4 Stages to Optimize Your Conversion Funnel

Businesses sometimes forget there are four stages in the conversion funnel. They focus all their attention on attracting new potential customers or closing sales but forget the other two stages. You’ll optimize your conversion funnel by adopting a more balanced focus on all four stages and crafting marketing efforts appropriate to each stage.

Let’s examine how to optimize your conversion funnel at each stage.

optimize your conversion funnelOptimize your conversion funnel

First, note that the old image of conversion as a funnel has some value, although the conversion funnel likely looks more cyclical, like the image above, rather than linear, as depicted using the traditional funnel metaphor. Certainly, the notion of a funnel has some value.

  1. The number of consumers who convert out of the funnel is a function of the number of consumers who flow in at the top—the awareness stage.
  2. You lose prospective buyers as they move toward conversion. Hence, you need a large number of prospects to enter the process if you want a significant number to flow out of the bottom.

However, the cyclical version I created and shared earlier has some significant advantages, as well.

  1. The conversion process proceeds in a non-linear fashion. For instance, awareness builds over time, with consumers learning more about the brand (both positive and negative) as they’re exposed to advertising, social media mentions or images of the brand, news accounts, and word-of-mouth. These elements begin the process of building attitudes about the brand that influence individuals’ consumption decisions. Those attitudes undergo subtle changes as new information comes in.
  2. A consumer who originally rejected the brand as unsuitable might change their mind if properly motivated (e.g., a sale or favorable recommendation). They might pick up the conversion process where they left off or at any other point along the process.
  3. Conversion isn’t the end of the process, as companies hope to sell more products to individuals after an initial purchase.
  4. Beyond a purchase, brands hope that consumers will impact the attitudes of others by recommending the brand, as reflected by the hearts embedded in the model.

Whether you prefer the funnel or the cyclical version of the conversion process, it’s undeniable that the four stages exist and it’s your job, as the marketer, to optimize your conversion funnel by seamlessly seeding consumers at the first stage and moving them efficiently through the later stages in the process. Hopefully, you’ll generate loyalty, positive recommendations (including reviews and other endorsements), and additional sales throughout your efforts. Below, you can see some ways to calculate customer lifetime value (CLV), which is an important metric to optimize as you move forward.

customer lifetime value
Image courtesy of Clever Tap

The four stages of the conversion process


The old saying, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door,” ignores the problem of TELLING the world you have a mousetrap and convincing them that it’s indeed better. That’s a fundamental goal of marketing

You start conversion by creating awareness for your brand and its products while building a positive brand image and a reputation for quality, social responsibility, and trust. Critically, the people you want to reach are in your target market (or fit your market personas). Just reaching a large audience isn’t going to help if you’re not reaching your target market.

How do you create awareness?

Obviously, the first step is to identify your target market and and then determine where to reach them with your message.

Next, you need to develop a message that resonates with them. Remember, consumers (whether end-users or businesses) buy solutions, not products. In building your message, consider the following:

  • What problems does your product solve?
  • What are the main pain points for your target market?
  • How does your target market frame its problem? Use words that resonate with your target market.
  • Can you choose images that resonate with your market? I once heard research showing that a tiny piece of a license plate affixed to a car was subtle enough that sales of that car did significantly better in the country associated with the license plate than two similar countries where the car ad showed. Importantly, language was adapted for each country and the remainder of the image could easily reflect any of the three countries.

Only then are you ready to determine your tactics for creating awareness.

In the old days, traditional media were your only option — TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and billboards. Today, digital media offers new alternatives. As a digital marketer, I’ll focus on those strategies today.

owned, earned, and paid media
Image courtesy of LinkedIn

Building awareness in the digital age

You need to craft content on your blog and social networks to create awareness through owned, paid, and earned media.

Content is the new SEO, so you need to produce valuable content consistently to create awareness and entice visitors to explore your offerings further. Using keywords embedded within that content builds organic traffic to your site. Potential customers use these keywords to search for products like yours.

Titan Growth makes a good point about owned media in a recent post introducing the new newsletter offering. Owning media makes a lot of sense in a world where changes in social media platforms can wipe out all your hard work with a change in policy.

Another consideration in crafting content to optimize your conversion funnel is the amount of noise on most online platforms. According to a new study, we may already be at a point of diminishing returns where new content is concerned. Last year, the average brand created 2000 pieces of content, a 35% increase over the previous year. This explosion of new content puts additional pressure on brands in their efforts to attract visitors. That’s especially true in social media, where algorithms have mostly wiped out organic reach.

Don’t be discouraged, however. Good content supported by a good marketing strategy will always win out to bring awareness to your brand.


Only a small portion of the prospects who are aware of your brand will consider purchasing it.

Here’s what’s involved in making it through the consideration stage:

  • remember the brand and accurately recall its attributes
  • the product meets buyer requirements
  • the consumer has a favorable impression of the brand
  • the relative performance of the brand on key decision variables
  • timing

Remember and recall.

There are several complex learning theories that determine whether the people you reach with your message will ever remember it and whether they’ll be able to recall it when it comes time to buy.

I once asked folks to tell me about a recent advertisement they’d seen. It was a mess. They did a great job of remembering the images but often confused the brand sponsoring the ad with a competitor (or even a brand in a totally different industry) and mixed up key attributes with other advertisements.

It makes sense. We’re not really paying attention to advertising. Online we may not even see the ad, even though it’s on the screen.

