Filling Your Funnel: The Importance of Content at Every Stage of the Buyer’s Journey
The concept of the marketing funnel is over 120 years old, but it’s more integral to brand building and bottom-line results today than ever.
In this article, we’ll explore why the funnel is so important, plus seven marketing funnel mistakes (and how to fix them).
What is the marketing funnel?
Whether you know it as the marketing funnel, purchase funnel, sales funnel, conversion funnel, or content lifecycle, the basic principle is the same.
The marketing funnel is a framework that represents the buyer’s journey for your product or service, starting with awareness and ending with an action that benefits your business (usually a sale).
Over the years, marketers have added, removed and reworded the various stages of the funnel to make it more closely match the behaviours and needs of modern buyers.
The original model, first devised in 1898, is AIDA:
A more recent version and the one we prefer separates the buyer’s journey into three funnel stages:
- Top of the funnel (TOFU) – where awareness and interest is created
- Middle of the funnel (MOFU) – where intent is cultivated through consideration
- Bottom of the funnel (BOFU) – where a product or service is evaluated and chosen
In each stage of the marketing funnel, you use various content types and channels to gradually move prospects towards the next step.
Why the marketing funnel is more important than ever
Here’s why the marketing funnel is more relevant to achieving your brand building and sales goals today than ever before:
Buyers have more information to choose from.
Answers to buyer’s burning questions are at their fingertips thanks to supersmart search engines, whether it’s a TOFU informational search (e.g. ‘How can I save money?’), a MOFU query (‘best budgeting apps 2021’) or a BOFU search term (‘is Monzo worth it?).
If you don’t offer searchers relevant, satisfying information in their preferred format(s), you can be sure a competitor will.
The buyer’s journey is more complicated than it used to be.
Today’s buyer’s journey is rarely linear. Instead, prospects can enter and exit your funnel at any stage. There are also more marketing channels for them to explore, including social media, influencers, emails, videos, podcasts, forums, reviews, and SEO.
If your content strategy doesn’t capture and keep the attention of prospects at every stage of the funnel via the most relevant channels, you could see interest at the top but few conversions lower down, or a handful of people looking at your product or service pages who don’t know enough about your brand or their requirements to make a purchase.
By taking a strategic approach to publishing high-quality, multi-channel content in a variety of formats, your marketing funnel can attract the maximum amount of interest at the top and nurture as many prospects as possible towards taking action.
Common marketing funnel problems (and how to fix them)
Here are the most common marketing funnel pitfalls we’ve seen through working with dozens of B2C and B2B brands over the years.
Problem #1: Not enough top-of-the-funnel content
Many brands greatly underestimate how much top-of-the-funnel content they require in order to compete with established players and increase their market share. More TOFU content means more visibility, visitors and interest that you can engage and convert further along.
It’s also worth bearing in mind the Pareto Principle: Around 20% of your non-paid content will produce roughly 80% of your organic traffic. As such, the goal should be quality and quantity.
The majority of most brands’ content should be TOFU because most people aren’t looking for products or services (yet); they’re seeking answers to important questions.
Solution: Invest in creating a foundation of TOFU content that adds your voice to the conversation, demonstrates your authority and expertise and, most importantly, builds trust without pushing products too soon.
Problem #2: Failing to cater content to your audience
Keyword research is at the heart of many brands’ content strategies, but search data isn’t the be-all and end-all of content planning.
The worst way to use keyword research to form content ideas is on a post-by-post basis. In other words, whenever you need to publish a new article, you go looking for an idea in keyword data. Over time, this approach can lead to a strange buffet of topics that fail to connect into well-defined buyer journeys and leave important touchpoints without enough useful content to keep prospects engaged.
Solution: Put personas first. Use a mix of keyword and competitor research, surveys and focus groups to understand what information buyers need at the Awareness, Consideration, and Evaluation stages of your funnel.
Then plan content ideas to fill those knowledge gaps and connect the resulting articles, videos and other content into a logical journey.
For your existing content, use an audit to categorise each piece into its corresponding funnel stage, noting what comes before and after it in the buyer’s journey.
Problem #3: Relying too much on one content type
Long-form articles are great for attracting organic traffic, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mix in other content types. After all, we all have different preferences for how we learn. A short video might be perfect for one person, whereas a deep-dive into a whitepaper might be more appealing to another. When you rely on just one type of content, you limit your audience and marketing channels.
Solution: Choose the best content format and length by considering how much time your audience has and where and when they need information.
Mixing content together (e.g. a video within an article) can lead to higher engagement than one type on its own. The fundamental question at the heart of every content creation decision should be ‘What is the most useful solution to this particular customer problem?’
