How to optimize your marketing funnel for the customer journey

marketing funnels Hotjar

This works well if you know the habits of your target audience. Your marketing funnel provides more value to your marketing strategy when you understand your customers—then you can make informed decisions to improve the customer experience as they move through the funnel.

Our goal with this piece is to help you get the most out of your marketing funnel. We cover:

TL;DR: every marketing funnel is unique and should be designed for how customers buy—not how you want to sell. Combining quantitative and qualitative data will help you understand how real customers shop and behave on your site, so you can optimize your marketing funnel for the customer journey and increase conversions.

What is a marketing funnel?

A marketing funnel is a series of stages to guide prospects through the customer journey. The funnel helps marketing teams plan and measure efforts to attract, engage, and convert prospects through content and other marketing materials, like landing pages and ads.

Marketing funnels are commonly based on the ‘AIDA’ model:





But you can simplify the funnel into a three-stage model:

Top of the funnel (TOFU): awareness

Middle of the funnel (MOFU): consideration

Bottom of the funnel (BOFU): conversion

Note: you can rename or add stages like ‘loyalty’ and ‘advocacy’ to any funnel model, but the function of the marketing funnel—to attract, engage, and convert leads—remains the same regardless of how you identify specific stages.

For the rest of this article we'll look at the TOFU/MOFU/BOFU funnel model.

🔍 Learn what works (and what doesn't) at each stage of the funnel

Use Hotjar Heatmaps, Recordings, and Surveys to optimize your marketing funnel for the customer journey—and increase conversions.


3 stages of the marketing funnel

The traditional funnel model is linear, beginning at the top of the funnel and ending at the bottom, where your prospects convert.

The challenge is that marketing funnels don’t always work like this in the real world. People don’t always jump into a funnel right at the top and progress step-by-step through each stage until they come out the bottom, a new customer.

Many people bounce in, out of, and around the funnel before they convert. Or, they may make it to the bottom of the funnel and then (gasp!) drop out, never to be seen or heard from again.

The marketing funnel—like people's real-life buying behavior—is nonlinear, which is why it's important to understand the customer journey from the moment of awareness to the moment of conversion. And part of that is understanding how each stage works in the traditional marketing funnel model.

1. Top of the funnel: awareness

The top of the funnel (TOFU) is where prospects become aware of your brand and engage with it for the first time. They might not know a lot about your product or service yet, so this stage focuses on content and marketing material that promotes brand awareness.

Use this stage to attract prospects, and show them what you have to offer:

  • Create a landing page or infographic that introduces your brand, service, or product to new visitors.
  • Share a post on social media that highlights your unique selling proposition (USP).
  • Use paid ads on social media and in podcasts that are relevant to your target audience.

2. Middle of the funnel: consideration

Potential customers enter the middle of the funnel (MOFU) once they’ve engaged with your brand in a meaningful way: maybe they’ve subscribed to an email list, are following you on social media, or have signed up for a webinar.

Use this stage to engage with prospects—to earn their trust and set your brand apart:

  • Write an article or white paper that provides value, answers a question, and solves a problem for your potential customers.
  • Invite visitors to participate in a survey to learn more about the drivers, hooks, and barriers they encounter with your brand.
  • Share case studies and product comparisons.
  • Create landing pages specific to individual customer segments.

3. Bottom of the funnel: conversion

The bottom of the funnel (BOFU) is the last place prospective customers go before they convert. You’ve gotten their attention, built trust, and fostered a relationship with them.

Use this stage to convert prospects—give them specific reasons to choose your brand over your competitors:

  • Offer a trial or demo so visitors can experience your product or service first-hand.
  • Write a how-to guide or article that answers questions and eliminates any doubt or blockers potential customers may experience.
  • Share social proof, like customer reviews and testimonies, to build even more trust.
  • Make feature and price comparison charts easy to access and understand.
  • Send segmented email marketing campaigns and use on-site surveys—for example, send an email to users that have abandoned their shopping cart, or put an exit survey on the checkout page.

Measuring the success of your marketing funnel

Understanding your customers requires observing and communicating with them—not just looking at numbers on a chart and making assumptions. To measure your marketing funnel's success, you need both quantitative and qualitative data (more on this later).

