What The Heck is TOFU, MOFU, BOFU and Why It Matters in SEO
Jul 24, 2020|Read time: 13 min.
- ToFu, MoFu, BoFu is shorthand for the buyer’s journey.
- ToFu stands for the top of the funnel, MoFu for the middle of the funnel, and Bofu for bottom of the funnel.
- Search behavior changes as prospects progress through the funnel. When you optimize for each stage of the funnel, you’ll create more brand touch points, build trust, and increase conversions.
No, TOFU, MOFU, BOFU is not an insult. Nor is it a new acronym you’ll need to learn if you want to understand your 16-year-old nephew. It’s not even a viral dance craze…yet.
TOFU (top of funnel), MOFU (middle of funnel), BOFU (bottom of funnel) is shorthand for a process you’re already well-acquainted with: the customer journey. As your customers move from developing a broad awareness of your products and solutions to making their purchase decision, they have different questions and shift into different mindsets.
But what does TOFU, MOFU, BOFU have to do with search engine optimization (SEO)? Everything.
Search behavior changes as people move down the conversion funnel. So, if you don’t optimize for each stage, you can’t attracting visitors from the full funnel. This results in money left on the table as visitors bounce to a competitor before reaching the next stage – or worse still, never visit in the first place. Once you adopt a full-funnel enterprise SEO strategy, though, you’ll attract and retain potential customers at every step, in turn increasing your marketing ROI.
What is TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU?
TOFU, MOFU, BOFU
We can divide the purchase funnel into three stages: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision. These stages are interchangeable with TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU.
TOFU: Top of the funnel (awareness)
MOFU: Middle of the funnel (consideration)
BOFU: Bottom of the funnel (decision)
Although the purchase funnel plays an important role for both B2B and B2C businesses, it’s critically important for businesses that rely on lead capture and lead nurturing. This includes many types of B2B companies along with B2C retailers that sell high-end products with long sales cycles such as insurance.
1. TOFU: top of the funnel
At the top of the marketing funnel, the visitor is in the awareness stage. They may not know about your brand, or even be aware of the products or solutions they need yet.
In this research-driven phase, the user wants information and answers. That often takes the form of “I have a problem, and I’m looking for possible solutions.” The user might simply want to research a passion or interest, favoring content that entertains and informs.
Or, perhaps they saw something on TV or online and it piqued their curiosity.
There are thousands of triggers that spark online searches, and that’s the nature of the top of the funnel. In other words, many different individuals searching for many different reasons with many different intents. There are six different search intent examples in the informational stage alone.
Your role during this phase is to provide the educational or entertaining content your visitor wants . In doing so, you may introduce your products as a possible solution, position your brand as a helpful resource, and reinforce your commitment to the visitor’s area of interest. Your top-funnel visitors represent a very broad audience, many of whom won’t have an immediate need for your products or solutions. Conversions will be lowest in this phase.
Your goal here is to get your brand on the radar, increase awareness, and build trust. If you can capture their email as well, then you can proactively continue to communicate with them via nurturing initiatives through the sales funnel.
2. MOFU: middle of the funnel
The MOFU visitor has clearly defined their problem and narrowed down their solutions. They’re beginning to evaluate your brand as one possible option. However, they’re still comparing several brands and might be considering other solutions as well.
Because many of your TOFU visitors will drop out of the funnel naturally, MOFU represents a smaller and more qualified slice of your audience.
They’re aware that your type of solution exists and are interested in learning more. What are the pros and cons? Which qualities should they look for? Are there options they aren’t yet aware of? Etc.
During the MOFU stage, you’ll need to give your audience as much information as possible to make a decision. Secure their trust in your brand’s expertise and the quality of your products, and clarify your differentiation from the competition.
MOFU searchers are typically more specific with their Google queries. In fact, they often rely on long-tail keywords to narrow down their options. They may also refer to specific types of products or investigate specific brands.
