Conversion Funnel 101: How to Uncover and Optimize Your Customer Journey

Katey Ferenzi

April 15, 2015

Don’t be intimidated by the words “conversion funnel.” If you’re selling a product or service online, you already have a conversion funnel, and that’s a good thing. Now, you just need to optimize that funnel for maximum results.

Not sure where to start? Don’t panic. In this post, we’ll walk you through how to attract more shoppers to your conversion funnel, how to better optimize that funnel to boost your bottom line and what to do with those potential shoppers who didn’t convert along the way –– hint: they are ideal targets for your next marketing or advertising campaign.

Disclaimer: Building an effective conversion funnel and converting customers will not happen overnight. It’s something you’ll work to analyze and fine-tune for the lifetime of your online business.

What is a Conversion Funnel?

“Conversion funnel” (also known as “sales funnel”) is a term that helps you to visualize and understand the flow through which a potential customer lands on your site and then takes a desired action (i.e. converts). This process if often described as a funnel because, as a marketer, you are guiding the customer toward your conversion point.

However, unlike a traditional funnel, you don’t just pour people into it. Yes, you do your best to attract shoppers to the funnel, but once they arrive, you need to pull people through your funnel and guide them to the next desired action. In general, a customer should never feel closed in to a page (i.e. they need to have options) nor should they be confused about the next step to take (i.e. all options need to be visible, available and functional).

Conversion rate optimization can occur at every stage in the funnel to improve the number of people you drive towards the most important action. To do this effectively, you need to think about the user experience at each stage — what they want, and how you can give it to them.

Now, before we dive in, know that there are a multitude of purchase funnels out there. They range from super simplified to insanely complex.

conversion funnel

Simple example of a conversion funnel.

conversion rate

Complex version of a conversion funnel (and this isn’t even the entire funnel!).

You can dive in and get extremely granular with your conversion funnel analysis over time.

In fact, the more details you include in your sales funnel, the better. This helps to improve the customer’s experience throughout the funnel –– and details help to customize it so that it doesn’t feel like a funnel at all –– as well as increase your ability to find lookalike customers you know convert well on your site. The latter part of this equation is what will scale your business. That said, optimizing your conversion funnel for success is a two-fold solution, which is why it is incredibly important and invaluable.

For now though, let’s start with a happy medium and create a conversion funnel that works for you.

conversion funnel analysis

The Five (Main) Elements of a Conversion Funnel

For the example funnel we’ve chosen, we’ve included five main elements. Since this is such a highly visual concept, I’ve included a food analogy to keep it interesting and help you envision how you want to capture and pull you your customers.

1) Awareness

This phase of the funnel is where you’re working on attracting potential shoppers to your site.

  • Analogy: This phase is similar to when a delectable smell wafting from the kitchen catches your attention.
  • Potential Action(s): Your action here is to take a look at how you attracted these shoppers (social media, search results, PPC, your blog, etc.). Lead gen can include inbound marketing, outbound efforts, referrals — every possible way someone can become aware of your brand, product, and offerings.You can find this information in your online store’s analytics or Google Analytics. Checkout click-through-rates and other awareness metrics to understand what words, thoughts, and messages are resonating with your audience.Then, make sure you’re targeting the right audience. If you’re attracting the wrong type of shoppers, then you’re wasting time, marketing dollars and impacting your store’s overall conversion rate. Think it through here: would you bake chocolate chip cookies for someone who doesn’t like chocolate?

2) Interest

During this phase of the conversion funnel, you’re working to pique shoppers’ interest in your product or service.

  • Analogy: This phase is much like when you peek your head around the corner to find a fresh, molten tray of brownies cooling on the counter.
  • Potential Actions(s): Your website and content are the more powerful pieces for this phase.  You want to form a closer relationship with customers in the interest phase, and a prime way to do this is by capturing their email. Opt-in forms and newsletters are great ways to go about this.To successfully increase your opt-in rate, focus your energy on polishing attention-grabbing aspects like headlines, carousel images and banners. Write compelling copy and have a well-executed layout for entry points like including blog posts, your site homepage and product pages. First impressions matter, so be sure the layout, copy and images all make sense and look amazing to keep pulling customers down your marketing funnel.

3) Desire

In this phase, you want to make the potential customers really want what you’re offering.

  • Analogy: Your goal for this phase is to give your shoppers the same feeling you get when your mom tells you those brownies have a gooey, warm center and dark, chocolate chunks. You can’t not have one, and it’s likely you’ve completely forgotten what you were doing before the smell hit your nose.
  • Potential Action(s): Build on the interest phase now that you have a shopper’s attention. Use higher-level, more attention-grabbing elements that focus on the details. A logical place to start is by providing great product photos, tantalizing product descriptions, great product options and vivid product videos. As you make sales, work on gaining some great product reviews as well. This is the consideration phase for a customer and you want to provide them all the necessary information to help them make an informed and smart decision (i.e. buying from you!).
  • Extra Actions: Beyond your product pages, think about crafting supporting content including a mission statement, blog posts for your business, a competitive shipping and returns policy, great promotional offerings, anything that will drive home that they not only need your product or service, but they need it from you!

4) Conversion

This phase is when shoppers take your desired action. Although this desired action could be signing up for your newsletter, we’re focusing on guiding shoppers to convert into customers.

  • Analogy: This phase is the equivalent of you face planting into the tray of brownies and showing no shame.
  • Possible Action(s): Really focus on your product pages here to ensure you’re removing friction and doing all you can to encourage shoppers to place items in their cart. From there, examine your checkout flow by including relevant information and answering common questions along the way. Improving your checkout to reduce cart abandonment rates is a no brainer here, and you’ll find simple checkout adjustments can make all the difference.

5) Re-Engage

This is the step in most conversion funnels that is missing, but that is extremely important for ecommerce businesses. After someone has taken a desired action and converted on your website, you’ll want to be sure to pull these highly targeted customers back in the funnel and encourage them to become repeat buyers. Retention is a crucial aspect of growing an online store because you’re generating revenue from customers you a) don’t need to pay to acquire, and b) have already demonstrated huge interest in your brand.

  • Analogy: As you walk out of the kitchen and try to compose yourself, your mom tells you there is vanilla ice-cream. You turn right back around for another go at the whole process.
  • Possible Action(s): Consider one or more of the following to encourage repeat customers and purchases. Inviting them to sign up for your social media channels or email newsletter so you may market to them later. Send them a coupon or promotion via email. Include marketing or loyalty materials in their shipment to encourage them to come back and make sure they understand how much you value their business. Expand your product line or services to offer something new to bring their business back.
  • Keep in mind: Your options are endless here. Do, however, avoid bombarding your customers with promotions and communication. Instead, strive for an assortment of these tactics over time.

As you can see, there are many things you can do that are small or inexpensive to help streamline your conversion funnel. Also, know that the smallest changes can make the world of difference and optimizing for mobile is not only important, it’s essential to ecommerce success.

Always think in terms of your audience: what does the customer journey look like for them, and how you can provide the information that will ease their concerns and excite them about your products? From there, you can see a significant decline in CAC and an increase in LTV.