Get in Touch

The Digital Marketing Funnel Stages, Explained

SEO Blog
Funnel Stage Graphic No Fps Logo 990 X 700 Copy

Last updated: May 16, 2024

In digital marketing, demand generation brings prospects to your website. Once they’re there, the series of pages they visit, in a single session or multiple sessions, determine their likelihood of converting into customers. This entire process is known as the digital marketing funnel.

When diagrammed, a digital marketing funnel shows the psychological state of your would-be customer as they travel through your website. It is divided into distinct stages for a clearer understanding of their changing experience and attitude towards your brand (visualized below).

Practically speaking, someone traveling through the stages of a digital marketing funnel is visiting various online “locations” on their path to conversion, such as a marketing e-mail, an ad, the Google search results, your website, and your competitors’ websites.

In this piece, we illustrate the digital marketing funnel in all its stages. Afterwards, we offer recommendations for improving your conversion rate at each stage of the funnel, citing examples of successful funnels along the way.

Here’s what the digital marketing funnel stage looks like:

Sales Funnel Graphic Funnel Only 1980 X 1400Discovery ⇒ Interest ⇒ Appraisal ⇒ Confirmation ⇒ Conversion

The table below breaks down each stage, giving your prospect’s online location within that stage; and the KPIs that determine whether you’re succeeding at getting enough prospects to that stage.

The Digital Marketing Funnel Stages

Funnel StageOnline LocationKPIsDescription
DiscoveryGoogle Search ResultsWeb or Social Ad
  • New unique visitors
  • Ad clicks
  • Search rankings for unbranded keywords
A potential customer comes across your brand for the first time
InterestYour website’s blog articles, landing pages, and resources
  • Page views
  • Time on site
  • Micro-conversions (downloads, tool interactions, email subscriptions)
The potential customer skims your blog and landing pages for a quick overview of your brand
AppraisalReviews, both on your website and on 3rd party review sites.Competitor websites to compare products
  • Backlinks
  • Search rankings for unbranded keywords
  • Rankings on 3rd party sites
Armed with basic information and interest, the potential customer branches out, digging deeper on your site and visiting competitor and 3rd-party sites for evaluation
ConfirmationYour website’s case studies and conversion focused landing pages
  • Repeat visitors
  • Returning email and social media clickthroughs
Convinced your product or service seems best, the potential customer returns for more details and a final push
ConversionYour website’s contact page or product checkout page
  • Conversions
Finally, the potential customer makes their first purchase, or reaches out to your sales team and becomes a lead

Stage 1: Discovery

The Discovery stage of the digital marketing funnel is where a potential customer first learns about you and your products, often without knowing they’re missing something or exactly what they’re looking for. Often, they’ll simply be trying to solve a problem or researching a pain point on Google, or browsing LinkedIn or Facebook when they happen to see your name.

Sales Funnel Stage 1

A searcher discovers Salesforce through Google Search

You need to entice them to take the next step and bring them to your website where the next digital marketing funnel stage takes shape. While many marketers will tell you that doing so starts with good ad design or witty copy, it actually begins earlier: with targeting the right audience.

Optimizing your funnel at the Discovery stage starts with researching your current customers, and understanding exactly what brings them to you. You should develop audience personas that lay out their challenges, their goals, and their aspirations. This allows you to narrow your focus to target only people who are actually interested in buying your product, making every campaign you run that much more effective. Once they’ve clicked on your ad, your page in the results, or on your social media link, they move into the next phase of the funnel: Interest.

Stage 2: Interest

A user sees your company’s name and clicks through to your website. This is the moment of dawning interest—or not—in which they unconsciously decide if your expertise or product appeals to them.

A blog article captures visitor interest

A blog article captures visitor interest

There are a lot of people at this stage of the journey and only a handful are likely to move down the funnel. Thought leadership content is ideal here: you need to put your best foot forward and provide valuable information and key insights at every opportunity. Quickly address their pain points and show them what you have to offer. Strong, concise writing is essential here—stay away from overly sales-oriented language and hyperbole. Your goal is to establish credibility and pushing too hard for an immediate sale will make visitors lose trust, leaving your site.

