Kill It In Content Creation By Knowing Your Customer Conversion Funnel

All online businesses want links. To get links using content, it seems like an easy equation: epic content = a lot of links. But what exactly does epic content mean?

Oftentimes the task of developing epic content is left to creative types; leaving them with little more than the goal of having it “go viral”. Sure, there are a lot of really great ideas out there that can be categorized as “epic”, but if the content doesn’t align with a specific goal, it’s epic content for entertainment. Not for business.

We are marketers, so content development should entail carefully calculated decisions with the use of available data. Mike Pantoliano explained it well to a client recently: “Your content ideas start with, ‘You know what would be cool?’ when they should start, ‘Our potential customers are looking for X, let’s give it to them.’”

In order to be strategic and develop a content plan using data, the first step is to understand your customers’ conversion funnel. This lies at the core of what your customers are looking for…and if they ask, you should answer.

Let’s dive into the benefits of adopting this “they ask, you answer” mantra and discuss exactly how to determine the content your customers want.

What is the Customer Conversion Funnel?

The customer conversion funnel is the typical path a consumer takes before converting. A conversion is when a customer fulfills the desired action of a brand. Typically this is a sale. However, it could also be a non-monetary “win”, such as signing up for a newsletter on a blog or joining a free community.

Just about every consumer goes through a funnel before purchase. Think about it: before you purchase a plane ticket for a vacation, a lot goes on before committing to the trip. You probably researched where to go and then the best time of year to visit that location.

But even before that, you might have been feeling stressed or living by the universal “truth” that traveling is out of your financial means. It might not be until you read an article titled “Relieve Work Stress with These Budget Travel Ideas” that you even decided to take the trip in the first place!

The conversion funnel looks like this:

customer conversion funnel stages

Let’s briefly define what each stage means:

Discovery – This stage encompasses the thoughts, feelings, and opinions a consumer has about any subject tangentially related to your brand. This is the broadest level of content consumption and at this stage a consumer is not thinking of you or your brand

In the above example of booking a flight for a vacation, the feeling of stress related to work is a feeling included in the discovery phase that could potentially lead you in the direction of relieving this stress with a vacation, but it is not guaranteed.

Trigger – This is the point when a consumer decides to begin researching the possibility of conversion. Again, the consumer is not usually considering a particular brand at this stage unless he/she has prior knowledge.

In the above example, the trigger point would be when you think, “Huh, maybe a vacation is an affordable way to relieve stress,” and decide to begin researching the possibility.

Search – This is the research process a consumer takes before deciding to commit. It is here that a particular brand starts creeping into the picture and warrants comparison to other similar brands.

In the above example, researching where you want to go and when the best times to travel to that destination are examples of actions taken during the search stage toward booking a flight, as well as comparing one carrier to another.

Buy – This is the stage in which a consumer actually converts. In the above example, booking the ticket would be the point in time you become a profitable customer to the airline.

Stay – This is the point after the purchase, in which a consumer either becomes a loyal customer and/or a brand advocate. If you had a great experience with the airline and decide to sign up for a frequent flier program, you are participating in the stay portion of that airline’s customer conversion funnel.

Why You Should Embrace the Funnel

It helps create content your audience actually cares about.

If you know your customers’ typical conversion paths, you know what they are thinking and feeling at each point in time. This knowledge will enable you to create content that actually caters to them.

In the example above, say an airline brand wrote the article “Relieve Work Stress with These Budget Travel Ideas”. If it had taken the time to understand its typical customers’ conversion paths, it would have known that you are a highly stressed individual who is prejudiced against vacations because they are “too expensive”. With that knowledge, this brand wrote the article in an attempt to get you into its funnel toward a plane ticket purchase (the desired conversion).

It provides a consistent user experience.

If you’re creating content your customers actually care about, you will automatically provide a consistent user experience. It’s when you find yourself creating “linkbait” on topics completely unrelated to your brand that you run the risk of confusing consumers.

