffic can be real easy. If you have the budget for it.
You can turn on traffic easily, like a faucet. Sometimes it’s more like an expensive faucet depending where it comes from. There are cheaper sources of traffic like banner ads, Reddit ads, etc. And there are sorta mid range prices from sites like Stumble Upon. And then of course more expensive sources like Twitter ads or Facebook ads.
Con for traffic: It can be expensive
Yeah so what? You can pump $100 into Facebook ads and get traffic, but if it doesn’t convert who cares?
And I don’t know about you, but I’m a bootstrapping, self-funded startup founder. I didn’t raise rounds. At this point, I can’t even use credit cards anymore because they’re all filled up and maxed out from development (that's how I roll). I just allocate a percentage of revenue to marketing.
Of course, not all traffic is paid for, and I’ll talk about other forms of traffic that aren’t bought, but on-demand traffic that you can just “crank up” as you wish, that sort of traffic is generally bought. And the price adds up. And if you’re a newer startup or a low-revenue site still waiting for your hockey stick on the revenue chart, you need to pinch pennies, and paid ads can get expensive fast.
Pro for conversion: Capitalize on your current traffic
This is the most “yes, duh” of all the reasons.
If you improve your conversion rate, you take advantage of your current traffic. In the example above of a site with 1,000 visitors a month and a 1% conversion rate, even if that person got the rate up by half a percent, they’d bring in another $500 a month in revenue.
By working to improve your conversion rate, you’ll not only understand your site visitors better, you’ll see improvements in revenue based on your current traffic.
People who weren’t converting before will convert now. People who bounced before will stay for a little longer. And you can get their money and turn them into customers.
Con for conversion: It can be difficult
Improving your conversion is not as mindlessly easy as throwing money at a paid traffic campaign.
You have to run surveys, or set up A/B testing (if you have enough traffic!), or monitor visitor actions closely with recording software. And then you have to analyze, dig in, make changes, and perhaps even experiment.
Brief little story: Besides doing startup stuff, I have a screen printing company, and I focused the last few months on getting its revenue up. Surveys have always told me that people want to see instant pricing on t-shirt printing and the other stuff we do. So I finally added an instant price widget and expected to see revenue go up.
It was an experiment.
And it was awful.
We compete on quality of printing, not price. But by focusing on a quote widget, we were competing on price, and not showing off our quality of printing. And we weren’t having as many conversations, because people could get a price and then just leave. Conversion and revenue went down. I removed the widget, and now it’s going back up.
Focusing on other feedback from these surveys helped me improve conversion on the screen printing site, however. But it took weeks of improving and adjusting the site to implement all that feedback and all the changes.
But anyway, focusing on conversion can be intense and difficult, especially if your site is large and complicated, and there’s a lot to tweak and optimize.
Pro for traffic: It’s quick
It’s quick if you’re paying for it. And it can be quick if you get a spike from a Product Hunt launch or something similar.
I have seen 15,000 unique visitors in a week to a site of mine from a successful Product Hunt launch. But that’s impossible to do over and over. You get one shot at that, maybe two if you launch a new version or feature and have great luck on Product Hunt again.
Paid ads can bring you traffic quickly, even the same day if you get them approved quickly. And quick traffic is always appealing. We all want traffic, eyeballs looking at our page, perhaps willing to buy.
Con for traffic: Spikes don’t last or always help
Product Hunt is obviously huge in the startup world, and people crave getting at the top of the ranks when they post on there. But it’s not always gangbusters for your revenue. I always try to get a project up high on Product Hunt, but I now know from experience that it’s not going to make me a ton of money.
Founders dream of getting #1 on Product Hunt and instantly getting traction. It doesn’t work like that. Sorry. It helps, sure, but it’s just a spike and it’ll die off. You’ll get a trickle of traffic for months from a great Product Hunt ranking, but once you’ve actually gotten traction in your own right, it’ll be a minute part of your traffic.
