By Ronald Dod

The sales funnel is a time-honored tool for visualizing a customer’s sales journey. It tracks the stages from the very first inkling in the customer’s mind all the way down to the moment when money changes hands, and nearly all businesses use it to develop path-to-purchase strategies. Many different tweaks on the model exist, but they all follow the same basic path: the journey from awareness, to interest, to decision, to action.

How can we understand the sales funnel in the context of an eCommerce business? It turns out that the funnel is actually a more useful tool than it’s ever been because we can so easily track every stage of the journey to learn about the factors that influence a person’s buying decisions. Think about these four concepts and use them to improve your eCommerce sales funnel and path-to-purchase strategies.

1. Segment Your Keywords by the Stages of the Funnel

Keywords give marketers powerful tools to segment users by stages of the sales funnel. Here’s an example in a simple B2C model:

  1. Awareness: Our customer, Jake, is looking for the perfect lamp for his new apartment. He might search keywords for a wide range of broad keywords, like “lamps under $50” or “best living room lamps,” just to feel out which categories he might be interested in.
  2. Interest: Jake decides that he wants a tall floor lamp and starts searching for more specific keywords, such as “floor lamp under $50” or “modern floor lamp.”
  3. Decision: Jake lines up some options that fit his criteria and compares them. He might search for specific information about each model, searching the model name alone or keywords like “[model name] reviews” or “[model name] warranty.”
  4. Action: Jake decides which model he likes best and places an order. A business has successfully converted him into a customer.

Some customers will start further on in the funnel. Maybe Jake already knows he wants a floor lamp when he starts searching, or he remembers a specific lamp he was looking at a few weeks ago and is trying to find it again. A home lighting maker that wants to capture Jake’s business can use strategies like bidding on different PPC keywords at each stage of the journey, targeting Jake with the information that’s most relevant to his needs.

2. Map Your Content to the Stages of the Funnel

There’s much more that a marketer can do to bring Jake into the funnel than just bid on keywords, though. Keyword-rich and optimized content can target leads at each stage of the funnel, and marketers can use it to direct sophisticated and effective messaging at customers to move them to the next stage. Some options for Jake’s journey to buy his new lamp could include:

  • Awareness: Articles about decorating strategies or quizzes to help Jake decide which type of lamp he wants.
  • Interest: Articles or social media posts, like a “Buyer’s Guide to the Best Budget Floor Lamps,” that get your lamps on Jake’s list of potential options.
  • Decision: Optimized and persuasive product copy on the product pages of your individual floor lamp models.

Note that the first two stages of the funnel are times when good off-page SEO comes in handy, as a strong social media presence and relationships with influencers can really help draw a prospective customer’s attention in the early stages. The final action stage, meanwhile, can get a helping hand from promotions and deals that push the consumer over the threshold and through the last stage of the funnel.

3. Identify the Holes in the Funnel Where You Lose Customers

Every sales funnel has its leaks, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing to lose some prospective customers if they weren’t really productive leads in the first place. But if you’re noticing things like ads with high CTRs that underperform in conversions or excessive cart abandonment, it’s worth asking whether the funnel needs some repairs.

Cart abandonment, in particular, is one of the most common leak points of an eCommerce sales funnel, occurring right at the end of the decision stage when a customer can’t quite commit. Cart abandonment is naturally frustrating for marketers, but remember that many of these customers haven’t actually left the funnel, they’ve just gotten stuck. Remarketing tools can be a great way to give them the last push they need. The best way, however, is to streamline your site’s UX using practices recommended by eCommerce user experience experts so that customers have as few barriers to conversion as possible.

On the other hand, if an excessive amount of customers are leaving your funnel because they weren’t interested in your product in the first place, your problem is actually at the top of the funnel, because your keywords or marketing might be pulling in the wrong traffic. Businesses with this problem should consider using negative keywords to filter out traffic from users who aren’t looking for the things they sell.

4. Build Loyal Customers

The real secret to mastering the eCommerce sales funnel is loyalty. You’ve no doubt heard the old sayings about how it’s much more cost-effective to retain an existing customer than it is to acquire a new one—and the thing is, they’re true. If a customer had a good experience on their first trip through the sales funnel, the second or third time can be a much shorter sales cycle because you’ve already established trust, credibility and value. And if they tell a friend about their great experience, that friend might enter the sales funnel at a more advanced stage. It’s a chain of value that continually builds on itself.

Finally, the highly segmented and data-heavy nature of eCommerce means that with some attention to best practices, you can often attract the leads who are most interested in your product and most likely to be loyal. Fine-tuning your marketing through solid data collection and analysis enables you to attract better-qualified leads and a more enthusiastic base who are more likely to move through the funnel quickly and smoothly.

Navigating the ever-changing landscape of eCommerce can be a challenge, so it’s good to remember that the fundamentals of marketing—like the sales funnel—are still applicable. Mastering the application of the sales funnel model to eCommerce can give you a better understanding of your customers, your business model and even eCommerce itself, so don’t hesitate to use this tried-and-tested tool.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay