The marketing funnel is a representation of the journey your customers take from first discovering your brand to buying into it. This concept has been used by marketers and advertisers for well over 100 years, but it’s more relevant now than ever. The average journey to purchase now consists of hundreds of touchpoints.
In a complex consumer environment, the marketing funnel helps you map these touchpoints, marketing strategies and user actions to different stages of the consumer journey.
More importantly, it provides a blueprint for optimising the entire sales process, allowing you to optimise conversions at every step and keep users moving towards the next purchase. In this guide, we look at how you can use the funnel concept to optimise every stage of the consumer journey, prevent leads from slipping away and turn more of them into paying customers.
What is a marketing funnel?
A marketing funnel represents the customer journey as their interest in making a purchase increases. The classic funnel is based on the AIDA model, which describes four stages of the consumer journey; awareness, interest, desire and action.
The funnel shape illustrates how prospects “drop out” at each stage of the funnel, meaning the volume of interested leads reduces while those remaining demonstrate a stronger purchase intent.
The AIDA model is widely attributed to E. St. Elmo Lewis who is said to have developed the concept in 1898. The concept has been tweaked countless times since then but the basic principle still applies to all modern marketing and advertising strategies.
If ten thousand people see one of your ads (awareness), a percentage of those will click through to your website (interest), some of whom will buy into the message of your landing page (desire) and a percentage of those will convert (action).
In the example above, we’re applying a marketing funnel to a single advertising campaign to demonstrate how the AIDA principle works. But this model applies to the entire consumer journey, which can involve dozens or even hundreds of different touchpoints across search, social, email and other channels.
The illustration above extends upon the AIDA principle to visualise a more complex consumer journey and attributes each stage of the funnel to different types of marketing campaigns and interactions. This is one of countless examples of how the funnel has been adapted over the past century but it also illustrates how you can attribute marketing strategies to each stage of the funnel – and you can do the same for touchpoints (e.g. types of searches) and user actions.
This attribution is crucial for optimising your marketing funnel. We’ll be looking at this in more detail later.
What is end-to-end funnel optimisation?
As mentioned in the previous section, one of the key principles of the marketing funnel is that prospects drop out at each stage. This is a natural part of the consumer journey; no business can expect to convert 100% of the leads generated at the top of the funnel.
That being said, the average conversion rate on desktop is just 4.14% and 1.53% on mobile, according to Monetate’s 2019 EQ2 Benchmark Report.
Average conversion rates aren’t this low because the majority of consumers simply lose interest. Look at any study analysing the cause of failed conversions and declining interest is never listed as a reason.
Instead, you’re losing leads at the top of your funnel because your loading times are too slow or the copy on your pages isn’t capturing people’s interest. Likewise, you’re losing leads in the middle of your funnel because users aren’t ready to buy during the first visit and your follow-up ads, emails and remarketing campaigns aren’t bringing them back to your website.
Even at the final stages of your funnel, where purchase intent should be at its highest, failed conversions are most likely due to problems such as hidden costs, tricky account creation, poor checkout UX and delivery issues.
At each stage of the marketing funnel, issues like these are causing leads to drop out. These are prospects that would otherwise buy from you, which is bad news for your profit margins and marketing ROI. You’re paying good money to capture and nurture these leads, which means every one that drops out is hurting your bottom line.
End-to-end funnel optimisation is a systematic approach to conversion rate optimisation that identifies and fixes the issues causing leads to drop out. By optimising each stage of your marketing funnel, you can increase the number of prospects that take the next step along the consumer journey and, ultimately, convert into paying customers.
First, you need the right kind of marketing funnel
Earlier, we looked at a funnel that attributes marketing strategies to defined steps of the consumer journey. This is important for deciding how to capture leads at each stage of the funnel and which strategies are most effective at nurturing them along the buying process.
This isn’t enough to optimise the marketing funnel from one end to the other though. To do this, you also need to attribute user actions to each stage of the funnel. This allows you to determine which friction points are preventing users from completing these actions and causing dropouts.
