How to Build a Conversion Funnel that will Triple Your Profits

Written by Neil Patel on January 6, 2015

conversion funnel

Ever feel like you’re doing everything you can to improve your conversion rate, but people just aren’t buying? You’re following all the best practices, like having a single call-to-action and using enough whitespace.

You’ve got your content broken down into relevant, scannable areas and your offer is irresistible. Your form only asks for the bare necessities, yet you’re still not seeing the results you want.

Don’t worry, you’ve done everything right…

Setup-wise, that is. But there’s more to conversion optimization than just page layout, form design and copywriting. In fact, very few companies even do this one thing, let alone do it right.

That one thing is: lead nurturing.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Neil, I already do lead generation! That’s not my problem! They’re not clicking! They’re not converting!”

But therein lies your problem. Your customers aren’t some mass-produced assembly line commodity, and that’s exactly how “generation” approaches them.

If I were treated like some cookie-cutter-stamped thing instead of a person, I wouldn’t be giving you my business either.

Download this step by step worksheet to create your own conversion funnel.

Why Lead Nurturing Matters

Let’s look at where customers are coming from. No matter how they get to you, as many as 73% of leads are not even ready to be sold to. Even of the ones that are qualified, half of them aren’t ready to buy. That puts the odds against you right out of the gate.

But every cloud has a silver lining…

Companies who properly nurture their leads see a 450% increase in qualified prospects. And those who take the time to nurture and grow those customer relationships, see 50% more sales at a 33% lower cost.

And remember what I said about the nearly 3/4ths of customers who weren’t ready to be sold to, and the 50% that weren’t ready to buy? After nurturing those leads, 15-20% of them become customers. And they typically make 47% larger purchases than those who aren’t nurtured.

That’s a lot of numbers to be throwing around, but the core message is clear:

When people know you care about and anticipate their needs, they’ll reward you with their wallets.

So, how can you start anticipating what they want and delivering it before they even ask? The answer is: a conversion funnel.

What Exactly Is a Conversion Funnel?

A conversion funnel is the path a prospect takes through your site which ultimately results in a conversion. Because the amount of traffic (visitors) your website gets will likely be larger, with prospects dropping off at various points in your site, those that do convert will be a smaller percentage of the original group – thus the funnel shape.

Why do they drop off? There can be any number of reasons ranging from technical errors to disconnects between your ad and your landing page, and so on.

As you build your conversion funnel, you will learn how to identify and fix these “leaks” so that more and more of your visitors become loyal customers.

Now, you may have seen examples of conversion funnels before that look something like this:


Essentially, traditional funnels are generally a variation on AIDA (attraction, interest, desire, action) — but conversion funnels are not quite that simple and straightforward. Prospects shouldn’t be treated like cattle — they’re not designed to be wrangled or sorted.

A conversion funnel is less exclusive and places more emphasis on customer behaviors, nurturing and retention at each step of the process.

More questions are asked at each funnel level:

  • How do we make the customer more aware of our brand?
  • How do we entice them with an irresistible offer?
  • Why would they not act and what can we do to fix it?
  • How can we recognize and anticipate their needs

A conversion funnel is more open-ended, and understands that the true art of converting doesn’t just end at checkout:


A conversion funnel is a continuous mission of getting, keeping and growing your customer base while using technology and other available tools to meet their needs more efficiently. It’s lead nurturing, behavioral targeting, retention and referrals all rolled into one.

Sounds overwhelming? It’s not, when you break it down piece by piece. Let’s take a look at each element on its own and learn how to implement it:

Step 1: Attracting Customers

When it comes to getting people to want to learn more – is quantity more important than quality? Oftentimes, the goal is to “fill the funnel as quickly as possible” even if the leads aren’t exactly high quality.

I disagree.

You’ll spend more time filtering out the inactives and uninterested people when you could be spending your valuable time creating offers, content and solutions that truly resonate with people at each stage of the buying process.

To do that, it’s vital to know what your audience wants.

  • What are your competitors doing?
  • What needs are being unmet?
  • Where can you outperform them?
  • Is there area you can capitalize on and dominate?

There may be several ideas here — write them all down.

At this stage, we’re looking at how your solution benefits people from multiple angles. Every potential customer is at a different point in the funnel, and having a multi-pronged attraction phase will help you generate more targeted, high quality “hot” leads than just casting out your digital net and hoping for a bite.

Here’s an example of a landing page for a school specializing in nutritional courses.


Looking at this page, you can see that it’s a typical lead generation form – asking a lot of questions but giving little value in return. Consider this page from a student’s point of view:

  • How do I talk to someone if I have questions?
  • Where might I find the course catalog?
  • How much does it typically cost to take a course? Is financial aid available?
  • What do other students say about the courses?

