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Top-of-the-Funnel Marketing Explained: How to Attract Customers

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Top-of-the-Funnel Marketing Explained: How to Attract Customers

Marketing funnels are visual representations of the stages a customer goes through, from first learning about your brand to becoming a customer.

Each marketing funnel is split into three stages:

  • Top of the funnel (TOFU)
  • Middle of the funnel (MOFU)
  • Bottom of the funnel (BOFU)

Today, we’ll be talking about top-of-the-funnel marketing.

What is top-of-the-funnel marketing?

Top-of-the-funnel marketing refers to the marketing strategies and tactics used to create awareness of your brand or product.

TOFU is the content you create—be it a PPC ad or a blog article—that gets your brand in front of new potential customers. 

The marketing funnel

Why is top-of-the-funnel content important?

TOFU content is important because it’s often the broadest marketing strategy, i.e., the more prospects at the top, the more customers at the bottom (usually). Additionally, generating awareness about your product/service helps to generate the need for it.

For example, let’s say you sell wild-caught canned tuna. Your TOFU content can be a blog post about the issues with farm-raised tuna, sharing why it’s a problem and why wild-caught tuna is better for you and the environment.

This blog post plants the seed in potential customers’ minds that they may want to start buying wild-caught tuna over farm-raised ones. 

From there, MOFU content can be a blog post discussing the different companies that catch wild tuna and their practices, and BOFU content can be a post talking about why your company has the best tuna and fixes the problems other companies create.

With MOFU and BOFU content, you’re competing with other companies for the customers’ attention. But with TOFU content, you’re catching them before they’re even aware of your competitors and building trust with them before they get to the research and purchase stages, increasing your chances of capturing the final sale. 

That’s why TOFU content is so important—it’s the first chain in the link.

Five top-of-the-funnel marketing tactics to try

Ready to add TOFU to your marketing menu? Here are five TOFU marketing tactics worth implementing in your business:

1. Writing blog posts

I already mentioned how a blog post can be an important TOFU content piece with the tuna example. But that’s just one of many—nearly every business can benefit from writing blog posts as TOFU content.

Let’s look at a real example. I run a blog called Adventures On The Rock, which makes money by reviewing and promoting overlanding and camping products. My goal is to get my readers to purchase my recommended products so I can make a commission.

At the top of the funnel, I need to make people aware of what overlanding even is and why people might like to try it. So I wrote this article, explaining it all in detail:

TOFU content example: "What is overlanding?"

From there, that article leads to other stages of the funnel by talking about what kind of gear you need and where to buy that gear.

I found this topic through keyword research

I started by researching the keyword “overlanding” on Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and found that most of the websites ranking for this keyword wrote an article explaining what overlanding is and how to get started.

Overview for "overlanding," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

You can find TOFU article ideas in the same way. Enter a broad seed keyword into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer (or our free keyword generator tool) and peruse the results.

2. Utilizing SEO

Pushing the blog post tactic a step further, you can use SEO to get your TOFU content in front of new people every month—for free and automatically.

For example, I wrote a TOFU article about SEO writing on this blog. It ranks on the first page for keywords like “what is seo writing,” “writing for seo,” and over 100 others:

Organic keywords report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

This single article brings over 1,500 new visitors to our site every month and leads the readers toward using Ahrefs to assist them in their SEO tasks.

Other examples of TOFU SEO include:

Want to learn more? Review our SEO basics guide.

3. Posting to social media

Social media is an obvious marketing channel for any business—and it is perfect for spreading brand awareness (i.e., TOFU content). 

There are a lot of social media platforms and a lot of ways to use them. I can’t possibly cover them all in one article, but I can give you a few examples.

1. TacomaBeast: Instagram

TacomaBeast uses Instagram (and other social platforms) extremely well. It has a highly targeted niche audience (Toyota Tacoma owners) and posts TOFU content on a near-daily basis. 

Its posts often appeal to the niche as a whole—people who own Tacomas and want to see cool Tacoma mods and builds in action, and those who don’t yet know the brand.

These posts are shown to its existing audience but are also shown to many accounts that don’t currently follow it, building brand awareness. This is especially true with Instagram Reels and TikTok videos.

2. Duolingo: TikTok

Speaking of TikTok, few brands use it as well as Duolingo. It is an app that teaches you how to speak other languages—but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from its TikTok videos.

