Sales funnels for bloggers. Pic by Adrian Hon

Sales funnels 101 (for bloggers)

Are you trying to come up with a way to maximize conversions and sales from your blog? A proper sales funnel can help, big time.

Take some time to plan out proper, strategic sales funnels for various conversion goals to increase ROI (Return on Investment) and make more money from your content.

A sales funnel represents the steps required for a visitor to convert - from finding content via Google search, or on social media, to reading an article, to signing up for a newsletter or purchasing a product.

They are often represented diagrammatically as a way to show each stage and the number of people at each stage in the process. There are more complex examples, but I like this one from AdEspresso because it closely models the sales funnel for a blog:

Standard sales funnel

From a blogging perspective, a better name for the sales funnel would be the conversion funnel, since bloggers don't necessarily earn revenue by selling products. For example, revenue from Google ads and affiliate links can be considered sales. Getting people to follow you on Twitter, Google+ or other social media, sign up to a newsletter or get your feed can also be considered a sale because these lead to revenue further down the line.

Identifying sales funnels

It's important to understand that different goals or objectives can have completely different sales funnels. Most sites want to do the following:

  • Get traffic from organic search
  • Get traffic from social media
  • Sign people up to a newsletter
  • Get followers and fans on social media sites
  • Get people to consume an RSS feed
  • Make money from advertising
  • Make money from affiliate links
  • Sell stuff - subscriptions, eBooks, etc

Each of these goals require a different marketing strategy in order to maximize ROI. However, the first two don't really require a funnel because the marketing strategy for getting more traffic (from organic search or social media) is to create great content.

Every aspect of marketing, conversions and making money is based on a foundation of great content.

But each of the remaining goals does require a specialized marketing strategy. Before we look at a specific example, let's quickly look at the general strategy behind creating a great sales funnel.

Sales funnel design strategy

In order for a funnel to be effective, it has to be focused. People who come across a post (regardless of where they enter the funnel) should be skillfully directed to a specific conversion point.

In order to do that, each piece of content needs to be written with specific targets in mind. A post that is not really relevant, has no call to action, or doesn't engage and inspire readers is not going to be effective in pushing people to the next stage of the funnel.

In general, the strategy behind creating a sales funnel for a specific conversion on your blog goes like this:

  1. Identify a goal (sometimes called business objectives) such as making an affiliate sale
  2. Create relevant content
  3. Provide clear direction, with little distraction, to the next stage
  4. Make converting simple, easy to understand, and fast

By keeping this general strategy in mind whenever you create an article, you will find that, over time, each business objective (conversion point) on your blog builds up a body of highly focused content that directs readers expertly and efficiently to that conversion.

Real world considerations

Offhand, many bloggers might be wondering why a sales funnel is necessary at all. After all, anyone reading a post will most likely be able to see a newsletter signup block, a social sharing block, and so on.

That's true; and certainly, having all these conversion points on each post helps to pick up the easy conversions - the low hanging fruit. But an article crowded with links, graphics and ads is not focused and will also miss out on plenty of conversions.

Not everyone is going to buy an expensive product or service because they stumbled across a blog post. But they may convert if they are directed to a more focused one that provides exactly the information they need - i.e they are pushed into a strategic sales funnel.

Why funnels are necessary

Consider the case of a blogger trying to earn money from affiliate marketing:

It's not advisable to add affiliate links to each and every post. Google doesn't like content with lots of paid links. Adding affiliate links to every article will likely result in some sort of Google algorithm penalty that will decimate organic search traffic volumes and hurt every sales funnel - not just the affiliate conversions.

The answer is to set up a strategic sales funnel for affiliate conversions.

Implementing a sales funnel

Instead of pasting affiliate links everywhere, risking the wrath of Google's Panda algorithm in the process, it is far better to create a few highly focused articles (I'll call them conversion posts) that contain a few affiliate links.

Google has nothing against internal links from one post to another. This means you can write as many unique articles in, on and around the topics of those conversion posts, and link to them in order to funnel traffic towards a conversion.

Since the purpose of this content is to attract traffic before passing it off to a conversion post, we can call this type of post a landing post.

People find a landing post, get directed to a conversion post where they are far more likely to click on an affiliate link (because this is a highly focused post that they have explicitly requested to read).

The net result is that:

  1. You avoid Google algorithm penalties
  2. You create many on-topic landing posts to drive traffic
  3. Landing post readers are pushed to conversion posts
  4. Conversion posts enjoy a high CTR (Click Thru Rate) because the traffic they receive is highly relevant

You now have a strategic sales funnel for those specific affiliate links.

Sales funnel demo

We use sales funnels all the time. Sometimes the funnel is long and requires people on the fringe of a purchase to go through a number of steps before they are ready to convert. Others are ready to convert when they arrive at a specific page (assuming Google has matched the search with the correct content - something you can't take for granted).

A good example comes from one of our forum answers, which website builder is the best for SEO?

This is a common question that many new webmasters are looking for information on before they buy. SEO is just one consideration and there are many others, but it's a waste not to treat this peripheral question as part of a sales funnel (since people reaching this page are likely thinking about using a website builder).

We added a few visible calls to action to the answer (which includes quite a bit of in-depth research and information about built-in SEO features of each of the major website builders) that directs people to a free, step-by-step setup guide that helps them get over the initial learning curve a bit quicker:

Visible calls to action as part of the sales funnel

Here's a screenshot of the visitor flow through that page:

Mapping visitor flow through a webpage

As you can see, the vast majority of people clicking through go to one of our four website setup guides. These guides are all conversion points for us because if users do end up starting a website with one of the platforms we provided guidance on there is a small affiliate commission captured.

Have you set up strategic sales funnels to improve conversions on your blog? Has knowing about, and implementing funnels, helped you to make more money? What advice would you share about how best to drive traffic to convert?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Proof that business blogging works. Pic by nicoleec

The vast majority (in the region of 95%) of all sites and blogs ever created fail to make any money at all - let alone a profit. Against this backdrop it's quite easy to lose faith in blogging as a viable tool for online marketing.

But all is not lost. There are plenty of businesses out there quietly creating great articles and content to share and promote around their networks. Many of them have had great success in driving new leads, customers, sign-ups, traffic and direct revenue.