Attributing actions to your marketing funnel
Attributing actions to each stage of your marketing funnel allows you to measure users’ progress along the consumer journey. You can also use these actions to target users with more relevant messages as they move from one stage to another and their needs/interests change.
Not only that, but these actions also reveal which elements, pages and performance factors you need to optimise to increase the number of prospects successfully navigating your funnel.
The image above shows some core actions that you can attribute to different stages of a funnel. This gives you a basic idea of what this process involves, although each of the actions listed above requires users to complete a series of much smaller actions.
- Site visit: View ad, search result or link > Click through to site > Wait for page to load.
- Product view: Navigate landing page > Click through to product page > Wait for page/content to load > Engage with product content.
- Add to cart: Click “buy” button > View animation confirming product added to cart > Select to continue shopping or proceed to checkout.
- Enter checkout: Select proceed to checkout > Wait for page/UI to load > Engage with checkout.
- Purchase: Review purchase > Create account or checkout as guest > Select delivery option > Add payment and delivery details > Confirm purchase > Complete purchase.
If users fail to complete any of those smaller actions, everything grinds to a halt and you’re probably going to lose another lead.
By attributing actions to each stage of your marketing funnel, you can determine which friction points will prevent them from completing these actions and optimise to finetune every step of the buying process.
Identifying friction points in your funnel
Once you’ve mapped out and attributed key actions to your marketing funnel, you can identify the friction points related to each one. For example, every page visit counts as an action – users have to wait for each of these pages and their content to load. So page speed is a potential friction point every time users click through to another page. Speed optimisation should be one of your top priorities.
If you’ve attributed user actions to your funnel in enough detail, you can track them in order to accurately diagnose problems too.
Let’s say your landing pages have low conversion rates but you’re not sure what the issue is. You can start by measuring loading times and comparing these against the average time spent on page to check whether pages are loading quickly enough and that users are hanging around long enough to see your message.
Next, you can use a heatmapping tool like Hotjar to check that users are scrolling down your page, engaging with your content and seeing your CTAs. You’ll also see whether users are clicking or trying to click your CTA buttons or even clicking other elements on the page by mistake.
If users aren’t scrolling far enough to see your CTAs, then you can try placing them further up the page or optimising your content to give visitors more reason to keep scrolling. If users are seeing your CTAs but not clicking them, then you have to work on the message in your calls to action to make them more compelling.
These action-by-action investigations will help you narrow down the friction points that are causing leads to drop out of your funnel and where to focus your optimisation/testing efforts.
Spotting gaps in your funnel
Friction isn’t the only reason a user might drop out of your funnel. There are instances where users will add a product to their basket or click to download some of your content and quit the session before completing the conversion. Sometimes, people simply get cold feet if they’re not ready to make the commitment or take that next step.
No need to panic though. Because you can also use your marketing funnel to see where these gaps are and determine the design fixes or strategies to put in place.
For example, you can run remarketing campaigns for users who quit the session on specific URLs (checkout pages, signup pages, download pages etc) and target them with ads to tempt them back. Or you can incentivise users to sign up to your email lists to establish a personal line of communication.
Navigational gaps are another area where leads often slip through and drop out of your marketing funnel. It may be that users can’t navigate your site, find what they’re looking for on a page or accidentally drop out of the funnel by visiting the wrong page. Every link on your website is a potential gap for leads to slip through. You should scrutinise both the structure of your website and linking between pages.
Removing the navigation from this landing page increased conversions by 100% (Google Analytics and a number of CRMs and other marketing platforms. This involves adding custom parameters to URLs so that when users navigate your website you can map out their journey.
Combine this with Event Measurement and you’ve got a comprehensive system for tracking user behaviour across your website and on individual pages.
3. Create your reports
Now that you’re able to track user actions across your sales funnel, it’s time to create reports for each stage.