It embraces the idea of virality and simply getting its brand in front of people over trying to sell its product with its videos. Because of this, its videos are seen by hundreds of thousands and even millions of people—people who could potentially become users of the app.

3. The Wandering RV: Pinterest

The Wandering RV's Pinterest account

The Wandering RV gets thousands of new visitors every month from Pinterest. It has Pinterest-sized graphics on every blog post on its site and always shares them when they’re published.

For example, it has posted pins about RV meal ideas. Once a person reads this article, they see links to RV cooking gear and accessories. These push them further down the funnel.

The Wandering RV's Pinterest examples

You can do the same by grabbing a free Canva account and using the “Pinterest pin” template. Canva has thousands of templates you can easily modify to fit your brand.

Canva Pinterest template

4. Running PPC ads

Sometimes, you need to pay to play, and running PPC ads is one of the best ways to get your brand in front of new audiences.

You can run ads in many places:

  • Search engine ads
  • Social media ads
  • Display ads
  • Etc

One of the easiest ways to start doing this is by copying what’s working for your competitors. Head to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, plug in a competitor’s website, then click the Paid keywords report in the left-hand menu.

Paid keywords report for Thursday Boots, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

You’ll often see a lot of branded keywords and MOFU/BOFU keywords in here, but sometimes you’ll come across non-branded TOFU keywords you can put a competing bid on.

Better still, TOFU keywords are often very cheap to bid on, since not as many people are running ads for them.

For example, we occasionally run PPC ads for keywords like “crawl a website” and “content idea,” which have virtually no competition and are TOFU queries.

Ahrefs' PPC keywords report

These also happen to have a very high Keyword Difficulty (KD), meaning they are tough to rank for organically on Google’s first page. By running ads to these keywords, we can bypass the competition without spending a lot of money. 

Check out our guide to PPC marketing to learn more about this tactic.

5. Direct outreach

Last but not least, you can use direct outreach as a TOFU marketing tactic. These include:

  • Email outreach
  • Direct mail
  • Phone calls

While direct mail and phone calls can work great to find new clients, email outreach is the most scalable for the majority of online businesses because it requires the least in terms of time and money.

I use direct outreach to build links to my content, promote my articles, and find marketing partners and new customers. It’s a versatile and effective tactic.

For example, I recently ran a study ranking the top states in America to go camping, then used email outreach to get journalists to publish news articles with my findings. This study resulted in over 40 new backlinks to my site, including some from MSN, Yahoo, and TimeOut Magazine.

Ahrefs' backlink report for Adventures On The Rock

In addition to these high-powered links, the study also sent thousands of new visitors to my website. 

If you want to learn how you can do something similar, check out our guide to digital PR and read up on how to send a good outreach email.

Final thoughts

The top of the funnel is typically where the widest-reaching marketing tactics lie. But because it’s so far from where consumers make their final purchase, it’s not the most obvious marketing choice.

However, TOFU content is where you plant the seeds that can scale your business in the future. While it shouldn’t be the first area you put time and money into, it shouldn’t be ignored either.

Questions or comments? Ping me on Twitter.



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GPT Store Set To Launch In 2024 After ‘Unexpected’ Delays

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GPT Store Set To Launch In 2024 After 'Unexpected' Delays

OpenAI shares its plans for the GPT Store, enhancements to GPT Builder tools, privacy improvements, and updates coming to ChatGPT.

  • OpenAI has scheduled the launch of the GPT Store for early next year, aligning with its ongoing commitment to developing advanced AI technologies.
  • The GPT Builder tools have received substantial updates, including a more intuitive configuration interface and improved file handling capabilities.
  • Anticipation builds for upcoming updates to ChatGPT, highlighting OpenAI’s responsiveness to community feedback and dedication to AI innovation.

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96.55% of Content Gets No Traffic From Google. Here’s How to Be in the Other 3.45% [New Research for 2023]

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96.55% of Content Gets No Traffic From Google. Here's How to Be in the Other 3.45% [New Research for 2023]

It’s no secret that the web is growing by millions, if not billions of pages per day.

Our Content Explorer tool discovers 10 million new pages every 24 hours while being very picky about the pages that qualify for inclusion. The “main” Ahrefs web crawler crawls that number of pages every two minutes. 

