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How-to content is the top-performing format for attracting traffic and generating leads at the top and middle of the marketing funnel, according to a new survey of B2C and B2B professionals released this week by SEMrush.

The ‘Anatomy of a Powerful Marketing Funnel’ report collates the insights and expertise of 350 employees at small, medium and large-sized companies around the world, with the aim of defining marketing funnel characteristics.

The study found that content marketing is being used across the entire marketing funnel but that the awareness phase at the top of the funnel (TOFU) is still the most popular overall. 95% of marketers said that they now create content for the TOFU, compared to 86% for the middle and 76% for the bottom.

While TOFU gets the most attention, the study noted that 87% of marketers “rely on content” across the entire customer cycle and that articles, blogs and videos are expected to peak customer interest, relay product and service details, and close sales.

Marketers turn to various formats to get the job done, but there is one content type that is driving results and ROI consistently. Three quarters of respondents said that the how-to guide is the top performer for attracting traffic, putting it ahead of landing pages (35%) and infographics (28%).

SEMrush noted that while infographics are behind how-tos, the short, eye-catching and digestible format is particularly adept at helping visitors to make sense of the problem they are facing and determining the best way to solve it.

When assessing the impact of content at the TOFU, 73% of marketers rely on the ‘number of visitors’ metric, while 54% and 52% keep track of ‘conversion rate’ and ‘time on page’, respectively.

Organic search is also the best channel for driving traffic at this stage, with 70% of respondents saying that it is the most efficient, ahead of social media marketing (60%) and email marketing (54%).

What is perhaps surprising is that further along the funnel, how-to guides remain the top performer. 44% of respondents said that how-tos are crucial for generating leads at the middle of the funnel (MOFU), though product overviews (40%) and case studies (34%) are not far behind.

For nurturing leads during this phase, 43% are using success stories in addition to product overviews and case studies, highlighting how content formats can be tweaked slightly to achieve certain objectives.

Channels are also optimised. 69% said that organic search is best for generating leads, but for nurturing leads, search takes more of a back seat with 28% compared to the 72% that deploy email marketing to follow up and engage with leads.

At the bottom of the funnel (BOFU), marketers are set on closing a sale and make liberal use of product overviews (51%) and customer reviews (49%) to drive payments. Email marketing is the most efficient channel here, and ‘conversion rate’ is the most tracked metric for success.

The study also looked at the way that marketers build a funnel. For research, 88% are conducting analysis of keywords and 73% of competitors. Finally, the primary challenge when building a funnel is crafting content that drives quality leads (52%).


Content creation and the demonstration of expertise through high-quality editorials and blogs is one of the five marketing best practices for ‘high growth’ enterprises, according to a recent report released by Hinge.

The ‘All Professional Services Edition’ of the High Growth Study 2020 found that marketing is a key driver for business performance and that there is a range of different levers that companies can use to achieve bespoke objectives and deliver ample return on investment (ROI).

Following the release of the study, Hinge partner Elizabeth Harr outlined five specific marketing initiatives that companies should undertake during the remainder of the year to remain a step ahead of competitors.

Hinge says that these best practices have empowered companies to outgrow peers by 20% over a sustained period of three years or more.

The first, and arguably the most important as a base to work from, is content creation. With both B2B and B2C customers looking for high-quality materials, thought leadership pieces and informative articles are a crucial method of generating leads and attracting new clients.

Those capable of publishing relevant, value-added content are more likely to be viewed as leaders, which not only has a positive impact on marketing and sales but also makes a company a more attractive prospect for potential employees.

The study found that a company’s content marketing output embodies its culture and employee development.

The second best practice for high growth is the deployment of search engine optimisation (SEO). Fast-growing firms are 19% more likely to focus their efforts on SEO, and optimising strategies in this area leads to higher levels of visibility in Google.

Next up is social media marketing and management. Social networks enable companies to distribute and share high-quality content, which is a product of the effective creative marketing efforts outlined earlier.