There’s just no substance here to make a prospect want to take action. “The world’s largest nutrition school” means nothing to a potential student. “We’ve helped over X students make a difference in global nutritional awareness” is much more meaningful.

You’ve got the numbers to back up the statement, plus the emotional appeal of making a difference. Add in some social proof and you’ve got a compelling message that gets right to the point.

What’s more, you need to show them how you’ll deliver value, not just tell them. And it needs to be something they’d value, not something you think is valuable.

Here’s another example of a website from a printing company specializing in architectural blacklines. This is directly from their services page:


That’s a lot of equipment, and a lot of information required to be able to send them files. Why not build a viable mailing list and nurture potential customers at the same time?

For instance, in exchange for a little bit of info, architectural firms could receive a free checklist on how to get CAD plotfiles into print-ready shape, or a free report on why blueprints are costing them money (and how blacklines are more durable, accurate, etc.)

But even once the customer has clicked the ad or website link, there’s still no guarantee that they’ll find your offer enticing or worth acting on – which is why you need:

Step 2: Encouraging Action

Once they’ve landed on your page (you do have a set of landing pages for your campaign, don’t you?), it’s incredibly tempting to let your copy and your design do all the heavy lifting. But you can do even more to compel that action – by creating an emotional investment in your prospect.

How do you create that connection?

The answer isn’t to be found as a one-size-fits-all campaign, but rather a series of “quick wins” with the customer.

For example, the CEO of Zappos remarks that from the customer’s very first call to them, they’ve created a touch point that will make-or-break that customer’s impression of Zappos from that point forward.

As everyone knows, Zappos’ customer service is legendary because they’re emotionally invested in their customer’s satisfaction. This call-center touch point is a “quick win”.

Walgreens Pharmacy is another example. They spend a great deal of their time simply listening to their customers and not guessing as to what they might want. When the commute home became too hectic and time-consuming, Walgreens was one of the first to offer drive-through prescription pickups.

Recently, with the consumer push toward embracing a healthy lifestyle, Walgreens has purged its shelves of tobacco products.

When their non-English-speaking customers had trouble reading their prescription pamphlets, Walgreens had them printed in 14 different languages.

When older patrons complained of not being able to read labels, Walgreens instituted larger print versions. In all of these cases, they listened and answered instead of guessing and hoping for the best.

The Customer Disconnect

Another common problem that happens all too often is the disconnect. You click an ad or a link on a page expecting one thing, and getting something totally different — the exact opposite of a quick win.

Here’s an example from a finance site:

So we’ve established that the first step to take should be to set up a Roth IRA. Clicking that link should take me to steps on how to do so, but instead I see this:


See the disconnect? When a customer expects one thing but is given something completely different, no matter how good that “different” thing is, it can make for a sour impression.

Getting “quick wins” to guide customers through each step of your conversion funnel is all about encouraging customers to take one small step, whether it’s writing their first tweet or rebuilding their first small engine by taking it apart one piece at a time.

One of the best places to create an atmosphere that’s ripe for quick wins is your email list. Compared to your typical email list blast, nurtured emails get 4-10 times the response rate.

Marketing automation company Eloqua did a detailed study on how personalization can affect email open and click-through rates. These emails contained not just the prospect’s name, but their location and other features were used:


Some of the most popular marketing automation and mailing list services like Hubspot and Infusionsoft let you target customers based on actions they take (or don’t take) while helping them to sort and segment themselves by specifying what type of content they’re looking for.

In some cases, especially in the B2B world, some people are just too busy to bother with deciding what content they want — so they do nothing. Business executives receive an average of 120+ messages per day so yours needs to get their attention – and quick.

What would you do?

Here’s a perfect example. Look at Seamless, a company whose main customers are people that are so busy, they don’t have time to grab a bite to eat. They know this, and everything they do is geared toward the busy: from short, mobile-friendly messages to apologies for the interruption:


That email is just a little nudge to remind them that there’s a discount event going on tomorrow. That’s all. The follow up email looks like this:


Again, short, sweet and shareable.

As you can see, the key to encouraging action is to help your prospects help themselves. Good behavioral targeting and a keen understanding of what your “tribe” wants are crucial in this process. If you don’t know, sites like topical forums and Quora are brimming with these kinds of questions.

Just look at a sampling of questions from —


An example of Quora questions related to WordPress and blogging

And speaking of giving them what they want, that doesn’t mean you can sit back and let the system do all the work. No way.

You’ve got to create a content plan that anticipates, meets and exceeds their expectations — a tall order to fill by any standard.