But how much of this content gets organic traffic from Google?

To find out, we took the entire database from our Content Explorer tool (around 14 billion pages) and studied how many pages get traffic from organic search and why.

How many web pages get organic search traffic?

96.55% of all pages in our index get zero traffic from Google, and 1.94% get between one and ten monthly visits.

Distribution of pages by traffic from Content Explorer

Before we move on to discussing why the vast majority of pages never get any search traffic from Google (and how to avoid being one of them), it’s important to address two discrepancies with the studied data:

  1. ~14 billion pages may seem like a huge number, but it’s not the most accurate representation of the entire web. Even compared to the size of Site Explorer’s index of 340.8 billion pages, our sample size for this study is quite small and somewhat biased towards the “quality side of the web.”
  2. Our search traffic numbers are estimates. Even though our database of ~651 million keywords in Site Explorer (where our estimates come from) is arguably the largest database of its kind, it doesn’t contain every possible thing people search for in Google. There’s a chance that some of these pages get search traffic from super long-tail keywords that are not popular enough to make it into our database.

That said, these two “inaccuracies” don’t change much in the grand scheme of things: the vast majority of published pages never rank in Google and never get any search traffic. 

But why is this, and how can you be a part of the minority that gets organic search traffic from Google?

Well, there are hundreds of SEO issues that may prevent your pages from ranking well in Google. But if we focus only on the most common scenarios, assuming the page is indexed, there are only three of them.

Reason 1: The topic has no search demand

If nobody is searching for your topic, you won’t get any search traffic—even if you rank #1.

For example, I recently Googled “pull sitemap into google sheets” and clicked the top-ranking page (which solved my problem in seconds, by the way). But if you plug that URL into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, you’ll see that it gets zero estimated organic search traffic:

The top-ranking page for this topic gets no traffic because there's no search demandThe top-ranking page for this topic gets no traffic because there's no search demand

This is because hardly anyone else is searching for this, as data from Keywords Explorer confirms:

Keyword data from Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer confirms that this topic has no search demandKeyword data from Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer confirms that this topic has no search demand

This is why it’s so important to do keyword research. You can’t just assume that people are searching for whatever you want to talk about. You need to check the data.

Our Traffic Potential (TP) metric in Keywords Explorer can help with this. It estimates how much organic search traffic the current top-ranking page for a keyword gets from all the queries it ranks for. This is a good indicator of the total search demand for a topic.

You’ll see this metric for every keyword in Keywords Explorer, and you can even filter for keywords that meet your minimum criteria (e.g., 500+ monthly traffic potential): 

Filtering for keywords with Traffic Potential (TP) in Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerFiltering for keywords with Traffic Potential (TP) in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Reason 2: The page has no backlinks

Backlinks are one of Google’s top three ranking factors, so it probably comes as no surprise that there’s a clear correlation between the number of websites linking to a page and its traffic.

Pages with more referring domains get more trafficPages with more referring domains get more traffic
Pages with more referring domains get more traffic

Same goes for the correlation between a page’s traffic and keyword rankings:

Pages with more referring domains rank for more keywordsPages with more referring domains rank for more keywords
Pages with more referring domains rank for more keywords

Does any of this data prove that backlinks help you rank higher in Google?

No, because correlation does not imply causation. However, most SEO professionals will tell you that it’s almost impossible to rank on the first page for competitive keywords without backlinks—an observation that aligns with the data above.

The key word there is “competitive.” Plenty of pages get organic traffic while having no backlinks…

Pages with more referring domains get more trafficPages with more referring domains get more traffic
How much traffic pages with no backlinks get

… but from what I can tell, almost all of them are about low-competition topics.

For example, this lyrics page for a Neil Young song gets an estimated 162 monthly visits with no backlinks: 

Example of a page with traffic but no backlinks, via Ahrefs' Content ExplorerExample of a page with traffic but no backlinks, via Ahrefs' Content Explorer

But if we check the keywords it ranks for, they almost all have Keyword Difficulty (KD) scores in the single figures:

Some of the low-difficulty keywords a page without traffic ranks forSome of the low-difficulty keywords a page without traffic ranks for

It’s the same story for this page selling upholstered headboards:

Some of the low-difficulty keywords a page without traffic ranks forSome of the low-difficulty keywords a page without traffic ranks for

You might have noticed two other things about these pages:

  • Neither of them get that much traffic. This is pretty typical. Our index contains ~20 million pages with no referring domains, yet only 2,997 of them get more than 1K search visits per month. That’s roughly 1 in every 6,671 pages with no backlinks.
  • Both of the sites they’re on have high Domain Rating (DR) scores. This metric shows the relative strength of a website’s backlink profile. Stronger sites like these have more PageRank that they can pass to pages with internal links to help them rank. 

