Top of Funnel Content Creates All Kinds of Problems—But You Should Create It Anyway

top of funnel content marketing

Top of funnel traffic gets a lot of content marketers into trouble.

Before we dive into why, let’s first outline what we mean by top of funnel content. This type of content marketing is meant to drive awareness. These posts typically target high-volume, short-tail keywords and don’t address the product directly.

A perfect example is Wistia’s Shooting Video with an iPhone. This post introduces some really useful tips to anyone interested in shooting better video with an iPhone. Many of the people who find this post won’t be ready to buy Wistia, but some will be doing research for a work project and will remember this resource.

We dive into more detail about content for each part of the funnel in our content marketing strategy guide and here’s a brief overview.

Top of Funnel Middle of Funnel Bottom of Funnel
Traffic via Search/social Search/email Email/sales/support
Product Light mentions Integrated into content Directly addressed
Traffic potential High Medium Low
Conversion potential Low Medium High

All content marketing programs need each type of content, but often lean on top of funnel content since that’s where the highest traffic potential exists. Top of funnel content is valuable but can be frustrating. There are plenty of blogs with growing traffic and flat conversions.

This happens because top of funnel traffic doesn’t drive conversions. And so when the content brings in traffic, it can actually make conversion numbers look worse even if they are improving.

Traffic via top of funnel content Total conversions Conversion rate
10,000 200 2.00%
15,000 250 1.67%
20,000 300 1.50%
25,000 350 1.40%
30,000 400 1.33%

Everyone expects these numbers to increase proportionally, but they never do. It’s obvious that 400 monthly conversions are better than 200, but if top of funnel traffic is increasing at a faster rate, the numbers will appear to be falling.

And that’s just one of the problems that top of funnel content creates. Here are a few others:

  • Most blogs get the bulk of their traffic from a few top of funnel posts. That traffic will almost certainly decay over time, meaning total blog traffic will drop even if you’ve supplemented with middle and bottom of the funnel content. This also means you’ll end up trying to figure why traffic is declining, then refreshing and building links to a post that doesn’t drive conversions anyway.
  • If you spend too much time working on top of funnel traffic, you won’t drive conversions and therefore won’t help the business grow. Content marketing is an acquisition channel for the product, not a product on its own. If new users aren’t flowing into the product, the content is ultimately ineffective.
  • Top of funnel content is almost always obvious, non-specific information. Good rankings have as much to do with domain authority and perfect on-page optimization as they do with great content.

But creating top of funnel content is still worth it—just not for the reasons most people think.

Top of Funnel Content as a Loss Leader

Forget the notion that top of funnel will drive conversions. It almost certainly won’t. If you and your team buy into this idea, you’re guaranteed a frustrating experience. Your numbers will never look right, your conversions will never be high enough and your boss will always be asking why the blog isn’t driving more users.

Instead, think of top of funnel traffic as a loss leader. The content in and of itself won’t get you new customers, but it can have a very positive effect on your site as a whole.

The example from Wistia illustrates the positive effect of top of funnel traffic perfectly. The post, Shooting Video with an iPhone, targets a handful of high-volume keywords and, even a few years after it was published, still ranks on the first page for 278 different keywords.

Even if this post never converts a single customer, it has racked up 1,200 backlinks from more than 300 domains (including three from .edu domains). You know that old phrase “a rising tide lifts all ships”? This is exactly what’s happening. It’s easier to get links to top of funnel traffic, and those links lift the entire domain, not just that page.

The reason top of funnel traffic is necessary is because when done well, it makes it easier to rank for the middle and bottom of the funnel content that actually will convert readers into customers. Forget conversions on your top of funnel posts. Focus on earning good links, then let your middle and bottom of funnel content drive new users.

Jimmy is the marketing director at Animalz, an agency that provides high-end content marketing solutions to SaaS and tech companies.