Today, a client asked me, “What exactly is a funnel?” Content funnels are graduated steps through which your content creates and develops awareness. A funnel, in other words, aims to educate your audience so as to take them from one level of awareness to the next — and thus closer to becoming a patient.
The purpose of content that’s optimized for the search engines (or SEO content) is to drive qualified traffic to your site and lead them into your funnel. It helps your prospective patients to discover you and what you do. Once they do, they’re at the entrance to (or the top of) your funnel.
But there is a problem with that.
What if people are already aware and qualified? Should all your content be at the top of the funnel? Should it appeal to people who are less aware? Should it force your audience into your funnel and through each step? Or can it attract and appeal to people who are at various stages of awareness?
Content marketers often show funnels in a linear, top-down fashion: the top of the funnel (TOFU) is about discovery, the middle of the funnel (MOFU) is about consideration, and the bottom of the funnel (BOFU) is about the purchase.
That might be true in a perfect world. But we’re not in a perfect world.
If there’s one thing to keep in mind, it’s the idea that the consumer journey is not linear. Some people might already be aware of what you do. Some may have been referred to you by someone else. And some may have had other procedures done so they’re well-aware of the procedure you offer.
Since customer journeys are not linear, then why should funnels be?
They’re not. Funnels should be based on relationships and not stages of awareness (or they should not be based strictly on stages of awareness).
SEO and content funnels are more outside-in than top-down. Your content’s goal is to bring the patient closer to you (e.g., to be more trusting and confident that you and your solution are right for them) than it is to make them more aware (i.e., more knowledgeable of who you are and what you do).
This is particularly true with plastic surgery and aesthetics. The reason is, a user may be aware to some extent of the available options. They may even be aware of the procedures, in many cases. But what they are looking for is information that will help create trust and confidence in their decision.
In the traditional funnel, TOFU content is to generate a lead, MOFU is to nurture that lead, and BOFU is to convert that lead. But when seen through the lens of developing relationships instead of leads, the goal is to create a relationship, nurture that relationship, and consummate that relationship.
Here’s why the distinction is important.
You want to publish value-added information that drives qualified traffic to your website — from blog posts and social media posts, to distributable content assets (such as PDFs, white papers, infographics, etc). This content will hopefully answer questions users have and attract them to your website.
What about users who are aware of the solution? There’s no need to prequalify them let alone educate them at this point. What they want are answers that will help identify if there’s a possible fit. More specifically, there are essentially two questions that your patients want to know and on which you must focus:
- Why should I have this procedure?
- Why should I choose you?
For example, they know they have excess skin and fat around their abdominal region, and they’re fully aware of the problem it causes. They might also know about tummy tucks in general but never considered them, or they’re aware of the procedure but don’t know if they’re a good candidate for the procedure.
So they want to know, among other things, if the procedure right for them, are they a good candidate, and are you the best doctor for the job.
While your top-of-funnel content will create awareness about you and what you do, the middle is about relationship-building. At this point, the user is asking deeper, more probing questions. In turn, your answers can help deepen the relationship (i.e., trust and confidence) they have with you.
This is why content funnels are less about creating awareness and more about creating relationships, particularly in the field of plastics and aesthetics.
At this stage, the user wants to probe further and see if there’s a fit. The types of content they want include before-and-after photos, case studies, information about surgical candidacy, recovery times, and all the pros and cons of the procedure — including comparisons with other procedures.
At the bottom, they’re gathering information that either confirms their chosen solution and/or disconfirms alternatives. For example, they want patient testimonials, doctor reviews, financing options, and so on.
Therefore, developing content that appeals to every stage in the funnel (i.e., top, middle, or bottom) will help your SEO because it will attract prospective patients at different levels of awareness. For example:
- At the top of the funnel, your audience is asking exploratory questions, and your answers will educate them about the solutions you offer.
- In the middle, they’re asking probing questions to learn more about you, and to dive deeper into the procedure to see if it’s right for them.
- And once they’re decided, now they’re asking specific questions to justify their decision, and your content should help them do exactly that.
This reminds me of something I’ve learned in communications. It’s called “the funnel effect.” In trying to get a responder to reveal information (such as in a customer service exchange, for example), there are three layers of questions:
- Open questions (top of the funnel),
- Probing questions (middle of the funnel),
- Closed questions (bottom of the funnel).
The goal at the top is to discover the other person’s problem or position. Then, it’s to explore and probe further to get a better understanding of the problem or position. Finally, it’s to get specific and final details in order to take action that fixes the problem or takes the responder to a more favorable position.
That sounds very much like a content funnel, doesn’t it?
In short, don’t focus on creating content that aims to generate and nurture leads. Instead, create content that aims to answer questions and focus on building relationships. Doing so, your content will attract qualified patients at every stage — and you will be able to serve them appropriately, too.