Bottom line? If you want your pages to get search traffic, you really only have two options:

  1. Target uncompetitive topics that you can rank for with few or no backlinks.
  2. Target competitive topics and build backlinks to rank.

If you want to find uncompetitive topics, try this:

  1. Enter a topic into Keywords Explorer
  2. Go to the Matching terms report
  3. Set the Keyword Difficulty (KD) filter to max. 20
  4. Set the Lowest DR filter to your site’s DR (this will show you keywords with at least one of the same or lower DR ranking in the top 5)
Filtering for low-competition keywords in Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerFiltering for low-competition keywords in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

(Remember to keep an eye on the TP column to make sure they have traffic potential.)

To rank for more competitive topics, you’ll need to earn or build high-quality backlinks to your page. If you’re not sure how to do that, start with the guides below. Keep in mind that it’ll be practically impossible to get links unless your content adds something to the conversation. 

Reason 3. The page doesn’t match search intent

Google wants to give users the most relevant results for a query. That’s why the top organic results for “best yoga mat” are blog posts with recommendations, not product pages. 

It's obviously what searchers want when they search for "best yoga mats"It's obviously what searchers want when they search for "best yoga mats"

Basically, Google knows that searchers are in research mode, not buying mode.

It’s also why this page selling yoga mats doesn’t show up, despite it having backlinks from more than six times more websites than any of the top-ranking pages:

Page selling yoga mats that has lots of backlinksPage selling yoga mats that has lots of backlinks
Number of linking websites to the top-ranking pages for "best yoga mats"Number of linking websites to the top-ranking pages for "best yoga mats"

Luckily, the page ranks for thousands of other more relevant keywords and gets tens of thousands of monthly organic visits. So it’s not such a big deal that it doesn’t rank for “best yoga mats.”

Number of keyword rankings for the page selling yoga matsNumber of keyword rankings for the page selling yoga mats

However, if you have pages with lots of backlinks but no organic traffic—and they already target a keyword with traffic potential—another quick SEO win is to re-optimize them for search intent.

We did this in 2018 with our free backlink checker.

It was originally nothing but a boring landing page explaining the benefits of our product and offering a 7-day trial: 

Original landing page for our free backlink checkerOriginal landing page for our free backlink checker

After analyzing search intent, we soon realized the issue:

People weren’t looking for a landing page, but rather a free tool they could use right away. 

So, in September 2018, we created a free tool and published it under the same URL. It ranked #1 pretty much overnight, and has remained there ever since. 

Our rankings over time for the keyword "backlink checker." You can see when we changed the pageOur rankings over time for the keyword "backlink checker." You can see when we changed the page

Organic traffic went through the roof, too. From ~14K monthly organic visits pre-optimization to almost ~200K today. 

Estimated search traffic over time to our free backlink checkerEstimated search traffic over time to our free backlink checker

TLDR

96.55% of pages get no organic traffic. 

Keep your pages in the other 3.45% by building backlinks, choosing topics with organic traffic potential, and matching search intent.

Ping me on Twitter if you have any questions. 🙂



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Firefox URL Tracking Removal – Is This A Trend To Watch?

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Firefox URL Tracking Removal - Is This A Trend To Watch?

Firefox recently announced that they are offering users a choice on whether or not to include tracking information from copied URLs, which comes on the on the heels of iOS 17 blocking user tracking via URLs. The momentum of removing tracking information from URLs appears to be gaining speed. Where is this all going and should marketers be concerned?

Is it possible that blocking URL tracking parameters in the name of privacy will become a trend industrywide?

Firefox Announcement

Firefox recently announced that beginning in the Firefox Browser version 120.0, users will be able to select whether or not they want URLs that they copied to contain tracking parameters.

When users select a link to copy and click to raise the contextual menu for it, Firefox is now giving users a choice as to whether to copy the URL with or without the URL tracking parameters that might be attached to the URL.

