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Should I test at the top or bottom of the funnel first?

Words by: Chris Goward & Chris Goward Last updated: August 27th, 2020 4 min. read

We routinely get great questions and insightful feedback from the webinars we conduct. Here’s a recent question from a webinar attendee that deserves a post in itself.

The Question:

I’ve heard conversion consultants advise that you should start by testing as far down the conversion funnel as you can. Do you agree?

The short answer: No!

The slightly longer answer: I’ve seen this advice bandied about and the rationale is askew.

First, I should clarify what I mean by the “top” and “bottom” of the conversion funnel.

Website Conversion Funnel

The top of the conversion funnel is persuasional

The top of your website’s conversion funnel is where people generally enter the site. It includes your landing pages and any of your internal pages that also act as entry pages. This is where the initial persuasion happens.

Your landing page has to convince your prospects that they are on the right website, that you have the products or services they’re looking for and that they should spend time exploring to find out more.

They need to see messages that are relevant to their needs, a clear and compelling value proposition and a strong call-to-action.

The middle of the conversion funnel is informational

Everything in-between the top and the bottom are various forms of product information and content pages. This is where your website needs to answer your prospects’ questions, sooth their objections and move them to take action. In this interior area of your website you need to optimize how to build confidence that you will fulfill your promises and meet their needs and wants.

The bottom of the conversion funnel is transactional

The bottom of the funnel is ultimately where conversions happen: the shopping cart, lead gen forms, whitepaper download forms, webinar signup forms, payment processors, and the like. Once your prospect has made a decision to proceed with your desired action, the only thing standing between them and the goal is the transactional point. It usually involves the least fun part of a website: a form. Optimizing these parts of the funnel usually involve form interaction usability and reducing anxiety.

Where to start?

From a purely mathematical perspective, which portion of the funnel you start at makes no difference.

If you track your conversion goals properly, a 32.5% conversion rate lift at the top results in the same revenue lift as a 32.5% lift at the bottom end.

Here’s the math, in case you’re wondering:
x (1.325) * y = y (1.325) * x

So, there is no good mathematical argument to be made for starting at the top or the bottom.

The decision must be based on prioritizing the opportunities to improve conversion rates and revenue. And that depends on where the biggest problem areas are for the  traffic segments on your website with the highest importance.

That’s why, when we develop a conversion optimization strategy for clients, we prioritize the test opportunities based on three considerations:

  1. Importance – How valuable is the traffic to the pages?
  2. Potential – How much improvement can be made on the pages
  3. Ease – How challenging will the test be to implement on the page or template?

You should start testing where you have the highest potential in these three areas to maximize your return on effort.

How do you prioritize your website tests?

Add your comment below.

Note: I’ve posted an update to this topic with an explanation of the PIE Framework for how to prioritize test areas.

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