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3 key tips to search campaigns that convert

Paid search can seem almost magical at times. You plunk down your credit card, craft some ads, and watch the traffic come rolling in. But getting the most out of your search marketing efforts requires connecting those ads to business results. And the best way to do that is to drive your search traffic through to conversion (If you need more background on what conversions and conversion rate are, check out our past coverage of conversion tracking fundamentals). In this post, I walk you through three tips can help you improve your conversion rate and lower your cost to drive those conversions. Pretty cool, huh?

Photo credit: Search Influence

The best part about this is that none of the steps outlined here require tons of effort, time, or money (though, to be fair, will require a little bit of each). Still, there aren’t many things you can do in your digital marketing with as much opportunity for return with so little upfront effort.
The three tips to running successful search campaigns that convert are:
  1. Slice and dice your traffic for fun and profit.
  2. Think like a bank robber.
  3. Test, digest, and repeat.

Now let’s look at each in more detail.

Slice and dice your traffic for fun and profit

I once worked with a business that averaged around 48,000 visits per month to its website and converted 1,674 of those to sales (or leads, donations, what-have-you in your world). That’s a conversion rate of 3.5% and a number almost any CMO should be happy with, right?

Well, yes. And no.

You see, not all traffic is created equal. Let’s look at this a different way. In the following table, I’ve taken those roughly 48,000 visits and broken them down by source, along with conversions and conversion rate for each:

Traffic Source Visits Conversion Rate Total Conversions
Paid Search 23,334 2.2% 513
Direct Navigation 10,000 5.6% 560
Organic Search 10,029 3.5% 351
Email Marketing 4,390 5.7% 250

Suddenly, that 3.5% conversion rate doesn’t look so great, does it?

In fact, in this example, paid search drove almost half the traffic, but converted worse than any other channel. Instead of converting at 3.5%, paid search only converted at 2.2%. It produced 513 conversions, instead of the 817 it could have produced if it had simply matched the site-wide conversion average. And in this particular case, that added up to over $400,000 per year in revenue.

Oh. And their paid search traffic costs ran about $10,000 per month. An added 0.1% in conversion rate alone equaled more than $30,000 annually, enough to cover the costs of three months of paid search marketing.

Understanding your key segments changes the conversation from “How do I improve my business results?” or “How do I improve my marketing?” to “How do I improve the results of my paid search marketing?” (Or natural search, direct navigation, email, referral, what-have-you). Instead of taking a shotgun approach, you’re able to aim your efforts with laser focus.

And aiming at the right target is a huge step towards actually hitting what you mean to.

Think like a bank robber

There’s an old story about someone asking Willie Sutton, the infamous bank robber, why he robbed banks. His reply? “Because that’s where the money is.”

Making your paid search work for you follows the same principles. Once you’ve identified your real conversion rate, follow your money. Use your analytics tool and look at the pages receiving the most traffic from paid search. Additionally, look at the campaigns, ads, and keywords consuming the bulk of your budget (there’s usually pretty strong correlation there).

Focus your improvement efforts in the areas of greatest spend to gain the greatest return. “Leaky” pages (i.e., ones that lots of people leave from) and shoddy ads cost you conversions—and real money. You don’t have to worry about Willie Sutton robbing you; you’re doing it yourself.

Test, digest, and repeat

Around here, we’re all big fans of a “do it wrong, quickly” approach. And improving your search campaigns to produce conversions lends itself perfectly to “doing it wrong, quickly.”

It’s pretty simple, actually. While many variables play into how to improve your conversion rate, here’s a simple model to get you started on testing your paid search campaigns:

What do you want to improve? What should you test?
Impressions Keywords or bid
Clicks Ad copy
Conversions Landing page

On-page testing is more complex to plan though relatively easy to execute thanks to tools like Google’s Content Experiments. While there’s no simple formula, here are the areas to pay the most attention to:

  • Decrease bounce rate. You’ll never convert people who don’t stick around. One way to keep them around is to ensure your headings and image match the headline and content of your ad. Mismatches between those off-site and on-site messages frequently contribute to high bounce rates.
  • Present strong benefit statements. Customer don’t usually care about features (though you can and should list them on the page). They want to understand instead how they benefit from those features. Make sure your headings and copy clearly explain to your customers “what’s in it for them.”
  • Improve trust factors. Customers not only want to know what to buy. They also want to understand why they should buy from you. Include testimonials, feature your privacy policy, or show certifications to help assure your customers that you’re reputable and worth giving their money to.
  • Offer clear calls-to-action. Finally, many customers leave when they’re not sure what to do next. Increase the size of your “add to cart” or “contact us” buttons. Use standard action verbs to label those calls-to-action. Highlight a phone number or email address customers can use if they need help or have additional questions.

Test the various elements listed above to improve conversion rate. Then evaluate those tests, build on your successes, and learn from your mistakes.


Getting your search marketing efforts to work for your business depends on both knowing what you want to accomplish and doing the right things to get there. Use these for key tips and you’ll be well on your way to running search marketing campaigns that convert.

Want to learn how to apply this in more detail for your business? Mike Moran, Rob Petersen, and I now offer an On-site Search Marketing training program for businesses as part of the Biznology Jumpstart Workshop series. We work with your company’s data and help you put these lessons into practice immediately. If you’re interested in having us present a session for your team, contact Biznology Training for more details. And in any case, keep working on improving your conversions from search marketing. Because nothing’s more magical than campaigns that produce results.

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Tim Peter

Tim Peter built his first website in 1995 and loves that he still gets to do that every day. Tim has spent almost two decades figuring out where customers are, how they interact with brands online, and delivering those customers to his clients’ front door. These efforts have generated billions of dollars in revenue and reduced costs.

Tim works with client organizations to build effective teams focused on converting browsers to buyers and building their brand and business. He helps those companies discover how marketing, technology, and analytics tie together to drive business results. He doesn't get excited because of the toys or tech. He gets excited because of what it all means for the bottom line.

An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, web development, search marketing, and analytics, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results. He is a member of the Search Engine Marketers Professional Organization (SEMPO), HSMAI, and the Digital Analytics Association.

Tim currently serves as Senior Advisor at SoloSegment, a marketing technology company that uses machine learning and natural language processing to improve engagement and conversion for large enterprise, B2B companies.

Tim Peter’s recent client work covers a wide range of digital marketing activities including developing digital and mobile marketing strategies, creating digital product roadmaps, assessing organizational capabilities, and conducting vendor evaluations for diverse clients including major hospitality companies, real estate brands, SaaS providers, and marketing agencies.

Prior to launching Tim Peter & Associates, LLC, a full-service e-commerce and internet marketing consulting firm in early 2011, he worked with the world’s largest hotel franchisor, the world’s premier independent luxury hotel representation firm, and a major financial services firm, developing various award-winning products and services for his customers. Tim can be reached at or by phone at 201-305-0055.

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