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What's a marketing funnel and how to use it to optimize your website conversions

• Written by Hricha Shandily
Marketing funnel optimization example

Funnels have been around ever since digital marketing wasn’t even a thing. Earlier developed as a technique for door-to-door salespersons to describe their product, it evolved to become many things, and even changed shapes in response to the evolving customer journeys.

Funnels are actually present in a business by default –– whether you have started engineering them and tracking them yet or not –– because a funnel is nothing but a path customers take to find you and eventually convert.

To put into perspective, many prospective customers find you online through your campaigns, socials, ads, or content assets. Then they could go on to sign up for a newsletter, eventually signing up for your product and later becoming a paid user. If such paths were to be mapped, you would have made yourself a visual representation of the buyer journey –– a funnel.

A modern online marketing funnel is a simplified framework of understanding and/or defining the paths customers take from learning about a brand to becoming paid customers (sometimes, and ideally, even further to becoming evangelists).

Although modern funnels are not limited to only paving the path for paying customers. They can be anything you need them to be on the way. You can track every goal/event you possibly and ethically can with a funnel –– newsletter subscriptions, free trial sign ups, plan upgrades, event registrations, form fills, link clicks, etc.

As you keep making and tracking funnels, you are able to identify patterns between web traffic and revenue, among many things. This helps you optimize your funnels, or do “funnel marketing” as they call it. As you keep optimizing the website, campaigns, buyer personas, consumer experiences, and other essential things, the better the funnel performs.

In a nutshell, funnel optimization is the constant process of engineering the closest path of similarity between a target audience’s preferred buying journey and the journey (funnel) a business would typically want them to take.

Because funnels come with a lot of nuances, and are non-linear and non-time-bound in nature, every business/marketing needs to find its own unique funnels.

  1. How to build a marketing funnel?
    1. Top-of-the-funnel
    2. Middle-of-the-funnel
    3. Bottom-of-the-funnel
    4. Some examples to get you started
    5. The funnel dilemma
  2. How to track marketing funnels?
  3. How to optimize marketing funnels?
    1. Set a purpose for each stage of the funnel
    2. Assign a strategy to each stage of the funnel
      1. TOFU Marketing
      2. MOFU Marketing
      3. BOFU Marketing
      4. Post-BOFU Marketing
    3. Understand what’s not working
    4. Keep refining your buyer personas
    5. Audit your marketing assets
    6. Other tips
  4. Conclusion

How to build a marketing funnel?

Understanding the anatomy of basic funnels can help with creating the one that suits you. There are a few basic frameworks like AIDA (Awareness-Interest-Desire-Action), or the “Curiosity-Enlightenment-Commitment” that you can get started with.

All of such frameworks essentially outline the same process:

  • Create brand/product awareness by inciting curiosity through helpful content and valuable campaigns.
  • Nurture prospective customers by educating deeper about the subject/solution in question and building relationships.
  • Close the deal, where specific offers may or may not play a role.

The most all-encompassing way to visualize any funnel is the classic three-step funnel:


TOFU is where prospects enter your funnel. It gets triggered with all the awareness and attention-earning initiatives you undertake like social media posts, search engine optimization, and content marketing.


Some percentage of people out of those entered in the TOFU continue down the funnel into the MOFU stage. Since the people at this stage are presumed to know at least something about the brand or product, they are essentially in the consideration stages and the focus shifts to “lead nurturing” and guiding them through decision-making processes.


At the BOFU, potential customers are ready to make a purchase decision, and are actively seeking information on pricing, features, and implementation. Marketers usually employ special offers, sales countdown, sales consultations, etc. to give those final pushes and ensure conversions.

Since not everyone who enters the funnel exits it, the funnel narrows towards the end, with some drop-offs at each stage.

You can use the TOFU-MOFU-BOFU as a basic funnel framework to adapt in your customers’ journey, and build your customized funnel –– whether that’s a core business funnel, or a different one that, let’s say, tracks newsletter sign ups on a particular landing page.

Start by plotting your users’ journey as much as you know and understand currently, and map it against this funnel’s framework. You’ll get a basic funnel ready for your marketing.

