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Marketing funnel stages & how to build one

Marketing funnel tactics Marketing funnel tactics

Generating revenue is a multi-step process in which you have to progressively nurture the customer journey before those customers are ready to make a purchase. A shoe salesperson is using the marketing strategy of nurturing when they ask your size, show you options, help you try a few pairs on, and let you know about a deal. It’s giving you the information and support you need to make a decision about buying. That’s exactly what a marketing funnel is for.

But if you don’t have a marketing funnel in place yet, the absolute best thing you can do to grow your business is to build one. We’ll teach you everything you need to know about marketing funnels, how to build them, and even show you our favorite funnel for online courses.

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What is a marketing funnel?

Put simply, a marketing funnel is a framework businesses use to turn leads into customers. This framework is based on the idea that the number of people you attract to your business is much larger than the fraction of those who will actually become leads and eventually customers.

There are many types of funnels but the one we like the most is the simplest:

marketing funnel graphic marketing funnel graphic
This model breaks down your customer’s journey into three stages.

Top of the funnel for full funnel marketing

The top of your marketing funnel is all about increasing the visibility of your business. And increasing the awareness of your target audience that your company exists. This is your opportunity to showcase authority in your topic or industry.

People in the top of your funnel are not quite ready to buy from you—they are just getting to know you. They’re in the consideration stage and just getting pulled into your brand awareness efforts.

In practice, the top of the funnel might look like someone reading a blog post you wrote or viewing one of your YouTube videos. It could also be something more interactive, like a quiz or contest.

Middle of the digital marketing funnel

The middle of the funnel is often overlooked by those who are new to online marketing and sales. The middle of the funnel is when you build enough trust that people start showing an interest in what you do and what you have to offer.

Your job in the middle of the funnel is to provide enough value that your website visitors are willing to give you their contact information. Once they give you their contact info, they become a lead, and then you can nurture your relationship with them.

In your online business, the middle of the funnel can look like a free piece of content that your visitors can access by submitting their email address on your website.

Bottom of the funnel

At the bottom of the funnel, you have already built a sufficient level of trust with your leads that they are ready to be presented with your main offer or product. Your job at the bottom of the funnel is to present your product in a compelling way that inspires those leads to take action. Your leads should feel like what you’re offering is a solution to their problem.

The bottom of your funnel might look like a limited-time offer for your product.

The act of building a funnel is just the process of creating a (typically automated) system that has the objective of consistently moving people down the conversion funnel.

In this post, we will give you everything you need to build your own high-converting marketing funnel, including:

  • A blueprint with the goals, metrics, content, and tactics for each stage of the funnel
  • How to put everything together on your own marketing funnel
  • My recommended marketing funnel for new course creators

The marketing funnel stages

First, we’ll go in-depth into each stage of a marketing funnel. For each of them, you’ll learn about your goal and the metrics you should be looking for, the right content to create, and the tactics you can implement to hit your goals.

You should think of this section of the post as a buffet menu: You can pick and choose the goals, content, and tactics that best fit your business (and just like at a buffet, you should definitely not try to put every available item in your plate.)

Top of the funnel blueprint

Top of the funnel goal

Your goal should be to attract as many targeted visitors as possible with relevant content. This means people who are interested in your industry or product. You can do this with a great landing page, social media posts, or organic search showing off your products or services.

Top of the funnel metrics

These are some simple metrics you should be on the lookout on this funnel stage:

  • Sessions: this metric represents the number of sessions (also known as visits) to your site. This is generally what marketers refer to as “web traffic” or just “traffic.” You should aim for a high number of sessions.
  • % new sessions: this will tell you what portion of the traffic that your site receives comes from new visitors (those who haven’t previously visited your site.) You want this metric to be high so you know that you are consistently bringing new people to your site. However, if this number is too high, it can mean that you are not doing a good enough job of bringing people back to your website.
  • Bounce rate: this metric will tell you what percentage of the sessions ended with the user not taking any action on your site (which are called “bounced” sessions.) This is a good indicator of how engaging or relevant your content is to the visitors you are attracting. Generally, you should aim for your bounce rate to be low.
  • Traffic per channel: with this metric, you can see how much traffic each marketing channel (email, direct, organic, social, etc) is bringing in, which will allow you to make decisions based on each channel’s performance. In broad terms, you should focus and double down on the channels that are working and de-prioritize those that aren’t.