Screenshot Of Firefox 120 Contextual Menu

Screenshot of Firefox functionality

According to the Firefox 120 announcement:

“Firefox supports a new “Copy Link Without Site Tracking” feature in the context menu which ensures that copied links no longer contain tracking information.”

Browser Trends For Privacy

All browsers, including Google’s Chrome and Chrome variants, are adding new features that make it harder for websites to track users online through referrer information embedded in a URL when a user clicks from one site and leaves through that click to visit another site.

This trend for privacy has been ongoing for many years but it became more noticeable in 2020 when Chrome made changes to how referrer information was sent when users click links to visit other sites. Firefox and Safari followed with similar referrer behavior.

Whether the current Firefox implementation would be disruptive or if the impact is overblown is kind of besides the point.

What is the point is whether or not what Firefox and Apple did to protect privacy is a trend and if that trend will extend to more blocking of URL parameters that are stronger than what Firefox recently implemented.

I asked Kenny Hyder, CEO of online marketing agency Pixel Main, what his thoughts are about the potential disruptive aspect of what Firefox is doing and whether it’s a trend.

Kenny answered:

“It’s not disruptive from Firefox alone, which only has a 3% market share. If other popular browsers follow suit it could begin to be disruptive to a limited degree, but easily solved from a marketers prospective.

If it became more intrusive and they blocked UTM tags, it would take awhile for them all to catch on if you were to circumvent UTM tags by simply tagging things in a series of sub-directories.. ie. site.com/landing/<tag1>/<tag2> etc.

Also, most savvy marketers are already integrating future proof workarounds for these exact scenarios.

A lot can be done with pixel based integrations rather than cookie based or UTM tracking. When set up properly they can actually provide better and more accurate tracking and attribution. Hence the name of my agency, Pixel Main.”

I think most marketers are aware that privacy is the trend. The good ones have already taken steps to keep it from becoming a problem while still respecting user privacy.”

Some URL Parameters Are Already Affected

For those who are on the periphery of what’s going on with browsers and privacy, it may come as a surprise that some tracking parameters are already affected by actions meant to protect user privacy.

Jonathan Cairo, Lead Solutions Engineer at Elevar shared that there is already a limited amount of tracking related information stripped from URLs.

But he also explained that there are limits to how much information can be stripped from URLs because the resulting negative effects would cause important web browsing functionality to fail.

Jonathan explained:

“So far, we’re seeing a selective trend where some URL parameters, like ‘fbclid’ in Safari’s private browsing, are disappearing, while others, such as TikTok’s ‘ttclid’, remain.

UTM parameters are expected to stay since they focus on user segmentation rather than individual tracking, provided they are used as intended.

The idea of completely removing all URL parameters seems improbable, as it would disrupt key functionalities on numerous websites, including banking services and search capabilities.

Such a drastic move could lead users to switch to alternative browsers.

On the other hand, if only some parameters are eliminated, there’s the possibility of marketers exploiting the remaining ones for tracking purposes.

This raises the question of whether companies like Apple will take it upon themselves to prevent such use.

Regardless, even in a scenario where all parameters are lost, there are still alternative ways to convey click IDs and UTM information to websites.”

Brad Redding of Elevar agreed about the disruptive effect from going too far with removing URL tracking information:

“There is still too much basic internet functionality that relies on query parameters, such as logging in, password resets, etc, which are effectively the same as URL parameters in a full URL path.

So we believe the privacy crackdown is going to continue on known trackers by blocking their tracking scripts, cookies generated from them, and their ability to monitor user’s activity through the browser.

As this grows, the reliance on brands to own their first party data collection and bring consent preferences down to a user-level (vs session based) will be critical so they can backfill gaps in conversion data to their advertising partners outside of the browser or device.”

The Future Of Tracking, Privacy And What Marketers Should Expect

Elevar raises good points about how far browsers can go in terms of how much blocking they can do. Their response that it’s down to brands to own their first party data collection and other strategies to accomplish analytics without compromising user privacy.

Given all the laws governing privacy and Internet tracking that have been enacted around the world it looks like privacy will continue to be a trend.

However, at this point it time, the advice is to keep monitoring how far browsers are going but there is no expectation that things will get out of hand.

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