Funnel Fundamentals: Complete Guide To Funnels

By: Deborah O’Malley| 2019

Funnel Fundamentals

In this previous guide on Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), you learned that CRO is a system that uses data analysis to maximize the rate of visitors who convert on your website.

And, you saw that conversions are often measured by movements through the website, like watching a video on the homepage, then clicking into the product page, then adding the product to cart, and finally making the purchase.

This series of movements, or conversions, can be most easily visualized through the analogy of a conversion funnel.

conversion funnel

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What is a Conversion Funnel?

A conversion funnel, also called a sales, or marketing funnel, is way to describe the journey your visitors take as they move through your marketing channel to acquire your product, service, or offering. 

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Why is it Called a Conversion Funnel?

The idea of a conversion funnel is used both figuratively and literally.

Figuratively, a conversion funnel provides a visualization that depicts your customers’ journey as they flow through the conversion path, usually on your website.

Literally, analytics platforms, like Google Analytics, have conversion funnel capabilities that allow you to assess traffic trends, measure the percentage of users who drop off through each stage of the funnel, and obtain an overall conversion rate of visitors who started the conversion process against to those who completed the targeted action.

conversion funnel Google Analytics

(Source: Google Analytics, Google Images)

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How Funnels Relate to CRO

The funnel image perfectly depicts what happens when visitors move down each stage of your conversion process.

Although a lot of visitor may come in through the top — say on your website’s landing page — much less come out the bottom, onto your thank you page, for example.

The reason why visitor numbers diminish each step of the way is because your visitors are continually confronted with challenges as they navigate through your conversion path.

For example, your visitors might find something confusing on your site, so they leave.

Or, they might get distracted because they’re browsing your site on a mobile device while commuting to work.

Or, they might not be able to easily find the product or information they’re looking for, so they leave your site and go to another.

Each of these challenges prevents the visitor from taking action, or converting.

These examples show that your traffic, leads, and prospects are all at different levels of interest and readiness to convert on your site.

In the end, only the most committed users, with the highest conversion intent — or desire to complete the transaction — will work to overcome the obstacles encountered while navigating through your site’s conversion funnel.

Determining where in the conversion process these missteps are consistently happening –and optimizing each step to make the process as simple and easy as possible for your users — is how to increase conversions.

And, that is the essence of Conversion Rate Optimization!

outline sales funnel with rolling coins to money bag 

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Some Funnel Caveats: Funnels appear linear, but really aren’t

Effectively, your goal as a CRO strategist is to figure out where the obstacles are in the conversion funnel. Then, determine how to remove – or at least reduce – the barriers.

With fewer obstacles, more visitors will move through — and conversions will increase. The funnel will effectively widen.

In eCommerce, an optimized site means more shoppers become buyers. And, revenue increases.

In the lead gen realm, an optimized funnel means more prospects will sign-up to become customers.

And, in inbound marketing, an optimized process means more people will be attracted to the content and become part of the sales funnel.

Whatever your conversion objective, optimizing the funnel can help turn prospective customers into profitable ones.

All this said, it’s also important to realize that the visualization of a funnel isn’t a perfect one.

In reality, most visitors don’t take a straight path through your conversion funnel. They may leave and come back to site, entering and exiting your funnel several times before converting – if they convert at all.

Alternatively, they may go to other pages or other sites and may eventually come back to your site.

So, as a take away, be sure to realize that, while a conversion funnel appears to be a linear path, in reality, it’s not.

The good news is that in many analytics tracking platforms, you can account for this fact by tracking and segmenting new vs. returning visitors and looking at a data range that’s long enough to incorporate any potential conversion lags. You can also visualize where customers enter and exit your funnel and look for ways to optimize the entry and exit pages.

So, as a takeaway, know that while funnels are a very helpful analogy for visualizing how your traffic moves through your conversion path, they’re not perfect.  

With that, if you can come up with a better analogy I’m sure the CRO community will welcome your contribution!

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Some Funnel Caveats: Not all funnels are the same

It’s also important for you to realize that not all funnels will look the same.

Depending on the type of traffic, your industry vertical, your website, and your overarching conversion goal, the shape and size of the funnel will look different.

While not all funnels are the same, the principles of getting users to move through your funnel and convert are all identical – no matter your industry vertical.

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Getting Users to Move Through Your Funnel and Convert

To get your users to move through your funnel and convert, there are several recommended steps you follow. They are:

  1. Know Your Audience

You want to first gain a deep appreciation of your audience, who they are, and what motivates them. Consider doing a customer avatar exercise to help you get a better sense of your audience their likes, dislikes, interests, and how to best communicate with them to motivate them into action.

 

  1. Understand what’s preventing your users from moving deeper into the funnel

Next, you need understand what’s preventing your users from moving deeper into your funnel. To do so, you can use both quantitative and qualitative data  — like surveys, UX studies, and analytics information – to assess your customers’ pain points to understand what’s stopping them from converting.

 

  1. Reduce barriers by optimizing specific elements

Once you have insight into what’s preventing your users from moving deeper into your funnel, you can assess and test ways to alleviate these issues in the conversion process. You’ll want to continue to optimize this process as you go deeper and deeper into your funnel.

 

  1. Don’t take a “one and done” approach

And finally, don’t stop. You can’t just rest on your laurels because you’ve been able to achieve some small gains. You need to continue to optimize, always having your pulse on your audience and their needs.

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