Website Conversion Erosion

When conversion rates from optimized pages start to decline


We recently released the audio recording of our clinic on this topic. You can listen to a recording of this clinic here:

Conversion Erosion

After achieving high conversions from an optimized landing or offer page, after a few weeks or months it is not unusual to see a slow but steady decline in conversion rates.

What causes the performance of optimized pages to decline over time? And what can be done to slow down or halt this erosion?

In this brief we will look at data from two examples of optimized websites which have experienced a significant decline in performance.

We also provide a list of guidelines to help you maintain conversion rates on your own key pages.

In our first study, we looked at the conversion rates of a company over a 1.5 year-period. The company was the National Alert Registry , which utilized a number of marketing channels, including pay-per-click, natural search, and PR.

The following table shows site-wide conversion in three 4-month clusters:

Conversion Rate Trends
Month Conversion
December 2004 2.00%
January 2005 1.79%
February 2005 1.90%
March 2005 2.17%
Four-Month Average 1.965%
June 2005 0.75%
July 2005 0.65%
August 2005 0.57%
September 2005 0.62%
Four-Month Average 0.648%
January 2006 0.45%
February 2006 0.56%
March 2006 0.62%
April 2006 0.52%
Four-Month Average 0.538%


What You Need To UNDERSTAND: The conversion rate for the three 4-month clusters was 1.965%, 0.648%, and 0.538%, respectively, showing a steady decline. There was an overall decline of 72.6% in average conversion.

This site that was highly optimized in December of 2004 became increasingly less effective over time in terms of conversion. What caused the conversion rate to erode, and could it have been prevented?

We identified several factors that may have contributed to conversion erosion: increased competition, increased product awareness, and decreased media coverage.

Interestingly, the three individual months in which the site received additional media exposure proved to be the best months in their overall time periods:

Months with Added Media Attention
Month Conversion
April 2005 2.69%
October 2005 0.74%
May 2006 0.77%

What You Need To UNDERSTAND: Traffic during these three months were significantly better than in preceding months.

KEY POINT: Exposure in the media is one way to give your site a boost in overall conversion and site traffic, and an effective means of combating conversion erosion.

In our second study, we looked at 15 months of conversion data for a health-products company. The following table shows traffic and conversion rates from pay-per-click traffic only:

Landing Page Copy Optimization
Month Clicks Sales Conversion Monthly Change in Conversion
February 2005 40,047 159 0.40% N/A
March 2005 43,154 147 0.34% -15.0%
April 2005 39,528 110 0.28% -17.6%
May 2005 38,997 138 0.35% 20.0%
June 2005 34,581 117 0.34% -2.9%
July 2005 33,931 113 0.33% -2.9%
August 2005 33,157 103 0.31% -6.1%
September 2005 34,064 112 0.33% 6.5%
October 2005 40,696 100 0.25% -24.2%
November 2005 35,981 101 0.28% 12.0%
December 2005 36,080 97 0.27% -3.6%
January 2006 37,878 105 0.28% 3.7%
February 2006 36,830 65 0.18% -35.7%
March 2006 33,296 102 0.31% 72.2%
April 2006 25,843 73 0.28% -9.7%


What You Need To UNDERSTAND: Although there were months in which the site received a boost in conversion due to optimization efforts, the site could not sustain long-term gains in conversion rate. In addition, overall traffic decreased over time.

Here the overall decrease was most likely from two factors: decreased “uniqueness” of the product due to increased competition, and less off-the-web promotion.

KEY POINT: Competitive analysis is essential to determine if and how your competitors may be taking business away from you.

We have written an entire research brief on competitive analysis, which you can access here.


The following points will help you minimize the erosion of your conversion rate:

  1. Continue to test. What works one month may not continue to work as the market evolves. Do not become complacent in your success.
  2. Develop a marketing schedule. Our merchandising calendar and marketing blueprint may be useful here.Merchandising Calendar

    2006 Marketing Blueprint

    2006 Marketing Blueprint in Practice

  3. Use your web metrics system to pinpoint the channels, keywords, ad copy, and landing pages that were producing the majority of your sales. If you keep track of trending on those pages, you will be able to identify specifically where many declines are taking place. Many times we discover that a specific source of traffic such as one of the major search engines (Google, Yahoo!, MSN) has changed their search rankings, and traffic on key terms is no longer ranked as high as it was, so the overall conversion average goes down.
  4. Monitor your paid advertising placement. Staying on top of competitors, especially in saturated markets is essential and can be detrimental to your business if they are not constantly monitored. The old 80/20 rule comes into play as many campaigns drive 80% of their traffic from 20% or less of the keywords. If bids change, placement changes, or there is more competition your traffic will be nibbled away slowly but surely.
  5. Build your email list and relationships with customers.  Your customer list is one source of traffic that is not affected by competition in the marketplace, paid advertising, or natural search engine results. Continuing to build your list and market to customers you already have is one of the best ways to minimize the peaks and valleys in your conversion rates.
  6. Analyze your search logs. If you see significant changes in your conversion, many times analyzing searches performed on your site will provide evidence to what might be causing the decline. If you are a retailer, for example, you may discover that people are searching for a specific product that has been discontinued and is no longer available. If that was a top selling product and you do not have a suitable replacement, then in many cases you just lost a key source of revenue.
  7. Review your product mix to see if certain product types or definable categories have slowed specifically. Many times, an “unnatural” increase or reduction in conversion will be very specific to a product, ad campaign, etc. whereas seasonal and behavioral changes are spread out more evenly across your product line or offering.
  8. However well your page is doing, test and create new versions of the page in advance of any decline in conversions. Also, broaden your sources of traffic across the new pages. If you depend on PPC alone for high conversions, you are vulnerable to competition and increasing bid prices. But if you have a back-up page that is attracting organic search traffic, for example, it can make up for any losses experienced by the PPC page.
  9. Conduct an analysis of your competitors once every six months. This will help you understand what your competitors are doing well, and why they may be taking sales away from you.Online Competitive Analysis Tested


As part of our research, we have prepared a review of the best Internet resources on this topic.

Rating System

These sites were rated for usefulness and clarity, but alas, the rating is purely subjective.

* = Decent | ** = Good | *** = Excellent | **** = Indispensable


Editor — Flint McGlaughlin

Writers — Brian Alt
Nick Usborne

Contributors — Aaron Rosenthal
Jeremy Brookins

HTML Designer — Cliff Rainer

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