When mapping your funnel, it is best to use names that you use internally. For eg. visitor/lead/guest for the awareness stage, qualified lead for the nurturing stage, and subscribed/signed up for the final stage.

To make your funnel, you can get started with a spreadsheet, or create a flowchart in a design tool you prefer.

There are even funnel-specific tools you can easily find that let you create web pages, forms, email campaigns, etc. and model them all into a funnel-like flow for automatic tracking and optimization.

Some examples to get you started

As mentioned earlier, a funnel can track the path taken towards any small and big goal throughout your brand assets. Here are some examples to help you see what different funnels can be like.

  • Landing Page -> Product Page -> Add to Cart -> Checkout
  • Homepage -> Product Category Page -> Product Page -> Wishlist
  • Blog Post -> Related Content/Resource Page -> Lead Magnet/Opt-in Form -> Thank You Page
  • Social Media Ad -> Landing Page -> Lead Magnet/Opt-in Form -> Thank You Page
  • Email Newsletter -> Blog Post -> Feature Page -> Pricing Page
  • Free Trial Sign-up -> Onboarding Sequence -> Purchase Page
  • Event Registration Page -> Confirmation Page -> Follow-up Email Sequence
  • Webinar Registration Page -> Reminder Emails -> Live Webinar -> Follow-up Email Sequence
  • Contact Form Submission -> Follow-up Email Sequence -> Sales Call/Consultation
  • Product Demo Request -> Demo Confirmation Page -> Sales Follow-up

The funnel dilemma

The problem with a classic funnel-shaped visualization of customer journey is that it assumes an oversimplified, linear path. If you look closely, you’ll realize that most of the buyer journeys are too random, especially the more holistic and core ones.

An interested buyer may have entered the TOFU by learning about a brand or its solutions, but may end up taking months to make a buying decision. In those months, this buyer may not have interacted with the brand at all. Or may have been hanging out at their YouTube channel, which could be a step that was never even accounted for in the marketing funnel at all.

Moreover, many businesses might want to track the user journey beyond a goal completion as well. Like how many of the BOFU pass-outs become loyal customers to the product for at least six months, how many of them bring in referrals, how many of them upgrade, or how many take the upsells.

Therefore, it is important to consider all these factors and realize that while the TOFU-MOFU-BOFU funnel makes sense, it paints only part of the full picture that you should want to know. It’s best to visualize a so-called funnel as a bar graph or a flow chart instead, and not get hung up on the shape of a typical funnel.

This would give you a much more real view of how actual business and buyer journeys are intertwined, taking all parts of the potential customer touch points like brand marketing, customer success, sales, etc. into consideration. Here’s an example:

An example of a realistic user journey

But don’t get overwhelmed if you are still starting out. Start by identifying which goals are important for you to track, map out your existing customers’ journey as much as you know, start with a handful of basic funnels, analyze them regularly, connect the dots, improve the funnel further, while working out which strategies work best for each part of the funnel.

Eventually, you’ll find out how your buyers behave, how you can get them closer to your ideal funnel, and gradually, you’ll end up creating your own unique funnel which may not be funnel-shaped at all. But that is a good sign that you are getting closer to actual user journeys.

How to track marketing funnels?

The largest part of your funnel exists on your website, since that’s where maximum visitors come, and interact with assets like demo request forms, blog posts, sign up buttons, pricing page, subscription forms, landing pages, promos, various links, etc. All web analytics tools can come in handy to create and track funnels.

Web analytics tools can track all types of events on a website like pageviews, purchases, signups, button clicks, form submissions, etc. Some events are tracked by default, while others can be added with custom code snippets.

You can mark such events as goals, and simply weave those goals into specific funnels. This is a great way to visualize different funnel-flows, filtered by time periods, understanding drop-off rates at every stage, omitted stages if any, and seeing the conversion rate of every goal that has a funnel of its own.

This gives enough data to conduct qualitative analysis, understand buyer personas better, conduct A/B tests and other marketing experiments to optimize the funnel in question.

