Step by Step Guide to Building a Content Marketing Funnel (2020)

content marketing funnel

If you’re wondering why content marketing is not generating as many leads and customers for your SaaS business as your competitors, you need to revisit your content marketing funnel.

Don’t know what a content marketing funnel is?

I’m not surprised.

According to research by Content Marketing Institute, 59% of B2B SaaS companies invest in content marketing without designing even a basic content marketing funnel or documenting their content strategy.

As a result, they fail to achieve their marketing goals and conclude that content marketing is not for them.

Big mistake.

In this detailed article, I’ll tell you exactly what a content marketing funnel is, why your business needs it, and how to design a funnel that attracts, nurtures, and converts leads into customers.

Sounds interesting?

Keep reading.

What Is a Content Marketing Funnel (and How It Works)?

A content marketing funnel is a multi-step process designed to turn complete strangers into subscribers, customers, and brand advocates. It achieves this by serving targeted content at each stage of the funnel.

Every piece of content in a content marketing funnel serves a specific purpose and is connected to the content in the other stages of the funnel.

Here’s what a content marketing funnel looks like.

content marketing funnel

As you can see, a content marketing funnel typically has three stages.

  • TOFU – Top of the funnel content that creates awareness of the problems you’re solving and attracts traffic
  • MOFU – Middle of the funnel content that converts traffic into leads by offering specific guidelines about solving the problem and positioning your product as the solution.
  • BOFU – Bottom of the funnel content converts leads into customers by making an irresistible offer.

These three funnel stages align with the main phases of the buyer’s journey outlined in the AIDA framework.

  • Awareness – The stage where the buyer becomes aware of a problem and why it needs to be solved.
  • Interest – In this phase, the buyer becomes familiar with the different products/services that can solve their problem.
  • Desire – In this phase, the buyers evaluate different options based on their features, pricing, etc.
  • Action – Finally, the buyers choose the most suitable product/service to solve their problem.

These are the main phases a buyer goes through when making a purchase decision.

The content marketing funnel answers the questions of your prospects at each stage of the buyer’s journey.

The objective of every piece of content in the funnel is to keep the prospects engaged and move them to the next stage until they purchase your product.

Why Do You Need a Content Marketing Funnel?

What is the purchase behavior of your typical buyer? Do they buy your product the moment they hear about it? 

B2B purchases are rarely based on impulse decisions. In most cases, your prospects require approvals from multiple management layers before buying a product or service.

According to Salesforce, an average B2B buyer consumes at least 11.4 pieces of content before making a purchase decision.

Do you have that much content on your blog?

Here’s what most B2B blogs do these days.

They publish articles about random company updates, or new features they’re adding to their products.

Others find the best performing content pieces by their competitors and start publishing on the same topics.

Both these approaches are useless because they don’t completely answer your audience’s questions or give them any strong reasons to purchase your product.

To acquire customers online, you need to publish multiple pieces of content that correspond to the interests of your audience at the different stages of their buyer’s journey.

For example, if your blog exclusively features articles that explain how to use the different features of your product, it’ll only be useful for someone already familiar with it.

But you can’t use the same content to attract new prospects to your site.

On the flip side, some company blogs only publish top of the funnel content that addresses their prospects’ problems without connecting them with their product offer.

Such content is great for generating search traffic, but it won’t convert your visitors into leads and customers.

This is why you need a complete content marketing funnel that not only creates awareness about your product and answers the questions of your audience but also converts them into leads and customers.

Here’s how you can do it.

Step 1 – Perform Keyword Research for Every Stage of the Funnel

This is the foundational step in building a content marketing funnel—which is why I’ll explain it in more detail than the other steps.

If you get this step right, the remaining parts of the funnel are pretty simple.

To create content that answers your prospects’ questions, you need to target the right search keywords at every stage of the content funnel.

Why target different sets of keywords for every funnel stage?

Because the user intent behind the searches is different in every stage of the funnel. You can’t target a keyword just because of its high search volume. You also need to understand why people are searching for it. 

For example, the keyword “invoicing” has thousands of monthly searches. But can you tell why someone is searching for it?