So where do you start?

Step 3: Crafting a Content Plan

A content plan isn’t just about writing what you “think” will resonate with your audience – but knowing precisely what they want at every stage in the funnel. You’ve got a lot of layers involved and some of them might even overlap, so it’s vital to understanding exactly where all your readers are at each stage of the process.

Let’s walk through an example together. Say you run a local computer repair service. You want to create content that addresses the needs of prospects at every stage in your conversion funnel.

So for those in the Acquire stage of the funnel, you’d want to use your local media outlets and social media as well as content on your blog to address some of their most common computer concerns and perhaps even a how-to or two.

At this point, it’s all about getting people familiar with your service, convincing them of your expertise and encouraging them to trust you with their valuable data.

Activating customers would primarily be urgency based, as in “my PC won’t turn on.” “I keep getting the blue screen of death!” and “my hard drive is making a strange crunching noise”. They need help now and are willing to do just about anything to get out of a painful digital situation.

Of course, once the problem is solved, you fear you might never hear from them again, as is so often the case with service-based offers.

This is where things like outreach programs (perhaps an “introduction to basic PC backups” program at the local library) or contests and events (“share your worst computer horror story!”).

Loyalty programs are icing on the cake and a terrific foundation for repeat business and referrals in the service industry, while upgrades and new software make the perfect option for up-sells and cross-sells.

One of the most under-utilized and highly beneficial pages you can include is a “Start Here” guide for beginners. Referring back to our computer fixing example, does this through their 3-step Welcome guide:


Their visitors are going to range from 70 year old grandmas with their first computer to a frustrated mom of 4 whose son just downloaded a “game” that ended up being a virus. With just three easy steps, anyone can get free help using their computer, or direction when trying to rid it of spyware or other junk.

Notice how BleepingComputer has made each of the individual steps as easy to follow as possible.

So how can you create a welcoming area for first-time customers? First, make it abundantly clear exactly how using your site will benefit them, and what steps they should take first. For instance:

Hi and welcome to (Your Site Name). If you want to (what the customer wants) and get (more of what the customer wants), this is the best place to learn.

My/our goal is to (help you/show you/teach you, etc.) how to (benefit), whether it’s from (one method of getting that benefit) or by (second method of getting that benefit). To get started, just follow these simple steps…

See how you’ve taken the steps to instantly identify what they came there for, how you can deliver it, and which ways they can go about getting it?

After this is the perfect opportunity to tell them about your free, irresistible offer. The fact is that if someone has scrolled through the welcome guide to get to that point, chances are they’re at least somewhat open and receptive to what you want to share.

Then comes the part that so many people forget (or never have time for, because they’re stuck on the first three steps).

Step 4: What Happens Next?

Moving near the end of the funnel, you have all the marketing activities that end in -sell: cross-sell, up-sell and next-sell. But don’t forget the people part of the equation in your rush to sell, sell, sell.

If you want to build a conversion funnel that practically fills itself with referrals, you need to make your offer as enticing as possible to both the giver and receiver.

Dropbox has one of the best referral programs in the business, and it’s a major factor that contributed to their enviable growth. The key components here are two-fold:

  • You get something for referring a customer (in the case of Dropbox, free space)
  • Your referral gets something for nothing (more space in their account)

image12The more friends you invite that end up subscribing, the more space you get for your own account.

Here again, it’s not just about casting a wide net and seeing what you can catch. Referral programs, social loyalty programs, whatever you want to call them — they all have a specific set of steps toward the end goal.

Services like Ambassador and Referral Candy each have simple programs you can set up on your own rather quickly. The good news is that many of the steps to creating a rewarding referral system are the same as setting up a conversion funnel:

  1. Identify the market that would be best served by bringing you referrals. I don’t mean the market that would best serve you, but rather the ones that could benefit the most by sending potential clients your way.
  2. Let that market know what kind of customer you’re looking to attract. The last thing you want is to spend time chasing down prospects that aren’t the right fit. Remember the referral has to be just as beneficial to you as it is to the one doing the referring.
  3. Teach them how and why they should bring that referral to you. What will the person doing the referring get? What will the referral themselves get? How exactly should they refer you?Remember, you’re not the only one asking them for referrals, so taking the time to share what works best for you (and why it’s in their best interests) will help you stand out from the pack.
  4. Make your system rewarding. People and companies need motivation, not just education. Take the time to brainstorm the kind of rewards system that gives people more than enough reason to send qualified prospects your way. Money is a good motivator, but it’s not the only one.
  5. You’re banking on borrowed trust. Don’t ever forget that. Sometimes, a prospect’s perception of you is a direct correlation between how much they trust the person giving the referral – and they may trust that person wholeheartedly. If that’s the case, a great deal of that trust is in your hands. Use it wisely.
  6. Rinse and repeat. The system part of a good referral system is that you’re always working to convert prospects at various stages of the referral process. Even if they choose not to become customers at the point in time, there’s always the future.

