Are you selling a great product or service online, but don’t have enough buyers? One of the most probable reasons may be not having a content funnel.
At Smemark, we have grown our client base steadily over the past. We’re a content management, writing and marketing company.
So to show prospects the value and proof of effectiveness of our services, we’ve grown our business with content marketing alone. We have acquired projects without cold calling or sales staff or any such tactics.
Many of our clients often ask us to share this inbound system. So here’s the complete guide to build a successful online business with the help of a content funnel, aka content lifecycle, blog funnel or inbound funnel.
This content lifecycle is designed to drive traffic, convert prospects into customers and then make them fall in love with your brand.
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What Is A Content Funnel?
A content funnel is a system designed to create and put your content in front of potential and current customers, based on how interested they are at the time in buying and using your product or service.
The content lifecycle is based on the principle that each prospect goes through a journey towards becoming your customer and then brand advocate.
The more milestones someone completes, the further they will be in the lifecycle, and the closer they will be to becoming a buyer. This journey could broadly be divided into 5 stages.
The purpose of the content funnel or lifecycle is to create the right content for each stage, and serve the content at the right stage.
Implementing an inbound funnel will increase the likelihood of prospects going from one stage to the next. In other words, it will help you turn more prospects into leads, and more leads into customers.
This is the just where a prospect just becomes aware that they have a problem or pain point which they need to address. So they’d try to learn more on the subject.
Your goal at this stage is to attract them to your website and make them aware of your brand. This is done with top-funnel content.
Top funnel content is non-promotional, useful content created to help your target audience solve issues and learn more about topics that interest them.
At this stage, prospects are now aware and interested in learning more about the kind of products or services you offer.
So here you need content that makes visitors interested in what you do. This is done with both top-funnel and mid-funnel content.
Then you need to capture that interest in order to move them to the next stage. In other words, your content will turn a website visitor into a soft lead.
At this stage, prospects have moved past awareness and interest. They are now seriously considering buying a product or service to solve their problem.
And they are researching and comparing their options. But since they are on your email list, you have a shot at making them consider you.
To summarize, your content will bring prospects to a stage where they are seriously considering a paid solution and closer to choosing you over others. This content is called mid-funnel content.
You would turn soft leads into solid leads and make them ready for the final stage.
Prospects at this stage are willing to buy but need a final push to pick your product or service and pay for it.
There may be certain objections or obstacles keeping them from hitting the buy button. And your job as a business is to create content to remove those hindrances.
This is done with bottom-funnel content. By doing so, you will successfully move them past the conversion stage and turn them into customers.
This is when the prospects have already bought from you. Now they are evaluating the overall experience pertaining to the delivery and usage of your product or service.
Your goal as a business is to provide a great delivery experience, customer support and ensure they have the information they need to take advantage of all the benefits that your product or service comes with.
The more a customer is happy and satisfied with your brand, the better your product’s adoption rate. In addition, you make them more likely to buy from you again and spread the word to their friends and colleagues.
Points To Note
You don’t control the whole cycle
From the hair transplant example I shared above, it may seem like you’re the only entity controlling the entire journey and taking prospects from the first stage to the last stage.
But that’s not the case. Many prospects may have gotten the information they need at a particular stage from other sources, before they discover your brand at the next stage.
These sources include blogs, social media, search engine results, and competitor websites.
It’s not a linear process
As I mentioned above, not every prospect will start from the first stage. There will be prospects who come across your business/website while they are on the 2nd, 3rd or 4th stage.
However, the blog funnel concept remains the same. Your goal as a business is to create and show appropriate content for whichever stage a prospect is in when they discover you.
- For prospects in awareness and interest stages, you need top funnel content
- For prospects in consideration stage, you need mid-funnel content
- For prospects in conversion stage, you need bottom-funnel content
This graphic illustrates what I mean:
In doing so, you’ll be able to take control of their journey and stick with them through the subsequent stages.
Drops are expected
Not every prospect will turn into a buyer, and it’s unrealistic to expect that 100% of prospects will complete all the stages.
You’ll aim to get the largest number of prospects at the first stage, but there will be considerable decline from one stage to the next, as some prospects will drop at each stage.
