How to Build an Effective Content Marketing Funnel

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Did you know that 87% of marketers create content for different customer journey stages? Understanding which format works best at each stage is a great asset in terms of delivering value to your audience and building a stronger content marketing strategy for your business.

To learn how to successfully map content to the funnel stages, we asked 350 marketers across the globe to share their expertise. 

With this survey, we aimed to create a comprehensive picture of how marketers use content throughout the funnel, what channels work best, and what metrics they use to measure results. 

And, today, we’re happy to share the study results with you.

We hope that our findings will help you pinpoint your funnel shortcomings, and gather new ideas to test or improve your content marketing funnel.

What Is a Content Marketing Funnel?

A content marketing funnel is a system that helps a brand to attract potential clients and guide them through their journey from the first interaction to conversion to a paying customer. 

Marketing experts define 3 main stages of the funnel: TOFU (top of the funnel) attracts attention, MOFU (middle of the funnel) generates leads and BOFU (bottom of the funnel) drives payments. At each stage the user intent is different, which means that your content will pursue different goals and the results will be measured in different values. 

The crucial question you have to answer as a marketer is what content will satisfy the informational needs of your potential customers at a specific step. Read on to learn from hundreds of marketers we surveyed. 


Survey Results: How to Build a Content Funnel that Works

With our survey, we found that the vast majority of marketers create content for all customer journey stages. 95% of our respondents create TOFU content, 86% MOFU content, and 76% BOFU content.

How marketers map their content to the funnel

And this makes total sense, since the main goal of a content marketing strategy is to attract a defined audience, engage it, and, finally, drive profitable customer action.

Let’s now take a look at the key takeaways to find out how marketers build their content marketing funnels and define core features that make the funnel effective.

Key Takeaways of the Study

The single-stage approach gave way to full-funnel content marketing. The vast majority (87%) of our respondents guide their prospects through different stages of the buyer journey using content. To help your audience to convert into buyers, you should create and implement content for each stage of the buyer’s journey, from brand awareness to purchase decision.

According to 72% of marketers surveyed, ‘how-to’ guides are the best traffic-drivers. Learning from their experience, focus on solving the prospects’ problems first to attract attention to your brand. Far fewer marketers successfully drive traffic using other content types. 35% of respondents claimed to benefit from landing pages (35%), where you can give an overview of your products or services, and 28% mentioned infographics, which is an easy-to-understand format that can go viral.

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Surprisingly, ‘How-to’ guides are also the best when it comes to lead generation, according to 44% of the survey participants. Add them to your content plan to succeed at both TOFU and BOFU stages. Other efficient content types are product overviews (40%) and case studies (34%), which lets you demonstrate your product from different perspectives. 

51% of marketers surveyed believe that product overviews work best at the bottom of the marketing funnel, along with customer reviews (49%), and success stories (43%). This is where your customer-generated content will help you to attract even more customers. What would you trust more than hands-on experience, right?

Encouraging users to move through the funnel is considered one of the most challenging tasks when building a funnel, according to 50% of marketers surveyed. 71% of our respondents use email follow-ups to achieve this goal, while 67% improve internal links, and 56% suggest related content to ensure descent through the funnel. The first approach definitely proves how important personalization is, and the other two help to enhance users’ content experience and offer more valuable info on a topic.

Email marketing was also considered the most efficient channel for driving purchases (73% of votes), followed by organic search (61% of votes) and paid advertising (47% of votes). Use the omni-channel approach to convince your prospects to make a purchase; these make the perfect marketing trio: answer the query, highlight your strengths, send a personalized message.

We found out that 88% of the survey participants used mostly keyword research to decide on what content to create. 73% relied on competitor analysis, and 49% on content audit. Use a broader analytical approach when creating new pieces, by analyzing both your competitors’ and your own content. 

Conversion rate proved to be the most important funnel effectiveness metric for 36% of those surveyed, followed by the number of purchases (23%) and ROI/ROMI (15%). What can better prove the persuasive power of good content than the result of such persuasion? 

These were the highlights of the survey, but more in-depth stats are yet to come. Let’s now discover each stage of a content marketing funnel in detail and see how they are connected.

Top of the Funnel: Sparking an Interest

The TOFU is the starting point of the buyer journey and its most populated stage. Here, most people are not ready to buy and have probably never heard of your company. Your goal is to attract their attention, offer the best answer for their queries and then gently introduce them to your brand. 

In our survey, we learnt that, according to 72% of marketers, ‘how-to’ guides attract the most attention at the top of the content marketing funnel. With a guide, by solving a specific problem you show your prospects that you are an expert in the field and leave them hungry for more information. 

The next most effective types of content that drive traffic are also educational — infographics (28%), checklists (27%), and ebooks (26%). Focusing on bringing value to your audience helps to attract their attention to your website

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Correspondingly, organic search emerged as the most effective channel for bringing traffic (70%), and the number of visitors is the main metric to measure TOFU content effectiveness (73%). This is quite logical as the more popular a problem is and the more detailed the answer, the more interest it arouses. 