You know your product or service like no one else, so you’re uniquely suited to offer advice and suggestions that will help the customer get more value out of your offer. Listen more than you speak.

Oftentimes, customers will share their frustrations, but in doing so, give you more details about how they’re actually using the product or service, which puts you in the perfect situation to create a more customized upsell wherein you both win.

Remember, you don’t have to follow some kind of pre-fab script here. Gauging the timing of when to present the up-sell or cross-sell, or possibly even skipping it completely, are all the hallmarks of a strong conversion funnel.

If you’re running into issues wherein the customer is getting cold feet because of pricing, then you haven’t demonstrated the value to them well enough. You know your product or service has value — it’s reflecting that and integrating it into the customer’s life or business that makes them see that value as well.

Once you’ve got a solid referral system in place, it’s time to test.

Step 5: Testing Your Funnel

So many times, conversion optimization experts will place the majority of their focus at the top of the funnel — the acquisition part, with very little concentration on the bottom of the funnel, where the transaction happens.

What’s more, you likely have many pages – all clamoring for results, and a limited budget with which to test.

To figure out which pages to test first, look at:

  • Prioritization – Do you prop up your worst performing pages or surge full speed ahead with your best performers? Most experts would say the former, but I often focus on the latter.Let’s face it, there are any number of reasons why your worst performing pages are your worst performers. It could be:
    • poor quality referral traffic
    • a disconnect between what your ad promises and what your page delivers
    • technical issues
    • a less-than-stellar offer, etc.

You’ll make more profits and delight more customers by turbo-charging those best performing pages.

  • Ease of Implementation – How easy is it for you to implement this new conversion funnel on your existing landing pages? Are all the steps in place? If it’s going to be overly time consuming or technically challenging, move on.
  • Conversion Value – This ties in with prioritization. What is the conversion value of these customers? How targeted are they? How aware are they of your brand and your universal selling proposition? In other words, how likely are they to convert?

Once you’ve narrowed down precisely which pages would benefit most from your new funnel, it’s time to put it in action and track the results.

Setting Up Google Analytics (The Free Way)

The first, and most common way to start testing your new funnel is through the creation of conversion goals.

These systems track a customer from the moment they land on a page and document where they go (or where they leave) and how many of them ultimately converted.

The most common way to do this is through Google Analytics. It’s free and can be set up easily on your site whether you’re using plain HTML or a third-party content management system like WordPress.

Google Analytics tracks visitors on your site and lets you know a variety of details about them including how long they stayed, where they came from, and even what browser or system they’re using.

First, you’ll need to login to to either create or login to your account. Each website you manage is known as a “property”.

Once you add your website, you’ll need to click on the Admin link to find the relevant tracking code.

Copy and paste this code in its entirety on all the pages you want to track. You can go back to your analytics dashboard to determine that the tracking is properly installed. Now, it’s time to create conversion goals.

Creating Conversion Goals in Google Analytics

On the left side of your dashboard is a section called Conversions, which, when clicked, will open up a sub-menu:


Conversions is located at the very bottom of the Analytics dashboard

Now, there are four different types of conversion goals you can track: Destination, Duration, Pages/Screens per session and Event.

image11You can either create your own, or download some that other users have created, and then customize them for your unique needs:


Examples of conversion goals that you can import

If you want to create your own, simply click New Goal, give it a name, and choose the type of goal you want.


Then, fill in the details. For example, if you wanted users to register on your site, and wanted the registration success page to be considered as the “goal”, you’d enter its URL here like so:


Now that you’ve created a goal, it’s time to create the funnel to support that goal. Turn the Funnel on:


Now you’ll see that you can add the individual funnel steps here. Below is an example from Shopify, on how a customer might browse and order shoes:


Going through the individual funnel steps

If you have previously created and added properties to your Google Analytics account, you can choose Verify this Goal to see how they would have converted using your previously-collected data from the prior week.

Then, simply choose Create Goal to finish. Your newly-created goal will become a part of your Google Analytics report, so you can see how different factors affect your conversion rate, such as time of day, location and more.

Setting Up a Goals with Optimizely

Optimizely is one of the most popular conversion tracking and management systems with free and paid options available to suit your business needs.

To get started, log into your Optimizely account and go to the Editor. Next to the start/pause experiment button is an icon of a flag with a checkmark. This allows you to add new goals to your conversion experiments.