Social media plays a vital role in amplifying the power of content, giving companies a visible online presence within target client groups. Managing accounts on sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn is also cost-effective and sustainable in the long term, making it perfect for new tech companies and other start-ups.

The fourth best practice is one that Google has championed during the last 12 months. Website performance is now viewed as a fundamental element of SEO and also underpins the sales cycle.

Optimising for technical SEO makes it easier for companies to rank on the first page of search results while also providing the excellent user experiences that customers expect when they navigate to a webpage. This makes it easier to capture and retain the interest of new leads who might otherwise click away.

The study noted that high growth firms also regularly dip into web analytics for feedback about the performance of webpages with the view to optimising them regularly.

The fifth and final best practice is ‘brand differentiation’. High growth companies set themselves apart by conducting research and identifying industry trends that can be put into practice.

The study found that this allows fast-growing firms to meet the evolving needs of clients and customers. Research is also completed regularly, at least once every three months, which leads to a three times uptick in profitability compared to those that don’t conduct research.


Email has experienced a recent resurgence in brand marketing as affordable solutions are prioritised amid challenging conditions but nine in ten marketers say the inability to reach inboxes directly can have a detrimental impact on overall revenue.

A new report released by Validity titled ‘Email Deliverability 2020: A Journey to the Inbox’ has uncovered a range of challenges and issues that are holding marketers back as they attempt to manage email marketing campaigns that can deliver high return on investment.

The study noted that email continues to be “core medium” and central to multi-channel marketing campaigns but that many companies are still struggling to reach consumers due to high bounce rates and other factors.

The cost of failing to reach a user’s inbox is high. 91% of respondents said overall revenue is affected when this happens and one in eight believe the impact on returns is “severe”.

Tim Bond, Head of Insight at The DMA, said email marketing investment is still delivering ample returns for brands but says mistakes made during the formative stages of campaigns can have a significant financial impact.

Bond revealed that for every £1 spent on email marketing, brands are seeing a £35 return, a healthy figure that suggests marketers should persevere in their attempts to optimise email channels.

Some of the problems that still undermine campaigns include high email bounce rates, growing spam complaints from customers and IP address reputation issues.

42% of respondents even admit to having been added to a user’s email blacklist since 2015 with spam and inaccurate data among the reasons for being flagged.

“What we have found is that a good deliverability strategy needs to be both comprehensive and multidisciplinary,” Validity vp of customer engagement, Guy Hanson said.

He added: “Deliverability success involves committing budget and resource if you are going to do it well, and those that do see positive returns from their investment.”

While email marketing remains a popular strategy for companies, 16% say their “best practice” email knowledge is not up to scratch, a figure that has increased by 6% during the last twelve months.

Marketers also believe some of this knowledge is available at their business but is located within other departments. Overall, 49% rate their best practice knowledge as good with only 17% hitting the highest rating of very good.

The view that knowledge is located elsewhere is probably due to the fact that 40% say compliance with legislation and industry standards are fundamental to best practices.

Hanson believes brands should now priortise delivery improvement as part of efforts to overhaul email marketing for the better. Part of this should involve a greater commitment of budget and resources, something that will be returned in kind with positive returns for those that are able to do it well.

Mr Bond also believes customers must be at “the heart” of email programmes from the beginning. This will make it easier to meet their demands and expectations and lead to improved ROI and higher levels of customer loyalty and retention.


An insights-driven approach to marketing can transform the quality of campaigns. However, the majority are still struggling to overcome several problems, including data silos and inflexible budgets, to implement analytics successfully, according to a new report released by 4C and Forrester Consulting.

The Mature Your Video Marketing to Drive Business Value study addresses the growing importance of video as it becomes a primary tool for engaging with specific subsets of audiences across a plethora of connected platforms. More than 500 marketing decision-makers in the US and the UK took part in the study earlier this year.

It found that 75% of the respondents believe that video has evolved from a medium designed mainly to reach people en masse to one that can meet customer demands for personalisation and hyper-targeting. More than three-quarters said that content is a cornerstone of their content targeting efforts, while 70% believe it can drive better performance when used effectively.