Problem #4: Crowbarring in calls-to-action
While many businesses understand the value of top-of-the-funnel content, their eagerness to convert a prospect can sometimes undermine the buyer’s journey. This typically involves a heavy-handed BOFU call-to-action at the end of a TOFU blog post.
It’s really no different to a pushy salesperson in a retail store. Except, in this case, it’s more like the salesperson has come out into the street to suggest a product to a passerby who has barely glanced in their window.
Solution: Blog posts (especially TOFU) usually don’t trigger purchases. As such, your CTAs should be more natural and strategic than a ‘Buy Now’ link to a product or service.
Make sure each one matches its respective funnel stage. For example, you could recommend a related piece of content (the average B2B buyer consumes an average of 13 pieces of content before choosing a vendor).
Or, you can craft your CTA around a question the reader is likely to have in mind when they reach the end of the page. For example, the CTA ‘See how our [product] stacks up against [competitor]’ could lead to a MOFU comparison chart or table.
Problem #5: Choosing overly competitive topics
One of the reason’s TOFU and MOFU content unnerves some businesses is because its ROI seems so hard to pin down. It can feel like you’re shooting in the dark with little feedback on what’s working and what isn’t. Other times, it’s all too obvious that your content is failing to move the needle because the single-digit figures for key metrics like impressions and visits are all too plain to see in Analytics.
This can happen when you choose TOFU and MOFU topics that are highly competitive and already well-served by high-quality content from brands with authoritative sites. Specifically, they have lots of valuable backlinks which signal to search engines that their content is useful and relevant for the intent they’re targeting.
The rule of thumb: If you create a like-for-like piece of content on the same topic as a competitor who has a significantly more authoritative site/page than you (Domain Authority is one useful comparative metric), you shouldn’t expect to outrank them.
Solution: Use a ‘walk before you run’ approach. Choose less competitive long-tail terms and subtopics to gradually build momentum.
If you’re only just beginning to create MOFU and TOFU content, you’ll need a foundation of content that covers the main questions and needs related to your product or service. These parent topics are likely to be competitive, but the content is nevertheless still needed.
Beyond this foundational content, try to come at topics and long-tail terms from fresh angles. For example, if most of your competitors publish blog posts on a topic, try a short video. Also consider what unique expertise and experience your team has that could enrich your content and differentiate it from competitors’.
Use data from Analytics and Search Console to see what’s working and whether you need to use different content formats and channels to gain visibility in a crowded content market.
Problem #6: Forgetting it’s a marathon, not a sprint
When businesses don’t see immediate improvements in key metrics such as organic impressions, clickthroughs and conversions, they are sometimes tempted to change their content strategy. Then change it again when results remain elusive. This could mean increasing or decreasing content volumes, putting more or less focus on a different channel (e.g. video vs. blog posts), or allocating less or more budget to paid vs. organic efforts.
A study by ahrefs based on two million keywords and SERPs showed that ‘the average Top 10 ranking page is 2+ years old. And those that rank at position #1 are almost 3 years old (on average).’ In other words, content at any point in the funnel needs time to put down roots.
Solution: Commit at least one year to a content marketing strategy based on your marketing funnel.
Just because it takes a long time to see major changes in traffic and conversions doesn’t mean you can’t track incremental improvements such as new ranking keywords, new backlinks, increased time on site, etc. These metrics can give you confidence that you’re moving in the right direction. You can also monitor user flow in Analytics to confirm that visitors are moving through your site/marketing funnel in the desired way.
Problem #7: Using a subpar content structure
A traditional blog’s content is presented chronologically from oldest to newest. And sometimes categories or tags are used to group related content so visitors can narrow their focus. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t reflect how users or search engines consume content. Visitors can hit dead-ends in their journey because content doesn’t flow together, and search engines can struggle to understand which pages are topically related to one another.
Solution: Organise your content into a hub that can be seamlessly crawled by search engines and enjoyably explored by real people.
One of the many advantages of a content hub is that it allows you to use internal linking to facilitate the user journey and pass SEO value to your BOFU product/service pages so that they have a better chance of ranking and attracting traffic.
Summary: How to Make Your Marketing Funnel Succeed
- Discover what information your audience wants using keyword and competitor research, surveys, focus groups and enquiries.
- Map content ideas to each stage of the funnel with a strong focus on the top of the funnel, as most searches and content fit into this stage.
- Use a mix of content types and channels to keep prospects engaged and differentiate your brand from competitors.
- After creating a foundation of content on important parent topics, focus on long-tail concepts in order to gradually build momentum and authority.
- Connect your content into a buyer’s journey using CTAs that are logical and appropriate to funnel stages.
- Organise your content into a seamless hub that reinforces the user journey and bolsters your site’s authority.