Using Conversion Rate Optimization to Maximize Your Paid Media Dollars

For so many businesses, Paid Search Ads are one of the most profitable and reliable marketing channels to activate. This makes sense. Users tend to be high intent and ready to make a decision. You’re looking to buy a new pair of shoes? Google is one of your first stops. We are limited however, in how much search volume is out there. Ads can only serve as much as users are searching. Of course there is seemingly unlimited volume for our shoes example, but that isn’t the case for most products or services. As a growth marketing agency, we’re constantly evaluating how to use conversion rate optimization to grow the right channel mix. 

To make the most out of the search terms that are relevant to your business, there are a few things to keep an eye on. For starters, budget plays a big role. Scaling can be as simple as allocating more spend. How about additional Keyword Research? That will certainly help when you are looking to scale and create efficiencies with your ads. What Tuff has found is that the main driver of success on Google Search Ads is leaning heavily on CRO

When we talk about CRO, it means much more than just Conversion Rate Optimization. A/B landing page testing? Check. Ad Copy development? Definitely. Expert web design? Of course! If budgets are appropriate and keyword research is robust, CRO is your next step to success as a Google Ads agency. Let’s dive head first into what this looks like.

What is CRO? 

CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization) is taking action to directly impact the amount of users converting on your website or within your applications. The intent is to increase the amount of users taking desired actions. 

What usually comes to mind when thinking about CRO are forms and CTA buttons but when put into practice, CRO goes well beyond this. When you’re going to launch CRO efforts, you need to start with your audience. Understanding what your audience needs and what you have to uniquely offer helps to determine the journey your website should offer and what the ultimate goal is. 

Understanding your audience and their needs

To better understand your audience, CROs leverage 4 key data points: behavior metrics, path exploration/user flow, heatmaps, and surveys. 

Behavior metrics

  • Bounce rate: This number tracks the percentage of users that enter the site and don’t go beyond that one page. High bounce rate can be a key indicator of whether your site offers the right information at the right time to keep the user on your site. If you’re visible for the wrong searches or possibly serving content that doesn’t align with the answers the user needs, you will see a high bounce rate.
    *Note: Some pages may be built for higher bounce rates like a Contact Us page. Consider the intent of the page itself before determining if optimizations are needed.
  • Exit rate: This is the percentage that defines how often a page is the last page in a user’s visit. Again, depending on the intent of the page, you’ll want to make a hypothesis around why a user might exit (slow loading, navigation/linking faux pas, etc.). From there you can create informed tests to keep the user there and ultimately push them to convert. 
  • Time on site: The length of time a user spends on your site. This can inform you of the quality of the users coming to your site.
    *Note: Account for how much of your audience is mobile. Mobile users tend to have quicker sessions but it can also indicate mobile speed or usability issues.
  • Pages per session: The amount of pages users visit per session. The more pages, the more we find a user is getting what they need and is being served an optimized user journey on your site.
  • Conversions (obviously 😏): We often like to review conversion patterns, pages with high or low conversions, and what (if any) micro-goals are excelling (micro-goals = Newsletter sign-ups, webinar attendance, etc.). These things can help us determine the time a user spends in the funnel and underperforming pages to find where we should focus on a site first.

Path exploration

Above we discussed more of a birds-eye-view of your overall site data. The metrics above will lead us to individual pages that will require a more granular analysis. At page-level for data, we look at things like where the user usually enters the site and where they go next.

Looking into where the user often lands can tell us what pages have the best visibility and make the first impression with the user. 

The next pages a user visits can help us determine where a journey might be broken and give us insight into what the user really needs during their time on your site. 


Leveraging a tool like Hotjar, we can get a better look into user behaviors page by page. Heatmaps can show us where users are clicking, how much of your page is actually seen, and we can even watch live recordings of a user’s journey and how they engage throughout your site. 

These 3 heatmap features allow us to determine things like page layout when we see most users drop from a page after viewing only a third of its offerings. Or, we can see points of friction during user recordings to truly pinpoint why someone may have dropped from your site without converting. 

Heatmaps are the real crystal ball. 🔮


Surveys are given to both new, potential customers or current customers. This is something we usually recommend for brands that see a good amount of traffic and/or have a stable customer base. 

Within CRO, surveys lean more qualitative and serve open ended questions to receive honest feedback we can’t get from the data. They can be leveraged post-purchase/sign-up or when a user shows intent to exit so we can better understand the ‘why’ behind winning or losing conversions. We can even serve them according to time on site or pages per session depending on what the goal is. 

How to do CRO on low-traffic sites

Thinking about how to test on a low traffic site is tough. How can we get impactful results when there’s not a lot of traffic going to a site? Without traffic, we won’t have enough folks to split to gain true insight in an efficient timeline. But, as you now know, CRO isn’t just CTA buttons and form fills. 

