In order to understand the role content marketing plays in your marketing funnel you must first know what a content marketing funnel is and what its purpose is. A content marketing funnel is a system that provides information to gather as many leads as possible and puts them through a systematic content flow to convert them into actual customers who pay for your products or services.
Unlike traditional sales funnels, which were designed to be a hard sell from the beginning and up-sell along the way, content marketing funnels promote conversions by indirectly targeting audiences through different stages of the buying process and adding value to the consumer at no cost before closing the deal. To learn more about how they work check out this Guide to Marketing Funnels.
Most people make the mistake of thinking that blogging is content. Although blogging is a form of content, there is a lot more involved. Here are a few features that you may or may not have on your website. What you might not know is all of the following is considered content:
- Pricing tables or offers
- Videos explaining the details of the product you’re selling
- Social media advertising (posts, offers, images, videos)
- FAQs on a website
- Testimonials and reviews from customers
An effective content marketing funnel can be described as a fully integrated website that features additional tools and plugins that recognize each visitor while presenting dynamic content and offers.
1) Content Fills the Top of the Funnel
In today’s digital marketing world content is king and everybody is seeking information. Whatever goods or services you’re bringing to market, it’s important to have comprehensive content on the subject that is relevant, accurate and presented to the user in a format that flows well so that it is easy to read and understand.
If we were in a supermarket the word “organic” would mean more expensive, but the opposite is true with content marketing. In content marketing organic means free and natural. You’re presenting your information to potential consumers free of charge in a natural, unpaid manner. Simply put, having a strong organic content strategy allows you to attract users into the top of the funnel in an organic, efficient and cost friendly way.
Rather than paying for traffic you can introduce users to your remarketing pools in areas they are already qualified. Your goal should be to build your organic footprint and spend less at the top of the funnel so you can allocate those funds towards the mid-bottom funnel that will result in conversions later in the customer journey. A conversion can represent anything from the purchase of a product or service to the download of a whitepaper or the sign-up of a newsletter. A conversion is basically any action that represents a goal of your site.
Let’s take a look at the anatomy of a funnel and break down each part.
Content at the top of the funnel is all about gaining awareness. This is called the ToFu stage, which has more to do with abbreviations than it does with nutrition. ToFu content makes prospects aware of problems and offers solutions. This is a critical stage in the path to conversion because you’re recruiting your audience here. At the top of the funnel, you’re dealing with the awareness about the problem you’re trying to solve, and your content in this stage should be raising awareness.
During the awareness stage, prospective customers might not be aware of the problems they have. They don’t know your brand, and they certainly aren’t aware of any solutions you may have available to them. They are searching for answers, resources, education, research data, opinions, and insight. Resist any urge to provide detailed specifications here. You may blow a potential lead.
ToFu content can be any of the following; blogging, social media updates, photos, illustrations, infographics, podcasts or video.
Here are your goals for the top of your funnel content:
- Increase awareness about the solution for a problem
- Grow retargeting lists
- Increase engagement
- Increase website traffic
Content in the middle of the funnel serves the purpose of evaluation. It takes prospects and turns them into leads. At this stage, your visitors may be aware of your brand and what you have to offer. Now it’s time to guide them further down the funnel and it’s an ideal time to try to capture an email address or some form of contact. In the evaluation stage, prospects are evaluating the various choices available to them. This includes your competition. This is usually when they are researching your company and deciding whether or not your product or service meets their needs.
Middle of the funnel content is usually presented as educational resources, quizzes/surveys, Discounts/offers, downloads and webinar/event signups.
These should be the goals for the top of your funnel content:
- Email/lead list engagement
- Retargeting list growth
- Initial customer acquisition
Content at the bottom of the funnel is supposed to turn leads to conversions, by helping people make an informed purchase decision. This content usually appears in the form of demonstrations, customer reviews, product or service comparison sheets and event signups.
If a customer makes it through the evaluation process they are now presented deciding whether to make a purchase or not. This is your chance to close the deal. Deliver the appropriate content at the right time and you’ve done your job.
Here are the goals for your bottom of the funnel content:
- Nurturing leads/customers
- Growing retargeting lists
- Maximizing customer value
- Increasing frequency and retention
It’s important to note that many businesses can’t afford to cover all the stages of the funnel properly. When deciding on whether to make this substantial investment, ask yourself can you really afford pass on a potential self-sustaining lead generating machine?
2) Reach Your Target Audience Organically
Web analytics data can show you what type of person typically visits your site, how they get to it and how they navigate the site during their visit. With this data you can create personas based on your prototypical visitors in order to view their experience from your website through their own eyes. By using an organic approach rather than paid search you are better able to connect with your key personas i.e. the customers you are targeting and it allows you to reach them at a time when they have an issue and are looking for a solution.
When you write content that relates to the trigger points of your customers you’re more likely going to attract the right type of potential business to your site and more importantly, your brand. Think of it like this, let’s say you were looking to purchase an online driver’s education course for your teenage son or daughter. Would you feel more confident purchasing the course from somebody that presented information about their course benefits, safety and cost in a natural easy to find format or would you rather convert from a PPC ad that simply said Low Price Driver’s Ed?
The choice is simple. People want information. They want it fast and they want it to be genuine. As consumers become more savvy it’s vital for marketers to keep it simple and stop using the black hat tactics of the past to get their message delivered. Just be honest and genuine. Provide a good quality product or service with the relevant information and people will find it.
3) Differentiate Yourself From the Competition
Many companies are still doing things the old way, which leads to a lot of missed opportunities. Many businesses still make the mistake of failing in their marketing efforts by not following proven practices such as retargeting, automated email marketing, using abandoned shopping cart reminders, leveraging lead gathering forms, A/B testing, theme-based landing pages, or effectively utilizing social media.
It’s also important that you dare to be different. Step outside your usual marketing tactics and stop trying to utilize only that proprietary information. Switch it up. Make yourself stand out by being the subject matter expert on the topic and presenting as much information as possible without giving away the secret sauce.
This can be accomplished by performing a gap analysis. A gap analysis audits the content of your competitors and identifies gaps or areas where you are coming up short in comparison to your competition. This allows you to target those areas and allocate resources towards them. It’s an invaluable tool for simplifying the path to conversion.
While sometimes providing this information can seem like you’re giving away trade secrets, the more resources you give away for free, the more trust you build with potential prospects and the more likely they are to convert. Remember you should be their source for relevant information, not your competition.
It’s also important to realize that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Although you should begin to see minimal immediate results with your SEO and path to conversion optimization, the real rewards of your hard work might not be noticed right away.
According to Bruce Clay, who is considered a “founding father” of SEO, “The return on investments are generally massive, though not immediate. SEO is a marathon, not a dash.”