Content Marketing

How to Create & Measure Your Content Marketing Funnel

Content works best when it serves unique buyers differently. Here’s how to establish and measure your content marketing funnel according to 26 pros.

Elise Dopson Elise Dopson on June 16, 2020 (last modified on July 15, 2020) • 17 minute read

Confused as to why your content’s conversion rate is so poor?

You’re publishing great content on a regular basis. But when you click through to your Google Analytics account, you see the goal conversion rate is less than 1% across the board.

The most common reason for that is because you’re treating your entire library of content as equal.

When in reality: your content should be mapped to a clear stage of the customer journey. It should be created for one specific person, and have one goal. (That isn’t always a sale.)

In this guide, we’ll talk about:

The 3 Stages of the Content Marketing Funnel

Before we dive in, let’s get clear on what a content marketing funnel is.

All of your customers go through a specific journey on their way to purchasing from you. We can define this in three stages:

  • Top of funnel: The first time they’re hearing about you.
  • Middle of funnel: They know they’re struggling with something, and are starting to research options.
  • Bottom of funnel: They’re ready to buy with a small nudge.

Your content marketing strategy plays a huge role in this.

You need to deliver the right type of content to the right person, at the right time. (For example: If you’re completely unaware of a brand, you don’t want to see their pricing page just yet. A light-hearted listicle, however, could get you engaged.)

Here’s a great graphic from Single Grain that shows this in action:

Let’s take a look at each stage in more detail.

What is top of funnel?

People at this stage are just entering the sales funnel. They don’t necessarily have any ties to you, nor your product or service. (In fact, they might not know who you are.)

You just have similar interests. Your content plays on that and drives them to your website with generic, light-hearted content.

This might look like:

  • Listicles (e.g. “X ways to…”)
  • Podcast episodes
  • Infographics for social media

Your goal with top of the funnel content is usually related to brand awareness. You want to use content to help people find you, and build an attachment to your brand name. This builds recognition.

What is middle of funnel?

Once people start to get to grips with your brand and recognize what you do, they’ll start to move down the funnel.

At this middle stage, your content needs to do more than raise awareness. Your goal is to split that initial group into your ideal customers; people with a genuine interest in what you offer, who are experiencing a pain point you’re able to help with.

Content at this stage looks like:

  • Gated content, such as eBooks or whitepapers
  • Case studies
  • Interactive content, such as quizzes
  • Comparison guides (e.g. Drift vs. Intercom)

What is bottom of funnel?

People at this stage know who you are, and have already engaged with your content. They’re ready to purchase–they just need a small nudge to cross the line. Hence why bottom of funnel content is very intensive content.

These people want to know that you’re the best option to solve their problem. They want some final trust-building content that pits you as the best option, with a strong focus on your product or service.

Bottom of the funnel content comes in the form of:

The goal? Sales.

How to Measure: Top of Funnel

Now we know the different stages of a content marketing funnel, let’s start to look at how you can measure it–starting with the people at the top.

After all, TOFU content forms the bulk of all content being created:

Know who you’re targeting

At the top of your marketing funnel, you’re trying to raise awareness of your brand using light-hearted content.

That’s why Scott Finkle of Dynamic B2B Marketing says: “I think the first step is to define who your target audience will be. You need to determine if the right people are responding.”

“If you don’t tweak that to optimize for your niche, then no matter how many visitors you get who say they’re interested, you’re not getting through to the ones who will really understand your message. And that means not only are you not reaching everyone you should, but you’re probably missing out on potential clients and revenue.”

Look at basic on-page metrics

“It’s critical for our team to educate our potential audience and use our content at the top of the funnel,” says Sam Olmsted of Pelicoin Bitcoin ATM. “If people don’t understand your product, service, or offerings, they will never purchase it.”

“To measure the effectiveness of your content you can track website sessions, pageviews, and percentage of new users inside Google Analytics. That way, you can determine the value of each content piece and see if they lead to any real conversions.”

Melanie Musson of Discount-Car-Insurance.org adds: “Time on-page is an important factor to measure. If your audience is spending time on your page, that means you’re keeping their interest. Your content is doing its job.”

