Jeremy Smith May 6, 2016 3:03:22 PM 47 min read

How Your Content Marketing Is Sabotaging Your Conversion Optimization

Two things are hot right now in digital marketing:

  • Content marketing and ...
  • Conversion rate optimization

Not only are these two disciplines hot, but they’re also essential to marketing success. According to CMI’s 2016 survey, 88 percent of B2Bs are using content marketing.

pie graph showing 88 percent of B2Bs are using content marketingContent marketing is a big deal, but it’s also rather expensive. How expensive? The average business spends nearly a third of its marketing budget on content marketing, according to CMI data.Marketing budget stats

What about conversion optimization? Smart businesses are embracing CRO for all its worth, too.

According to Econsultancy’s survey, more than half of marketers are using split testing as part of their marketing strategy.


Other businesses have embraced additional CRO methodologies, including:

  • Customer journey analysis
  • Copy optimization
  • Online surveys
  • Customer feedback
  • Usability testing
  • Competitor benchmarking
  • Shopping cart abandonment analysis
  • Event-triggered or behavioral email marketing
  • Segmentation
  • Multivariate testing
  • Expert usability reviews.

Although CRO is not as mainstream as content marketing, it is definitely on the rise.

keyword planner analyses of the word CRO

As conversion rate SaaS becomes more accessible to users, and the importance of conversion optimization becomes apparent, more marketers will undoubtedly get busy optimizing their own sites for maximum conversions.

The status is evident:

  • A lot of businesses are doing content marketing.
  • A lot of businesses are doing conversion optimization.

But my question is this: Are these two digital marketing techniques working in concert? Are they playing nice? Or is one ruining the effectiveness of the other?

Instead of a concert, I often hear something quite different.

I hear content marketers sawing “Turkey in the Straw” (dare you to click that link) on their fiddles, while conversion optimizers are playing Mozart’s Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216 (huge fan, by the way).

The result is not a concert. It’s a travesty.

Sometimes, digital marketing techniques seem to get in each other’s way.

Digital marketing has seen these clashes before.

One of the most notorious clashes in digital marketing is the one between CRO and SEO.

The contretemps between the two came about because SEOs wanted one thing (KEYWORDS!!), and CROs wanted another thing (BIG ORANGE BUTTONS!!), and the two parties were unable to see eye-to-eye on the issue.

 co-workers yelling at each other

(Image source)

Beyond the brouhaha, smart marketers knew that SEO and CRO were actually intended to get along all the time.

Instead of focusing on either/or marketers could focus on both/and.

Another historical digital marketing blowup was between usability and design. Designers wanted the website to look sexy (and win Webbys). The UX team, however, wanted the website to be functional (and not break).

Who wins that conflict? Both parties should.

Is there yet another example of digital marketing division? Sure.

Content marketing and SEO used to be at each other’s throats. Old-school SEOs couldn’t see past their keyword-stuffing spammy ways, and content marketers couldn’t reconcile updating those outmoded SEO principles with the new era of user-focused content marketing.

Each of these examples proves a point: Digital marketing, for all its majesty and grace, tends to trip over itself sometimes.

Right now, lurking in the marketing departments of many businesses is yet another conflict.

The conflict between content marketing and conversion rate optimization.

Why and How Content Marketing and Conversion Optimization Collided

For quite a while, I’ve sensed that content marketing and conversion optimization have been at odds.

At first, I dismissed my concerns, reminding myself, “No, of course not. Both content marketing and conversion optimization are focused on building revenue for the business.”

Same goal, different means, right?

But the more I analyzed it, the more I realized that while the two methods had a similar goal, the methodologies of each could be compromising the effect of the other.

Most notably, content marketing could be sabotaging conversion rate optimization.

How? I shall tell all.

Whether you’re a solo CRO consultant, a content marketing professional, or a marketing generalist, are any of the following true in your practice or in your business?

I’ll provide a case study and then point out the collision points:

Case study: Conversion optimizers spend time optimizing landing pages, while content marketers prefer spending time on blog articles.

This distinction seems trivial at first glance — ”Hey, both pages are leading to the same target, right?” Not exactly. A course alteration at this early point in the customer journey leads to vastly different destinations in terms of the customer’s action, the conversion data analyzed, and the success rate identified.

Landing pages are great, but what type of users are looking at landing pages? Normally, landing page traffic comes from paid search, and the landing page prospect is already in the middle of the funnel when he or she is presented views the landing page.

