TL;DR: What is Cost Per Action (CPA)?

Cost Per Action represents the cost an advertiser pays for each desired action taken by a user. These actions can range from signing up for a newsletter, purchasing a product, downloading an app, or any other specific activity that aligns with the advertiser's goals.

CPA provides a clear measure of how much an advertiser is spending to achieve a specified outcome. 

Unlike metrics such as Cost Per Click (CPC), where advertisers pay for each click regardless of the end result, CPA focuses squarely on the end game: the user's conversion.

How to Calculate Cost Per Action

CPA= {Total Ad Spend​} / {Number of Actions}

Total Ad Spend

Sum up all the costs associated with a particular advertising campaign. This includes direct ad expenses, any fees related to advertising platforms, and other related costs.

Number of Actions

Count the number of desired actions achieved through the campaign. This could be the number of products sold, the number of sign-ups received, app downloads, or any other defined actions.

Example: Suppose you spent $5,000 on an advertising campaign and achieved 250 sign-ups.

CPA = {$5,000} / {250} = $20 This means for every sign-up, you spent $20.

Why is Cost Per Action Important?

ROI Measurement

  • Holistic View of Ad Spend: CPA provides an encompassing view of advertising spend relative to the outcomes achieved. It encapsulates not just the cost of generating interest (like a click or a view), but the cost associated with achieving the ultimate goal, be it a purchase, sign-up, or any other desired action.
  • Value Comparison: By comparing CPA with the average lifetime value of a customer, advertisers can discern if they're gaining or losing money in the long run. This comparison helps businesses decide if they should scale their campaigns or pivot their strategies. We can assign values to different actions (e.g., a content download is worth 50, but a free trial is worth 100). This allows us to track different important actions but optimize for ones that are going to bring us more value.

Budgeting Insight

  • Dynamic Adjustments: Knowing the CPA enables businesses to make dynamic adjustments to their advertising budget. If, for instance, the CPA starts trending upwards, businesses can allocate more budget to campaigns or channels yielding lower CPAs.
  • Future Predictions: Over time, tracking CPA trends can assist businesses in predicting future ad spending, allowing for more accurate budget forecasting.

Performance Analysis

  • Beyond Surface Metrics: While metrics like CPC provide a surface-level understanding of user engagement, CPA dives deeper into the effectiveness of an ad campaign by tying costs to actual results.
  • Feedback Loop: A higher CPA can serve as immediate feedback, indicating potential issues in the ad campaign or conversion process that need rectification.

Optimization Guide

  • Diagnosing Friction Points: A fluctuating CPA can shed light on potential friction points within the conversion funnel. For example, a sudden spike in CPA could indicate issues with landing page load times or a disconnect between the ad message and the landing page content.
  • Strategic Improvements: Continuous monitoring of CPA can guide A/B testing efforts. Advertisers can test various elements, from ad creatives to call-to-action buttons, determining which variations help in lowering the CPA.

Competitive Edge

  • Market Dynamics: In industries where the competition is fierce, a marginal difference in CPA can provide a competitive advantage. A lower CPA translates to a higher profit margin, allowing businesses to reinvest in their campaigns or offer more competitive prices.
  • Strategic Positioning: Companies that succeed in maintaining a low CPA can position themselves as market leaders, not just because of profitability but also due to the efficiency and effectiveness of their marketing campaigns.

Best Practices to Reduce Cost Per Action

Reducing the Cost Per Action (CPA) is an ongoing quest for advertisers. A lower CPA signifies more efficient ad spending and can lead to improved profitability. Here are some best practices to consider:

Targeting and Segmentation

  • Define Your Audience: Before launching a campaign, have a clear understanding of who your target audience is. Crafting ads tailored to specific demographics or interests can lead to higher conversion rates and a lower CPA.
  • Use Lookalike or Custom Audiences: Platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google allow advertisers to target "lookalike audiences" or custom audiences uploaded to the advertising platforms to find people who share characteristics with your current customers. This can be a goldmine for acquiring new users at a lower cost.

Optimize Ad Creatives

  • A/B Testing: Regularly test different ad creatives, headlines, and calls to action. Small tweaks can sometimes lead to significant reductions in CPA.
  • Consistent Messaging: Ensure that your ad copy aligns with the landing page content. A disconnect can lead to drop-offs and higher CPAs.

Landing Page Optimization

  • Speed Matters: A slow-loading landing page can deter potential customers. Optimize for speed to ensure users don't bounce before converting.
  • Clear Call-to-Action (CTA): The CTA should be prominent and compelling. It's the final nudge that drives a user to convert, so make it count!

Monitor and Adjust Bidding Strategies

  • Use Automated Bidding: Many advertising platforms offer automated bidding strategies that adjust in real time based on campaign performance. This can be an efficient way to achieve your desired CPA.
  • Adjust for Ad Scheduling: If certain times of the day or days of the week are yielding higher CPAs, consider adjusting your ad scheduling.


  • Engage Interested Users: Not everyone will convert on their first visit. Retargeting helps in reaching out to users who have shown interest, providing another opportunity for conversion at a potentially lower cost. Some advertiser shy away from robust retargeting campaigns, seeing them as additional costs on top of their already expensive advertising campaigns, however, retargeting is often the reason prospects make the final decision to purchase.

Analyze and Learn

  • Deep Dive into Analytics: Regularly review campaign analytics. Identify trends, spikes, or drops in CPA, and adjust strategies accordingly.
  • Feedback Loop: Consider surveys or feedback mechanisms to understand why certain users didn't convert. This direct insight can be invaluable for optimization.
  • Quality check: Are the people who are making these actions the type of people who will become a customer in the future? (i.e., It doesn’t help to get 1,000 leads if only 5 of them are high quality). 