To make this easier to see, Erin Balsa of The Predictive Index recommends to “use a data visualization tool like Domo to get a centralized look at all your most important metrics and how they’re trending over time.”

*Editor’s note: Do you know how well your TOFU content is performing? Grab our Top of Funnel Website Performance dashboard to see important top-line metrics such as average time on page, number of sessions by source, and new vs. returning visitors:

Track keyword ranking positions

“In addition to on-site metrics, it’s important to use a keyword position tracker to measure your website’s ranking in Google search,” says SoftwarePundit‘s Bruce Hogan.

“This provides critical visibility into the top of the funnel for your organic search traffic. In addition, Google search rankings are generally a more stable metric than your traffic and conversions, which fluctuate based upon the day of the week and because of seasonality.”

Hogan adds: “It’s best to use tags in tools like Accuranker or SEMrush to segment your content and see how each segment is trending over time.”

Analyze topic <> audience fit

You know your audience, and you’ve got a list of metrics you’ll track at the top of the content marketing funnel.

Next, Ashok Sharma of Signity Solutions recommends to ask these three questions for this type of content:

  1. “Is it generating a good number of shares and views?
  2. Are the targeted audience sharing and viewing the content part?
  3. Is the content is converting?”

This can help analyze topic <> audience fit. It makes sure you’re not creating content for the sake of it; the content you’re creating actually resonates with your target customer.

How to Measure: Middle of Funnel

Got your top of funnel content locked down? Great.

Let’s move onto tracking your middle of the funnel content, geared towards the engagement you’re trying to build with target customers.

Track the number of leads your content generates

“When creating a content marketing funnel, you obviously want to drive traffic to your content. But, you don’t want to stop there,” writes GrowthHackers‘ Jonathan Aufray.

“You want to make sure that your traffic is targeted and qualified. How do you do this? For example, by creating a lead magnet to entice people to give their email address in exchange for an e-book, a free course, or a discount.”

That’s why Portent‘s Travis McKnight says: “If you’re writing content that’s meant to generate leads, you should track how many leads you’re generating.”

“For example, if you’re debuting a new gated resource, you should measure how many new leads that resource brings in. Afterward, compare that number to the leads generated by other gated resources.”

McKnight explains: “This analysis will answer some critical strategy questions:

  • What are your customers looking for?
  • Are your customers willing to give up their contact information to get your content?
  • What kind of content generates the most qualified leads?”

Andy Stevens of Dornans Printers explains how to actually do this using a tool you’re probably already using: “Google Analytics can help you track those that have downloaded eBooks, case studies whatever it may be. This will give you an overall view of how your content is working.”

“You can also create segments based on URLs in Google Analytics. So you can drill down even further as well. Let’s say you knew certain blog categories were all targeting the awareness stage, create a segment just for them, apply that to all the relevant Google Analytics reports, and you can see how effective it is, or not!”

“In an ideal world you would have this hooked up to some CRM data; tools like HubSpot do this really well. This will allow you to track what contents working, who has downloaded it, and allow you to figure out how to keep moving them down the funnel.”

Thomas Clifford adds: “Know the number of potential leads (email subscribers) that are generated through your content. Once you know that, you can adjust the type of content being produced to create the best results for your goals.”

Measure lead quality

Granted, you should look at the number of leads your middle of the funnel content generates. That gives you a solid understanding of the topics your audience engages with.

However, ClydeBank Media‘s Benjamin Sweeney adds: “One of the best metrics we use is lead quality. If our funnel is capturing lots of leads but they don’t pan out or help us meet our goals then we don’t have a good content funnel.”

Joy Corkery explains what that looks like for Latana: “Our main focus right now is creating gated content so the quality of leads gained is an important measurement KPI for us.”

“HubSpot is our main marketing tool and we have set up lead scoring there to determine lead quality. However, a company doesn’t need a paid tool to determine if their content is delivering quality leads.”

For example: If Post A and Post B both generate 100 leads, you might find that Post B had the better quality lead: 60% of them are SQLs (compared to just 20% in Post A.)

That tells you the topic of Post B might be more engaging with your audience. It does a better job at meeting your goal: sending solid leads through to your sales team.

