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A guide to marketing funnels from an SEO perspective

Sergey Aliokhin
· 2 min read · Partner posts · April 23, 2019

I am sure you would agree that it’s not a great feeling when people visit your website and don’t buy your product or service.

You did your best to generate leads that would convert into paying customers, but for some reason, you don’t get the conversions that you need.

Why does this happen?

Perhaps you are not using the right marketing funnel. To consistently drive sales, you need a sure-fire process that helps you gain qualified traffic to your website with a messaging strategy that converts visitors into customers.

In this guide, I am going to share how a marketing funnel works and how you can plug the leaks before you lose sales. Let’s do it!

As I have mentioned in the introduction, marketing funnels are designed to attract more visitors to your website and convert them into paying customers.

It is called a “funnel” for a good reason. If you look at the process of attracting and converting people into customers from the outside, it looks a lot like this:

how marketing funnels work

Each stage of the funnel can have some “leaks” if you don’t have a sound strategy to move people through. These leaks equate to losing visitors that could be your potential customers.

To give you a clear idea of how it happens, I’ll share an example.

Let’s imagine that you launched an online store that resells trash packs. If you take a look at search volume for “trash pack”, you will see that 1.4K people search for them across the US:

researching keyword with ahrefs

However, if you explore the numbers across Brazil and Canada, you will see that they are dramatically higher.

Despite the fact that people search for the trash packs on the web, a keyword “trash pack” has zero keyword difficulty. What does this mean?

You need backlinks from <10 websites to rank in top 10 for this keyword. Sounds promising, right?

If your marketing funnel doesn’t work properly, it doesn’t mean that ranking in the top 10 will guarantee you a rush of customers. It will just help you get noticed. The number of sales depends on the efficiency of your marketing funnel.

Frankly, some marketing funnel schemes like the one below might terrify you at first glance:

marketing funnel scheme example

The good news is that your funnel doesn’t need to be this complex. I am going to illustrate the main stages that you should focus on, so you can create your own marketing funnel.

The marketing funnel starts with awareness. You need to let people know about your brand and the services you offer. Your product must solve a problem for your potential customers. Otherwise, they will not continue down the funnel. Furthermore, you need to communicate this value proposition correctly.

Firstly, let’s take a look at some of the sources where your target audience might hear about the brand:

  • Conference where a speaker mentioned your service

  • Podcast where your brand has been mentioned

  • A piece of content with the reference to your website

  • Facebook ads

  • YouTube videos

  • Etc.

When those people hear about you, they will likely visit your website. While that is a great first step, the chances that all of them will become your customers are very slim. If 100 people hear about or notice your service, 60 of them come to your website, 30 retain, and only 10 become customers.

Your job is to increase those numbers at each phase.

How? By applying the right marketing strategies to help people understand your value at each step of the way.

The main purpose of your marketing efforts for the Awareness stage is to spread the word about your service across the web. The more people know about it, the more customers you’ll have.

How to do this?

By “bombarding” all possible channels where your target audience might hang out.


The first place where people go to find the answers to their questions is Google. Thus, this search platform is your starting point to let people know about the service you offer.

Since people type different queries to find the information they are interested in, you will have to create content that would meet their needs. To make sure that people would be able to find your content, you need to optimize it by doing keyword research.

There are plenty of SEO tools that could help you with keyword research but I am an advocate of my company’s tool, Keywords Explorer. You can discover the broader topics and write content accordingly:

researching topics with ahrefs

Remember, keyword research is a must for optimizing your content so more people will find your brand in the search. Don’t neglect it!

Forums and communities

Sometimes Google can’t provide you with all the information you need. Your next best place to find the answer to your question is online communities.

There is a bunch of niche-related communities on the web where your potential customers hang out. You can find them easily on Google. But here is a few of them that are widely-popular like Reddit and Quora.  

FYI, Reddit receives about 14 billion page views per month. Just imagine how many niche-related people you could refer to your website! That’s why we at Ahrefs give special attention to the communities by sharing our own observations, tips, and participating in discussions.

I must emphasize that there are no one-size-fits-all strategies to promote your brand within online communities. However, it can’t hurt to keep in mind these four pieces of advice:

  • Follow the rules of the community

  • Try to share useful knowledge with the community

  • Take active participation in discussions

  • Don’t spam

When the community sees that you are there to bring value, you can start pitching your service in a slight manner.

YouTube channel

YouTube is the second largest source of search after Google. It definitely deserves to be on your radar.

It is quite standard for companies to create a youtube channel and shoot videos that represent their service.