Are they looking to learn what invoicing means? Are they looking for invoicing templates? Do they want to purchase invoicing software?

It could be anything.

But you can’t tell just by looking at the keyword “invoicing”.

Therefore, targeting this keyword is like shooting arrows in the dark because you don’t know what your target user wants and what content you must create to fulfill their needs.

In comparison, you can easily tell what the users searching for “best invoicing software for freelancers” want.

This is why you need to target keywords that have a clear intent behind them for every stage of the funnel.

There are four main types of keywords that you need to target in different stages of the content marketing funnel.

Here’s a useful image that explains the difference between these keyword types and their objectives.

Let me explain how they connect with the different stages of the content marketing funnel.

Keywords for the top of the funnel (TOFU) content

For top of the funnel (TOFU) content, you’ll focus on navigational and informational keywords because, at this stage, your target audience is looking to learn more about the problem you’re solving.

These keywords generally have a very high search volume and can drive a lot of traffic to your site. But this traffic won’t immediately translate into a purchase.

The core objective of your TOFU content is to cover broad topics and questions around your niche that can help your prospects learn more about the problems you’re solving.

You’ll target these keywords to develop a steady flow of visitors to your site that you can convert into leads and subscribers. 

For example, an email marketing software company can target keywords like “What is email marketing” or “benefits of email marketing” in its TOFU content.

An SEO or digital marketing agency can target TOFU keywords like “traffic generation tips” or “how to generate more leads”.

Similarly, a web hosting company can create TOFU content around keywords like “how to create a website” or “how to start a blog”.

Company exampleTOFU content example
email marketing software company“What is email marketing” or “benefits of email marketing”
digital marketing agency“Traffic generation tips” or “how to generate more leads”
web hosting company“How to create a website” or “how to start a blog”.

The visitors they generate from these keywords aren’t ready to buy anything yet, but they’ll get familiar with their brand and become a part of their content funnel, leading to purchases in the future.

Keywords for the middle of the funnel (MOFU) content

For the middle of the funnel (MOFU) content, you’ll focus on commercial intent. At this stage, your visitors are already familiar with the problem and looking for the available options to solve it.

MOFU content will show a clear connection between your product and the problem it solves, providing proof of how it can help your prospects.

The primary objective of your content at this stage is to convert the traffic generated by TOFU content into email subscribers or free users of your product.

Let’s take the same examples I used for TOFU keywords.

An email marketing company can target MOFU keywords like “best email marketing software” or “how to build your email list”.

For an SEO agency, MOFU keywords can be “On-Page SEO Tips” or “How to get backlinks”.

For a web hosting company, the right commercial keywords can be “best web hosting companies for small businesses” or “best blogging platforms”.

Company exampleMOFU content example
email marketing software company“Best email marketing software” or “how to build your email list”.
digital marketing agencyOn-Page SEO Tips” or “How to get backlinks”.
web hosting company“best web hosting companies for small businesses” or “best blogging platforms”

The visitors at this stage of the funnel aren’t ready to buy yet, but they’re actively evaluating their options.

Keywords for bottom of the funnel (BOFU) content

The bottom of the funnel (BOFU) content is where your prospects have a clear purchase intent.

This is why your BOFU content strategy will revolve around transactional keywords that target users who are ready to buy.

In BOFU content, you’ll focus on highlighting the key benefits of your products by linking them to your main product features. Plus, you’ll show the prospects why you’re the better option. 

For an email marketing company, transactional keywords for BOFU content can be “GetResponse vs. Mailchimp” or “ActiveCampaign pricing”.

Similarly, for an SEO agency, these keywords can be “SEO company in New York”, “link building services”, or “hire freelance SEO content writer”.

A web hosting company, on the other hand, will use BOFU keywords like “BlueHost pricing”, “WPEngine vs. BlueHost”, or “HostGator Discount Coupon.”

Company exampleBOFU content example
email marketing software company“GetResponse vs. Mailchimp” or “ActiveCampaign pricing”.
digital marketing agency“SEO company in New York”, “link building services”, or “hire freelance SEO content writer”.
web hosting company“BlueHost pricing”, “WPEngine vs. BlueHost”, or “HostGator Discount Coupon.”