Related: 11 Ways to Improve Lead Quality According to 40 Marketing & Sales Experts

Split-test your calls to action

People lingering in the middle of your content marketing funnel need convincing to engage. That’s usually in the form of a call to action.

When playing with these, Catherine Way of Private Money Lender Arizona says: “If you have a low sign up rate, people aren’t buying your ask, and you need to update how you are promoting your content to make them want to learn more about what you need to say.”

“Marketing is a slow seduction. You really have to butter people up and anticipate their needs and wants to produce high-quality content.”

Stratabeat‘s Tom Shapiro adds: “The key is to be testing and optimizing these micro-conversions on an ongoing, continual basis. For example, through just one change in the behavioral triggering of our mailing list CTA, we were able to increase sign-ups by 300%.”

Nelson Sherwin explains what that looks like for PEO Compare: “Our content is a downloadable guide sent for free in return for an email address.”

“We pay particular attention to email click-through rate as a benchmark for how effective our sequence content is and are continually A/B testing versions to incrementally increase the rate.”

How to Measure: Bottom of Funnel

The final stage in your content marketing funnel has a clear objective: to convert people into paying customers.

Here’s how our experts recommend tracking this stage:

Track financial metrics

Remember how earlier, we spoke about how metrics can help you track your top-of-funnel content?

When it comes to the end of the funnel (where content is designed to make people convert), Jeremy Cross of Virtual Team Building Activities recommends to “choose metrics that matter.”

“It’s common and easy to measure the amount of traffic you get from certain keywords, but if that traffic isn’t converting into sales or other revenue than it isn’t having a meaningful impact on your business.”

Cross continues: “Track leads, sales, ad revenue, and other financial metrics that are a result of the success of your content marketing funnel.”

Summarizing, Planet Content‘s Obaid Khan says: “If your content ranks for your targeted keywords, you have high DA, you’re appearing in featured snippets, and you’re getting inbound links, you’re doing a good job.”

“However, all of these factors CAN be considered vanity metrics. Therefore, your main focus should be to see whether or not all of these things are leading to new sales. At the end of the day, if you’re putting in all that work, and it’s not resulting in new clients or sales, you’re essentially wasting all that effort.”

“Steady traffic growth and new sales are the real results that determine the success of your content marketing funnel,” Khan adds.

Bonus: 6 Ways to Keep Your Content Marketing Funnel On-Track

We know how you can track your content marketing funnel at each stage, and make sure you’re not missing any opportunities to push target customers through.

But to give a bit more clarity, we also collected six bonus tips to help keep your funnel on-track:

1. Create a dashboard for an entire funnel overview

“Content marketing has more than one takeaway and individual numbers never tell the full story,” says Anu Ramani of Isoline Communications.

“Measuring the success of the funnel depends on pulling all the different data points together which is where a detailed ROI dashboard comes in.”

“Marketers must be thinking strategically about pulling together multiple outcome strands: leads, engagement, reach, traffic, social engagement and database growth – all these should be incorporated into the dashboard.”

*Editor’s note: Need an easier way to see your entire content marketing funnel on one screen? You’re in luck–our Ecommerce Full Funnel dashboard does exactly that. It pulls data from various tools to give a clear picture on how people pass through your marketing funnel:

2. Create clear goals for each individual piece of content

Pat Ahern says the team at InTrack “starts by identifying the primary goal of each individual content that we create and building one conversion touchpoint based on the goal of that content.”

For example, that might look like:

  1. “Viral articles on our site might track the number of readers that the article sees over time
  2. Sales-centric articles on our site might track the number of contact us submissions that we receive through the article
  3. Thought leadership content might track the number of email subscribers that the article helps generate.”

Ahern adds: “When in doubt, start by setting up as much goal tracking as possible. Collect data for a few months and review your findings to identify the goal that most resonated with readers of the given type of content.”

Similarly, Scott Benson of Benson SEO advises to “create micro and macro goals in Google Analytics, and assign real dollar values to those goals.”

“Ecommerce sites are easy; sell a blue widget for $20, and you can track that value in your analytics package. But for a lead generation site, we suggest setting up your “Contact Us” or “Demo” lead goals, and calculating with backend revenue data what one online lead is worth to your business. That’s the value you place in Google Analytics.”