You can create your funnels in seconds in privacy-first and simple-to-use web analytics tools. The biggest advantage is that the data you can get with a privacy-centric tool like Plausible is more truthful because we don’t use ML to model presumed analytics to fill in data gaps that stem from cookie consent banner declines.

For eg. one of the funnel goals we track at Plausible is how many website visitors complete the entire sign up flow. This starts with clicking the “Start Free Trial” or “Get Started” button on the website and landing on the registration page, followed by submitting contact information, followed by activating the account with OTP verification, and finally adding the specific website’s URL that needs to be tracked.

You can see how this simple four-step funnel is visualized within the live Plausible dashboard, and that it has a final conversion rate of 26.23% for the last 30 days. It also shows the respective drop offs and conversion rates for each stage of the funnel on hovering.

Plausible registration completion funnel

We have been using this insight to optimize our sign up flow (funnel). Notice how the second stage of the funnel appears to be the most leaky one, presenting an important insight and opportunity that something needs to be fixed on the page that collects contact information.

There are other dedicated tools that not only help with tracking a funnel, but also natively building the associated web pages, email campaigns, forms, etc. with it. While they are convenient, you’ll need to put all your eggs in one basket as you will be building web pages, email campaigns, and doing analytics, etc. from the same platform. And most likely compromise the privacy of your customers as well. Research well and use them accordingly.

Tip: Don’t forget to assign monetary values to revenue-relevant goals, within the tool you are using.

No matter what you pick to build and analyze your funnels, our tip would be to maintain your personal spreadsheet on the side. That’s where you can sync goals and strategies with different funnels, conduct your qualitative analyses, maintain historical data, connect other marketing data points, get a comprehensive view and understanding of marketing, sales, and product strategies, and take sidenotes.

How to optimize marketing funnels?

Funnels are useless unless they are being constantly noticed, updated and optimized. It’s important to weed out ineffective funnels, experiment with new ones, improve the ones that are working, and build a holistic understanding of user journeys.

This can be done proactively and reactively, by employing the best possible strategies to optimize for an ideal funnel. And when you happen to see an under-performing or abnormally “leaky” funnel, because there are either too many drop-offs at a stage in the funnel or the conversion rate is below acceptable, it’s a useful sign in itself that tells where exactly you need to focus your optimization efforts.

Here are some ways to optimize for the most efficient funnels and maintain good conversion rates.

Set a purpose for each stage of the funnel

It helps to know what you want out of each stage of the funnel. The TOFU stage could be about increasing traffic to your homepage or your blog, even more specifically it could be about doubling the traffic in five months.

Similarly, the MOFU stage of a funnel could optimize for improving engagement rates such as time spent on a landing page, or likes, shares, and comments on social media. And the BOFU stage’s goal could be to maximize sign up rates for a free trial SaaS product.

Having this clarity helps in determining how successfully a particular funnel is performing.

Assign a strategy to each stage of the funnel

TOFU Marketing

Since the top stages of the funnel focus on filling their cup, it makes sense to create marketing strategies that have a larger and valuable appeal. This generally includes defining your target audience, and matching it with your brand awareness and inbound strategies.

Here are some typical TOFU marketing approaches to consider:

  • Draw an ideal customer profile, even if it happens to be a vague one for now. Understand their psychographics, demographics, and pain points to start creating relevant content for them.
  • Do some keyword research to understand what people are searching for on search engines related to your subject of relevance. Club this with a solid content plan.
  • Determine which form of content resonates best with your personas – video, podcast, long-form content, short-form content, or memes.
  • Collaborate with complementary brands to find exposure to newer and more audiences.
  • Find your voice on social media, and be consistent with it.
  • Try paid advertising, but don’t depend on it in the long-term since it is not efficient and sustainable in many cases. However, it works well for some exceptions like e-commerce brands.

MOFU Marketing

The middle stages of a funnel generally focus on nurturing trust and relationships with potential customers. More specific and solutions-oriented or technical content (highlighting specifications or features) and landing pages could work best here.

