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Guide to understanding conversion funnels and how you can create one for your business.
Turning website visitors into customers can be frustrating, especially if you’re not sure why someone doesn’t want to buy your incredible product.
The truth is, the majority of visitors aren’t ready to buy from you the first time they land on your site. In fact, they hardly know you, so it’s unlikely they’re going to willingly hand over their hard-earned cash.
Often it can feel like an impossible task. That’s usually because you’re trying to convert cold visitors into red hot leads with very little effort. If you want to capture an endless stream of leads and turn conversions into a cause for celebration rather than commiseration, you need a conversion funnel.
Conversion funnels are strategic journeys you take your prospects on to warm them up ready for a sale. You might also have seen them called sales funnels or marketing funnels, but they all have the same end goal: to convert visitors into buyers. It’s known as a funnel because prospects tend to drop off as they move through the journey, meaning the start of the process is a lot more populated than the end.
This isn’t a problem, though. In fact, it’s very normal. Prospects will start to self-select with each touchpoint you serve them, and only the most qualified leads will make it to the very end. However, there are steps you can put in place to make sure you convert the highest number of prospects as possible at every stage of the funnel.
While there are many similarities between a traditional sales funnel and what’s known as a conversion funnel, there are some key differences. Traditional funnels often follow a linear route, taking prospects on the same journey regardless of their independent wants and needs.
Conversion funnels are more fluid. They don’t herd prospects down the same, muddy path. Instead, they provide touchpoints based on customer behavior, interaction, and desires. This means that a brand’s conversion funnel for one customer might look very different to the conversion funnel of another.
On top of this, a conversion funnel extends beyond the purchase. It also involves nurturing existing customers and ensuring past buyers continue to come back time and time again.
At their core, conversion funnels drive more sales and bring you new customers, but they also bring other benefits:
They help you forecast sales and determine how customers act at different stages of the buying cycle
They help you identify which touchpoints aren’t converting as well as they should be (and help you fix them)
They help you better understand your customers’ wants and needs
They help you improve your overall strategy to ultimately get more sales
While conversion funnels for different brands will vary depending on the target audience and the product, there are some elements that most funnels include. Usually, these can be boiled down into five key stages:
Throughout these stages, there will be a mixture of technology, social media, other platforms, and tools that can be used to gently push leads from one stage to the next. The ultimate goal is to get new leads in the awareness stage all the way through to the purchase stage.
Let’s look at each stage in a little more detail.
This is when leads start to become aware that they have a problem that needs solving. For example, they might find that they’re wasting lots of time organizing their desktop files and need a quicker way to do it. Or they might realize that they are struggling to transcribe their business phone calls and need a better solution than the one they’re already using.
Whatever the realization is, customers at this point will start researching solutions to their problems. It’s your job to show up with the right information at the right time.
At this point, leads will have come across your brand and will hopefully be considering it as a potential solution to their problem. However, they will also have discovered other similar products (a.k.a. your competitors) and will start weighing up the pros and cons between their available options.
Your job here is to position your solution as the best option for them and continue to drive interest in your products.
Leads will have whittled down their options to one or two at this point and will have a good idea of which one they want to go for. At this point, the goal should be increasing the desire for leads and making sure your product remains the front runner. You can do this by providing compelling case studies, testimonials, and use cases that show the results a customer can get with your product.
This is the point of conversion. It’s the moment a lead chooses your product or solution over all the other options that were available to them. They will either buy your product right away or contact you for more information to ease their objections before they eventually hand over their money.
Here, you should focus on providing all the information leads need to make a purchase and make it as easy as possible for them to buy.
While this stage is simply called “purchase”, it also encompasses customers in the post-purchase stage. Often, these are your most valuable customers because they don’t have to start at the funnel from the top if they want to buy from you again.
Plenty of brands overlook this stage because once they’ve converted a customer, that’s the end of it, right? Actually, wrong. Post-purchase is crucial for nurturing long-term loyal customers that not only come back for more, but who refer your brand to their friends and colleagues for years to come.
It’s worth noting that not every lead will go through all of these stages. Some might join the funnel partway through if they’re recommended your product through a friend, and others might skip out the middle stages if you manage to sell them what they want from the get-go.
In terms of tangible assets involved in a conversion funnel, you might expect to create:
Social media posts
Downloadables (like ebooks, checklists, and one-pagers)
Lead generation forms
Email nurture sequences
Again, the content assets you need will depend entirely on your target customer and the journey you wish to take them on. As a general rule, you’ll definitely need at least a few top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) pieces, like blog posts and videos, a landing page, a lead magnet, a lead generation form, and at least one email nurture sequence.
Before you start piecing together your conversion funnel, it’s important to identify what information your audience needs to know. This will be the kind of content they’re searching for and what they need to build awareness of your brand and your product offerings.
What is the biggest problem my customers need solving?
What information do they need to help them solve that problem?
What will they be searching for to find an answer?
What are my competitors doing to answer that question?
Are there any gaps that I can fill?
Answering questions like these will help you identify what kind of TOFU content your conversion funnel needs and where your content will fit in the pre-existing market.
Here’s a quick guide to finding out what your customers need.
Keyword research will help you pinpoint the exact phrases your customers are using to search for brands and products like yours. You can use these phrases to create relevant content and help push your website to the top of search engines.
This also forms a good starting point for your content strategy, which will create much of the top layer of your conversion funnel.
Use a keyword research tool to find keyword ideas and identify the keywords your competitors are already ranking for.