Content strategists, on the other hand, are trying to attract informational queries, which make up 80 percent of all search traffic. Content marketers and conversion optimizers, then, are attempting to gain either a conversion or a click, but they are attempting to do so from either a middle-of-funnel prospect or a top-of-funnel prospect.

Here’s an example: Someone searches Google for “get software for managing sales data.” Based on this query, the user is definitely looking to buy something.

Google knows this, and they present a full pack of four ads!

transactional query with 4 ad pack on

Salesforces knows this, too.

Their landing page targets this user with a well-placed blow between the eyes.

salesforce landing page

Almost everything about this landing page is obtuse.

  • The massive form field is enormously off-putting.
  • The jargon is unappealing.
  • The photograph is bland.
  • The headline is wordy.
  • The hook is a demo? Really?!

But Salesforce knows something that neither you nor I happen to know.

They know their data, their split test results, and their user like you and I know our own reflection in the mirror.

They know that this is the landing page that is going to best attract their ideal user, while also weeding out tire-kickers and time-wasters. Salesforce doesn’t spend over a billion bucks a year on marketing for nothing.

salesforce marketing budget

You can bet your silk pajamas that Salesforce knows what’s up.

Now, let’s give the informational query audience — a la content marketers — a chance to look at their own preferred path to success (and choke on their coffee).

Here’s an example of an informational query on the same topic as above:

example of an informational query

And here is the SERP from that query:

the SERP from how to get sales quickly

Here is a piece of content ideally suited for the top-of-funnel prospect who is seeking information:

top result in SERP

Now, look at the content.

microsoft power blog

Just look at that!

They dangle the carrot of the long-form content, while subtly inducing the prospect with their “suite of business analytics tools” that promise to deliver data quickly!

That’s what I wanted in my query, right — ”how to get sales data quickly?”

My suspicion is that some prospects will convert on at least one of the CTAs on this page.

What is the point of my case study?

CROs and content marketers are doing two different things. Both are good. Both are necessary. Both are effective.

But how much more effective could they be if they worked together?

In effect, CROs and content marketers are operating two different funnels, and they are hardly even speaking the same language!

This is where the vast bifurcation begins, and the problems issue forth ...

  • Content marketers and conversion optimizers look at different sets of data to establish success or failure. A content marketer could be looking at scroll maps, likes, shares and pageviews, and calling these “KPIs.” A conversion optimizer, on the other hand, is user-segmenting a landing page, analyzing test duration and establishing statistical validity. The two different datasets could not be more disparate!
  • Content marketers generate topics and titles without proof of user interest or conversion potential, leaning instead upon their experience or hunches. How many times has this happened in the history of the world? A content specialist loves words and enjoys thumbing through the thesaurus in hopes of finding just the right level of sizzle and sexiness to make a headline sing. The conversion optimizer, on the other hand, that bean-counting chap, is shaking his head in disbelief, asking, “Why aren’t you testing the $*&% headline?” Sadly, many content creators develop snappy-sounding headlines without analyzing them according to user intent, value proposition alignment or conversion potential.
  • Conversion optimizers often create landing pages bereft of quality content. Instead of serving a customer-focused content experience, they instead front-load a “convert now!” tactic-based methodology. I’m calling a technical foul on the CROs for this one. It’s way too common for optimizers to churn out templated landing pages based on outmoded “best practices” without a second’s thought as to the actual UX or user intent of the whole affair.
  • Conversion optimizers are testing minor details, completely neglecting the grand pursuit of content marketing. It’s not enough merely to “do split testing.” Many times, conversion optimizers aren’t doing the right testing. Instead of testing all-important and revenue-impacting macro conversions, they’re on their hands and knees, mucking around with button colors or meaningless micro conversions. They’re ignoring the potential conversion gold mine of all the content that lives on the site, generates enormous traffic and attracts highly qualified prospects to the site.
  • Content marketers blindly produce white papers, ebooks, templates and resources without optimizing the conversion funnel for these resources. Are these resources helpful? Yes, but only insofar as they contribute to the grand goal of conversions and revenue for the website. Some CROs, like me, are content to reduce their amount of gated content in order to establish trust and exhibit magnanimity.
  • Content marketers insert perfunctory “CTAs” at the end of their blog articles, instead of actually analyzing the conversion action and testing effective CTAs. I’ve seen so many blogs end with the line, “If you’re looking for help with your website, give our agency a call!” Is that really the best you can do with your CTA? More commonly, blog articles contain no CTAs — not even as much as a sidebar or “read more.”
  • Content marketers produce vast amounts of content without analyzing how this content fits into the customer journey or the user’s intent. GASP!
  • Content marketers are churning out vast amounts of content, totally rejecting any form of conversion optimization. MOAN!

