A Beginner’s Guide to Online Marketing Funnels

When you work with a customer, it’s rare that they see your business and buy right then and there. Instead, there’s a journey that a customer goes through that describes the steps that a customer takes before they make a purchase – this is usually referred to as a marketing or sales funnel. I put together this beginner’s guide to online marketing funnels so you can get an idea of what one is and how a marketing funnel can bring your business leads and sales.

What is an online marketing funnel?

Does this look like the average sales process in your business?

  • Customer has a problem
  • Customer immediately buys from you

Chances are, this never happens in your business. Instead, there are multiple steps that a customer goes through before they finally make a purchase. We call this sequence of steps a marketing funnel.

If you want to be successful online, you must know what a marketing funnel is and how they work.

What are the parts of a marketing funnel?

If you ask ten different marketers “what are the sections of a marketing funnel,” you will probably get ten different answers.

Some people use terms like (AIDA) attention, interest, desire, and action to describe the steps of a marketing funnel. There are other terms that people like to use, but to make this simple, I want you to think of a funnel having three main sections: top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, and bottom of the funnel. 

marketing funnel steps
I’m good at marketing, not graphics!

In this article, I’m not going to use hard lines between the sections because sometimes the space between the stages can be a little blurry. The important part is that you understand the concept of a marketing funnel so you can implement one in your business.

Let’s look at the different parts of a marketing funnel.

Top of the funnel

The top of the funnel is the biggest section. The top of the funnel is where customers find out about your business – this is where they enter into a relationship with you.

A potential customer will often enter your funnel when they are looking to solve a specific problem.

There are a ton of different ways that customers can enter your marketing funnel. Here are a few ways.

Organic search through search engines

Let’s say you own an edtech company that helps tutors connect with people across the globe. If someone goes to Google and searches for “online tutoring,” will they find your website

Google Organic Search Position

When people talk about getting traffic through organic search, they are often talking about search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is a huge topic and we don’t have time to cover it here, but just think of SEO as one way to get potential customers to enter your funnel.

Pay-per-click advertising like Google Ads or Facebook Ads

Another way for a potential customer to enter your marketing funnel is through paid traffic. Paid traffic includes Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Youtube Ads, etc…

By using paid traffic, you pay to capture a potential customer’s attention and get them thinking and learning about your business.

Content Marketing through Video or Blogging

Content marketing has a huge overlap between the top of the funnel and the middle of the funnel. Content marketing includes things like blogging or making YouTube videos.

Let’s go back to that tutoring example. 

Maybe a student comes across a blog article of yours that’s titled “10 ways to get better grades before the end of the semester.” That article can be an entry point to your funnel. 

Blogging ties in heavily with SEO; if you create great blog articles, they can show up at the top of Google and lead to customers entering your site. 

YouTube is similar. YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world. If you make blog content, you can turn that into video content as well so you can also show up on YouTube searches.

There can be more parts at the top of the funnel, and some of the above could even be broken down into more specific steps, but I think that’s a great overview for right now. 

Middle of the funnel

The middle of the funnel serves many different purposes. Here you might want to educate your potential customers about a problem they currently have. Or, maybe you educate them about a problem they could have in the future.

By educating your prospect, you show that you are an expert and you know what you are talking about. Here, you also start to build a relationship with the prospect.

After all, wouldn’t you want to buy from a trusted friend who knows what they are talking about?

That’s why the middle of the funnel is so important.

In the middle of the funnel, you can also qualify your customers. One way to do this is by selling a low-tier product, giving a free trial, filling out a contact form, getting a quote, etc…

Again, the middle of the funnel could be broken up into more subsections, but the main idea is that this is the part of the funnel where you really build a relationship with the prospect and make sure that you two will be able to work together.

So, what kinds of marketing happen in the middle of the funnel?

Content marketing

Content marketing can be at the top or middle of the funnel. Content marketing in the middle of the funnel is all about building trust with your prospect. By sharing your expertise in the form of blogging, videos, infographics, and the like, you show your prospect that you are the one who can help them with their problems.

content marketing video

Social media

Social media like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are great ways to keep having “touches” with your prospect. 

Maybe your business includes a long buying cycle and your customers often shop around a lot before making a purchase.

By using social media, you can keep your prospect thinking about your business while they are pondering who to buy from.

One powerful way to do this is by remarketing.

If your customer has visited your website in the past and didn’t make a purchase, you can continue to show ads to them until they do so.

Bottom of the funnel

Here is where all the action takes place: at the bottom of the funnel.

The bottom of the funnel is where a potential customer becomes a real customer. Here, the customer makes a purchase.

This stage of the funnel often includes a sales page with great copywriting. It might also include a face-to-face meeting or phone call with a sales rep to nudge the prospect into closing the deal.

This is the goal, often called “conversion” of the funnel.

Post-purchase

Your relationship with your customer shouldn’t end after making a purchase.

Here, you have many options to continue the relationship with your customer including the following.

Email marketing

You need to have an email list. A customer may get on your mailing list before they make a purchase. 

If you can write good, helpful emails, you can turn your email list into a money-printing machine. You can use email to keep your customers in the know and keep them coming back for repeat purchases.

Maybe you can find customers that haven’t purchased from you in the last six months and send them a coupon to get them back to your store.

Advocate and referrals

Hopefully, you provided excellent service to your client. If you did, you can ask for referrals. Referrals can be very powerful and have a high converting rate.

And it’s pretty much free lead generation.

A more aggressive form of referrals is offering an affiliate program. In an affiliate program, your customers bring in customers, and they get a commission.

You can turn customers into a huge salesforce and only pay when they directly lead to sales.

A very powerful marketing technique, indeed.

Finally, you can ask customers for reviews. Customers can leave reviews on Facebook, your Google My Business profile, and many other places online. 

customer reviews

What kind of marketing funnel should I set up for my business?

It really depends on your business and your business model, but the three main steps are: acquire, nurture, monetize. If you can understand these important concepts, it doesn’t matter how many steps your marketing funnel has as long as it’s leading to results.

If you are looking to set up an online marketing funnel to bring in leads while you sleep, check out our article on SEO.

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