Meets requirements

Price isn’t the only requirement—maybe not even the most important one—for consumers. Businesses are often even less sensitive to price, as time and quality have a huge impact on their operations.

  • Is it the right color? Right size?
  • Available nearby? Available when I need it?
  • Are my friends using it? What will they think about me if I buy it?
  • Will it last a long time?

All this makes a big difference in the consideration phase

Favorable impressions

Consumers want brands that have a good reputation, are socially responsible, and are good corporate citizens. All these contribute to a favorable impression of the brand.

corporate social responsibility
Image courtesy of Customer Insight Group

Relative performance

How does your brand compare to your competitors?

Where does your brand excel over your competition?


Timing involves both the availability of your brand when the customer needs it as well as the time involved in acquiring your brand and setting it up.

How do you survive the consideration stage?

Some consider the consideration stage the most important part of the conversion funnel, so optimization is critical for success. And that translates to analytics.

Know your target market, what matters to them, what their problems look like, how they view your brand when they might see your message, what message resonates with them … Google Analytics is a great place to start in exploring how visitors move through your website, what attracts them (or repels them), and which versions of landing pages (A/B testing is critical) result in a smooth transition to the next step in the conversion process. But you’ll need some more sleuthing to really understand what’s important at the consideration stage by monitoring what folks say on social platforms about your brand as well as those of your competition.

Once you have a good understanding of your market, create landing pages, CTA (call to action) buttons, and contact forms so you can provide information appropriate to ease prospects through the consideration stage. You may also want to qualify prospects (need, money, authority, desire) to determine the best way to approach each prospect.


Consumers may intend to purchase your brand, but various factors conspire to interfere. Some researchers believe that only about a third of intentions actually result in conversion due to interference.

Here are examples of those pesky factors:

  • time as in “I don’t have time to do X”
  • energy level
  • complexity of task
  • money
  • recall

How to survive the intention stage

It’s truly a shame when you get a prospect all the way to the intention phase and they drop out. After all your hard work (and money), you’re left with nothing to show for it — although you can recover from a disconnect at the intention stage by revitalizing the intention. 

Optimize your conversion funnel at the intention stage by removing obstacles.

Easier said than done. Here are some suggestions:

Removing a single click from your order process (aka Amazon) improves conversion by a huge factor. An even bigger factor is making navigating your site easy. Don’t make visitors hunt for your buy button — this isn’t Easter, and they’re not eggs.

Offer purchase options. Like most folks, I don’t sit with my AMEX card on my lap,, nor do I have all the numbers memorized. If I leave your site with the intention of buying later when I’m near my card, you’ve likely lost a sale. Offer PayPal or some other electronic device I don’t need to look up—plus, I feel safer because they’ll take care of me if you try to rip me off.

For high-priced products, integrate payment options into your offer, including credit.

People forget their intentions, especially if they have to go to the store to buy your product rather than simply buying it online. Use remarketing if you’re doing PPC; get them to sign up for your list or join your social network if you’re not. Offer coupons as inducements. This allows you a second chance (and a third and a fourth) to close the deal once folks show interest in buying your product.



But that’s not the end. It’s just the beginning. As you can see in this image from Google Analytics, various factors interfere and cause you to lose a sale even once a consumer adds it to their shopping cart. To optimize your conversion funnel, you must explore WHY consumers dropped out during the checkout process and find ways to keep them until the purchase is done. Streamline the process by:

  • reducing the number of clicks necessary for conversion
  • don’t hide pricing (including shipping costs)
  • try to keep efforts at upselling to a minimum
  • be upfront in terms of availability and shipping time rather than save it for at later stage in the conversion

assessing digital marketing

Sell again (loyalty)

The sale is just the start of your relationship with the customer. Why? Because it’s 5X cheaper to keep a customer than replace them.

Customers often buy items that are more related to your product. Keep open lines of communication to sell them more products or more of the same product. Add them to a mailing list to keep your brand top-of-mind when it comes to buying more or similar products in the future.

Referrals (word of mouth)

Customers are your best salespeople.

Ensuring customer satisfaction (and hopefully delight) doesn’t necessarily translate into referrals. Sometimes, your customers need a little help to recommend your brand. Activities like contests, especially those aiming at consumer-generated content, are great tools for recommending your brand to other prospects.


Evangelists go beyond simply recommending your brand.

They advocate for it when others are skeptical or may criticize your brand. They answer questions and solve customer complaints voiced on social networks or in person. Evangelists are the best thing going for your brand so don’t stop at hoping. Proactively build a group of evangelists.

Examples include the Harley HOGs (Harley Owners Group). Harley sponsors gatherings of HOGs so evangelists meet each other and indoctrinate others to the culture of Harley. It’s an incredibly effective tool to market Harley products.

Whoa. Don’t stop there.

The funnel isn’t just a funnel. It’s a cycle, as I argued above. Prospects flow through the funnel, but they also fall out at various points. I’ve discussed strategies for reducing the fallout and moving prospects back into the funnel — optimizing your conversion funnel. A good mailing list is your best solution to the cyclical nature of the buying process. By adding names to your mailing list (a small ask), you have a great lead generation program to move people back into the conversion process. As you can see below, email marketing offers the highest ROI of all marketing strategies.

email deliverability
Image courtesy of Maven Marketing Lab

I’ve also discussed how folks who flow through the bottom of your funnel can both flow to the top again — or into the middle — and how they can help fill your funnel.

So, think of this as an ongoing process to manage your funnel across different contexts and buying motives.

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