For example, let’s say you are interested in creating your own in-house music studio. You have some basic information on what equipment you need and what you should initially do, but you lack more advanced tips.

You go to YouTube and type something like “home studio recording” and get the list of videos:

researching topics on youtube

The arrows point to the videos that fit my query the best. I found a detailed video on how to create my in-house music studio. I am happy about that!

Whatever business you stand for, you must use YouTube to let people know about it!

When your target audience has already heard of you, the next step is to spark interest to your service.  

This is the stage when people start to engage with your product and your aim is to “hook them.” You realize that your potential customers might want to find out more about your brand by searching it on Google and by following the experts in your niche.

Hence, you must rank for the specific inquiries your target audience might search on Google and become an expert within the niche.

Let’s review these two options.

Try to rank for the specific topics that have business potential

As it has been stated above, your service must solve the problems of the customers.

Let’s say, your customers run their business online and all of them have one common problem - “lack of traffic.” It leads them to the question “how to gain more traffic to the website?” Eventually, your potential customers go to Google and start exploring the tips and pieces of advice on how to increase traffic.

When the stage of “Awareness” is passed, it becomes clear that people need the information on SEO and other marketing-related materials. They type more specific queries like “link building tips”, “how to do keyword research”, “how to fix broken links” and so on.

Since your website is the place where your potential customers could get a bunch of SEO services (or you developed an SEO tool), you must focus on demonstrating how you could resolve their problems.

Draw customers’ attention to the fact that your tips and services will help him or her to find the needed solution.

Become an expert and make people follow you  

Assume your content marketing efforts sparked a huge rush of people. You see that your website traffic increases drastically. Your service has the recognition.

Everything seems great but the visitors don’t convert into customers. What the problem?

There might be various reasons for this but perhaps the visitors don’t understand how to use your service in a proper way yet.

You should become a mentor to them at this stage, and convince them to follow you on whatever social channels you use.

Why is it so important?

When people follow you they start asking you questions trying to find the solutions for the issues they have. You share some pieces of advice, provide them with the consultations and build business relationships with them. It makes people trust you and convert into customers.

Then the stage of consideration comes into play.

I believe the stage of consideration is a landmark moment that shows whether you’ll get new customers or not.

You should realize that despite the fact of your loyalty towards the target audience, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be rewarded in return. Obviously, there are competitive services that might catch the interest of your potential customers. This obstacle forces people to consider all the pros and cons of each service and make the final decision afterwards.

Your task is to persuade them that your service is the only right decision for their business.

Here are a few tips that help you at this stage.

Answer the question “why should they choose you?”

Let’s face it, you are not the only person who offers a particular service within the niche you represent. If you are the only one, thus you won’t have any problems with getting new customers.

However, there are lots of competitors who offer the same service and who already have some recognition on the market.

What sets you apart?

For instance, our company (Ahrefs) has seriously big data that powers our toolkit. This makes our service unique. That’s why we’re focusing on creating content that shows people how they could use our SEO tools for their online business.

Other than that, lots of our users create in-depth pieces of content that describe how you could use Ahrefs to boost your rankings on Google and so forth.

Try to dominate the SERPs with modifier keywords

Step in your customer’s shoes and think for a while about the service or the product you offer.

How would you act? Would you read reviews of the service or compare it to other similar tools?

I am sure you would. Everyone wants to explore the information on the product before purchasing it. For example, you would ask Google “Findthat.Email vs VoilaNorbert” or “best email finder tool 2019” to see which tool has more testimonials.

Thus, customer behavior is pretty predictable and you can try your best to dominate SERPs for the queries that have modifier terms in their structure. For example, such modifiers are “top”, “vs”, “best”, etc.

Convince people to buy your product

Try using email marketing to slowly build trust and value. However, your messages must be as unique as your approach to pushing your product forward. Plus, keep in mind that the messages you send must have a logical order. Follow this structure and you won’t fail:

  • Provide users with new ideas

  • Educate them

  • Send new announcements

  • Underline the value of your product

  • Answer users’ questions

  • Make a comparison analysis of your service with the ones your competitors have

You can go further and set up free consultation calls or other types of high-touch communication with your audience to share your value proposition and close the sale.

The last stage of the marketing funnel is conversion. It is when your potential customers are ready to purchase your product but they need the final nudge.

You can choose different ways that would help you convince people to buy your service. It can be something like this:

  • Discounts

  • Affordable and beneficial trial (like we do at Ahrefs offering a 7-day trial for $7)

  • Surprises and gifts

  • Etc.