When I got userinput.io to #3 on Product Hunt a few years ago, I saw thousands of unique visitors and had a great time and felt pretty good about it all, but my revenue that day was honestly $117. BFD. I was hoping for thousands of dollars from Product Hunt. Now a good article or a good link from a relevant site can bring in more revenue than that in a day.
And it’s more than just Product Hunt. I’m a huge proponent of getting new projects on Betalist, too. And that’s great for trying to build a list before you launch, but it’s still not going to make you successful. Nor will getting traffic from a press article. I’ve had a startup get written up in Huffington Post, the Boston Metro, SF Gate, published in the local Nashville Business Journal, actually in print as well as online, the full page of a real printed newspaper, with my picture and everything. My grandma was proud but traffic from those articles didn’t really help.
The traffic from Product Hunt and HuffPo and all that stuff is hard to keep repeating, and besides that, it doesn’t always convert well, which leads me to my next point…
Con for traffic: Not always targeted
Yes, you can find many ways to crank up traffic on demand, but it might not always be targeted. And non-targeted traffic doesn’t convert because they don’t care because they’re just not interested in what you’ve got.
It’s like those stupid spam offers you see, “I will get U 10,000 visitors to your website for $10.” Who cares? Those people aren’t going to be real customers, or interested. (Perhaps they won’t even be real people, who knows.)
But it’s not just the spam offers that aren’t targeted. Display ads can lead to non-targeted traffic because you’ll get click through not from people who actually have the problem you’re solving and therefore need your solution, you’ll get traffic from people who were curious and “just looking.” That’s how most of the traffic from Product Hunt or a banner ad may act. So it’s traffic that doesn’t really help.
Pro for conversion: Can be affordable
Not to toot my own horn, but the feedback you can get from userinput.io for just $99 can be really useful. I had one customer recently run just one survey on there to get quick feedback on their website, and improve his conversion with paid customers from 2% to 5%. That’s awesome and it was really affordable for him.
And there are other affordable ways to improve conversion. If you have enough traffic, A/B testing tools like VWO can be quite affordable.
I just started using hotjar which is a site recording tool that will record visitors on your site so you can literally sit there and watch what every visitor did, even tracking their mouse and clicks, so that you can watch for where they obviously lose interest and drop off. It’s powerful for conversion rate optimization.
Running your own focus group can be fairly affordable too. By buying friends or acquaintances a cup of coffee in exchange for watching them try to use your site and talk through it, you can learn a lot about what confuses them and what they don’t understand.
(Oh and if you want to do a lot of conversion rate optimization yourself, this big CRO guide is a good starting place)
Con for conversion: Might need to hire out
While there’s plenty of affordable tools and conversion techniques out there, sometimes you need to hire the big guns, which might be several hundred or several thousand dollars for consulting and optimization.
And even if you do understand conversion rate optimization and know what should be done, if you don’t know how to work on your own site, you will have to have your designer or developer do it, for whatever their normal rate is. And those hours add up.
Pro for conversion: Low hanging fruit / stop wasting traffic
The people on your site are the low hanging fruit. Doing anything to make them turn into customers is a great idea, whether it’s converting them now or getting them on a drip series to convert later.
And you’re basically wasting your traffic if you’re not making it convert. If you have 10,000 uniques a month and no one converts, you’re in deep shit. Something is horribly wrong. You have to figure it out.
Pro for traffic: Retarget later or build a list
Most people know what retargeting is, but I’m still amazed by how many people aren’t doing it.
(If you don’t know what retargeting is, my example is when you look for shoes on Amazon, then the rest of the week you see ads for those shoes all over the Internet. Amazon knows you’re interested in those shoes, and they’re retargeting you to try to bring you back to buy them. And you can do this with your own customers too).
You can buy traffic or get traffic via content marketing or whatever, then show them retargeting ads and try to convert them later. This can work really well, especially if your service or product is relatively expensive and you can afford to spend 50 cents or more on a click because the math works out to make it worthwhile.
By using a tool like Perfect Audience you can set up tracking on your site easily and show ads to your visitors later on Facebook or around the web in general.