The business case for video usage is strong, but marketers are finding it difficult to fulfil the potential the medium offers due to a variety of challenges. Six in ten say they struggle to leverage data due to it being stuck in outdated silos, and two-thirds believe they are unable to scale their creative efforts or budgets to optimise campaigns based on the insights they uncover.

The absence of a documented strategy from the top down is also a problem, as 65% admit to not having access to centralised technology that would enable them to deploy and manage campaigns across several different channels. Therefore, it is no surprise that the majority say better cross-channel attribution and better self-service technology should be the focus for investment this year.

Those that can achieve these objectives are enjoying better performance and ROI, as the study noted that “mature” video marketers see higher conversion rates and brand advocacy compared to less-sophisticated counterparts.

4C believes marketers need to evolve and overhaul their approaches to marketing by taking a step back and analysing their current state before setting out a clear plan based on how their target audiences consume content. 4C also recommended that marketers should benchmark their budgets.

“Success for brands is dependent on the ability to understand customers across every touchpoint and immediately activate insights through holistic marketing and targeted media,” 4C Chief Marketing Officer, Aaron Goldman said in a press release for the study.

He added: “We think this research shows that there are challenges that need to be addressed for marketers to be more insights driven, which can be alleviated through deeper investments in self-service, cross-channel video advertising platforms.”

The annual Salary Guide released by Hays last week also highlights the importance of data and measurements. It revealed that the most sought-after employees are now content specialists and digital marketing managers who can use data and present evidence to support decision making across the business. Nine in ten employers said that they expect to pay marketing staff more in 2019 and 2020 due to their importance.


Brands often take a “risk-averse” approach to content marketing as they view it through a “campaign lens” rather than recognising how it can be central to deeper brand building and success in the long term.

That observation was one of the major talking points raised at the recent Mumbrella360 Asia conference in Singapore, which covers all aspects of the content marketing industry in Asia. Earlier this month, Indian marketers said they would be focusing on thought leadership and high-quality branded news, blogs, articles and videos as they plan to up their investment in 2018, so it appears that content is very much a hot topic in the East right now.

While marketers are eager to make the most of the content zeitgeist this year, Vice Australia’s Head of Content Alex Light said brands in Asia are still effectively finding their feet and that a less mature approach, when compared to Europe and the US, is manifesting into a trend of risk aversion.

“It’s unproven and people aren’t necessarily willing to go in with big budgets and investing behind it,” he said. “This is the same in the US and Australia, but people still see it through a campaign lens. It’s seen as a short-term solution rather than long-term brand-building.”

However, Light admitted that these frustrations will do little to dampen the enthusiasm for content and that there is currently a “massive opportunity” for brands to jump on board. He added: “This region has so much potential and I think content marketing is really about to take off here.”

Working with agencies specialising in translation and transcreation could help brands in Asia to deliver relevant and targeted resources to audiences at home and abroad. To improve ROI, however, Click2View Editorial Director Jackie Shorey believes brands must outline a better vision for their content efforts and be sure about what they want.

She said: “I do the usual journalistic stuff and say: ‘What are you trying to do?’ They will say they don’t know, they just want some articles. So I say: ‘What does success look like? What do you want? Who’s your audience? Who’s going to read it?’ And then it’s just: ‘Go away and do 10 articles.’ And that’s a pity; with a bit of digging we’ll do our best, but rather than me guessing or having to tease it out and getting it wrong.”

However, those challenges are universal and are not restricted to Asia, as better relationships between agency and client and a more holistic view of what each party wants would benefit content campaigns around the world.

Finally, industry leaders at the event touched on the ongoing conversation about metrics and measurability. The panellists said having clear goals and objectives in the first place would help brands to determine ROI for content marketing, though Andrea Edwards, of The Digital Conversationalist, said a new measurement tool that could bring everything together to give “one picture” and clear insights would be a great help.