“From there you can work backward on the lower value goals. These might be newsletter subscriptions, resource downloads (whitepapers), and even high funnel actions like clicks on social sharing or following widgets, downloading PDFs or clicking email addresses,” Benson continues.

“This can all be tracked as events in Google Analytics, and each should have a value in the goal settings. From there, you can use the Google Analytics Page Value metric to analyze what content is generating the actions you want users taking on your website–those that lead to real revenue for your business.”

3. Know how you’ll collect data at each stage of the funnel

We’ve already mentioned there are specific metrics you’ll want to monitor at each stage of your content marketing funnel.

But according to Pat McGraw, “the most important tip for measuring the impact of content marketing is to make sure everything you do can be accurately measured, and that you have an efficient process for capturing, storing and analyzing that data.”

“Too often, measuring impact is overlooked or subject to an inefficient data collection/storage/analysis process.”

Lucy Mowatt of Method Marketing explains: “Whichever stage of the content marketing funnel you’re targeting, be clear about what success looks like and the metrics you’re going to use to measure progress.”

“For instance, if you’re engaging in brand-building activity at the top of the funnel, you may decide to use Google Analytics to monitor the amount of traffic that arrives on your site using branded search terms.”

“By pinning these points down before your content marketing activity begins, you can ensure you have the right systems in place, rather than trying to set up dashboards and campaign measurements after the fact,” Mowatt adds.

Summarizing, Natalia Sanyal says: “Don’t expect one piece of content to attract, convince and convert. Content created at the top of the funnel should have different key performance indicators (KPIs) from content created at the middle or the bottom of the funnel. Measure accordingly.”

4. Set-up tracking pixels

“Conversion and tracking pixels are a must when doing any type of content marketing funnels,” says Famoid‘s Makensie Thompson. “This will allow you to track what traffic sources are working best, while also seeing where people might be dropping off in the funnel.”

“The more information you have about your audience, the better chances you have to fully optimize the process.”

Related: The 3 Essentials for Properly Setting Up Google Analytics Conversion Tracking

5. Consider assisted conversions

According to Gembah‘s Kris Hughes, “it’s important to remember the bigger picture that your content marketing funnel paints.”

“Sure, there are occasions where a reader’s first interaction with a piece of content–top, middle or funnel–directly leads to the desired conversion. More often, however, this first touchpoint sets off a chain of events that eventually leads to a conversion down the road.”

“Measure your content as a vehicle that starts people onto a path, and gives an assist that leads to the goal,” Hughes advises.

“Assisted conversions that content drives are just as important as direct conversions. Build those paths within your analytics tracking and see what they tell you.”

6. Remember: it takes time

“Content marketing is a long game, and the usual goal is to secure loyal customers and improve Google page rankings,” says Jill Starley-Grainger.

“Therefore, you cannot measure its effectiveness until it has been in place for a significant period of time, usually at least six months, but often a year. The recognition by Google’s algorithm and by customers doesn’t happen overnight. Allow your strategy time to bed in before giving up on it.”

Starley-Grainger explains: “Too often, companies look at the metrics of a new strategy–perhaps the click-through rates, page views or time on page–and decide it’s not working too quickly, then invest time and money in yet another strategy. Give yours time to work, then you can start to tweak it.”

“Customers will typically visit your website dozens of times, and click on dozens of pages, before finally making a purchase, so you need to allow months for that to happen, not weeks.”

Get a clearer picture of your content marketing funnel

These tips are bound to help you track your content marketing funnel from the top, right through to the bottom. They’ll show you where the cracks are so you can plug them–and stop your perfect customers slipping through.

But remember: don’t expect to see major changes straight away.

Spend some time digging through your funnel dashboard, and start with a few small tweaks. Monitor the impact, then repeat.

About the author
Elise Dopson
Elise Dopson Elise Dopson is a freelance B2B writer for SaaS and marketing companies. With a focus on data-driven ideas that truly provide value, she helps brands to get noticed online--and drive targeted website visitors that transform into raving fans.
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