For us, targeted keywords are obviously “SaaS SEO agency” or “SaaS marketing company” since we are SEO & content marketing agency for B2B SaaS.

In all these keywords, there’s clear purchase intent.

You won’t generate a lot of search traffic from these keywords, but they have the highest conversion rate, compared to the other keyword types.

Content Marketing Funnel Keyword Research – Connecting the Dots

If you zoom out for a moment and analyze the keywords for the three stages of the content marketing funnel, you’ll see that they cover the entire buyer’s journey.

For example, the keywords for an email marketing software company are:

  • TOFU – “What is email marketing”, “benefits of email marketing”  
  • MOFU – “best email marketing software”, “how to build an email list”
  • BOFU – “GetResponse vs. Mailchimp” or “ActiveCampaign pricing”

Can you see the flow of visitors from one funnel stage to the other with these keywords?

A company selling email marketing software will be able to answer all of its audience’s questions at the different stages of the funnel by creating content using these keywords.

The same goes for the other examples I shared.

But how do you find such keywords?

Here are a few ways to do it for free.

Google Autocomplete and Related Searches

Google Search Autocomplete is one of the most underrated market research tools.

You can use it to understand exactly what topics your target audience is searching for and generate dozens of keyword ideas for all stages of your content marketing funnel.

The trick is simple.

For TOFU keyword ideas, search for a broad top-level keyword in your niche. For an email marketing software company, this could be simply “email marketing”.

To get the autocomplete suggestions, type the keyword but don’t press the enter key.

Eye-opening, right?

Now place your pointer before the keyword without hitting the enter key.

More suggestions!

Remember that these are popular keywords, which is why Google is showing them in search suggestions.

Now add the word “for” to your main keyword to get even more specific suggestions.

Most of these keywords are suitable for TOFU content and will do a great job of driving traffic to your site.

You can keep exploring more keyword suggestions in Google Search by adding new words to your main search query.

Let’s move forward.

If you search for the keyword “Email marketing” (or any other keyword) and press the enter key, you’ll also find a couple of sections on the search results page, offering a wealth of information about your audience. Those will align with new keywords ideas.

The first one is “People Also Ask” which appears in the middle of the search results for most keywords.

This section lists the most common questions people have about your target keyword. If you click on any of the questions on the list, more will pop-up.

Identify the most relevant questions from this list and make sure you answer them in your content.

Now scroll down to the bottom of this page where you’ll find “Related Searches”.

You’ll find more keywords that are relevant to your topic and give you a sense of what your audience is searching for.

Note down all the relevant keywords from this list and move to the next step.

Google Keyword Planner Tool

Google Keyword Planner is a free tool you can use to find relevant keyword ideas, their monthly search volume, and their competition level.

Go to the keyword planner website, sign in to your account (or create a new one), and click on “Discover New Keywords”.

Your goal here is simple.

You want to uncover high traffic and low-medium competition keywords that you can target in your content strategy.

Keyword Planner allows you to do this in a couple of ways. 

You can either enter a broad keyword from your niche or enter the URL of a popular site in your target niche.

Either way, the tool will give you a list of relevant keywords along with their search volume and competition analysis.

As you can see, I got a list of more than 1000 keyword ideas for the term “email marketing”.

Here are the things you need to focus on.

  • Avg. monthly searches
  • Competition
  • Top of the funnel bid (Average CPC)

Average monthly searches give you a range for the number of times people search for a keyword on Google Search.

This will be higher for TOFU keywords than MOFU and BOFU keywords.

The other important thing is the Average CPC score range, which shows how much advertisers are willing to pay for every click on a keyword.

For example, the Average CPC range for the keyword “email marketing services” is $19.2 – $49.24. This means advertisers are willing to pay as much as $49.24 for a single click on this keyword.

Naturally, this means they must be making a lot more money per click from this keyword.

In any case, it shows that the keyword has high commercial intent. This is why the average CPC score is higher for BOFU and MOFU keywords.

How do you make use of this information?