So, I have identified a medley of problems at the nexus of CRO and content marketing. Can you identify?

At the same time, I have begun to gain a clearer picture of the true point of conflict. Sure, I see a potpourri of problems in the CRO and content mashup, but the issue is actually simpler than I realized at first.

My realization boils down to this ...

Content marketers and conversion rate optimization were functioning in different galaxies.

a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..(Image source)

  • CROs are doing their thing, busy on landing pages and button colors.
  • Content creators are doing their thing, busy creating editorial calendars and doing research.

But were the two working together?

“Working together” does not mean hanging out at the proverbial watercooler.

Watercooler(Image source)

The problem is that of strategic separation. Content marketers are siloed in their world of words and paragraphs. Conversion optimizers are holed up in their world of split tests and statistical validity.

They are not combining their strategies for the greatest revenue impact.

Getting the two parties to function synergistically is the solution.

I’m referring to content marketers and conversion optimizers as “two parties.” In most large organizations — often those with a “marketing department” — that’s how it works. There’s a “content creator,” or someone with a similar moniker, and a “conversion optimizer,” or some equivalent.

More commonly, small businesses bundle all their marketing activities into a person or two. The content creator is also the conversion optimizer, the social media strategist and the guy who fixes copy machine jams. Other agencies outsource their content, conduct a few split tests on their own, and call their web developer when they want something changed.

There are legion variations as to how marketers do their thing. I’m not addressing interdepartmental functionality. Instead, I’m pointing at the vast gulf that separates conversion optimization and content marketing.

jumping to cro

Whereas the two disciplines should be intertwined, they are often pursued independently of one another.

This is a tragic lost opportunity.

Content marketing without conversion rate optimization is a huge lost opportunity.

Have you ever wanted to waste money?

burning money gif(Image source)

Unless you’re an oil sheik or Jack Ma, wasting money is a short-lived thrill. Usually, it gives you a sick feeling when you’re finished.

mony on toilet paper roll(Image source)

But you could be wasting money this very moment.


By churning out content without optimizing for conversions.

Content marketing, as one of the foremost digital marketing tactics, is also one of the most effective.

But what makes it effective? It’s only effective insofar as it is serving the goals of the business.

What goals does a business have?

Well, there’s basically just one: Revenue.

Is your content marketing serving to improve your business’s revenue? If not, then you might as well scrap your content department, fire your content creator, and rejoice in your lift in profits due to eliminating an unnecessary expense.

Or, you can rejigger your content marketing so that it serves to improve the overall revenue of your business.

What does it mean to “rejigger?”

I recommend the application of conversion optimization to your content marketing efforts.

In order for content marketing to be truly effective, it needs to be solidly optimized for conversions. It’s time to do away with vanity metrics like shares and pageviews, and instead analyze needle-moving metrics like conversions.

The entire pursuit of content creation should begin with conversions in mind. It should be carried out with conversions in mind. It should be tracked with conversions in mind. Everything about the content marketing process should be wrapped up with conversion optimization.

In case you’re getting the sick feeling that you’ve wasted lots of money and time on your content marketing, let me provide a series of tactical solutions.

This is how you can get content marketing and conversion optimization in sync for better conversions, better content and more revenue.

When you’re able to get conversion optimization and content marketing operating in peace, it’s a beautiful thing.

First, it improves your content. You’re not merely producing headlines based on guesswork and wordsmithy spiff-ups. Instead, you’re creating headlines based on rock-solid data and indisputable split tests.

Agency-Growth-FB-540x304-split-test(Image source)

You have a far better grasp on what kind of content converts best, thereby introducing more customers into your funnel and raising your revenue. Your content, instead of merely attracting eyeballs from information queries, is instead attracting engagement from conversion-focused strategies built into the content.

Second, the sweet symbiosis of content marketing and conversion optimization is also improving your conversion optimization. CRO attempts to gain more conversions from existing traffic, whereas content marketing (dubiously called “SEO” in the graphic below) attempts to get more of the right kind of traffic.