All your content should be on brand, and it should all have an overarching “theme” to it. The conversion funnel and how you use it to form a content strategy is how you create that theme. Without it, you end up inconsistently creating one off pieces in hopes of it “going viral”.

It captures long-term organic traffic.

Lexi Mills, our head of digital PR, puts it this way: tying your conversion funnel to a content strategy is “the gift that keeps on giving.” By understanding your customers’ conversion path and pairing it with keyword research, you are ensuring your content is relevant to both your customers and search engines. Relevant content usually ranks well over time, particularly if it’s epic and gets some link love.

To illustrate this, here is a graph of traffic growth from one of our client’s blogs. You can see between an almost three year span, its blog content earned layers upon layers of additional traffic. If there had been no content strategy there would probably not have been an additional 35K visitors.

graph showing growth in organic traffic to content

It diversifies your link building plan.

Frankly, creating content relevant to your consumers’ conversion path saves your ass when linkbait pieces fail.

Remember that relevant content planned around keyword research can rank overtime. Well, if you create a linkbait piece that doesn’t do so hot during outreach, chances are its still going to receive long-term organic traffic down the road.

How to Map Your Customer Conversion Funnel

Now that you know why it’s important, how exactly do you determine your customer conversion funnel? While this is a topic suitable for an article in and of itself, here is a brief checklist with further readings to get you started.

Know your personas.

If you don’t have them already, create them with one of the countless resources available. Use these to create profiles of your typical customer segments, outlining information like demographics, their wants and frustrations, and their sources of influence.

Discover their decision-making journeys.

Each persona will have a different conversion funnel journey. Determine what that path is and then understand the questions each persona asks throughout the funnel. Lastly, map them out.

Pair it with keyword research.

Most brands are preoccupied with keyword research around short tail head terms that are extremely competitive. Most of these are usually conversion-based phrases, such as “buy jewelry” or “local plumber”.

Consumers enter many more search queries than are in just the purchase stage of the conversion funnel. Conducting long-tail focused keyword research can help you identify specific topics to create content around.

Develop the ideas and create an editorial calendar.

Once you know the general topics you should address at each level of the conversion funnel for your personas, it’s time for the fun part. Develop the ideas with your personas’ questions and keyword research as a framework. Then put it into an editorial calendar. If you want to go above and beyond do it in conjunction with a content audit.

You now have a content plan and an ongoing content production process that ensures efficiency and consistency.

Adria Saracino

Adria Saracino

Adria is a content strategist responsible for understanding consumer behavior and developing strategies that influence purchasing decisions. She joined Distilled in October 2011...   read more

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14 Comments

  1. know your customer as yourself and know the way of perfection. Great post!

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  2. Nice post, I enjoyed reading this very much.

    We do a lot of content creation and it's always nice to take a step back and look and then look again.

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    • Thanks James. A lot of times it's hard to take a step back and make sure your content is addressing specific goals, hence why it's so important to tackle the plan before you begin content creation!

  3. Adria, it's a great post! I agree personas are really important. The growth of your clients over 3 years is pretty impressive.

    It's easy to get discouraged in blogging, results are not immediate. We have to keep going and eventually results will show. I sometime feels like I'm wasting my time, but I'm definitely not. Looking forward your next article.

