The “Content-Driven” Sales Funnel

One of the primary challenges of online marketing is how to create a watertight, content driven, sales funnel. Over the last few years, with the rapid growth of social media, content, and the increased competition online, buying cycles have lengthened dramatically. As a result, your ability to identify the key weaknesses in your online sales funnel, and plug them with targeted content has never been more crucial to your overall success.

Though the “integrated” approach to content marketing will mean that your content is discovered through many varied channels, including search, it’s always best to take a keyword-centric approach to begin with.

To help you with your planning, I want to highlight and explore a few of the crucial – and commonly ignored – keyword and content types that you should be focusing on when you’re mapping out your typical buying cycle.

Research and Discovery

Every purchase begins with a problem or a challenge. In many cases, the buying cycle begins before your potential customer even knows that a solution to their problem even exists. They are simply researching the problem itself.

The research they will be doing, and the keywords they use to search, will be focused around identifying exactly what problem they are currently facing, not a solution at this stage. For most companies, this involves taking a step back. What’s the problem that you or your products solve?

Let’s take “knee pain” as a prime example from the health care sector, something we can all easily identify with. If someone is experiencing knee pain, they won’t jump right in and search for surgical solutions or supportive products; they will want to understand more about the exact problem they are facing so they can slowly identify what the most appropriate solution is. They’ll want to know what’s causing the knee pain and search using problem oriented phrases like “knee pain causes” and “knee pain symptoms.”

If this were your sector, you’d be looking at creating a comprehensive library of online resources that gives your visitors clear information about the actual problem they are facing. This will introduce them to your company at a very early stage and help move them one step further down the sales funnel.

An Overview

Once they’re confident that they have defined the problem they are facing, they will then want to get a more in-depth overview of the problem and its surrounding issues.

Let’s go back to the knee pain example. If the research and discovery stage led to your prospect identifying their problem to be an ACL tear, their next step will be to focus in on this area of research. They’ll want to know common causes, how widespread it is, and the varying degrees of seriousness. Think along the lines of “20 Facts About ACL Injuries.” At this stage, this is exactly the type of content your prospect will be looking for.

This is when they’ll start thinking about solutions.

Solutions

Once they understand the problem they are facing, they will naturally begin looking for solutions. There’s actually a lot of crossover between this stage and the previous stage. People actually start being very receptive to solutions before they begin actively searching for them.

However, the content at this stage is often more tactical and technical in nature. You’re beginning to look at asking your prospect to take action – even if it’s only to sign up to your email list. In this example, it might be downloading information on ACL surgery or scheduling a doctor consult.

It’s at this stage where you’ll need to start showcasing your videos, whitepapers, and “big content.” If we go back to the ACL example, this is where you’d be presenting in-depth information about ACL surgery, ACL rehabilitation, etc.

This is where you’d really start to build strong calls to action (CTAs) into every page. Perhaps our example health care company would push visitors to book an appointment with a specialist? Or maybe they’d offer a FREE consultation call? Whatever it is, this is where we start asking for visitors to take action.

Alternatives

Once the prospect has done some initial research, and hopefully spoken to someone at your company, they’ll want to explore alternatives. Using the ACL example, this could include searches like “ACL surgery alternatives,” “ACL surgery risk,” etc.

The information shared here would involve third-party perspectives that validate having ACL surgery, statistics on positive outcomes, and information on options. In some sectors, this could include content that stacks competitive products against one another, or information on why the alternative solutions are not the best course of action.

The best way to approach this stage in the buying cycle is to realize that your prospects WILL want this information. Either you provide it, or they go somewhere else to find it.

Confirmation

During the final stages of the search process, buyers will want to verify that your company and your solution is in fact the best option for them. This is closely connected to the alternatives search but at this stage you want to provide testimonials, case studies, awards, and credentials.

This is where social proof becomes really important. Do you have testimonials you can publish on your site? Are people talking about your company on Twitter? This is where you want to be leveraging any social proof you have access to in the most effective way possible.

Content should always have a purpose. If you’re selling something, whether it’s a product, service, or idea, each piece of content you produce should have the aim of moving people closer to the point where they commit.

In order to attract, convince, and convert as many prospects as possible, your “content funnel” needs to be carefully planned and carefully informed by keyword analysis. If you can create a watertight, content-driven sales funnel, and implement the systems needed to maintain it, you’ll start to see the true value of content in the digital age.

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