To improve your conversion rates at the Interest stage, examine the pages that visitors first land on when they reach your site (you can find this information on Google Analytics, or your analytics platform of choice). These are the landing pages that your paid ads point to, the blog articles you share on social media, and the pages that have the highest rankings on Google. It is absolutely essential that these pages put your best foot forward. Here’s what we recommend:

  • A blog that contains original insights on your potential customers’ business, and establishes authority with strong writing and data analysis. (In other words, thought leadership.)
  • Landing pages that provide skimmable details, high quality images, or even professionally produced videos that set your product or services apart and show that you know what your audience is looking for.

After the Interest stage comes the Appraisal stage, which is in many ways the most difficult of them all.

Stage 3: Appraisal

If a visitor finds something compelling in the interest stage, they’ll then turn to outside research to verify that your company is a good choice. Therefore, your industry reputation, as represented on Google, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Indeed, must be good. You will be reviewed and compared to competitors, and in the end the user will determine how much they now want to engage with your company.

This stage of the funnel is somewhat outside your control. However, implementing policies where you ask satisfied employees to review you on appraisal websites, and keeping your social profiles up to date can go a long way. Your own website should also contain customer endorsements and case studies.

A potential customer weighs their options

The potential Salesforce customer appraises their options.

To improve your conversion rates through the Appraisal stage, look to other marketing channels that establish and burnish your industry reputation. Consider the following channels to supplement your Website product pages and blogs:

  • Speaking at high profile industry events
  • Webinars
  • Public relations

While this is a difficult stage to move customers through, the good news is that they already have an interest in your product or service. As long as your brand’s promises are true and your existing customers satisfied, you can expect them to return to your site for the second to last stage: Confirmation.

Stage 4: Confirmation

Return visitors are ripe for the final push. They’ve mostly made up their mind and here, your marketing and conversion-focused content can make the difference. The visitor has decided on Salesforce, and returns to confirm their decision.

The visitor has decided on Salesforce, and returns to confirm their decision.

To be successful, be prepared to offer case studies and other real-world examples of how you have solved the problems your customers encounter. As with the Appraisal stage, testimonials from satisfied clients can also help increase your success at this stage.  Just like the other digital marketing funnel stages, transparency and authenticity is crucial at this stage. You’ve built trust, now you need to confirm that you are the best business partner for these leads. Be honest about products, timelines, resources you bring to the table and what’s expected from the customers.

Most importantly, ensure that you’ve conversion optimized your website, making it as easy as possible for visitors to convert into leads.

Stage 5: Conversion

A visitor has finally made it through the rest of the funnel and into your sales team’s inbox. (Or for B2C or shorter sales cycle products, they’ve already made a purchase.) The next steps enter the realm of sales rather than marketing, but the right groundwork can make for a much smoother sales process.

Sales Funnel Stage 5

The visitor reaches out to the sales team, converting into a lead.

These leads have discovered you, read all about you, compared you to others, and have decided you are likely the best choice for them. Be prepared to pre-empt or discuss any potential concerns, but don’t overpromise. This will reinforce that you truly know your customers’ needs, and can be trusted.

Be clear how they can access the information that helped bring them through the sales funnel to begin with: provide links to all the appropriate locations — blogs, white papers, product pages — on your site for easy reference.

Make sure to remind these leads of all the reasons that have brought them this far. Be prepared to act on your promises and make customers for life.

Optimizing Your Digital Marketing Funnel

To get as many prospects as possible to convert, you will need a comprehensive approach to digital marketing. That means an audit of your marketing strategy, digital marketing channels, website conversion paths, SEO strategy, and tech stack.

Because the above requires more competencies than most companies have under one roof, the most important next step may be choosing the right marketing partner. We have over 12 years of experience optimizing the digital marketing funnel for companies across a variety of industries, from B2B SaaS to Real Estate to Manufacturing. If you’d like to discuss a partnership, reach out here to book a call.

Evan Bailyn

Evan Bailyn is a best-selling author and award-winning speaker on the subjects of SEO and thought leadership. Contact Evan here.