You can track all of these metrics for free using Google Analytics. Just log in to your Google Analytics account and go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels.

Top of the content inbound marketing funnel

In this stage of a marketing funnel, we recommend that you create content about broad topics related to your industry or business that aim to entertain or educate your visitors.

You can create blog posts, videos, social media posts, infographics, podcasts—anything that can be easily accessed and that provides free value to the user.

Let’s look at an example from one of our best instructors, Alan Perlman of UAV Coach. Alan’s flagship offer is a training course on how to become a certified drone pilot. For the top of the funnel, he wrote a very useful blog post that serves as a “master list” of drone laws and regulations by country.

Alan’s post meets the conditions we mention for great top of the funnel content because it’s:

  • Free
  • Educational (provides value to the visitor)
  • Related to his industry

Top of the marketing sales funnel tactics

As you can expect based on the goal of this stage of the funnel, these tactics are aimed at attracting more traffic to your site.

1. Direct email

Direct email works great if you have a list of people interested in your business. For example, people who attended one of your in-person workshops, a list of current customers, or a group/community you are a part of or manage. Important: Notice how we specify that these should be people you previously had contact with. We don’t recommend that you purchase email lists to do direct emailing as that can have a number of negative consequences for you and your business.

How to get started: Gather a list of contacts from the groups mentioned above and email them to share the content you’ve created. Important: If your list is large and you plan on emailing them in bulk, you must give them an option to unsubscribe or stop receiving emails from you. An “unsubscribe” button is auto-generated on most email service providers.

2. Social media

Social media platforms are great marketing channels for the top of the funnel. Social media users spend a lot of time in them and usually spend a good amount of that time consuming content shared by other people. When it comes to getting non-paid traffic from social media channels there are two main ways to do it: you can grow your own social media audience and share your content with your followers, or you can participate and contribute to already existing communities.

Example: The best example you can possibly find of someone who is a master at using social media is Melyssa Griffin. She teaches a course on how to get more traffic from Pinterest and, as you might expect, her Pinterest strategy is amazing.

Melyssa Griffin Pinterest Melyssa Griffin Pinterest
3. SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving your content’s visibility in search engines. Or, in simpler terms, SEO is about getting traffic to your site from sites like Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines (this type of traffic is known as organic traffic.) For that to happen you have to try to rank your content in the top positions of the search results for specific terms or phrases (known as keywords).

Something you should keep in mind about SEO is that it’s not a fast process. Pursuing SEO early can have a huge pay off down the line—when you start getting free and consistent traffic from search engines—but if you are just getting started and need traffic right away, we recommend that you look into immediate sources of traffic while you work on SEO.

How to get started: Everything about SEO, including its name, acronym, and definition sounds way more complex than it really is. I recommend that you start with performing keyword research and optimizing your content. After that’s done, you should look into link building, which is nothing else than getting other websites to link to your content. 

Example: Teela Cunningham, is the creator of Every-Tuesday and teaches how to create beautiful brush lettering with watercolor. She wrote a blog post about her favorite hand lettering supplies, which is ranking for the “hand lettering supplies” search term.

SEO search SEO search
4. PR/Press

This tactic consists of getting media coverage for your content, brand, or business. Media outlets and publications have built large audiences over a long time—that’s what their entire business model is about—so if you can tap into that, it can mean a significant boost of traffic to your site. PR is all about having an interesting angle that is newsworthy and presenting it in the right way to journalists and reporters.

How to get started: Daniel DiPiazza, an entrepreneur who has been featured in places like Time, Fortune, and Entrepreneur, came up with an easy-to-follow framework you can use to get your story on major press. Check it out: How to Get Your Business Featured in Major Press.