Here are some strategies we recommend for low traffic sites:

  • Improve the customer journey. A major part of conversion rate optimization is user research. This is the area of CRO where surveys can be introduced to a site to better understand the audience. These surveys can inspire big changes to navigation, user flow, and even language on the site. It may not be traditional testing, but it can be a big win for younger companies who haven’t had the time or resources to define their brand and its relationship to their audience.
  • Include “micro-conversions” into the testing process. Define other ways your company names success in the funnel beyond form fills to chat with a sales team. Can we improve newsletter sign-ups? Can we get more engagement on a webinar? Some companies have excruciatingly long sales processes. So, highlight the success of getting folks into the funnel even if they’re not ready for the hard sell just yet!
  • Create tests that make a big splash! If you don’t have a ton of traffic, a small CTA button test might not be the most lucrative. Go for a big layout change. Make sure there’s a stark difference in the control and the variant that has a major impact on the experience. 
  • Focus on a match made in heaven ♥️ Paid & CRO. When Paid Media is being leveraged, it can be a big traffic booster. Focus on creating a landing page that will win big with the audience. Go into testing your CTA copy or keywords! There’s a lot you can do to improve how you serve your ads to your audience.

Leveraging conversion rate optimization efforts on Paid Search

Tuff audits accounts for incoming clients. It’s one of our first steps when working with a new business. During this process, we take a look at every level of a Google Ads account. Keyword targeting, ad copy, bid strategies, etc. Here are some findings we discovered for a prospect recently that are VERY common to come across during our Audit process: 

  • 71% of ALL ads Ad Strength can be improved with additional Ad Copy.
  • In the last 30 days, $43,000 was spent on keywords with 0 conversions. This is over 20% of the total budget spent during this time period.
  • 30% of all active keywords have a below average Landing Page Experience

We see numbers like this all of the time, across all sorts of industries. Thousands of dollars of wasted spend for low quality ads, keywords, or landing pages. All of these things, with the right intentional effort, are fixable and will have long lasting effects on performance. Utilizing conversion rate optimization to focus on Quality Score, Ad Strength, and Landing Page Experience, will yield cheaper clicks, higher conversion rates, and many other long term benefits. Let’s dive in!

Quality Score

The ever mysterious Quality Score is first up in our assessment. This is one of the main tools Google uses to compare your ads to your competitors. Influencing everything from CPC to where you show up in search results. Here’s how it’s calculated, according to Google:

  • Expected clickthrough rate (CTR): The likelihood that your ad will be clicked when shown.
  • Ad relevance + Ad Strength: How closely your ad matches the intent behind a user’s search.
  • Landing page experience: How relevant and useful your landing page is to people who click your ad.

Even though it seems fairly straightforward, improving your Quality Score is harder than it looks. There are lots of factors to consider when testing. All of which are important to focus on. 

Ad Strength

This is a metric that has become paramount in the last year where Google Ads removed extended text ads and replaced them with Responsive Search Ads. Now, all ads have the ability to include 15 headlines and 4 descriptions for Google to optimize towards. Combinations will be created based on what works best for the users. This allows for the algorithm to assign a “strength” based on the perceived quality of the ad. 

Google uses 4 areas to determine the Ad Strength:

    1. Add more headlines – Make sure you utilize all the options available to you. This helps with the ability for Google to test and experiment with what copy works best for your audience. 
    2. Include popular keywords in your headlines – This is the most important of the 4 variables. It is important to match your ad copy to the keywords being targeted. For example, if you are targeting the keyword, “financial advisors near me,” this phrase should be directly in one of your headlines. This gives a signal to Google that your ad is highly relevant to the user searching for that phrase. Tip: Use Dynamic Keyword Insertion to automatically insert users’ search terms into your ads. 
    3. Make your headlines more unique – Unique headlines that are varied throughout will drastically improve your Ad Strength as well as the ability to test and learn what language has the best performance. Tip: Give your users value props, competitive differentiators, and all relevant information about your product or service. 
    4. Make your descriptions more unique – Similar to the above with headlines. Descriptions have a 90 character limit so you will be able to tell a more detailed story here. Tip: Utilize all 90 characters and include a CTA in this section. 

Ad Strength has 4 tiers: Poor, Average, Good, and Excellent. The aim is to have ALL ads achieve a Good or Excellent rating by implementing all of the best practices above. 

Landing Page Experience

Landing Page Experience may be the most impactful metric to look at through the lens of conversion rate optimization. As the name of the metric suggests, this is a measure of how a user experiences your webpage once landing on it through a Paid Search ad. We can see a score for this on a keyword level, which means each keyword will have a specific landing page experience. There are three scores here:

  • Below Average
  • Average
  • Above Average

We aim to have every keyword in an account reach an Average or Above Average score here. It is one of the first things we focus on when onboarding a client. It’s easy to forget sometimes, but Paid Traffic is PAID. It is paramount to be as efficient as possible when targeting these users. You can truly affect a business’s bottom line with the right conversion rate optimization.  

Simple enough right? Well, it may seem simple on its face, but there are so many variables to keep in mind when looking at landing page experience. Here’s how Tuff utilizes our CRO team for creating highly converting landing pages for paid media traffic. 