In the hair transplant example, we saw the number of people decrease with each transition to the next stage, from 200 to 30 to 20 to 7.
Audience analysis comes first
For a content funnel to work for your business, you really need to have a grip on your target readers and their content needs at each stage.
This means you should get to know as much about your target audience as possible. That’s how you will capture their interest and create value.
You don’t just want to reach the right people at the right time, but also with the right content. Only then you will be able to drive them to take an action which moves them along the next stage.
For more information, read my guide on researching your target consumers and what type of content they would value.
Content Lifecycle Step By Step
The following steps will help you build and put a content lifecycle in place. What you’re doing is creating and distributing content in a way that aligns with stages that we have covered above.
With this inbound content funnel, you’d be able to attract website visitors and move them along each stage, adding more to your bottom line.
Attracting Prospects With Top Funnel Content
Come up with topics related to your business and write blog content on these topics. These topics should be such that they are relevant and useful for your target audience, even if they are not looking to buy anything at the moment.
The idea is to make them visit your website and become aware of your brand. The content you create on these topics will focus only on helping your target audience in a genuine way, not to sell anything.
For example, let’s say your prospects are people going through hair loss. And about 200 of them turn to Google every month to search for hair loss remedies.
Now imagine you own a hair transplant center. And you have an article on your website about hair loss remedies. And it is ranking on the first page on search results for hair loss remedies.
So about 80 of those 200 people who searched Google landed on your article, hence your website. In the process of reading your article, they also became aware of your hair transplant center.
The best way to find such topics is to use a good keyword research tool (like KWFinder) to see what type of information people are searching the most in your chosen niche.
Then pick keywords which indicate that the searcher only wants information. There is no intent to buy anything.
For example, let’s say my business is in the body building niche. This is what I get when I search body building in KWFinder.
A keyword like “bodybuilding diet” shows that the searcher is just looking to learn more about this topic. So it’s a top funnel topic.
In this way, keyword research will help you identify entry points for new readers who had no prior knowledge of your business.
Once you have published some great top-funnel content, there are innumerable ways to bring in visitors. The two most popular of all organic traffic sources are search engine optimization (SEO) and social media, especially Facebook.
When it comes to content marketing, compounding growth is what matters. This means you will not be focusing much on traffic sources like social media, which cannot give you recurring traffic, unless you have the budget for ads.
If the budget is limited, it’s wise to focus on just SEO in the beginning. For best results, you must have so many pieces of high quality content that your website pages show up on search engine result pages for several keyword searches.
This will ensure that your target audience finds you through search engines not just once, but on multiple occasions.
In addition, you'll need to implement a blogger outreach process in place to gain backlinks and exposure for your content.
Getting Permission Using Incentives
While SEO or social media may be the primary source of new traffic to your business website, it’s the returning traffic that will ultimately turn into leads and sales.
99% of people who come to your website are visiting it for the first or second time. These people may not be ready to buy or have the need at the moment.
But for when they change their mind or develop an active need, you want to make sure they remember you. The more exposed they are to your brand and website, the more likely they are to keep you in mind.
That’s why for the people who have visited your website once or twice, it’s crucial to employ ways to bring them back again as frequently as you can, eventually converting them into leads and customers.
In order to get first-time visitors to come to your website again and nurture them towards becoming a client or customer, the first thing you need is their permission to communicate with them.
The best way to get a visitor’s permission to keep in touch with them is to offer some kind of incentive that they would really appreciate. This is also called a lead magnet.
Here’s how this works: When someone visits your website, you show them a popup or widget offering an incentive and asking them for their contact information.
They get access to the incentive only after they comply with your ask and subscribe to receive further communication from you.
To understand this better, let’s continue with the same hair transplant example. Prospects are on your website reading about hair loss remedies. One of the remedies suggested in the article is getting a hair transplant.
And on the side of the article, there is a banner which says “Is Hair Transplant Right For You? Take This Free Quiz To Find Out. Sign Up Now.”
So out of 80 people reading the article, 30 get intrigued and take the quiz. And in the process, you ask for their permission to send the results of the quiz via email, along with your weekly newsletter.
In most cases, this incentive is a free trial of your service, a sample of your product, or one of your most epic pieces of content.