Example: Joanna Penn, creator of The Creative Penn, teaches her students how to write a novel via her online course. Joanna is great at obtaining media mentions with relevant and newsworthy content. For example, check out this article by The Guardian in which she provides advice for self-published authors.

Guardian PR Guardian PR
5. Paid advertising

When used properly, paid advertising can be a great way to attract new visitors to your site. You can reach the massive audiences that use Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other platforms every day. Plus, with the advanced targeting and segmentation options provided by their advertising platforms, you can make sure that you reach exactly who you want to reach.

How to get started: To start, you can set up ads on either of the largest online advertising platforms: Google Adwords or Facebook Ads. Neil Patel has a great beginner’s guide to setting up an AdWords campaign. While this post on the Buffer blog can teach you how to get started with Facebook ads. 

Example: Brad Hussey is the founder of Code College, he uses ads on Facebook to target potential customers for his design and coding course.

Paid Ads Example Paid Ads Example
6. Influencers or joint ventures

Another great way to attract traffic to your site is to partner with people who already have audiences that are interested in your topic or industry. To do this, you should come to an agreement that is mutually beneficial—we call those joint ventures.

Example: Tanner J. Fox, who teaches a course on affiliate marketing, uses this type of joint venture to promote his course too. As an example, Tanner partnered with several people who have large YouTube audiences to promote his website.
affiliate link example affiliate link example
7. Offline tactics

A lot of new online instructors aren’t new to teaching, speaking, or coaching. Most of the time, Teachable instructors have been teaching in one way or another in the offline world for years before deciding to create an online course. If you speak at conferences, do group coaching, or teach offline classes, these are great opportunities to get more traffic to your site.

How to get started: If you want to do this at a conference, start by making sure that it’s ok with the organizers if you share content on your website with the people you are speaking to. Most of the times they will be ok with it and give you some pointers on what you can or can’t do, but for certain large conferences you might not be allowed to do this.

To get people to visit your website, create content that is highly relevant to the topic of your talk and share it using a URL address that’s easy to write down or remember, as people will likely need to go back on their notes to visit your site.

Once you’ve gotten traffic to your site, it’s time for a completely different set of tactics—that’s what the middle of the funnel is for, so let’s dive in.

Middle of the funnel blueprint

Middle of the funnel goal

In this stage, your goal is to convert as many of those website visitors from the top of your funnel into leads for your business as you can—in digital marketing, the typical terminology is that you’ve captured a lead when your visitors give you a piece of information that allows you to contact them afterward: this is usually an email address.

By capturing the lead, you’ll have the opportunity to nurture the relationship and build trust in you or your company.

Middle of the funnel metrics

These are some simple metrics you should be on the lookout on this funnel stage:

  • Visitor-to-lead conversion rate: This metric will tell you what percentage of your website visitors end up becoming leads. You can use this as an indicator of how attractive your offer to become a lead (we’ll talk about the type of content you should use in this stage in a second) is to your visitors. As you might expect, you should aim for a high conversion rate. If you use tools to capture leads with popups forms, this metric will be tracked and provided to you. However, if you use other tactics to collect leads you might need to use Google Analytics goals to keep track of this metric.
  • Number of leads/email list growth: As its name suggests, you can use this metric to keep track of how many new leads you capture over time. Like we mentioned before, the most common way to capture leads is by collecting email addresses, so you can track this metric by looking at the growth of your email list. You will be able to get this number directly from any tool that you use to capture leads.
  • Email open and click rates: Once you’ve captured a lead, the most common way to strengthen the relationship with your contacts is by using email marketing campaigns. Open and click rates represent the percentage of contacts that opened an email and clicked on a link in the email body. These metrics are great indicators of how relevant the content you are sharing is to your subscribers. Almost every email marketing service you can use will calculate these metrics for you.
Middle of the funnel content

To capture and nurture leads, you should use “premium” content that supplements or builds upon the free content you provided in the top of the funnel. Your website visitors will only be able to access this content by providing their email address to unlock or access it.

You should think of this as an exchange of value: your visitors are trusting you with their contact information, so you need to provide something that is valuable enough to justify that.