A proactive approach, combined with continuous monitoring and optimization, can significantly reduce CPA and lead to more successful advertising campaigns.

Industry Benchmarks and Average CPAs

Understanding the industry benchmarks for Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) can provide advertisers with a clearer perspective on how their campaigns measure up against competitors. Here's a hypothetical snapshot of average CPAs across various industries:

  • E-commerce: $20 - $65
    • With online shopping on the rise, the e-commerce industry sees a wide range of CPAs. Factors like the niche of the products, the target audience, and the region play significant roles in the variation.
  • SaaS (Software as a Service): $40 - $150
    • Given the often higher ticket prices and monthly recurring revenue model, SaaS companies might be willing to have a higher CPA, especially if the lifetime value (LTV) of the customer is substantial.
  • Real Estate: $30 - $215
    • The higher CPA in the real estate sector reflects the high value of transactions and the intense competition among agents and property listing platforms.
  • Travel and Hospitality: $7 - $60
    • Seasonal fluctuations, promotional offers, and regional competitions can make the CPA in the travel and hospitality industry quite dynamic.
  • Health and Wellness: $15 - $90
    • This industry encompasses a vast range of products and services, from dietary supplements to gym memberships, each with its own CPA range.
  • Finance and Insurance: $40 - $200
    • Given the regulatory environment and the value of new customers in this sector, the CPA can be on the higher side, especially for specialized financial products or insurance policies.

These figures are illustrative and may vary based on factors like regional differences, advertising platforms used, and specific business models. However, having a general idea of industry averages can help businesses set realistic CPA goals and allocate budgets more effectively.

NOTE if you're looking for detailed and up-to-date CPA benchmarks for various industries, I would recommend checking websites like:

  • WordStream: They often provide comprehensive data on ad performance across different industries.
  • Statista: This platform is known for a wide range of statistics, including marketing and advertising data.
  • Marketing industry publications: Websites such as AdEspresso, HubSpot, and Marketing Land occasionally release benchmark reports based on the data they've collected.


For those looking to continuously improve their advertising ROI, understanding and optimizing CPA is just the starting point. Regularly updating knowledge and skills, leveraging the right tools, and staying attuned to industry benchmarks are all key to ongoing success.


What is the difference between Cost Per Action (CPA) and Cost Per Click (CPC)?

CPA measures the cost advertisers pay for each specific action taken, such as a sign-up, sale, or download. CPC, on the other hand, refers to the cost advertisers pay for each click on their ad, irrespective of the action taken post-click. While CPC focuses solely on generating clicks, CPA provides insight into the effectiveness of the advertising spend in achieving conversions.

Why might my CPA be high?

A high CPA can result from several factors, including poorly optimized ad campaigns, targeting the wrong audience, non-compelling ad creatives, high competition in the ad space, or a landing page that doesn't effectively convert visitors.

Can CPA be used across all advertising platforms?

Yes, CPA is a versatile metric and can be applied across various advertising platforms, whether it's search engines like Google, social media platforms like Facebook, or affiliate marketing campaigns. The key is to ensure you accurately track conversion actions and ad spending.

How does CPA relate to Return on Ad Spend (ROAS)?

While CPA gives insights into the cost efficiency of acquiring one customer or conversion, ROAS measures the revenue generated from your advertising spend. Ideally, you'd want a low CPA and a high ROAS, indicating you're acquiring customers cost-effectively and seeing a good return on your ad investments.

Is a lower CPA always better?

Not necessarily. It depends on what you define and “action” to be. While a lower CPA indicates cost-effective ad spending, it's essential to balance CPA with the quality of actions. For instance, acquiring low-quality leads or customers unlikely to make repeat purchases might lower your CPA in the short term but won't benefit your business in the long run. If your definition of an “action” refers to the final acquisition of a customer, then a lower CPA is always what you’re pursuing.

What is the relationship between CPA and Customer Lifetime Value (CLV or LTV)?

CPA and CLV (or LTV) are both crucial metrics in assessing the financial health of a business's marketing efforts. While CPA focuses on the cost of acquiring a new customer, CLV represents the total revenue that a business can expect from a single customer throughout their relationship. An optimal scenario is having a low CPA in relation to a high CLV, indicating cost-effective acquisition and valuable long-term customer relationships.

How can I optimize my landing pages to achieve a better CPA?

Optimizing landing pages can significantly influence CPA. Key strategies include ensuring a clear and compelling call to action (CTA), making sure the landing page design is mobile-friendly, improving page loading times, A/B testing different page elements to identify what converts best, and ensuring the content on the landing page matches the promise of the ad to maintain consistency and trust.

Are there industry-specific benchmarks for CPA?

Yes, however, CPA can vary widely depending on the industry. Some industries, like high-end luxury goods or specialized B2B services, may naturally have a higher CPA compared to industries with lower-value goods or broader audiences. It's essential to compare your CPA to benchmarks within your specific industry to get an accurate understanding of performance.

How do seasonality and external factors impact CPA?

Seasonality, economic shifts, and other external factors can significantly influence CPA. For instance, e-commerce businesses might see a lower CPA during holiday sales seasons due to increased purchase intent. Conversely, economic downturns might result in a higher CPA as consumer spending tightens. Advertisers should be aware of these factors and adjust their strategies and expectations accordingly.

Can CPA be too low, and is that a concern?

While a low CPA is generally a positive indicator of cost-effective advertising, it's possible for it to be too low in certain scenarios. For instance, if ad spending is too conservative, opportunities for scaling and reaching a broader audience might be missed. Furthermore, a CPA that seems too good to be true might indicate issues with tracking accuracy or the quality of leads that don't convert into valuable customers.