Here are some typical MOFU marketing approaches to consider:

  • Choose among formats like how-to guides, checklists, templates, research studies, product trials, e-books, webinars, etc. to create more focused and educational content.
  • Nurture relationships with marketing qualified leads through email campaigns (where you could even share the type of content chosen from the point above), and be sure to be consistent with your social media presence and content marketing efforts.
  • Do another round of keyword research but with long-tail variations to keep them relevant to more MOFU-type content.
  • Do some reputation management by showcasing encouraging reviews, and case studies.

BOFU Marketing

The bottom stages in a funnel are mostly about giving a final nudge to your leads.

Here are some typical BOFU marketing approaches to consider:

  • In a product-led GTM motion, optimize the free trials. In a sales-led GTM motion, optimize the demo-booking forms. In a content-led GTM motion, optimize the thought leadership content.
  • Create content or landing pages comparing features in your product with that of an alternative product.
  • Experiment with promotional offers, pricing models, and even payment options.
  • Include encouraging reviews and case studies throughout your website.
  • Take a peek at what works for your competitors and apply the learnings to your situation.
  • Create strong-worded and crystal clear, compelling calls to action.

Post-BOFU Marketing

Keep nurturing existing customers to maintain good retention and eventually create brand promoters. This is where customer success related content and initiatives are needed the most. This is also where you can experiment with upsell prompts, loyalty programs, building exclusive communities, personalizing emails on product tips, push notifications, giving out special discounts, and similar strategies.

Understand what’s not working

If you have a bad conversion rate, chances are that either you’re running after the suboptimal kind of audience, or your offering is not compelling enough. This means you need to put in more work to understand your ideal customers, their pain points and preferences, and/or create more valuable offerings –– whether that happens to be your content, pricing, or the product itself.

Similarly, if you have high churn rates, you’ll need to do an introspection on the quality of the product, pricing, user-friendliness, customer service, competitor offerings, and maybe even industry trends.

Having this clarity will save you huge amounts of time and cost and prevent you from beating around the bush.

Keep refining your buyer personas

Understanding who your ideal consumer or customer is, and using the language and keywords that resonate with them, the solutions that matter to them, and brand values that they are keen about, is important to even begin to understand who a funnel is being designed for.

Find relevant information for personas through customer service and sales interactions, social listening, surveys, observing online behaviors, hypothesizing, and of course the funnels.

Audit your marketing assets

Auditing different elements of marketing is a great exercise to ensure high quality levels and maintaining relevance to evolving buyer personas and product. Start with your website by auditing your headings, copy text, calls to action, social proof, visual elements, site structure, design, security measures, check out process, load speeds, etc.

Similarly audit and experiment with different email flows, subject lines, advertising copies, social media captions, etc.

Other tips

  • When analyzing a funnel, pay special attention to the steps with the most abandonment rates. They are the biggest red flags and hence the biggest opportunities.
  • Skip irrelevant parts when making or optimizing a funnel. For eg. You may not need to include your team’s About page within a Conversion Funnel.
  • Don’t add too many steps in the funnel.
  • Focus efforts on customer-centric strategies and not sales-centric, even if that is the funnel’s goal.
  • Create a feedback loop with your audiences to understand their wants, preferences, psychology, likes, dislikes, etc. This will come in handy while doing the qualitative analysis.
  • Keep your CTAs action-oriented and strong-worded, unless that goes against your brand values.
  • Follow up with leads, but don’t be spammy.
  • If you have limited budgets, prioritize the most impactful and efficient channels and initiatives.
  • Lastly, understand that many of these strategies span across different stages of the funnel and are not defined with clear boundaries. A buyer can move around the funnel in multiple ways, repeating their engagement with the same channels and strategies over and over again, but the depth and purpose of these strategies change.


Funnels come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. In every case, funnels tell an important story –– of an interested audience, a thriving or failing business, or a potentially viral piece of content. A funnel is a reflection of a business’ health, and can uncover both the types of stupidly easy insights and the complex ones, that just shouldn’t be missed.

Written by Hricha Shandily

Hi! We are Uku and Marko. We're building a lightweight, non-intrusive alternative to Google Analytics. You can read about our journey and what we've learnt along the way on this blog.