In the tactics section, we’ll dive deeper into the types of content you can offer in the middle of the funnel.

Middle of the funnel tactics

For the middle of the funnel, we will talk about two different set of tactics: First, we’ll go over the content tactics you can use to attract more leads and grow your list. Second, we will show you how you can deliver your content to capture and nurture your leads.

These are some of the best content tactics you can use to attract leads:

1. Create a simple PDF or ebook lead magnet

PDFs or ebooks are easy and quick to create. You can use these to expand on the topic you discussed in your top-of-the-funnel content.

How to get started: Look through your most popular blog post, video, podcast episode and turn that content into a lead magnet. If you have several related pieces of content that perform really well, you can consider combining them into an e-book.

If you don’t have content yet, think of a simple resource that your audience would value enough to give you their email address: worksheets, cheat sheets, and checklists are all easy to create and perform really well as lead magnets. Then, you can use a free tool like Canva to turn that content into a lead magnet. You can also grab the lead magnets templates included we created for you.

Example: Pete Ryder from HowToFreedive.com offers a list with the essential kit every beginner freediver needs to get started, and delivers it through a popup on his site:

pop up example pop up example
2. Offer a free mini course

If you are in the business of monetizing your knowledge and expertise, a mini course is an excellent way to provide additional value to your visitors while also building your own image as an expert. Mini courses might take more work to create, but they also have the benefit of being perceived as more valuable than ebooks and PDFs.

How to get started: Check out this in-depth post on how to create a mini course and grow your audience.

Example: One of my favorite examples of mini courses is Deborah Niemann’s from Thrifty Homesteader. Deborah’s flagship course teaches its students everything they need to successfully raise goats. To attract and capture leads for her paid course, Deborah created a free mini course on how to detect and treat copper deficiency in goats.

Mini course example Mini course example
3. Webinars

Webinars are really powerful marketing tools. Like mini courses, webinars allow you to showcase your knowledge on a topic to your audience, with the difference that this is done as a live event—which allows your leads to have direct contact with you. As you might expect, webinars are considerably more time consuming than other tactics, but you can expect higher engagement and conversion rates from those who attend your live session.

How to get started: If this is your first time hosting a webinar, we recommend that you start with our comprehensive guide on how to create a stress-free webinar that converts.

Example: We’ve worked a lot on our own webinar strategy. I recommend that you check out Teachable’s 7 Steps to Launch Your Own Profitable Online Course and pay special attention to how we execute the webinar.

4. Trials and demos:

Trials and demos are a great idea if you can easily take a portion of your finished product and provide it for free. Doing this will allow your leads to experience your product with very little commitment on their part. The downside of using trials or demos, is that since they are not stand-alone content, they can be perceived as incomplete offerings.

How to get started: If you are selling an online course, you can check out this step-by-step guide on how to use free trials to attract and capture more leads. 

Example: Phil Manning, from Travel Developer, uses the exact setup described in the walkthrough above. On his website, you’ll see a call-to-action to start for free (that’s the free trial). When visitors click to start for free, Phil uses a form to capture the lead before the free trial.

free trial free trial
5. Private communities

This is a great way to establish a closer and continuous channel of communication between yourself/your company and your leads, as well as allowing them to interact with each other. You can create private communities to start conversations, gather feedback, or share updates and news.

By starting a community, you are committing to being active and monitoring it regularly for the medium/long term, which can be very time consuming in future—so keep that in mind if you decide to go with this tactic as a part of your marketing funnel.

How to get started: The easiest way to start a community is to leverage tools that are already built for this purpose. 

Once you’ve picked your preferred content tactics for the middle of the funnel, you have to choose how to deliver this content to capture and nurture your leads. These are some of our favorite ones:

1. Popup/forms

By adding a form to your site, you can ask your visitors for their email addresses at the right time and in the right place.

How to get started: Install free popup software like Sumo or Hello Bar to add popup forms to your site. If you use email marketing services like Mailchimp or Convertkit, you can also use the forms they provide and skip the popups.