The main thing is, it is something of value which is not available anywhere else on the web. It’s only meant for people who have given you permission to send updates.
If the lead magnet is free content, it could be in the form of an ebook, white paper, worksheet, template, webinar or a video.
Special Note: Make sure to have appropriate legal policies on your website before you start collecting any information from your visitors.
Using A Communication Channel
Once you have an incentive you can offer your visitors, you need to strategize how you will deliver the incentive and what type of contact information you’d ask for to stay in touch with people who opt in for this incentive, aka subscribers.
Here are the different methods to keep the conversation going with your subscribers.
I’d recommend starting with only one at the beginning. When someone visits your website ask for only one piece of contact information corresponding to the method you have picked.
Email Marketing: Email is one of the mediums over which you have complete control. In this method, you strategically place email optin forms at different places on your website. The optin forms will:
- Inform each visitor about the lead magnet you’re offering.
- Prompt them to subscribe to your email newsletter.
In other words, a visitor will need to enter their email address and become a subscriber to get free access to the lead magnet.
The goal is to keep converting visitors into subscribers and building an email database to which you have permission to send emails.
Mobile Notifications: This works the same way as email marketing, except the fact that instead of capturing visitor emails, you will get their phone numbers and stay in touch via SMS or whatsapp messages.
Browser Push Notifications: In this method, you don’t need to collect emails or phone numbers. A popup will be shown to people who visit your website asking permission to stay in touch via browser notifications.
So whenever you want to share new content with them, they get a notification in Google Chrome, Safari or whatever browser they used for subscribing.
Social Media Updates: Here you invite visitors to follow or connect with you on a social media channel such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube etc.
This ensures that they get your social media updates in their regular feed for that channel. So when you share a new piece of content on your social media account, they can see and click to read it on your website.
Retargeting Via Advertising: This method is different from all the others in two ways:
- It’s not depending on getting permission or contact information first.
- It’s costlier because you’re spending money on advertising.
The way this works is, you install a tracking code on your website. When someone visits your website, this code will install a cookie in their browser with a unique ID.
In layman terms, this code will remember the people who visit your website. So you can create display ads which will be shown only to these people.
Obviously, the ads will redirect to a piece of content or page on your website, thereby getting some of these people to visit again.
Also note that this type of remarketing can also be employed using the email database that I talked about above. So instead of showing your ads to website visitors, you can show them only to the people in your email list.
Engaging Further With Top-Funnel Content
No matter which communication channel you employ, the idea is to inform people who once visited your website about fresh content or updates they would be interested in.
By doing this, you can get them to visit your website again and again, and warm them up towards your brand. The more you engage them with valuable updates, the more receptive they will be when you introduce a product or service.
So obviously, the 3rd thing you need is valuable updates, i.e. the content to share with them once they have started following your brand in some way. Now, the question is, what content would you share with them?
When someone has just agreed to get messages from you in exchange for your lead magnet, it’s not the time to bombard them with sales pitches. Use this opportunity to add even more value.
You want to prove to them that they made the right call and strengthen the relationship. So at this stage, you should be sharing your best top-funnel content to be sent to them on regular intervals.
For example, if they opted in to your email newsletter, the first few emails will be only about giving more value, just like your free lead magnet. Here, it’s important that you resist the urge to promote or sell anything.
Nurturing With Mid-Funnel Content
Once someone has been getting top funnel content from you every few days, they are now engaged, probably to the extent that they are actually glad to hear from you.
This is the right time to start nurturing this audience. This means sharing content that’s not just valuable, but also subtly mentions your product or service wherever relevant.
For example, let’s say 30 people signed up for your newsletter about hair transplants. So you are regularly communicating with them via email, sharing more useful information about hair transplants.
As a result, some of them are now actively considering a hair transplant. So they will try to conduct their own research.
They’ll probably search the web, read reviews and compare different hair transplant clinics, and ask friends and family for recommendations.
Along with the informational emails, you have also been occasionally educating them about your hair transplant center, what makes it great, qualifications of your staff, patient success stories and more.
This has ensured that you are always in their mind when they are weighing alternatives. So when you offer a free consultation, about 20 people take it up and schedule a session with you.
The content you need at this stage is known as mid funnel content. For more information, here’s a great article on mid-funnel marketing.