Social media (60%) and email marketing (54%) are also very effective at this stage, expanding your touch points with your potential clients.

What content works best at the top of the marketing funnel?

Middle of the Funnel: Guiding and Educating 

At the MOFU stage, the number of people interacting with your content grows smaller but they are much more willing to interact if you encourage them to. Here, your goal is to accompany the prospect from an initial idea to an in-depth understanding of how your solution helps. 

We learnt that a ‘how-to’ guide generates leads best according to 44% of marketers surveyed, which makes it a multi-purpose tool for winning both TOFU and BOFU stages. It follows that organic traffic remains the most effective channel (69%) to drive leads. 

Product-oriented content also comes in handy — product overviews (40%), case studies (34%), and landing pages (31%) proved to be effective in generating leads.

When it comes to lead nurturing, your goal is to keep people engaged with your brand, so marketers mostly switch to email marketing (72%). 

Nurturing content is mostly dominated by product-related content, such as success stories (43%) and product overviews (38%). As motivation varies a lot at this stage, you should offer a wide choice of convincing materials and show different ways of using your product. 

Overall MOFU content success is measured by conversion rate (75%) and the number of leads (54%). 

What content works best in the middle of the marketing funnel?

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Bottom of the Funnel: Propelling Conversions

The BOFU stage is the end of the funnel, where content can help position your brand as superior to competitors, build trust and accelerate the purchase. The content you create should answer very specific questions about your product or service (e.g. how it actually works or what skills are required to deal with it).

We learnt that customer-generated and case-oriented content are some of the most effective types to convince a person to make a purchase. 51% of marketers surveyed use product overviews, 49% rely on customer reviews, 43% success stories, 30% use cases, and 25% case studies. Do your best to supply all the info needed to support the purchasing decision of your potential customer.

The vast majority (73%) said that email marketing is effective in keeping the purchase moving forward. It’s also notable that organic search (61%) is the second most efficient channel that brings payments, followed by paid advertising (47%). So, optimizing your content allows you not only to drive a bigger audience to your website, but eventually to convince them to buy.

73% of the survey participants named the conversion rate as the main success metric at the BOFU stage, while 53% chose number of payments and 43% ROI/ROMI, which are obviously the final goals of your marketing efforts.

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What content works best at the bottom of the marketing funnel?

Connecting Content Through the Funnel

Besides analyzing each stage of the content marketing funnel, we wanted to understand how to make it work as a single entity. And we also wanted to identify the key factors and challenges that impact content creation and implementation.

The survey results showed that the biggest issue faced by marketers when building a funnel was creating content that generates leads (52%) and attracts traffic (48%). These tasks were and continue to be the top content marketing challenges as per our previous survey. Another challenge is pushing these leads down the funnel (50%). 

All this may be caused by content saturation when your audience is bombarded with lots of marketing messages by different brands. And it takes a lot of effort to make your content stand out and keep the user engaged.

88% of those surveyed decide what content to create based on keyword research and 73% on competitive research, which highlights the importance of SEO. 49% rely on in-house knowledge and experience – they use content audit and interviews with sales / customer support teams to decide on future content.

Speaking of tactics to move audiences to the next funnel stage, 77% of marketers surveyed benefit from email follow-ups. This is where personalization comes into play. Another effective way to ensure funnel descent is offering relevant content – 67% of marketers improve internal linking and 56% suggest related content.

Finally, the majority of respondents measure the overall funnel effectiveness by conversion rate (36%), alongside number of payments (23%) and ROI/ROMI (15%). As you can see these stats correlate with the BOFU stage metrics.

How marketers connect content through the funnel

Measuring the Content Marketing Funnel’s Effectiveness

While developing our tools, we at SEMrush have been digging into challenges that content marketers have faced for a long time. Having learnt that measuring the effectiveness of content strategies is one of the most complex tasks they have, we developed ImpactHero, a smart content analytics tool.

ImpactHero Overview

The tool helps you to get a comprehensive overview of your content funnel structure, stage by stage. ImpactHero identifies pieces of content that are more impactful in terms of attracting traffic, user engagement, and lead generation, and gives you actual tips on improving them.


Survey Methodology

We asked 350 marketing professionals from around the globe working in digital marketing agencies, nonprofits, and other organizations to tell us about content funnels they build. Most of our respondents were CEOs, marketing managers, and content marketers of B2B and B2C companies.

Content marketing funnel survey methodology

Final Notes

We hope that these study findings will give you ideas on how you can improve the performance of your content funnel and create content that will attract and convert your audience.

If you are interested in getting more data-based insights for your content strategy, check out our other studies:

Let us know if you agree or disagree with the most popular answers in the comments below. How do you build a content funnel that works?


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