Furthermore, you can try using an upsell strategy. Upselling is when you sell some additional products or services as an add-on option to your main product. For example, you sell music equipment and your customer tends to buy a guitar. You sell the guitar to your customer and ask if the customer wants to buy a guitar tuner or strings.

Another point to be made here is that you should reinforce your entire strategy with clever email marketing.

What do I mean by this?

I mean running the email outreach campaigns that might be split into two directions:

  • Personalized email pitch

  • Email newsletter

Let’s review each of them one by one.

The first method implies sending the messages to your customers using their personal email addresses and by crafting a personalized email template. For instance:

outreach email example

As you can see from the example, I have personalized the subject line and an introduction part of the message. A well-personalized subject line triggers the recipient to open the message while a personalized introduction catches the attention and makes the recipient to read the message to a full degree.

To make this method of outreach more automated, I use a couple of tools. For finding personal email addresses I use ContactOut (Chrome extension that extracts emails right from one’s LinkedIn profile) and Findthat.Email.

When we are talking about an email newsletter, the other tactics and tools must be applied here. Email newsletter aims to notify the existing audience about the updates your brand has just released.

This way of outreach has a more general purpose. Thus, I advise you to focus on crafting more visually appealing email templates.

And the service that I would recommend for this is MailerLite. MailerLite is a platform for creating newsletters, setting up advanced email automation and segmenting users, creating landing pages and sign-up forms for building email lists.

The list of features is quite impressive but I was attracted by the options for customizing newsletter templates. Here is the example of how awesome it might look:

newsletter example mailerlite

These both directions of outreach must be the daily tactics that would help you stay in touch with your customers and retain them.

Keep in mind that email marketing is an integral part of the conversion stage of any marketing funnel.

There is nothing completely perfect in life. The same is true with marketing funnels. Even if the funnel seems to be ideal, there are always tiny leaks that you might not notice.

You shouldn’t worry about small leakage, but keep an eye on “excessive leakage.”

What does it mean?

Excessive leakage happens when one of the stages is larger in contrast to the next one. It looks like this:

leaky marketing funnel

Frankly speaking, it isn’t hard to plug the leaks you find in your funnel. The main task for you is to run diagnostics to identify the reasons why the leakage occurs.

First of all, you should assign the metrics to each stage of the funnel:

  • Awareness. The total number of visitors that come to your website

  • Interest. The total number of people who decided to sign up to your newsletter

  • Consideration. CTR for the email sequence

  • Conversion. How many visitors converted into paying customers

If you want to understand why your funnel is experiencing some leakage, you should compare the metrics on a monthly basis. Every slight decrease in the numbers signals that the funnel has a leak.

After the initial step of the analysis, you should apply two strategies that will help you plug the leakage and prevent its recurrence.

Use retargeting 

It is not a secret that lots of online marketers get paid traffic to some of the content they promote. The goal of these marketers was to get people interested in the product by pitching them the content.

However, people rarely read this content from A to Z, nor buy the product. As a result, these marketers wasted their money and get zero customers. Sad but true!

Despite this fact, you should never give up. Retargeting is the strategy you need.

Retargeting helps target visitors of your website who left and try to persuade them to become a customer.

You can do it by installing a code known as a ‘pixel’ on your site.

How does this pixel work?

It drops an anonymous cookie right in the visitor’s browser. When the visitor decides to leave your website, the cookie allows your ad platform to show the visitor your ads.  

installing pixel code example

Nevertheless, it is a bit challenging to know what to offer your visitor as a part of the retargeting strategy. You should track where the visitor drops off and retarget him or her with the offer based on the following stage of the funnel.

Let’s say, you noticed a high volume of traffic on your website but the number of visitors who have signed up for a newsletter is small. Thus, you should retarget them in order to persuade to sign up for your newsletter.

The same tactics should be applied to other marketing needs.

Live chat

One of the most common and preventable reasons why people leave your website is that they can’t find the answers to the questions they have while on the site.

You can resolve this issue with the help of live chat.

Live chat gives you an outstanding opportunity to assist the customers with any hot-potato issue that appears.

In a nutshell, live chat is a must option on the website for everyone who runs an online business.

The marketing funnel is an integral part of any business. It serves to attract, retain and convert people into paying customers.

I hope the information in this guide helped you understand the marketing funnel and how it works. Remember the first thing is to build the funnel and the second is to plug the leaks.

If you found this post useful, feel free to share it on your social channels and leave the comments.

Sergey Aliokhin

Sergey Aliokhin is a Marketing Manager at Ahrefs. Apart from working at Ahrefs he likes spending his time with family, studying martial arts and plucking fat bass guitar strings. You can send him a message.

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