Closing With Bottom-Funnel Content
Now that your audience has been nurtured enough with your top and middle funnel content, it’s time to seal the deal with your bottom funnel content.
This is where you explicitly talk about how your business is relevant to the audience you’re communicating with. You highlight its offerings and how those offerings help solve problems for prospects.
In addition, you address any objections/concerns, encourage your prospects to take concrete action, like scheduling a consultation or placing an order.
For example, 20 people booked a free consultation with your hair transplant center. It’s likely that they’ll have concerns like:
- Qualifications of the person who will treat them?
- How safe is the procedure? What’s the success rate?
- Are the results long term? How long will they last?
- Does it take a lot of effort to maintain the hair after procedure?
- What’s the cost of surgery? Can they afford it?
So you address these concerns over the call, and also share content with more details via your email newsletter or other means. In addition, you let them know that there’s a 20% discount offer valid till the end of the week.
As a result, 7 people out of 20 agree to go ahead with the hair transplant, book a date for the procedure and make the payment.
If your business relies on a sales team to convert leads into customers, then make sure there is a process in place to hand over the contact information of prospects who schedule a demo or consultation.
Thanks to marketing automation and behavioral email triggers, it’s now easier than ever to follow up on every single lead. Put the systems in place so that no one slips through the cracks.
Maintain Trust With Post-Sale Content
Once someone buys your product or service and becomes your customer, you cannot take them for granted. You want to have them stay with you for as long as possible.
You build a real business only when they keep using your product or service, and are so happy with you that they’ll readily buy when you cross-sell or upsell new offerings.
In this regard, it’s essential to create and properly promote your post-sale content to customers. This includes:
- Content to welcome and onboard customers
- Knowledge base documentation on how to use your product or service
- Updates regarding new features/fixes,
- Instructions to troubleshooting issues with the product
For example, your hair transplant website could have a knowledge base section, with information on what to expect and how to maintain the hair after the procedure.
You can share this content with customers on a regular basis via the same communication channel, but only for those who want it that way.
For example, a customer may not appreciate getting email about troubleshooting an issue or using your product to do something that he doesn’t need to do.
The main thing you need to ensure is that all this content is readily available and easy to find on your website when needed.
Optimizing Your Website
Technically, this step should come first because optimizing your website from a content marketing standpoint is crucial as you go through steps 1-7.
But without really grasping the whole picture I explained in steps 1-7, you wouldn’t have fully understood what I am about to explain. So here it is now.
As you read above, I have covered the process of converting a visitor into a subscriber, then a lead and then customer in a linear manner.
But as I covered in points to note, it’s not going to be the same for each prospect. For example, if someone is ready to buy your product or service right now, it doesn’t make sense to make them wait till they receive your bottom-funnel content.
So in any case, ensure that your website is optimized and content is managed in a proper manner.
Even when a prospect is reading your top-funnel content, they should easily be able to notice and navigate to all you have to offer, including lead magnet widgets, nurturing content and sales content.
In other words, you need to ensure that all your content is readily available and easy to find on your website via internal links. Here are a few more pointers in this regard:
- When someone comes to your website to read one of your pieces of content, you want to make it absolutely clear to them that you are a business. And that they are reading this content on your business blog or content hub.
- Use author bios below your articles to let people know who is behind each piece of content. You can mention one of your staff members who actually wrote the content, or the subject expert who provided most of the information.
- Introduce your lead magnets, products or services in strategic locations of your website, like the header, footer and sidebar. Also consider adding testimonials or other social proof that people love your brand.
For more details, here’s my guide to information architecture.
I hope this article has clearly explained the concept of content funnels and how they work.
If you don’t have a full inbound funnel yet, it’s time to start building one or filling in the content gaps which may be causing prospects to drop out.
Start by planning a content strategy, begin with small steps and focus on having a basic content lifecycle first, solving issues and finding opportunities for growth.
If you need more help in coming up with content ideas for your funnel, also check out my best ways to do so.
Remember, a great blog funnel isn’t just about acquiring new customers, but also about delighting and retaining current customers. So they recommend your brand to their friends as well.
Did I miss anything? Did you try these steps? Do you have any questions or comments? Share your thoughts below in the comments section.