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

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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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  • Aj Flint

    I love these pieces Chris.

    As one sales manager of mine used to love repeating: "when investigating efficiencies, and client company potential"; start somewhere, and go everywhere.

    I guess the funnel investigation start point would all depend on which areas of ROI you are choosing as your focus.

  • That's good: start somewhere and go everywhere.

    Yes, where to prioritize and focus depends on ROI.

    Thanks, AJ.

  • Cristina Chetroi

    Potential improvement and implementation costs make prioritizing job so much easier.

    I also find helpful to measure the actual flow between different stages (or drop-off for each stage) in order to understand biggest dispersion points. Of course these numbers need to be contextualized.

    BTW, Chris, do you have any tips on how to evaluate the potential?
    Thanks, Cristina

    • Yes, looking at the traffic sources and flows is an important part of the site analysis. Thanks for that, Cristina.

      In terms of potential, some of it is subjective and based on the conversion strategists experience. That's the "heuristic analysis" part. But, we also look at clickstream analytics data to find high abandonment points and on-page analytics (heatmaps) for ux problems. User testing can also be helpful.

      • Cristina

        Thanks Chris. Just got your book – am sure to find a lot of answers and advice there!
        Congrats on it 🙂


  • Interesting post 🙂 I think I would test at the bottom of the funnel first. It would help me to build a list of high quality buyers who are willing to buy my products.

    In the way you wrote this post, I can assume that you’re using a simple funnel, something like this: traffic source -> landing page -> optin/ or purchase. I agree that there’s no good mathematical argument here.

    However, let’s consider a little more complicated funnel, which is used more ofter, something like: traffic source -> landing page 1 -> optin 1 -> landing page 2 -> purchase 2 -> landing page 3 -> purchase 3.

    If I can increase 32.5% conversion rate at landing page #3 (means that I get 32.5% more sales from product 3) then my list of high quality buyers who already bought product 2 and product 3 increase by 32.5%. It’s golden list.

    That’s why I want to test the bottom first. With a high converting “bottom”, I can recover my advertising cost faster. That’s just my point of view, though.