Building landing pages for high quality keywords

When we think about scoping CRO to build new landing pages, we do this by narrowing down which keywords we want to focus on. Landing pages are resource heavy. Of course we cannot build a landing page targeting every single keyword relating to the business. So we have to prioritize. We categorize the keywords we want to focus on in two main buckets:

  1. High value keywords that are converting, but have room for improvement
  2. High volume keywords that historically have converted poorly, but have room to scale

Let’s start with keywords that have been converting, but have room to improve. It’s incredibly important to maximize the performance of these terms. If they work for you now, there is typically a way to supercharge them. Improvement can come through all of the quality metrics mentioned above by implementing a proper landing page. 

Since these keywords are already converting somewhat frequently, we focus on adding additional CTAs and including more copy that matches the targets. When Google deems the landing page is more relevant than your competitors, in turn impression share, CTR, and all other metrics can see a lift. 

The other keyword bucket is what we like to refer to as “tier two” keywords. These have volume, but historically have high CPAs. These may be broader in nature and tempting to go after because of the volume potential. Lots of partners run into high costs here though. This is where a CRO landing page comes into play. It is a perfect opportunity to lower costs and ultimately scale. With these keywords we focus on website copy, path exploration, and exit rates to see what may be driving traffic to leave before converting. 

Here are some general tips we recommend when aiming to improve Landing Page Experience with your CRO team:

  1. Use a CRO tool like Hotjar to heatmap paid traffic → As mentioned above, this tool can help you understand the behavior of your users. Specifically for Paid traffic, use this technique to gain insight into the most compelling areas of your landing page. Paid traffic tends to behave differently than organic or direct traffic, so keep in mind the stage of funnel your paid users are coming from. For example, lower funnel traffic may be more inclined to read competitor comparison sections or value props. 
  2. Conduct an in-depth path exploration → Paid traffic by nature will behave differently than other sources. A deep path exploration to follow Paid users across your site gives you valuable insight into where you can improve. For example, if paid users tend to navigate to blog content after landing on the site, this can indicate that it’s worth testing additional content links on your paid landing pages. 
  3. Lean on a/b testing to properly test Landing Page Optimizations → We can use tools such as Google Optimize to 50/50 split test all sorts of variables on a new landing page. Maybe this is as simple as the color of the CTA button. It could be something more drastic like a hero section change. Regardless of the variable, a/b tests are invaluable when combining the power of CRO with Paid Traffic. Google Ads has the ability to a/b test landing pages right in the platform with their experiment function. Tuff uses this function on a weekly basis to continually optimize our paid search campaigns. 

How to measure the effectiveness of CRO efforts on Paid Media

There are multiple metrics, not just conversion rate, that are indicators of success between PPC and CRO collaboration. Of course conversion volume and conversion rate are large components of all testing, but we can go further with our evaluation. Here are some additional KPIs we track when we are making changes to landing pages, testing ad copy variations, or anything else CRO related for Paid Search. 

  • Cost per Click – Seeing a decrease in CPC can be a sign that your Quality Score has improved. Google favors the most relevant ads and landing pages, so if there were changes to a landing page that made it more relevant to your users, CPC can decrease.
  • Average Session Duration – This metric is one of the strongest indicators of Quality we have at our disposal. The longer a user spends on your site, the higher quality they are to your business. All CRO efforts look to improve this metric if possible, especially when looking at Paid Media. 
  • Pages/Session – Similarly to Average Session Duration, this metric indicates a highly engaged audience. More relevant landing pages, optimized for conversions and SEO, will have a high likelihood of improving pages/sessions for each user. CRO testing that includes additional internal sitelinks is one way to improve this KPI.
  • Bounce Rate – Another site metric that we use to measure the success of landing page content. This is calculated by looking at the people who land on your website, take no action, then leave. The lower the Bounce Rate the better. CRO efforts based on optimizing landing page copy and function help lower Bounce Rate by engaging users with more CTAs, additional content to read, and helpful internal links. 
  • Click Thru Rate – Any improvement in CTR can be an indicator of a successful conversion rate optimization test test. Ads that are most relevant to your audience receive a higher expected CTR, improving Google’s Quality Score. 
  1. Impression Share – This KPI is one that many marketers might not directly associate with conversion rate optimization testing, but it is very helpful at defining success for Google Ads. Conversion Rate improvements made on a website can indicate to Google’s algorithm that your business is higher quality than other competitors, therefore allocating more impression share to you when users are searching. 

When you can match the intent of the search with the right destination, not only will your CPC go down and CTR go up, but you will see engagement metrics improve along with conversion metrics. Measuring success is never linear though. That’s why Tuff looks at data using multiple forms of attribution. This gives us a holistic view of all Digital channels. Social, Organic Traffic, or direct traffic, all can see lifts from improving the quality of your paid ads. 

Supercharge Paid Media with CRO opportunities

Remember, Google, and most other advertising channels, want to serve their users the most relevant and high quality ads possible when they are searching for something or browsing the internet. Paid traffic is paid. Nowhere in your marketing mix is it more important to be as efficient as possible. This is why we keep conversion rate optimization top of mind when creating a Paid Media Strategy. Improvements in website navigation, relevant content, and calls to action have long lasting effects. Ready to accelerate your paid media budgets with CRO? Let’s talk.