If you’ve been in the online business world for more than a minute, I’m sure you’ve heard of a content funnel.
It typically looks like this:
- You start with a piece of content that is interesting to your ideal customer
- the call to action from that piece of content is to opt-in for a free resource
- then they get into an email automation or a landing page that delivers the resource and explains the paid offer, with a call to action to learn more
- which directs them either to a sales page or a sales call
- and when it all works well, you end up with a sale.
It’s called a funnel because the number of people at each stage gets smaller and smaller, like the shape of a funnel.
There are still plenty of people using this style of content marketing, but there are a few reasons I don’t love it.
Funnels are a one-way, transactional model. It expects that your audience will take just one path through your content — and abruptly ends once they deviate from that path or make a purchase.
“The primary problem with the funnel is that the buying process is no longer linear. Prospects don’t just enter at the top of the funnel; instead, they come in at any stage. Furthermore, they often jump stages, stay in a stage indefinitely, or move back and forth between them.” HBR
The funnel model was developed when we assumed that people would mostly find and follow you on ONE channel — but that’s just not true any more. Even if someone discovers me here in a video, they might check out my website, follow me on Instagram, or join my email list before they’re ready to take the next step with me. They don’t just stay in one place any more.
Also, only the most sophisticated funnels have ways to re-engage people who don’t get all the way to a sale. People who don’t make it all the way through the sequence are just considered lost leads. But just because somebody isn’t ready to buy from me today doesn’t mean they’ll never be ready in the future.
And, because most funnels are super automated, they run on a specific — usually very high pressure — timeline. We’ve all seen the countdown timers on landing pages and in emails warning us that the offer expires in just a few hours or minutes. That high pressure sales tactic works in some cases, but lots of customers don’t like the pressure, and it’s even considered an unethical marketing practice in some circles. It doesn’t allow for clients and customers to make decisions in their own time.
The old way is linear; the new way is interconnected.
Unfortunately, funnels are notorious for “leaking” leads. In fact, according to SalesForce, 79% of marketing leads are never converted into sales in a typical funnel.
Today, there’s a much better way to create an experience for your audience that will get you more traffic, more leads, and more sales.
Instead of a funnel shape, imagine a web.
Each part of the web is interconnected. It offers multiple places for a potential customer to discover you and engage with your content; it results in more engaging content, offering people a “chose your own adventure” path to follow to learn more about you; and it ensures that your most qualified leads see an offer and turn into a sale when they’re actually ready, rather than on some arbitrary timeline.
Think of it like a spy network, where every asset is connected and working together to achieve a common goal.
In this case, the goal is to create a web of content that ensures you’re attracting new people to your audience and moving them toward a sale.
There are 5 anchor points to the web — and once you have these in place, EVERY piece of content you create will be more effective.
Just like a spy network, if there’s only one lonely spy out there working without any backup or support, they’re not going to be as effective as if they have a team working together.
Your content is the same.
You could write the best blog post ever written, or publish the coolest video ever created — but if you don’t have the other four anchor points in your content web, that awesome piece of content won’t be as effective as it could be.
A content web is:
- Interconnected: Each piece of content works with every other piece to be more effective overall.
- Action-Oriented: Each piece actively links to other pieces to keep audience engaged and moving forward.
- Data-Informed: With a goal or metric attached to each piece, you can easily see which pieces need optimization.
The 5 Anchor Points of the Content Web
OK, so let’s walk through what the 5 Anchor Points of the web are:
Thought Leader Ideas
We start with cultivating ideas that will set you apart from the rest of your industry — and the rest of the NOISE in content marketing. Your unique ideas are all about differentiating you from the other options out there. We help clients discover and crystalize these ideas in a strategy session.
In a world where a free AI bot can output content at scale, the only way to be heard is to say something different.
That’s where your thought leadership comes in.
(P.S. Some people shy away from calling themselves thought leaders, which I get. I’m using it here to describe a type of content.)
Thought leadership ideas mean ideas that are yours and yours alone. Obviously you can piggy-back off other people’s ideas — some of the greatest thinkers of all time have done so! (Just cite your sources, obvs.) But these are concepts, predictions, opinions, ideas, data-based conclusions, etc. that only you and your business can share.
This is how you differentiate your content. This is what sets you apart in your industry, and helps you get heard above the noise.
Can you create a content web based around non-thought leader ideas? Sure. Tons of people do. (This would be generic information, how-to, etc. that anyone — including an AI — could produce a version of.)
But unless your version of that content is measurably “better” than what’s already out there, it probably won’t get noticed. And if there are any big corporations in your industry or niche, they have a lot more time and money to throw at that kind of content than we do.
Thought leadership ideas differentiate you in your industry, and that differentiation is what helps potential customers decide to work with you instead of your competitor.
Thought leadership content influences every other anchor point on your content web:
- you will directly introduce and explain your ideas in your pillar content
- your thought leadership will help distinguish you when you’re attracting people for discovery content and nurturing them through your distribution content
- these ideas will probably directly influence the types of resources you create for lead generation
- and you may create conversion content based on your thought leadership ideas as well, especially explaining your methods and frameworks in your products and services.
That’s why creating your own thought leadership ideas is SO important as the basis for a successful content web. Without this anchor point, your content web is going to be a lot less effective at attracting and grabbing new audience and leads, and turning them into customers.
Pillar content refers to long-form content that introduces and explains your thought leadership ideas in-depth, typically blog posts, videos, or podcast episodes.
This is where you dive deep into your original concept, share your data, make predictions, explain your opinions, and so on.
Pillar content’s job is to nurture and build strong relationships with your target audience. And when you do, you get engaged and loyal customers who are more likely to make repeat purchases and refer others to the business, leading to more consistent revenue.
