Top of the Funnel Conversion Tactics: What Online Brand Owners Need to Know

Patrick McCarthy

As an online retailer, you need to have a good understanding of the conversion funnel to support effective marketing strategies. It makes no difference whether you’re a small start-up business or a well-established enterprise, you want to have as much knowledge and insight as possible to help support your customer and increase conversions.

The conversion funnel relates to the buyer’s journey. As consumers search and identify products to buy, they go through various phases. Your role as a brand owner is to support and guide their journey, eventually leading to a sale. 

As Shopify experts, we recommend reading this 10-minute article to gain a good understanding of the initial stage of the conversion funnel to help support a successful buyer’s journey. 

Conversion Funnel Stages

The conversion funnel functions like an actual funnel one might use to transfer liquid from one container to another: there’s a wide opening that gradually narrows to funnel contents into a different receptacle. It’s a useful metaphor to demonstrate the different phases of the online buyer’s journey that eventually leads to a conversion. 

There’s the wide opening or Top of the Funnel, also called TOFU, which represents the wide range of browsers in their initial search phase. 

The second phase is Middle of the Funnel, or MOFU, representing a more specific audience and set of requirements. 

Finally, there is the narrowest part of the phase called Bottom of the Funnel, or BOFU, which stands for the stage just before the customer makes a purchase. It targets a very specific customer and requires different strategies than the previous two phases. Learn more about BOFU marketing and tactics here

Each part of the conversion funnel relates to a particular level of the funnel: awareness, interest, desire, and action.  Learn more about those stages here.

It’s important to keep in mind that customers are human beings. Not everyone is going to follow the linear direction of the traditional sales funnel. That is, some people are going to revisit particular stages of the cycle before committing to a purchase, what we like to call “loop-dee-loop action.” So it’s important for digital merchants to factor their customer behaviours and personalities into their marketing strategies.

That said, a basic marketing funnel has three main considerations:

  1. Clarify your typical customer journey
  2. Determine your end goal, or desired customer action (ie. conversion)
  3. Identify strategies for improving their journey to reach your end goal

Each stage of the sales funnel requires a specific marketing plan, strategies, and content, which we’ll visit in this article, specifically in regards to TOFU tactics. 

TOFU Consumer Behaviour

Wear the shoes of the consumer for a moment as you consider how you begin the process of searching for a particular product. You begin with the “problem” you’re trying to solve, which may be as simple as you need some exercise equipment. The underlying problem is that you’re noticing a little more muffin-topping over your trousers than usual, but you don’t want to go to a gym. An at-home workout solution would be perfect. So, you start searching for treadmills and spinning bikes. 

However, the customer may not even have that degree of clarity yet. Perhaps the only thing they know right now is that they have the problem of extra weight. They may know they need to get more exercise but aren’t sure of how to achieve that. 

Your role is to help them investigate the problem and provide a variety of solutions. Keep in mind, there are an incredible number of options out there. Your customer may feel quite overwhelmed during their initial search. So it’s important for you to develop strategic content that delivers clear but comprehensive options for solving their problem, while also engaging them.

Why should anyone care about your brand? What problem are you solving and how are you solving it? These are the primary questions pertaining to the TOFU stage. 

Reasons for Investing in TOFU Marketing

This is probably the most demotivating phase of the sales funnel for digital merchants. It requires a lot of time, effort, and money to develop strategies and content to support a person who may never end up buying from you. 

Don’t be discouraged. Every shop owner has to scoop up a handle of worthless pebbles in search of a diamond. The high quality of your content for supporting this stage is helping to position your brand as an authority, so it will serve you well down the line. Patience and perseverance is key. 

Capturing the attention of a wide audience is a strategic approach. Both parties are qualifying each other at this stage. As a brand owner, you’re developing specific content that will weed out the buyers from the browsers, so that by the time they're ready to buy, they’re ready to buy your brand. Similarly, the browsers don’t know it yet, but they’re being led by different brands and will shortlist a few to eventually settle on one, ideally yours.

An important point to note here is that the customer’s problem is the most important piece of information you’re working with. You are not trying to differentiate your brand––it would be too aggressive at this stage of the game because they’re not yet ready to buy. Simply put, it’s not about you. It’s about giving your customer the best experience possible, right at the beginning of the journey, by accurately identifying their problem and addressing it effectively. 

So when we ask why anyone should care about your brand? Consider this: You want to bring attention to your brand without making it all about your brand. The way to do that is with effective content that speaks to their problem and provides education and solutions. 

TOFU Strategies for Online Retailers

Generating interest in your brand and products is critical at this stage of the buyer’s journey. But remember, it’s not about you; it’s about them. You generate interest in your brand indirectly by providing high-quality content that lends clarity to their problem and encourages steps towards resolution. 

In this initial awareness stage, people are looking for answers, resources, education, research data, opinions, and insights. 

The main types of content you can work with are: blog posts, social media posts, PDFs and e-books, and videos and webinars.

One of the most important strategies here is keyword research. How are people making the jump from “I want to lose weight” to your online store selling workout equipment? Use a variety of keyword research tools to compose a list of short- and long-tail keywords to target and form the foundation of your content creation. 

Make High-Quality Content Your Focus…

Your primary goal for Top of the Funnel content: Educate and add value. This builds trust and helps position your brand as an expert. While the focus is not on your brand, it doesn't help put your brand at the forefront of their minds.

As Shopify experts, we’re here to help you support your customer the best way possible and increase your conversions. We have decades of experience helping online retailers like you achieve their goals. Give us a call today to book a free strategy session.

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