Goward on Godin: Response to the unforgiving arithmetic of the funnel

By: Chris Goward
6 min. read Last updated: August 27th, 2020

Seth Godin’s recent article about the “unforgiving arithmetic of the funnel” was another welcome acknowledgement for the importance of conversion rates. There’s a reason he has garnered such a huge following. He posts powerful, pithy insights.

In his blog he recently wrote:

One percent. That’s how many you get if you’re lucky. One percent of the subscribers to the Times read an article and take action. One percent of the visitors to a website click a button to find out more. One percent of the people in a classroom are sparked by an idea and go do something about it.

And then!

And then, of that 1%, perhaps 1% go ahead and take more action, or recruit others, or write a book or volunteer. One percent of one percent.

He’s simplifying the numbers to make a point, of course.

Conversion rates at each step are different for each organization, call-to-action and target audience. Your potential for improvement depends on your particular Conversion Rate Elasticity. But, simplification can help to make a point more memorable, and his point is important to get across to his audience.

His observation that most marketers’ reaction to their respective funnels is to run more ads is sadly true. Most turn to spending more on demand generation, doubling-down on buying SEO links, tweeting more, looking for the next shiny new thing (what is it today, Augmented Reality, apparently. Pshaw…).

Chris Goward Seth Godin

I’d like to add my comments to Seth’s recommendations on dealing with the funnel:


  • Godin: Acknowledge that it’s there. Don’t assume that a big audience is going to easily convert to action.
  • Goward: Yes! Ostrich marketing is a failed strategy. Conversions take effort and practice. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.
  • Godin: Work to measure your losses. Figure out where in the process you’re losing interest and clicks or the other behaviors you seek.
  • Goward: Right, the first step to improving your conversion rate is to identify your priority areas for improvement. (Incidentally, that is exactly what we do in our Kaizen Planning process where we develop a conversion optimization strategy)
  • Godin: If you can, remove steps. Each step costs you dearly.
  • Goward: At a macro level, this is often true. The fewer the steps to get to the purchase the better. But it’s not always true on websites. In tests we’ve run, more steps that are less complicated can sometimes out-perform fewer steps.
  • Godin: Treat different people differently. If you alter the funnel to maximize interest by the wandering masses, you may very well miss the chance to convert the focused few.
  • Goward: This is the essence of the “Relevance” factor in the LIFT Model. However, it must be balanced with an acknowledgement of the maintenance cost that comes from increased complexity and also that you don’t know as much about people as you think you do. Often, optimizing the value proposition message for the largest audience gives better returns than over-complicating your segmentation and targeting.

Essentially, he has recommended two hypotheses for improving your conversion funnel: removing steps and message segmentation.

While they are valid hypotheses to test, there’s a lot more to consider.

What about testing?

The recommendation to remove steps in your conversion funnel assumes that this will always improve conversion rates. In our tests, we’ve found that funnels can usually be improved without eliminating steps. But without running controlled tests, we would never have discovered that.

By testing important elements such as layout, eye flow, copywriting and usability, we’ve shown significant conversion rate improvements, with as much as 750% lift!

Your message can be improved

Is the value proposition you’re emphasizing resonating with your audience? Testing features and positioning can give valuable strategic marketing insights.

This is the motivational component of conversion optimization. You won’t know if a potential message is compelling to your audience until you try it. You may find, as Electronic Arts’ Sims3 team did, by testing offer emphasis, they doubled game registrations and community signups.

Usability is important

Once your visitors have motivation, you need to make it easy for them to act. While it’s often more interesting to talk about the marketing persuasion side of conversion optimization, we also often just purely test usability improvements.

By making conversions easier for prospects, we’re often seeing double-digit lifts in lead generation and revenue conversion rates.

Seth Godin’s message is a good starting point to get marketers to acknowledge the conversion funnel problem. What’s next is to add the nuts and bolts to improve it.

What do you think?

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