Example: We’ve already showed you a couple of people using popups on their site, but Jessica Sprague’s is perhaps one of our favorite ones because of the powerful message it delivers:

email sign up example email sign up example
2. Email marketing

Email marketing is one of our favorite marketing channels for one very simple reason: It’s great at getting people to take action. By using emails, you can reach your leads directly and invite them to take the next step in your funnel.

How to get started: There is a lot that you can do with email marketing. We recommend that you start with just a couple of email campaigns: your welcome email and a weekly/monthly newsletter. You can find everything about these emails and other campaigns in our email marketing guide. 

3. Re-marketing

This is a bit of an advanced paid advertising tactic and it has a learning curve. With re-marketing, you target people who have visited your site and send ads to them on other platforms like Google or Facebook. Have you ever noticed that when you check out a shirt on Amazon, that shirt suddenly starts following you around the internet? That’s re-marketing at work.

With a solid remarketing strategy, you can even target visitors of specific pages on your site—like people who visited the sales page for product A and not product B—and send hyper-targeted ads.

How to get started: You can learn how to get started with AdWords (Google) re-marketing with this handy video.  To learn how to add a tracking pixel to your Teachable school, read this article on adding a Facebook pixel from our knowledge base.

Example: Brad Hussey from Code College, gives us a great example of how to use re-marketing for the middle of the funnel. In this case, he used Instagram ads (which you can set up via Facebook) to invite people to his webinar:

instagram ad example instagram ad example

Bottom of the funnel blueprint

Bottom of the funnel goal

This is the moment of truth. When your leads are at the bottom of your funnel, your only goal is to get them to purchase your product (or repurchase if they are already customers)!

Bottom of the funnel metrics

These are some simple metrics you should be on the lookout on this funnel stage:

Total revenue
With Teachable, you can keep track of your revenue directly from your school’s dashboard.
Number of new customers
This is also very straightforward. You should keep an eye on how many paying customers you acquire every day/week/month. Of course, we want this number to be high and steadily growing. If you use Teachable, you can also see this number using your Dashboard.
Revenue per customer or customer lifetime value
Typically, you won’t get the same amount of revenue for every prospective customer that you acquire. Some of them might purchase at a discount, some others might purchase several products. If you offer a subscription plan, not all of your customers will stay subscribed for the same amount of time. A simple way to calculate this is to add up all your revenue for a specific period of time, and divide it by the number of paying customers you acquired during that period.
The point here is that you should understand how much money, on average, you are making for every customer that you acquire. This will help you work backwards from a revenue goal and determine how many customers you need to hit your goals. We recommend that you only run this analysis periodically instead of keeping track of it every day because you will probably see a lot of variability.
Teachable also collects all the data you need to calculate this value—just download a spreadsheet of all of your transactions from the Transactions tab.
Conversion rate
This is a really important metric. While your revenue and number of customers will tell you how much money your funnel is generating, your bottom-of-the-funnel conversion rate is an indicator of how effective are your tactics at converting leads into customers. How you obtain and calculate this conversion rate will depend largely on the tactic you decide to use.
For example, if you are doing a product launch with an email sequence, you might want to look at the percentage of subscribers who became customers during the launch. If you want to learn how many people who visit your sales page end up becoming customers, you can use Google Analytics goals to keep track of this metric.

Bottom of the funnel content

In this stage of the funnel, you can assume that your leads already have enough information to make a purchase decision. Your bottom-of-the-funnel content is meant to help them make that decision. In practice, this content can take many different forms. All of these are examples of bottom-of-the-funnel content:

Bottom of the funnel tactics

All the tactics on this stage of the funnel are aimed at converting visitors and leads into customers:

1. Use scarcity

This is, hands down, one of the most powerful tactics you can use to acquire more customers. Scarcity allows you to add a sense of urgency to the purchasing stage. There are several ways to approach this. You can limit the availability (by time or units sold) of a product, a discount, a bundle, or bonuses.

How to get started: The easiest and most effective way to add scarcity when you’re just getting started is to use limited-time bonuses.

2. Upsells

Upselling is an easy optimization you can implement to the bottom of your funnel to increase the average revenue you receive from each of your customers. When you upsell, you are basically making an additional offer to your customers immediately (or very shortly) after they purchase your products.