Scroll through the list and note down any relevant high traffic keywords for your TOFU content. Similarly, for BOFU and MOFU content, try finding keywords with medium-high search volume + a medium-high average CPC score.

Make sure you have a good variety of keywords for every funnel stage so that you can target them in your content.

SERP Competitor Analysis

Before finalizing your target keywords, you need to do a quick analysis of the search engine results pages (SERPs) for your shortlisted keywords.

What are we trying to find here?

We need to ensure that our target keywords are not dominated by super high authority sites that we can’t outrank.

Here’s how you’ll do it.

  • Install the MozBar and Detailed SEO Chrome extensions.
  • Search for any keyword from your list (e.g., email marketing tips) and analyze the top ten results

With the MozBar enabled in your Chrome extension, you’ll see an information bar under every search result.

Here’s what you need to analyze.

Ideally, the results page for your target keyword is not dominated by paid search placements.

Secondly, check the Page Authority (PA), Domain Authority (DA), and the number of links for each of the top-ranking results. If the results page for a keyword is dominated by high PA and DA results with lots of links, it’ll be very difficult to break into the top ten results.

Domain Authority and Page Authority aren’t official Google scores but they do give you a pretty good idea of a site’s overall strength.

Any DA score above 50 is pretty good and hard to beat, especially if the page has hundreds of backlinks as well.

So look for a keyword where the average scores of these metrics are within your reach.

Secondly, open all the top ten results in separate browser tabs and analyze them using the Detailed SEO extension. This Chrome extension gives you a summary of a page’s On-Page strength.

Note down the word count for every page ranking in the top ten results and calculate their average word count.

To break into the top results, you’ll need to create longer, more in-depth content than the pages that are currently ranking for your target keyword.

Do this for every keyword you want to target to ensure that it’s worth your time and effort.

I suggest creating a spreadsheet in Google Drive and organizing this information in separate tabs for every keyword.

Once you have a finalized list of keywords, you’re ready for the next step.

Step 2 – Create Top of the Funnel (TOFU) Content to Create Awareness 

Now that you have the right keywords for every stage of the content marketing funnel, it’s time to start creating TOFU content for your site.

Top of the funnel (TOFU) content is not about your product and its features.

Instead, its objective is to attract visitors to your site who are conducting searches about the problems that your product solves.

Your prospects don’t know your product yet, but they have a problem and they’re trying to get informed.

Your job is to create content that answers their questions and gives them actionable solutions.

Here’s a really good example.

Here’s another one.

Both these sites sell mattresses, but you won’t find any direct sales pitches or buy now buttons in their content.

Instead, their main focus is to drive traffic by targeting people who’re searching for sleep-related problems.

Once the readers become familiar with these sites through their high-quality content, moving them to the next stage of the funnel is much easier.

Remember, it takes more than 11.4 pieces of content to close a sale. So we’re not trying to sell here.

To create successful TOFU content that makes a strong relationship with your readers, make sure you:

  • Target relevant high traffic problem keywords in your niche
  • Use insights from the “People Also Ask” section in SERPs to answer as many of your audience’s as possible
  • Make your content more useful and actionable than your competitors.
  • Provide step by step guidelines in your content.
  • Make sure your site has a lead magnet in place to convert your readers into email subscribers.

Most of the content on your blog will fall in the TOFU category because you need to keep coming up with new content ideas to drive traffic to your site.

The more high traffic keywords you rank for, the more leads you’ll supply to the remaining stages of the funnel.

Related: SEO for Startups: How to Conquer Google to Get More Customers 

Step 3 – Create Middle of the Funnel (MOFU) Content to Generate Leads

Your middle of the funnel (MOFU) content should strengthen your relationship with your readers and let them know exactly how your product works and solves their problems.

Unlike TOFU content, the objective here is not only to generate traffic.

Instead, you’re trying to build a relationship of trust that positions your product as the best option for your prospects.

Ahrefs, one of the top SEO and market intelligence tools, does a great job with MOFU content.

Here’s an example.

This article is about writing a blog post, something that every content marketer and SEO professional has to do regularly.