By the way: if you think blog posts are old news in today’s marketing landscape, think again. 96% of visitors are not ready to buy the first time they visit your website, and 95% of buyers choose a business with sufficient content. That means visitors are looking for a reason to come back to your website — and useful content, like blog posts, could be that reason.
But I see SO MANY online businesses NEGLECTING this vital part of their content web! (Check out this article about where blogging fits in a zero-click world.)
Maybe you make videos or podcasts, but they don’t have a central theme or really tie back to your thought leadership ideas.
And you aren’t setting those creations up in a way that will help people find you (SEO) or distributing the content effectively across other channels.
Here’s my recommendation:
- If you’re ALREADY DOING podcasts or videos, don’t stop! Make sure each episode shares your thought leadership so that it helps you stand out. Take advantage of the SEO opportunities inherent in the platform where you’re publishing (titles, descriptions, etc.). And ADD a blog post that covers the same information to take advantage of text-based SEO.
- If you’re NOT doing any pillar content yet, choose ONE type to focus on. The easiest and lowest barrier to entry is blog posts, and it’s also the easiest to outsource if you need support.
Think about how your pillar content connects to the other parts of your content web:
- pillar content should help introduce and explain your thought leadership
- you may want to optimize your pillar content for SEO to be part of your discovery content
- you’ll want to be sure there’s a strong call to action leading people to resource content so they can self-identify as leads for your business
- and you may even want to use pillar content to help overcome objections as part of your conversion content.
Pillar content is important for when someone in your audience is ready to go deep with you and understand how you work and how you’re different to the competition. Obviously my agency writes blog posts for clients, but we also turn videos and podcast episodes into articles, or go the other way and create an outline for their video or podcast from the article we wrote.
Discovery and Distribution content
This content is all about sharing your thought leadership and engaging your audience. It can include SEO, social media, or an email newsletter. Usually, this will include short versions of your pillar content like facts, quotes, interesting ideas, and so on that can be shared in bite-sized nuggets.
The job of discovery and distribution content is to generate demand for the business and its offerings by promoting content and engaging with the target audience. And when you do it well, you’ll see increased visibility and reach, attracting more potential customers, resulting in a bigger customer base and higher sales.
Both pieces of the puzzle are key:
Discovery content helps you get in front of new people, which is vital if you want to continue growing your business. And it’s a step many businesses are missing.
Distribution content helps get your message out there to both new and existing audiences and nurture them toward a sale. Customer nurture is a huge part of marketing. In fact, nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads, which can add up to a lot of revenue over the life of your business.
Plus, now more than ever, potential customers need to be exposed to your message over and over again. One study saw that 63% of consumers need to hear a company’s claims 3–5 times before they are ready to buy.
To make this easy for our clients, we pull out awesome social media captions from the pillar content we create to make sure our customers never run out of things to say.
Your discovery and distribution content:
- helps people find and experience your thought leadership
- directs people to your pillar content
- promotes your resource content
- and can even include a direct call to buy via some conversion content.
There are many different ways to promote your content beyond what we immediately think of. Get creative with your discovery and distribution strategies and you’ll see exponential returns.
Resource content includes things like lead magnets, white papers, and workshops or webinars. They’re the kinds of content that people need to raise their hand for (by opting in on a form, leaving a comment, etc.).
This content generates leads by offering valuable resources in exchange for contact information, resulting in a growing list of qualified prospects who are more likely to convert into paying customers, leading to an increase in sales and revenue.
You want to make sure your resource content directly connects with the problem you solve for clients, so that when people ask for it, you’re pre-qualifying that they are a good lead for your business.
Think about how your resources connect to your thought leadership and your pillar content. (Check out this post on planning your pillar content for lead generation.)
We often write case studies, white papers, and ebooks for clients that they use as resource content.
Resources should connect to all the other points in your content web to be most effective:
- they should be based on or communicating your thought leadership to differentiate you in the industry
- you’ll often use them as a call to action from your pillar content
- they can be part of a discovery and distribution strategy, with posts and emails directly sending people to the resource
- and they are a key step toward your conversion content and sales.
Conversion content pieces are the assets you use to help make the sale. These might include a sales page and automated sales emails, or more personalized messages and scripts you use during sales conversations. They might include case studies, testimonials, and automated email sequences people get during the sales process. Either way, these pieces of content help close the deal. We love to write sales pages and sales emails optimized to help our clients close sales!
The job of conversion content is to invite and persuade leads to become customers by presenting irresistible offers and showcasing the value of the business’s products or services. And when this content is doing its job well, you’ll see higher conversion rates, resulting in more customers, increased sales, and ultimately, more revenue for the business.
Conversion content doesn’t stand alone. Like all the parts of the content web, it is interconnected with the other pieces:
- Conversion content often showcases your thought leadership, especially when talking about your signature models, frameworks, methodologies, etc.
- Your pillar content can (and often should) be designed with conversion in mind to support the sales process
- You can share conversion content through your distribution channels just as easily as anything else, and it helps warm up your leads
- And it’s intimately connected to your resource content, which helps trigger the sales process.
How do you create a content web?
If you like this idea and you want to implement it in your business, the best way to get started is to audit your existing content.
You can grab our 5-Minute Content Web Audit tool at the link in the description for an easy way to visualize all the pieces.
Ask yourself, do I have all 5 anchor points in my web?
If you’re missing one or more, your priority should be to get those in place.
Once you have all 5 you can ask yourself, which ones are working well, and which could use some improvement?
For example, if your discovery and distribution channels are doing pretty well at getting your ideas in front of your existing audience, but you’re struggling to get new people to discover you, then that’s a great place to focus your efforts.
Check out this free training on understanding your content web and take the 5-Minute Content Audit.