CRO: Top of Funnel vs. Bottom of Funnel Changes

When it comes to conversion rate optimization, you already know that there are an infinite number of tests you can run. The only constraint should be the amount of time, money, and other resources you can devote to improving the overall experience.

Because most companies don’t have an unlimited budget to throw at CRO, you will be forced to prioritize. And those marketing teams who are best able to prioritize their efforts will win on two fronts:

  1. Early successes will have greater impact on the business

  2. Because those early successes will add value, your efforts will get noticed by those that can pour more resources toward future improvements

So how do you start to prioritize the work? You have a couple of different options. You will want to find a way to estimate the potential impact of your changes. And to do that, you should start to categorize those changes into Top of Funnel or Bottom of Funnel changes.

Top of Funnel Changes

Top of funnel changes are going to be made very early in the conversion path. These are things like the ads that someone would click on, or the landing pages that they are taken to.

Changes at the top of the funnel have a simple goal – get more people into the funnel. The theory goes that if you can get more people into the funnel, assuming a constant conversion rate, you will get more sales.

Marketers who choose to focus on the top of the funnel see that as the greatest opportunity because it represents the largest possible audience. The nature of the funnel is that the widest audience exists at the top, with more people falling off with each step in the journey toward that ultimate sale.

The more people you get into the top of the funnel, the more people will be left over at the end.

Bottom of Funnel Changes

Bottom of the funnel changes are going to be made nearest to the end of the conversion path. Often, this would involve changes to the product pages or the actual shopping cart experience of an ecommerce website.

Changes at the bottom of the funnel are aimed at getting more people who start the checkout process to finish. The theory goes that these people are the most qualified, and if you lose them at this point in the journey, it’s like throwing money away.

Marketers who choose to focus on the bottom of the funnel know that it can difficult to reach a wider audience. And so it is better to focus on those prospective customers that have already expressed a high level of interest in your products or services.

The more of them you can keep from leaving the process altogether, the more sales you will generate.

Which One is Better?

Neither. Sorry to disappoint. Both are important, and I know people who can make a strong argument for one or the other.

The argument for starting with the top of the funnel is that there are often easy ways to add more people to the funnel. And if we assume that the overall conversion rate once they are in the funnel remains constant, every new person you add will grow your revenue.

The argument for starting with the bottom of the funnel is that there is often low-hanging fruit opportunities to improve the checkout process, essentially plugging the holes in your funnel so that you lose fewer people in the crucial final steps.

If I am forced to pick one or the other, I pick the bottom of the funnel. The reason is a simple one. Once you plug the holes, any improvement you can then make at the top of the funnel will have greater overall impact.

But the choice, for your company, is yours.

Top Conversion Rate Optimization Tips


Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is a system for increasing the percentage of visitors to a website that conversion into customers, or more generally, take any desired action. CRO has gained prevalence in recent years with the growth of popularity of “growth hacking”, as companies look to take advantage of new technologies that make online testing simple and intuitive.

If you and your company are using conversion rate optimization to improve your results, or just thinking about getting started in this area, here are my top 5 conversion rate optimization tips:

  1. Start with those tests that have the potential to have the most impact. Prioritize in terms of potential value. Much testing is about finding incremental lift, but there are likely big improvements to be found early on.
  2. Make sure you start by defining the metric, and make sure everyone agrees. What is a conversion? That’s what you are trying to get more of. People must agree on the goal in order to agree on the results.
  3. Be open to surprises. One of the biggest mistakes people make when they’re first getting started is assuming they know the results of a test before the test. Keep an open mind and let the data do the talking for you.
  4. Research and study what other companies/professionals have experienced in their own tests. You can find a wealth of historical data and best practices simply by spending a few hours on Google. These will give you testing ideas and open you up to new ways of creating a better user experience.
  5. Understand statistical significance. In simplest terms, statistical significance is the point at which we can confidently conclude that the results of a test we are running are real, and not just a coincidence.