That said, there are still some key quantitative metrics to keep in mind when you measure your marketing funnel's success and effectiveness.

4 marketing funnel metrics you should measure

1. Cost per acquisition (CPA)

CPA measures how much you’re spending on marketing to acquire each new customer. Teams usually look at this number to analyze their paid advertising, email marketing, social media, and other paid marketing efforts.

To get this number, divide the entire cost of your marketing campaign by the number of conversions. From there, the idea is pretty simple: if the cost outweighs the gain, you might want to consider ending the campaign or testing alternatives.

2. Customer lifetime value (LTV)

LTV measures the continuous value a customer brings to your company. This metric is all about retention, which carries particular weight for SaaS (software as a service) companies because subscribers pay regularly. However, LTV also gives insight to industries like ecommerce and traditional sales—if you can predict the likelihood of a customer making another purchase.

3. Conversion rates

Conversion rate measures the frequency of conversions. Some marketers only focus on the final conversion: sales—but you can measure each stage's success through micro-conversions or goal conversions. For example:

  1. TOFU conversion: how many visitors convert to marketing qualified leads (MQLs)
  2. MOFU conversion: how many MQLs convert to sign-ups or subscribers
  3. BOFU conversion: how many sign-ups or subscribers convert to customers

Measuring goal conversion rate allows your team to make more informed decisions about each funnel stage rather than just the final outcome.

4. Conversion rate per channel

Each marketing channel has different goals, so it’s important to analyze the success of each one. These channels might include

  • Organic search
  • Paid ads (Display, SEM, Social, Podcasts)
  • Referrals and influencers
  • Email

Like with goal conversions, teams with clear definitions for conversions in each channel will have an easier time measuring success. Ask yourself:

  • Is clicking on a paid ad a conversion?
  • Is responding to an email a conversion?
  • Is signing up for a newsletter a conversion?

Answering questions like these will help you identify what you want from each channel, so you can measure whether it’s working or not.

🔍 Learn what works (and what doesn't) at each stage of the funnel

Use Hotjar Heatmaps, Recordings, and Surveys to optimize your marketing funnel for the customer journey—and increase conversions.


3 tools to increase conversions throughout the funnel

Now you know: when you focus on measuring quantitative data (i.e. numerical data) without considering qualitative data (i.e. how people experience your marketing funnel and how they think or feel throughout their customer journey), you’re missing an important part of the picture.

Here are three tools to give you qualitative data that'll help you increase conversions throughout the marketing funnel:

  1. Heatmaps: to understand user behavior
  2. Session recordings: to understand individual journeys
  3. Surveys: to get user feedback

1. Understand user behavior with heatmaps


Heatmaps show popular (red) and unpopular (blue) areas and elements on your page, and reveal how people move on and interact with your site in aggregate. Analyze website heatmaps to identify page elements that are (or aren't) working to get people moving through your funnel.

Once you have insight into how users are behaving on key pages of your site, you can focus on making changes that will have the most impact to increase conversions—and either ditch the efforts with less rewarding outcomes, or A/B test alternatives.

2. Understand individual user journeys with session recordings

Hotjar Session Recording

Session recordings capture website visitors' actions—like mouse movements, clicks, taps, and scrolling—so you can see how real users engage with your website from page to page.

Insight from recordings helps you identify blockers or pain points users experience throughout their journey on your site—like broken elements, website bugs, or a confusing design—which might reveal why users drop off at a particular stage of the funnel.

3. Get feedback from real users with on-site surveys


On-site surveys are one of the fastest and easiest ways to get direct feedback from real website visitors: find out what’s stopping them from converting, or poll customers who’ve just converted to find out what does work.

Surveys give you a chance to engage with real visitors at each step in the funnel so you can learn how to improve the customer journey and increase conversions.

Takeaways and next steps

Marketing funnels help you guide prospects through each stage of the customer journey. There are many ways to approach the traditional marketing funnel, but the key to an effective funnel is understanding your customers.

Combining quantitative and qualitative insights using the tools and tips we cover above will help you build a better funnel that speaks to your customers' unique needs, and increase conversions as a result.

🔍 Learn what works (and what doesn't) at each stage of the funnel

Use Hotjar Heatmaps, Recordings, and Surveys to optimize your marketing funnel for the customer journey—and increase conversions.


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