If you are planning a launch on Product Hunt or some similar spike, you should definitely have retargeting pixels set up before that flood of traffic hits your site. You can segment out the traffic and prioritize ads to the site visitors who really seemed more interested, like those that looked at pricing, or entered your checkout funnel.
And with exit-intent popups, you can snag email addresses from visitors, or use content upgrades viper or other techniques on your site to capture addresses so that you can add them to your mailing list and convert them later.
Con for traffic: Organic traffic can take a while
SEO is still important. Some people say it’s not, but they’re wrong. But it’s a long-term effort. You might not see results from optimizing your site your months, and it could take a year to get ranked really high for your competitive target phrases. It’s worth it, because it results in targeted and essentially free traffic, but it is difficult and can take a long time to actually happen. And in some really competitive markets, you may not have a realistic shot at ranking #1 for your best search phrases.
Pro for traffic: Get it with content
One way to get visitors to your site is with content marketing. An article that does well can bring in thousands of people to your site, at low or no cost to you. A popular blog can rank well in Google for your target phrases, and get shared on social media and in newsletter. This is awesome.
Con for traffic: Blog traffic may not care about your service
But what if you’re getting traffic to read your articles, and they’re not your target customers? While it’s easy to write some viral clickbait article that will appeal to a mass audience, those people may not care at all about your service offer, and never convert. That would not be awesome.
You have to somehow capture that blog traffic and turn them into customers at some point, or else it’s a waste. Do this with retargeting, or by highlighting your service directly on your blog, or getting them onto your mailing list so you can stay in their mind until they convert.
Pro for conversion: CRO is forever
That sounds corny but whatever. If you spend $20 on some quick traffic from paid ads, that traffic comes and then goes. Your $20 is gone. Maybe you got some sales, maybe you didn’t.
But the effort you put into conversion rate optimization lasts forever. It will affect all future visitors and positively impact your revenue and conversion down the line, indefinitely.
The winner? Conversion or traffic?
Neither is the winner. Sorry.
What you should focus on depends on your current situation and where you see more weakness.
If your traffic is really low, you should focus on getting it up, simply because you can’t do much on a site with 200 visitors a month.
If you’re converting visitors at less than 2%, you need to optimize for conversion, or make sure your traffic is from quality, relevant sources (or both).
It’s pointless to drive traffic to a site that can’t convert. And it’s pointless to have a site that could convert but has no traffic. What you should focus more on is dependent on your situation and what’s more dire.
You could always focus a month on conversion, then a month on traffic, and go back and forth. Forever. Because you should never get comfortable and relax. And your website is never “complete” either, it needs continuous tweaking and optimization.
...But why not both?
You could focus on both, because both are crucial. You can’t convert customers without traffic on your site. And you shouldn’t spend money or time on getting massive traffic unless you’re converting.
So just pick one to focus on and get started. Flip a coin if you have to, but choose to either improve traffic or conversion, and start executing right away.
And if you do decide to focus on conversion on your website first, and you're serious about it, you may want to hire a UX design agency like UX Studio Team.
Here are some solutions I mention in the article, and recommend using:
Lucky Orange - Very affordable tool to record videos of your users on your site. You can tag the videos based on what actions and conversions take place, so it's easy to go back and watch people who dropped out at a certain point, or those who completed purchase, etc. Look for trends and spot issues.
Userinput - Get on demand feedback on your website and figure out how to improve it.
VWO - Easy A/B testing on websites.
UserBob - Get videos of users trying to do certain tasks on your website, as they talk through the sticking points and what they like and don't like
Optimocha - Speed is really important for conversion and for SEO as well. Optimocha is a powerful speed optimization service for WordPress sites.
Perfect Audience - Awesome and easy system for retargeting ads. They also can track conversions that come through your ads, which is great for figuring out ROI on the ads.
Traffic Junky - Run cheap ads on PornHub, 4chan, etc. It can be good for cheap traffic en masse.