3. Bundles

If you have more than one product to offer, you can get more customers by mixing and matching those products together and selling them at a lower price than if they were sold separately. Bundling allows you to stack the value of several products and present a more compelling offer to your potential customers.

How to get started: It’s very easy to start bundling. If you already offer several products, all you need to do is sell a combination of these products using a single price. With Teachable, you can do this easily with a few clicks.

Example: Angela Fehr, who teaches watercolor classes on her Teachable school, offers a wide variety of courses like landscaping, fluid painting, and creative painting. Angela created a comprehensive bundle of her individual courses. It’s called called “Watercolor University” and it includes a total of twelve courses, which she sells for a premium price

How to get started: If you sell online courses using Teachable, you can read our posts on how 1-click upsells work.

How to build your own marketing funnel template

Now, we’re sharing a very simple game plan to create your own marketing funnel. And, it has just four steps:

Step 1: Choose which full funnel marketing stage to start with

This is actually very simple. Depending on where you are with your business, you should prioritize certain stages of the funnel first:

  • If you already have a steady stream of customers purchasing your product every month, then you should start working on the bottom of the funnel and work your way up to the top of the funnel. This will allow you to increase the amount of revenue you are already generating.
  • If your business isn’t generating sales yet, you should start working on your top-of-the-funnel tactics first and them work your way down the funnel as you start getting more traffic and leads. Focusing on the top of the funnel will allow you to build an audience to whom you can sell your product later.

The most important thing here is that you shouldn’t try to build an entire funnel from scratch at once—focus on one stage at a time.

Step 2: Pick one or two tactics for each funnel stage

We mentioned a lot of tactics you can use for each stage of your funnel, but that doesn’t mean you should use all of them. What you should do is pick one or two tactics and focus on those exclusively—you will typically get better results from a couple of tactics that were perfectly executed, than from ten tactics with an OK execution.

Step 3: Create content for each tactic

Now that you have picked your tactics, it’s time to create the content assets you’ll need to implement them. Again, elimination and simplicity are your best allies. Don’t try to create a year’s worth of content—work only on the specific things you need to get your tactics going.

Step 4: Connect and build continuity

Once you have worked and executed tactics for at least two stages of your funnel, it’s time to connect and build continuity between each stage of your funnel. This involves everything you can do to help move people from one stage of the funnel to the next. This sounds way more complicated than it really is. Here are a couple of examples of things you can do:

  • If you write a blog post to attract more traffic to your site and use a webinar to capture leads, then a great way to connect both tactics would be to include a call-to-action or popup in the blog post that invites visitors to sign up for the webinar.
  • If you use a mini course to attract leads, you could offer your paid course as an upsell on the thank you page for students who sign up for your mini course.

Teachable’s recommended marketing funnel for online courses

marketing formula marketing formula

Marketing funnel example

  1. Write blog posts that are relevant to your course topic, that help you showcase your authority in the subject, and that provide value to people who read it.
  2. Share your blog posts via social media or offer them to other people who have relevant audiences as guest posts.
  3. Create a simple lead magnet (worksheet, checklist, or ebook) or a mini course to capture leads.
  4. Add a call to action to your blog post inviting people to download your lead magnet or sign up for your mini course.
  5. Invite new leads to purchase your course. You can do this either on the thank you page after they become leads, via email afterward, or both!
  6. (Optional) Add a product upsell to offer to your customer experience immediately after they purchase.
  7. Use email marketing to nurture your leads and customers and generate more sales.

Your marketing funnel doesn’t have to be complicated. Follow these steps and share with us your experience.

What are other types of marketing funnel tactics?

There’s more to marketing funnels than you may have thought.

B2B marketing funnel

If you’re marketing to other businesses, then you’re doing what is called business-to-business marketing. This is sometimes also called B2B marketing.

Multi funnel marketing

There’s also multi-funnel marketing. This is when you’ve got multiple funnels for marketing going on at once. Think of it as looking in at a different stage of the marking funnel at different times.