Throughout the post, Ahrefs showcases the different options their tools offer, such as different content research and SEO features.

As a result, by the end of the article, the reader is no longer a stranger to Ahrefs, how it works, and why it’s a better option as compared to the other SEO tools.

But MOFU content doesn’t always have to be an article.

It can be an eBook, an email autoresponder sequence, a webinar, or even a free trial of your product or free service consultation.

For example, SingleGrain, a content marketing agency, published an article about setting up an eCommerce website.

In the middle of the article, they pitch a free eCommerce consultation service to convert their readers into subscribers and add them to an email sequence that educates them more about the company’s services.

No matter what MOFU content format you’re using, the objective is to position your product/service higher than your competitors and show your prospects exactly how you can help them.

Step 4 – Create Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU) Content to Close Sales

Bottom of the funnel (BOFU) content is where you persuade your prospects to take action and close the deal.

Search rankings and organic traffic volume are not that important for BOFU content, because your visitors mainly come through your email list, private groups, and offline calls at this stage (especially in the case of B2B SaaS companies)

This is the phase where you’ll make a direct sales pitch, discuss product benefits and features, show the ROI, and share success stories.

Ramit Sethi, an entrepreneur and product launch specialist, is famous for his 10K words long sales landing pages that feature high definition video testimonials and success stories.

The thousands of words on his landing pages have just one objective, to close the sale.

Here’s another example.

AuthorityHacker, a popular blog in the SEO niche, promotes its training program using a series of pre scheduled emails to their subscribers.

The email links to their landing page, which has thousands of words and dozens of testimonials all put together for one purpose—to close the sale.

Here’s an example from a B2B SaaS company.

GetResponse, a leading email marketing tool, uses a free 14-day trial to generate leads. The moment you sign up for their free trial, you start getting emails every other day.

From “We’re so glad you’re here” to “Your free trial ends today!”, the goal is to educate their subscribers, introduce different product features, share success stories, and offer discounts. Their ultimate goal is to upgrade free trial users to their premium plans.

All of these are examples of BOFU content in different formats.

Step 5 – Monitor and Optimize Your Content Marketing Funnel

Even when you have a functional content marketing funnel in place, you need to keep monitoring and optimizing its performance wherever possible.

Ideally, your TOFU content should be driving the bulk of traffic to your site. 

Your MOFU content should be converting that traffic into subscribers and strengthening your relationship with them, while your BOFU content should be closing the deals and converting a high percentage of your subscribers into customers.

If that’s not happening, you can easily identify where the problem lies in your funnel.

For example, if you’re not getting traffic to your site, you know that your TOFU content needs to be improved.

If you’re getting traffic, but it’s failing to convert into subscribers and leads, your MOFU content needs attention.

On the other hand, if you’re generating leads and sending them to your BOFU content successfully, but they’re not converting into customers, you need to optimize your sales content for conversions.

This is a continuous process.

However, once your funnel is operational, most of your efforts will go into creating TOFU content because that’s your main growth driver, which brings in new prospects from search engines.

You’ll keep finding new TOFU content ideas that target broad problems and issues so that you can continue to attract a steady stream of visitors to your site.

Recommended reading: Content Research: 3-Step Process for Creating Better Articles 

Are You Ready to Build an Optimized Content Marketing Funnel?

I’ve outlined the main steps to create a content marketing funnel for your business.

As you can see, it’s not as complex as some people think.

It does require careful planning and execution to build an optimized content funnel for the first time. But once it is in place, it makes it much easier for you and your marketing teams to identify which stage of the buyer’s journey you need to focus on the most to get the highest ROI.

With the right funnel, you’ll no longer be publishing random blog posts with no clear connection to your broader marketing goals.

Instead, you can easily track the impact of every piece of content you publish as a part of your content funnel.

If you have any questions about setting up a content marketing funnel or want more insights, don’t hesitate to contact us!

Davor Bomeštar

Davor is CEO & Founder of Fortis Agency — SEO & content marketing agency for B2B SaaS. He is an SEO expert with over 10 years of experience in the industry. Davor specializes in content marketing and link building and loves helping startups grow their traffic through search engines.

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