SEO-vs-Optimization1(Image source)

Both are more effective when executed together.

With CRO, you can engage the incoming traffic from content marketing in a far more effective way.

Rather than devoting all of your optimization hours to user segmentation and landing page development, you are instead, optimizing the existing inflow of traffic built on the hard work and long hours of the content creators.

When you realize all the traffic opportunities,, aligned user intentions, and the vast organic leads that content is generating, you will begin to see conversion optimization in a whole new light.

How do you get all of these benefits?

Here are few suggestions:

Conduct research on your target market with an eye toward content and conversion.

This is a broad strategy, but one that will absolutely set the stage.

At the very outset of marketing — when you’re doing all the typical “marketing stuff” like market analysis, persona development, etc. — do it for both CRO and content!

I’ve explained before that studying your users is the key to successful conversion optimization. The same holds true for content marketing.

Every bit of marketing research that you conduct can enhance both content and conversion optimization.

When you go to apply this principle, you should do so with both goals in mind — higher conversions and better traffic.

A typical content creator’s model looks like this — with “inbound traffic” coming in at a level above “optimization.”

content-optimization-inbound-traffic-lead-conversion(Image source)

I would argue that this is somewhat of a false funnel, since it displaces “optimization” below “inbound traffic.”

Optimization begins far earlier in the process, and should affect the entire funnel development and process.

Hold both tactics in your mind as you conduct your research, and you’ll never have to deal with the warring factions again.

Add strategic CTAs to your content.

All of your content should be packed with CTAs.

What kind of CTAs?

Not like this:

standard content CTA

This style of CTA is, according to my research, hugely ineffective.

What kind of CTAs am I talking about?

Take a look at Buffer’s content marketing. You go to their blog, and what do you see? It looks like a landing page.

buffer landing page

That’s because it is a landing page.

Their blog is a landing page.

You have to scroll down to see their content, which is pretty darn good by the way.

buffer's landing page content

This is an example of conversion optimization and content marketing getting married.

It doesn’t stop there. The entire content strategy is saturated with a split-tested, conversion-optimized, CTA-packed approach.

Start reading a blog article, and you’re staring at CTAs.

buffer's landing page ctas

You can’t get away from them, even when you reach the end of the post.

The CTAs are everywhere.

buffer pop up

Take another example from HubSpot, which basically invented inbound marketing.

Their blog articles are strategically packed with CTAs, too.

hubspot landing page

I recommend implementing conversion-focused CTAs on all forms of content. Then, test and optimize these CTAs for higher and higher conversion rates.

Conduct conversion optimization tests and improvements on content funnels (downloadable resources, etc.).

Hold regular meetings between content marketers and conversion optimizers.

If you’re a solo marketer, doing both content and conversion, this could be awkward (the whole meeting with yourself thing).

Still, it wouldn’t hurt. A solid sit-down session between conversion optimizers and content marketers would produce strategy alignment, ideation, fresh ideas and great ways to improve revenue.

Do it.

Conduct split tests on all forms of content.

I’ve saved my most potent recommendation for last. It’s the most important by far.

The recommendation is simple: Split test all the things.

split test meme(Image source)

Here are a few specific content-focused split tests that you should be running:

  • Test the effectiveness of different headlines and titles for blog articles, email subject lines, tweets and other content.
  • Split test the use of additional content or more relevant content around the CTA.
  • Split test iterations of your “About” page content including 1) video vs. no video, 2) headline changes, 3) long-form content vs. short-form content, 4) form vs. no form, 5) above-the-fold CTA vs. below-the-fold CTA, etc.
  • Test “power words” in the headline. Try words such as “Now,” “You,” “Free,” “Best,” “New,” etc.
  • Test content length on landing pages, blog articles, etc.


The thesis of this my article is simple: Content marketing without conversion optimization is a huge missed opportunity.

Psychologists tell us that the biggest regrets that people have in life usually involve missed opportunities.

This isn’t a life or death situation, okay? But it’s important. Don’t leave money on the table.

Take conversion optimization by the hand. Take content marketing by the hand. Get them together. Let them do their thing.

You’ll be really glad you did.


Jeremy Smith

Digital marketer with a penchant for dance; helping clients see the light through the jungle of tweets since before Twitter was cool.