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:
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.
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.
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.