This is a screenshot from Wordstream’s free keyword research tool, but you can also use more in-depth software like Ubersuggest, Ahrefs, or SEMRush.
Once you have an idea of the main keywords that your audience are using, you can drill down into the common questions and queries they have.
You can use a variety of methods to do this, including searching for topics on forums like Quora and Reddit, or checking the People Also Asked section in Google’s search results of relevant keywords.
By this point, you should have a lot of potential content topics. The next step is bringing it all together into a content plan and creating your TOFU strategy. The goal here is to map out and create a consistent strategy that continues to answer common questions your audience have so they can find you via search engines and other methods.
Publishing regular fresh content will keep your site at the top of Google search results and will provide leads with multiple different ways of finding you. Content types you might incorporate here include:
Social media posts
The last thing you want is for leads to dine and dash on your TOFU content. If they leave your site, there’s a big chance they won’t come back and you’ve lost the potential to nurture a new customer. Avoid this by offering them an irresistible freebie in exchange for their email address.
This is often called a lead magnet, and can be anything from a downloadable ebook to a simple one-page checklist. It should build on the information your leads need to move further down the funnel and be a value-add to your TOFU content.
There are several building blocks that make sure this part of your conversion funnel is tight and performing as it should be:
Landing pages are an integral part of a conversion funnel. They act as a gateway for channeling website visitors into qualified leads by collecting email addresses. Good landing pages explain what prospects will get when they hand over their details and provide the opportunity to claim a freebie in return.
The best landing pages don’t ask for too much information or make it too complicated for leads to get the freebie. Instead, they promote the benefits of the offer and are a value-add to existing TOFU content that visitors might have originally landed on.
This landing page by Mixpanel has a visual of what leads will get when they provide their details as well as a brief summary of what the freebie will show them. That’s followed by a short form where visitors can enter their important details and a prominent call-to-action that uses first-person language to create a connection.
Your lead magnet is the freebie you offer in exchange for an email address. Use your research from step one to determine what kind of content aligns with your target audience’s needs. Remember, at this point they are aware they have a problem that needs solving and are weighing up their options. As a result, your lead magnet should help them continue their journey to the sale by providing additional information to the TOFU content that attracted them in the first place.
Here are some different types of lead magnets to choose from:
This lead magnet by OfficeVibe offers a checklist that helps visitors have more productive meetings.
Whatever type of lead magnet you decide to use, make sure it solves a real problem that customers have, provides a quick win, is super specific, and is easy to digest. While ebooks are a popular form of lead magnet, they can overwhelm leads if they’re too long or contain too much generalized information.
The final part of this stage is putting together an email sequence that nurtures leads. These are the people who have read your TOFU content and given you their email address in exchange for your lead magnet.
Now, it’s time to stay in touch with them and continue to provide value until they’re ready to buy.
The most successful email sequences are:
Personalized to customer needs (most email marketing software allows you to segment subscribers based on their interests and behavior)
Provide a healthy mix of educational content and product pitches
Lead towards the end goal: converting subscribers into paying customers
Milanote welcomes new subscribers and encourages them to take action right away. Showing up in subscriber inboxes helps you stay front of mind and remind potential customers why your product is the best fit for their needs.
The conversion funnel doesn’t end when a customer makes a purchase. In fact, existing customers bring in more revenue and are easier to sell to, so make the most of this by providing them with the content they need after they buy.
Content at this point will vary depending on the type of product you’re selling, the customers you’re targeting, and what they use your product for. For example, if you have a SaaS calendar product, providing tutorials and demos for different use cases can work really well, while a B2B catering company might have better results sharing upcoming recipes and customer stories.
Here are some ideas for post-purchase content that aims to delight:
Knowledge bases packed full of useful tutorials
Demos for various different use cases
Customer stories that provide different product perspectives
Exclusive offers and new product information
Workshops, webinars, and live events
There are multiple different touchpoints throughout your conversion funnel that will benefit from the optimization of some kind. Start by tracking the performance of each step, including how many website visitors your TOFU content is attracting, how many of those visitors are converting into leads, and how many of those then go on to become paying customers.
Here’s a quick three-step guide to optimizing your conversion funnel.Getting started with landing page optimization
Think about how many visitors you want to attract to your site and how many new leads you want to generate during a specific timeframe. Be realistic here, and use past data to determine what’s reasonable. This will provide a benchmark for measuring your efforts and will help you determine which areas need improvement.
Check in with your conversion funnel on a regular basis. For example, each month, track and make a note of your monthly traffic (including which pieces have generated the most traffic), how many people signed up for your lead magnet, and how many eventually made a purchase. This will help you identify trends and highlight where your funnel isn’t meeting its goals.
Finally, tweak underperforming parts of your conversion funnel. Use data to identify suffering touchpoints and improve them using best practices.
Here are some ways you can improve your conversion funnel at each stage:
TOFU: update blog posts, incorporate more relevant keywords, and experiment with different types of content
MOFU: add stronger CTAs and re-work the copy on your landing pages, experiment with different types of lead magnets, and tweak your email sequences until your open rates and click-through rates are higher
BOFU: add more content to your knowledge bases, experiment with different content types, and speak to existing customers to find out what you can improve
The beauty of a robust conversion funnel is that it continues to attract and generate leads on autopilot. Once all the parts are in place, it’s simply a case of letting it go and working its magic. Continue to optimize each stage until your funnel is meeting your goals and converting as many customers as possible. When you do this, you’ll have an incredible asset that works hard for you without too much upkeep.
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