October 27, 2015 | Sarah Danks

I’ll admit — there’ve been times when I use certain words to describe something that others might not agree on.

(Side note: a preposition is a bad word to end a sentence with.)

For example, all my life I’ve used “car” in place of “vehicle.” E.g., “Whose car is that?” when asking about either a sedan, SUV or minivan. Unless the VEHICLE in question is a pickup truck, I’m wont to say “car” for everything on 4 wheels.

Another common one is “pony.” I call every horse a pony. Even my friend’s 18hh, 1,800-lb draft horse cross is called a pony. It is what it is — I like the word, I think it’s cute; I use it even though it’s not correct in any sense of its definition.

And I’m okay with that.

That being said, when it comes to marketing I like to use the jargon that’s universally known. If I use something incorrectly, I make sure to correct myself and move forward using the proper terminology.


Of course, even if people use the “wrong” term to describe something, you can pretty much infer what they’re talking about based on the context. What annoys me is when someone is so hung up on their connotation of a word they can’t see the context.

See, denotation is the literal meaning — definition, if you will — of a term. On the other hand, there’s the connotation — people’s emotional or historical interpretation of the word.

In the past year I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had to (kindly) educate people about the word “conversions.” And not just any people — marketers!

“I only do personal branding, so conversions don’t apply to me.”

I’ve been in quite a few Twitter chats wherein a question regarding marketing success arises. I.e., What are the top 3 online KPI you should be measuring?

I always — ALWAYS — respond with, “Well, first and foremost you need to measure CONVERSIONS!”

After answering thus, nowadays I stand back — arms folded comfortably, fingernails tapping against my arm — awaiting SOMEONE’S “nuh uh” response. Because invariably it’ll come.

“The company I work for doesn’t sell anything, so conversions aren’t important to us.”

I could point these people to the generic definition of a conversion: when a visitor takes a desired form of action on your website.


But since that’s not specific enough, I’ll lay it out here and give a myriad of examples of what — potentially — a conversion could look like across many business types and instances.

“Our clients are only interested in traffic, not conversions. So we don’t measure them.”

What’s sad is oftentimes people are so focused on their connotation of the term (sales), instead of thinking about what it actually means (someone taking a desired action). Would it be easier for them to swallow if I used the term “goals” instead of “conversions”? Possibly.


I think most people, upon hearing the word “conversion,” immediately jump to thinking, “a sale.” While that’s certainly true in some cases, it’s not the be-all-end-all of the conversion world.

Here are some — but definitely not all — of the types of conversions I’ve run across in my tenure as an online marketer.


Again, this is probably the most common understanding of a conversion: selling. For those companies that sell products online, the obvious conversion is the sale of a product.

Examples would be online retailers such as Amazon or eBay…

…or anyone with their own Etsy shop.


Like our business, most companies in the professional services industry are focused on generating leads — i.e., getting people to contact them either via web form or phone to inquire about a service.

(And yes, you can track phone calls that originate on the web.)

Examples are search marketing and web design services; attorneys and law firms; chiropractors, dentists and medical clinics; colleges, etc.


I’m not talking door-to-door magazine sales; I’m talking about either SaaS — where people pay a fee to have access to software — or even when people reading your blog sign up for your monthly newsletter.

No money exchange is required for this to be a conversion; if all you want is someone’s email address and they give it to you, you’ve just converted them.

Examples: Moz; anyone with a monthly newsletter they want to share; even Google when they only allow you to use something of theirs that requires a gmail address.


Are you offering a whitepaper or e-book you want people to download? Well, for whatever reason you want people to consume that content, when they click the “download” button, they’ve just become a conversion.

It doesn’t matter what they do with said download after they’ve got it; that’s not the point. The point is somewhat two-fold: they wanted something you had to give so they downloaded it; they probably gave you their name and/or email address in the process.

Examples are Unbounce (Oli’s free ebook), Chrome (think: extensions), WordPress (plugins, anyone?), podcasters and of course free apps.


You don’t have to be “just a blogger” to consider social media engagement a conversion. These days, every business should be on some type of SoMe, but to what end?

To build relationships, network, get your stuff shared and — holy of holies — acquire backlinks to bolster your link profile, of course. Our biggest wins in this regard have been shared content that got in front of influencers who then linked to us.

Booyah. Conversion!

Examples are, as mentioned, content marketers looking to earn 3rd-party links; new businesses trying to gain a following on SoMe; and hell, people attempting to bolster their personal brands.

Let’s say you’re a recently-released college grad looking to burst onto the employment scene. You’re not interested in conversions, you just need to land a job!

Well, guess what — if you market yourself well, you can interest potential employers enough that they reach out to YOU…

…and that, my friend, is a conversion. Especially if you get the job.


Ever heard of YouTube? Vimeo? That’s what I thought. What’s the point of putting a video up on the second-most-used search engine?

To get a view, of course.

No purchase required — just eyeballs! (This also segues into subscriptions as a conversion — since most YouTube channels want people to subscribe to their channels so as to be chronic viewers.)

Examples: Two words: Buzzfeed Matt (Whine About It. For real, if you haven’t seen any episodes — GO FORTH AND WATCH NOW). Can’t discount PewDiePie — word on the street is he’s making millions just from video views. Whew.

And, let’s not forget Zak George. Never heard of him? That’s okay — I have. I started watching his dog training videos on YouTube YEARS ago…

…imagine my surprise when I then turned on the television a couple of years ago and saw him training dogs on his own Animal Planet TV show. I’d say video views led to a MUCH bigger conversion!

Similar successes stemming from video views would be Whitney Thore (now has her own TV show on TLC) and Meghan Trainor (released an album in 2009 but didn’t gain notoriety until her “All About That Bass” video viralled outta control).


Let’s say for argument’s sake that you do have a client who only cares about traffic. Maybe just getting traffic to the website is a conversion. Maybe it’s new visitors. Time spent on site. X number of referral traffic sources.

Whatever it is, I bet you’ve laid out goals and are measuring said goals in analytics to that effect.

If that’s your goal, then obtaining it = conversion.

Examples are bloggers, people who’ve launched a brand-new website, and anyone else who wants to acquire traffic to a site.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the conversions that exist; just a simple compilation of the top few I’ve run across.

Basically, if you have an online goal and you reach it, that’s a conversion.


The point I’m trying to make is, when I say “you need to be measuring conversions,” don’t get hung up on what you think I mean. Focus on what your goals are — because I know you’ve got them.

It’s like when marketers say “you’ve got to cater to your tribe.” There’s nothing I hate quite so much as people who say that.

Why? Because my connotation (along with the original definition of the term) is “any aggregate of people united by ties of descent from a common ancestor, community of customs and traditions, adherence to the same leaders, etc.”

Maybe it’s my Native American heritage, but that’s what I think of when I hear the word “tribe.” But, I can put away my personal feelings and know what these marketers mean. In this case “tribe” equals “people of like-minded thinking.”

So, remember that the next time I say “measure your conversions.”

Because what I mean for you to take away from that is: track your goals. Objectives. Aspirations. Purpose…



What kinds of conversions do YOU track?



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