While many people are coming around to the idea that content can lead to new business, quite a few are still hazy on the details of how it happens. It’s no surprise then, that the one question on the minds of so many founders and content marketers is “How do my readers convert to paying customers?”
In short, your readers convert to customers by going through a well-structured conversion funnel – how this funnel works can seem like a black box.
This confusion typically looks like this: You create great content, readers come in, and you notice at the same time that more people are becoming customers. But when did they really convert? What caused them to take that leap of faith and enter their credit card information?
It’s time to pull back this curtain.
The Reader-to-Customer Conversion Funnel
For those that haven’t had the time to learn the terminology, a conversion funnel is just a way of describing the path that a customer or audience member takes from Point A to Point Z. Typically – on a very high-level – the funnel looks like this: a reader clicks on a link to one of your blog posts, they read another handful of blog posts that reinforce your position as an authority, and at some point that leads them to subscribing.
Whether you know it or not, every one of your customers and prospects is currently at some point in your conversion funnel. If you haven’t put in the time to construct a top-tier funnel, though, most of your potential customers are probably stuck in the, “Read One Article” stage. Fortunately, constructing a conversion funnel that is measurable and increases revenue isn’t impossible.
Step 1: Research
The first step to creating a conversion funnel that makes sense for your business is thorough research. Without understanding your audience, your market, your competitors, and what people are currently reading, you’ll find yourself walking in the dark.
Know Your Audience: One of the most important things when creating content is understanding who you’re creating it for. You might think, “I know my audience! They’re just like me!” While this could be true, you need to be more rigorous about this. To start, this means you need to reach out to existing readers and customers, interview them on what types of topics they’d be interested in reading about, and creating audience profiles. As you talk to more people and bounce ideas around you’ll begin to get a clearer view of what content is missing in your world.
Know Your Market: In addition to knowing your audience, you also need to know what other blogs your audience is reading. There will be certain blogs that are obvious – is your audience very tech-savvy? They’re probably reading TechCrunch! – but you need to go a level deeper. You need to find out what niche sites your audience visits and what destinations are indispensable resources. There are two approaches to doing this. The first, as in understanding your audience, is to ask your reader what other sites they visit on a regular basis. The second is to put yourself in the shoes of your customers and go through the process of looking for blogs that cover relevant topics. Many of these sites will be competitors, so it’s worth taking a deep look at what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong.
Without this understanding of who your audience is and their current behavior your conversion funnel will be meaningless. It’s only by deeply understanding your readers that you can begin to guide them on the path to becoming a paying customer.
Step 2: Topics
Once you understand your customers by thoroughly researching them, you need to turn your insight into action. Do this by coming up with topics and angles that will resonate with your audience and stand out in an environment that is saturated with high-quality content.
Methodical Content Creation: Currently, you might be coming up with topics that just pop into your head while looking at a blank document. This can work in the beginning, but eventually you’re going to need to be more methodical in brainstorming topics. One way to do this is to take your findings from the research stage and reverse them. For example, if your customers have all indicated that they want to read about how mobile phones are changing their business, then you should come up with topics that help solve that problem for them.
Research-Based Action: In addition to coming up with topics that make sense for your audience, you need to create content that is immediately useful. While it might be tempting to write filler content just to say you publish a post every day, your emphasis should be on improving the lives of your readers. This means spending more time sharing real, actionable knowledge and less time on coming up with that witty pun. It will be more time-consuming, but it pays off by associating your name with value in the minds of your readers.
Step 3: Narrowing
Once you’ve come up with topics that make sense and you have readers visiting, it may appear as though the battle has been won. Unfortunately for your schedule, you’ve only scratched the surface. You’ve hooked the customer, but now you need to reel them in.
Get Specific Fast: When you first research your audience and come up with preliminary topics, there’s a good chance that most of the articles will be on high-level subjects. This isn’t wrong, but writing about issues on a meta-level won’t convert customers. Powerful conversion funnels consist of a customer reading something broad, clicking to another article on a very niche topic, and then being so impressed with the specific insights that they are willing to create a deeper connection with the company behind the article.
Become a Destination Resource: As you become more specific, you’ll also find that the broad appeal of your articles begins to fade. Cumulative pageviews are going up, but the growth of unique visitors is plateauing. This might seem like a bad thing, but it’s really a sign that things are going well. This is a result of creating content that strikes a chord with a very specific audience – the niche audience of people who may want to become your customers.
To keep these readers and move them closer to the “Paying Customer” stage, you need to continue to focus on being a destination. Keep publishing topics based on very specific issues or challenges that your readers face in their professional lives. The goal is for not for people to visit because they stumbled across a link to your site, but because you’re one of their top sites to visit every week.
Step 4: Capture
Once you have readers that visit on a semi-regular basis you need to put a ring on it. While a marriage proposal would probably ensure that they memorize your company’s name, the Supreme Court has yet to rule that companies can marry people. Fortunately, there are two close also-rans that can deeply connect you to your readers: email subscriptions and sign ups.
Email subscriptions: Email is one of the most powerful tools in the arsenal of every content creator. Not everyone has the budget to create a six-part HBO mini-series about their company, but everyone has the budget to capture email addresses and proactively reach out to readers. This is one of the most important steps in converting your readers to customers, as it makes it possible to notify past readers of new content and bring them back to your site. Its value can’t be understated.
Sign Ups: Convincing your readers to become customers is the end goal of all content marketing and that’s why it’s so important to put a strong emphasis on it in your conversion funnel. The goal of this stage is typically to take a reader that you have no information on and sell them on an additional resource that is worth divulging their contact information over. It could be a free trial, a white paper, or something else entirely, but it’s important to provide real value in whatever you’re promising. In addition to creating this secondary resource, this stage also involves experimenting with calls-to-action and tailored email notifications that motivate readers to take action.
The Nuance of Converting Traffic
When you visit your Google Analytics dashboard you might be overwhelmed by the amount of information that sits at your fingertips and possibly even confused about how to interpret it in regards to converting readers to customers. Should you be looking to increasing the number of total visitors or should you focus on the percentage of readers that subscribed to your email newsletter after reading your most recent blog post? Or perhaps your attention should be on any of the thousand other statistics you can ponder in your conversion funnel.
As we covered, converting readers to customers can be complicated and end with you getting stuck comparing 100 conflicting signals. One thing is clear though: converting your readers to customers happens when you understand your audience, create great content, and know how to handle the inbound traffic