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    • Thanks for your kind words, Etienne. And yes, blogging can definitely be discouraging because results are never immediate, unless it's a piece that somehow ends up "going viral" in the short term. If ever in doubt, just take a look at your analytics to see what it's done for you over time by having that content! :)

  4. Hey Adria

    I enjoyed the post, thanks for writing. I would make a few points thought. Developing content through your funnel mapped at personas is obviously something I agree with and have wrote a lot about recently, but I think one important point is missed in this post. A lot of brands buying personas are not going to be the same people who will link to them. For the travel example you have given above around the article on stress, the core portion of people reading this post may not have the ability to link to you e.g. they are just consumers, not active bloggers or people who have the power to provide you with a link. In travel, because there are a lot of travel bloggers, there may be a portion of those who are potential consumers + potential linkers. But in lots and lots of other markets this is not the case. Therefore you may often have to build a content strategy aimed at buying personas across your funnel + a separate one (although trying to keep it relevant) aimed at those who can link to you (industry publications etc etc). I wrote about it in this post - http://moz.com/blog/content-marketing-think-campaigns-not-just-links-your-guide-to-tofu (sorry to pimp out my own stuff but just thought was relevant :)).

    Thanks

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    • No need to apologize Kieran, thank you for your thorough input! I totally agree with you and that definitely wasn't made clear in this article, so thanks for adding it. I don't necessarily think you need to target a separate persona for those that will link to you, but might need to rethink how you present the information.

      For example, not to talk about the travel industry to exhaustion, but we were working with a client and determined that its personas were looking for content on city neighborhoods. No how we presented that information and exactly what info we included would be different if it was just for consumers or for people who could link. I think the format and angle of a certain topic is what changes depending on the goal of the piece (consumers vs. links), not necessarily the topic itself.

      Also, I am a strong believer that sharable, linkworthy content is rarely ever toward the end of the funnel. There is usually a hard stop point in the middle of the search funnel and onward, as people who have the opportunity to link don't want to share something if it's the INSERT BRAND show. That's when it typically becomes an advertising play in their eyes.

      Love this discussion, thanks for your feedback!

  5. Really excellent post here. So many people focus on optimizing their sales funnel and then ignoring their content. If you optimize your content so that it supports your funnel and works fluidly with it, that's where the great conversions come from.

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    • Thanks Harvey! Content can definitely support the sales funnel, especially since we live in an age where everyone is obsessed with information. Rarely do we make a purchasing decision without researching first!

  6. Wow Adria - you pretty much cover everything about everything. Talk about a master class in content marketing :)

    We used to take a very "keywords first" approach (mining both the head- and long-tail extensively) but never really did much with it, apart from implementing these keywords into our main product/landing pages.

    Recently we've realised the power of having persona's, a content grid (matrix of persona's vs stages of the conversion funnel). These models have helped us develop a meaningful content calendar - which makes idea generation and content creation so much easier.

    Now, on a monthly basis, we are creating some great content, that our users value and drives real traffic (and some great link-juice / SEO momentum) to our most important landing/product pages.

    Thanks for all the links to other resources

    Cheers - Andre.

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    • Thank you for your kind words Andre! Totally understand that it can sometimes be difficult to implement all the keyword research you did into content consistently. It's actually a discussion I am having with a client right now, where we struggle with just how far you need to implement these keywords in discovery/awareness content, especially when the keywords we have for the awareness stage are not as broad as we would like. In general I find the discovery stage keyword research hardest because how high up the funnel is too high? Will you risk being irrelevant and missing the mark with getting them into your funnel? I'd love to hear more about how you handled this.

  7. This is great stuff - thanks, Adria!

    I'm working with a very niche brand and I'm having trouble figuring out where in the funnel to create content. Creating content for the buying stages makes me feel like I'm being too self serving. Creating content for the initial stages makes me feel like I'm insulting the intelligence of my audience, who should be experts in their field.

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    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Mike. I can see why you would feel that way about creating content, but I definitely don't think it is true that you're being self serving or condescending! By doing the research to figure out what people are asking and struggling with at each stage of the funnel, you aren't assuming anything about their intelligence of just writing content to think about yourself. You're identifying what questions your audience is asking and then answering them. By doing customer and keyword research, you can quite easily paint a picture of where the gaps in information are, and what content you can create to not only provide utility, but also bring them in and down your funnel.

      Hope this helps clear your conscience a bit. If anything, I look at it as you're being more helpful than anything else!

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