Click-Through-Rate vs Conversion Rate: What’s the Difference?

In conversion optimization, a common debate that comes up is whether or not to optimize for micro-conversions. Micro-conversions are things that tend to correlate with the end goal (purchase, sign up, etc.), but don’t directly count as a macro-conversion.

In this sense, click-through-rate is almost always considered a micro-conversions. Should we optimize for it? How do we factor it into conversion optimization?

What Exactly Are Micro-Conversions?

Click-through-rate, in almost all circumstances, is considered a micro-conversion. But to give you a clearer picture of what we mean by this delineation, let’s explore what a micro-conversion really is.

Micro-conversions are actions a user completes that are either on the path to revenue-generating conversions or not directly related to revenue-generation.

What does that mean in practice? Micro-conversions, depending on your business-type, could be any of the following:

  • Viewing your “Request a Quote” page
  • Visiting the checkout page
  • Clicking the ‘View pricing’ link
  • Adding a product to the cart
  • Commenting on an article
  • Watching an explainer video
  • Clicking the “about us” page

Pretty much all of these are measured using click-through-rate, clicks, or a similar metric. They aren’t measure with a dollar value or by any revenue indications.

They’re almost always either process milestones or secondary actions in relation to the desired end goal. For instance, you can’t register a conversion from an email marketing campaign if the person doesn’t first click through to the site.

Note: this is true in a sense, but there’s also something known in the display space as “view-through” conversions, where they count conversions if add was simply viewed before purchasing.

This goes beyond the scope of our topic in this guide, and if you’re interested in that, read up on marketing attribution. Good post here on that.

The Case Against Optimizing for Click-Through-Rate

What if you’re able to increase conversions or clicks on a supporting step, but it doesn’t lead to an increase in conversions, RPV, AOV, or whatever important business metric you’re optimizing for? If it keeps your revenue stagnant, increasing your micro-conversions doesn’t really mean much.

Lukas Vermeer put it well in a previous blog post:

lukas vermeerLukas Vermeer
“Pick the right metric.

This question is not about testing strategy, but about business objectives. If your business relies on repeat payments, conversion rate is probably not the right metric to optimise for; just like CTR is terrible for optimising hotel bookings (e.g. EMK with subject “FREE BEER” will improve CTR, but probably reduce sales once customers figure out there is no beer on your site, certainly not free beer).

You should probably look at more longer term metrics, such as signups that stay customer for 3 months+.”

So click-through-rate (or any micro-metric) can be misleading in a conversion optimization view (disregarding our previous topics on CTR and quality score, or CTR and SEO, etc.) In any case, always optimize for the metric that actually helps the business grow.

You Should Still Measure Click-Through-Rate and Micro-Conversions

There’s a big difference between tracking click-through-rate and micro-conversions and optimizing for them.

It’s beneficial to track micro-conversions. It offers a more complete picture of your user experience, and it always allows you to do more meaningful post-test analysis to discover further testing opportunity areas.

It allows you to break down which parts of your site are acting as stopping points.

Another reason tracking micro-conversion is important is that not all of your visitors convert the first time. Not all people who open an email or even click through to the website will purchase. Most of them don’t, in fact.

Avinash Kaushik wrote a great post on this subject. In it, he said:

AvinashAvinash Kaushik

“But what do you do in terms of measuring complete success of your website? All that white “space” (Unique Visitors) wasted for nothing?

No. Well maybe some.

But people don’t just come to your site to Buy. They are there to Research products and services (and buy offline). They are looking to get Support. They are there for looking for Jobs. They might be there to look at your latest Blog Post, etc.

Make each one of those your Micro-Conversions.”

Image Source

NN/g also published an article highlighting the value of measuring micro-conversions. Essentially, it lets you get a better glimpse of the quantitative aspects of your user experience. Here’s what they say:

“Micro-conversions provide essential visibility into the holistic user experience. Focusing solely on macro-conversion measurement risks adopting only design and content changes that result in instant, large shifts in conversion rate. These shifts are often short lived.

Sites that optimize for long-term returns need to focus on all the components that provide a positive user experience and business return over time.”


There’s a lot more to be written about the value of click-through-rate in conversion optimization, but we’ll leave with some simple advice: measure micro-conversions (clicks) but don’t optimize for them, at least solely. Optimize for the metric that indicates business value. Sometimes this is sign ups or conversion rate, sometimes it’s Average Order Value or Revenue Per Visitor.

Click through rate can and should be considered, but only in relation to business goals. If you improve CTR but decrease revenue, that’s not a win. Though if revenue stays the same and CTR increases, that could be an indication you’re moving in the right direction.

In any case, it’s nuanced. Track CTR, but optimize for business metrics.

If you want to read more on the topic of micro-conversions, check out this post.