You can edit a goal, remove it from that experiment, or remove it from all experiments that include it. Let’s create a completely new goal:


Creating a new goal with Optimizely

You can save a great deal of time by sharing goals between experiments, rather than having to re-create them each time.

If you want to add a previously-created goal, simply click Add a Saved Goal. Then just move your mouse over the existing goal you want to add to your new goal, and press Add. If you’d like to create a completely new goal from scratch, you’ll just need to choose the type of goal you want to add.


Like Google, Optimizely has several different types of goals you can track:

Pageview Goals – Track the number of times a certain page was seen


Click Event Goals – If it can be clicked, it can be tracked. This type of goal triggers when someone presses their mouse button, so all clicks around the item you want to track (like the search button below) will be counted.


Custom Goals – Track how many times a certain item was clicked. This is not for URLs, but rather things that would ordinarily be difficult to track, such as AJAX forms or specialized scripts.


You can also create revenue goals by assigning a monetary value to an element or page, as well as engagement goals, which is the default.

I don’t recommend setting up engagement goals, because it’s such a broad definition — any click, submission, highlighting of text, etc. can be counted as “engagement” and is not a reliable metric to base things on.

Bringing It All Together

Now that you’ve identified the individual goals, it’s time to string them together into a conversion funnel. Optimizely calls this multi-page experiments.

To do this, first choose a multi-page experiment. You do this from the Editor by going to Options > Experiment Type


Now, much in the same way as you added individual steps to your goals before, you’ll add individual pages to your funnel. Just click the Add Page link at the top. You’ll then be presented with this page:


Now, you’ll need to create the variations you want to test (the multi part of multi-page testing). In this example, Crate&Barrell wanted to test which specific holiday message would encourage more sales:


Which message would resonate more with customers?


Once the pages are defined, it’s time to create a seamless experience across all of them. So users who saw the original home page would continue to see original versions of the pages across their time on the site, and users who saw the variation would continue to see variation versions.

To do this, go to Options > URL Targeting and you’ll see the options available. You’ll want to specify targeting conditions for each page here:


For more details on URL targeting and specifics with Optimizely, please see their help page.

So I’ve Got My Funnel Set Up and Tracking Data, Now What?

Even after you’ve gathered the data, you’re still not done. According to a study from MarketingSherpa, expanding on a successful split test is not a strength of many companies.
Here’s what they do after a successful test:


It’s good that most companies are using tracking metrics, but look at the poor numbers on reviewing tests, deciding on research questions and looking at opportunities for future optimization. These are the things you need to be looking at and formulating in order to get measurable results that you can act on.

Getting results without a concrete plan is like running headlong into a brick wall without realizing that you could’ve swerved to avoid it!

And even after you’ve formulated, tested, analyzed and decided, there’s still the issue of…

Step 6: The Conversation After the Conversion

Recall that a conversion is simply one piece in a very large customer relationship-building and experience-generating puzzle. It is not the be-all-end-all of your marketing journey with that customer. Sometimes, the conversation after the conversion can make just as much of a difference in filling your funnel as chasing down every source of reliable traffic.

As with so many of your efforts before it, the after-conversion checklist involves paying close attention to your customer. Your work is not done the moment you get that blip on your conversion optimization radar. Even after the click, the sale, the subscription, your customer is still asking “did I make the right decision?”

They need that reassurance and gentle push to the next step. They might feel abandoned, confused, and distracted if they’re plopped right down onto a thank you page or a member’s area. They start to question what value they get out of your product or service, which makes them second-guess their steps thus far.

This is why it’s so vital to have a “conversation after the conversion” — and take a look at thing from the customer’s point of view, for example:

  • How easy is it for them to get started using your product?
  • Are instructions clear and appropriate for their level of experience?
  • Who do they contact if they have questions? (“Customer Service” is not the best answer here — the last thing you want to be associated with is a giant warehouse with staffers stuffed like sardines in the cubicles). Who are your customer service people? How many years of experience do they have? People talk to people, not machines.
  • How do they go about returning or getting a refund? Although it’s unfortunate, it’s a fact of business life, and could very well be a blessing in disguise — teaching you more about your conversion funnel process and where there may be gaps.


Remember that the conversion funnel is in an ongoing cycle. The process is always shifting and your conversations with your customers are always evolving. What served their needs yesterday may not be adequate enough today.

Always be asking yourself “what can I do to make their experience with me absolutely unbeatable?” and live up to those expectations. Those are the kinds of actions that fill not just your conversion funnel, but keep customers beating a path to your door.

With this in mind, have you started creating your conversion funnel yet?