Since MOFU visitors are still researching how they can solve their problem, it’s important not to oversell during this phase. Instead, give them the information they need to take the next step and help them work through all the questions in their mind. The MOFU stage is about empowering them so that they can move into the decision phase of the customer journey as well equipped as possible.
3. BOFU: bottom of the funnel
Your bottom-funnel leads are highly qualified and well on their way to making a purchase. They’ve committed themselves to sticking with you through the two higher funnel stages, making this your smallest and most lucrative pool of prospects. They just need a little extra push to purchase: extra reassurance, extra incentives, and extra urgency.
Your BOFU searchers focus heavily on branded search, including product-specific searches and review types of keywords. On the flip side, they are looking for proof that your solution will deliver results/ROI/etc. and is the one they should purchase.
Out of the three phases, overt selling is most appropriate during this phase. It’s still best, however, to take a consultative approach to helping the lead make their decision. Instead of trying to convince your lead to buy the product, assume they’re already buying it and help them tailor the purchase to their individual needs. Reinforce the incentives that will make the purchase less risky, like strong warranties and world-class customer support.
BOFU is all about setting your brand apart from other options to convert those qualified leads.
Using SEO strategically throughout the funnel
The content marketing funnel is vital to lead generation. However, your audience’s search behavior changes throughout the buyer’s journey. Therefore, as you deploy your content strategy, it’s important to optimize your content marketing efforts for each funnel phase individually.
- Keyword research
- Content production
- Website architecture
- SEO metrics you use to measure SEO ROI.
Let’s break that down…
If you’re new to the process or you want a refresher, read our in-depth article about how to do keyword research. All set? Then let’s look at how it’s a little different depending on the funnel stage.
TOFU keyword research:
You’re looking for general queries related to the pain point your brand addresses, along with the broader interest-based searches your target audience would make.
- If you sell project management software, pain point-related seed keywords to explore would include “organizing multiple projects” or “organizing large projects” or “how to improve time management skills.” Interest-based seed keywords to explore would include “productivity hacks” and “work from home tips.”
- If you sell financial services to consumers, pain point-related seed keywords to explore include “how to get out of debt” or “types of personal loans” or “how to buy a home.” General interest seed keywords may include “investing strategies for beginners” or “money-saving tips.”
“How to” queries are especially useful during this stage, along with words like “tips,” “strategies,” and basic queries like “what is.” Answer the Public is a valuable resource for keywords during this phase, as the tool targets words like Who, What, When, Where and Why specifically. Similarly, Ahrefs provides a range of related questions for any keyword investigated. In addition, BuzzSumo Questions pulls questions actually asked from millions of forums, Q&A sites, Amazon, and websites so that you can see the actual questions being asked online.
MOFU keyword research:
Unlike TOFU keywords, the keywords that target the middle of the funnel typically reference the solution directly. Look for the general queries that reference your solution along with evaluative or comparative words like “best” and “benefits.”
- If you sell project management software, MOFU seed keywords include “best project management platform for _______” with the blank representing the needs of individual audience segments like financial services firms or law firms.
- If you sell financial services, a MOFU keyword might be “high-interest savings account pros and cons” or “best retirement IRAs.”
BOFU keyword research:
BOFU keyword research is a straightforward look at the branded and product-related searches people make when in the final stage of their decision-making process. Since these leads already know you, you don’t have to consider the broader keywords that capture interest in this stage. Instead focus on learning how your BoFu customers search for your brand and pairing those keywords with a helpful, conversion-driven page. This might take the form of “ABC vs XYZ project management software.”
TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU content
TOFU content (demand generation)
Inbound marketing content at the top of the funnel entertains, informs, inspires, and helps your target audience. Use various content types to hit a broad spectrum of preferences. Here are just a handful of demand generation tactics you can leverage:
- Blog posts
- Resource lists
- Knowledge Hubs
MOFU content (lead generation)
Content in the middle of the funnel differentiates you from the competition while anticipating audience questions. It also encourages a deeper understanding of the problem, its business impact, and possible solutions. In most cases, this content should capture contact information to help you nurture prospects. Here are some lead generation strategies you can leverage:
- Blog posts
- White papers
- Original research and reports
- Case studies
- Product tips and tutorials
For more clarification, read our article about the difference between lead and demand generation.
BOFU content (sales)
This content seals the deal and transforms window shoppers into actual paying customers. Successful formats include:
- Product demos
- Product tutorials
- Video product walk-throughs
- Product webinars
- Detailed case studies
- Customer features
- Comparison charts
Off-page SEO for TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU
A fabulous website with amazing, relevant content will only get you so far in Google. If you want to rank number one, you also need a top notch off-page SEO strategy.
TOFU link building:
High-quality backlinks are of course a critical aspect of any SEO program. It’s therefore helpful to think of TOFU MOFU BOFU when not only identifying keywords and creating content, but also strategizing the types of links to help you connect with the right audience at the various stages of the funnel.
With this in mind, build top of funnel thought leadership and expertise by writing how-tos for industry blogs, securing interviews with the media and industry blogs about newsworthy topics, and throwing and promoting educational events.
You can also attract a lot of links by writing long-form blog content that is engaging and naturally makes the reader want to share the information.
MOFU link building:
While your blog and other on-site content is arguably the most important way to connect to your TOFU audience, off-site links are a vital way to connect to the MOFU audience. That’s because of those comparative searches they’re making. When a user Googles a word like “best” or “vs,” they rarely want to visit an individual brand’s lead gen landing page. They want an unbiased answer to their question from third-party comparison sites, reviews and recommendations.
Google a keyword like “best project management software” and the results look like this:
When you see besticles like those above, reach out to every third-party site on page one to develop relationships and learn how you can make their list.
BOFU link building:
To some extent, complementary businesses, affiliate networks, and strategic partners can provide BOFU links by offering a special promotion to their audience or otherwise featuring your business or expertise. Competitor comparisons can be effective at the bottom of the funnel. The comparisons align with the way that many BOFU prospective customers are searching online as they do their final due diligence. Finally, calculators and ROI tools can not only help you seal the deal, they are highly effective at generating backlinks.
It’s one thing to optimize your TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU content for keywords, but where do they go from there? What about when a visitor moves from a general-interest blog post to your home page? How can you bring them into the funnel?
These questions are just as important as the content itself.
Examine your internal linking an site architecture to make sure there’s a clear path from the home page to each funnel stage. Internal links help define your architecture and move users through the funnel.
This is actually easier than it sounds, providing your main menu is doing its job properly. Take a look at how Salesforce’s megamenu connects visitors to each funnel stage:
- TOFU visitors can navigate to the Resources section and click to read more about the products or solutions when they’re ready.
- MOFU visitors can hover over the Solutions category and click on their industry for more personalized content. They can also sign up for a webinar or explore Research & Reports.
- BOFU visitors can watch video demos, read customer stories, or click the prominently-displayed “Try for Free” button.
Once your architecture is situated, leverage analytics to identify different user paths and pinpoint where visitors leave the site. Examine the pages that get the most traffic on your site for each funnel stage. Set a user interaction goal for each page. Consider these goals the primary conversion metrics for the page. Then, add a compelling call to action (CTA) such as content offers, testimonials, or a masterful sales pitch.
Business impact of a TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU approach
As customers grow hungry for more content, conversions become less linear. They now happen across different touch points, channels, devices, and spans of time. So, don’t fight that phenomenon by pushing for a sale too soon. Instead, use a full-funnel digital marketing strategy to connect with your target audience in a positive, persuasive way.
Think in terms of relationships rather than transactions. Customers will begin to trust your brand and see you as an industry leader. More importantly, they’ll begin to assess your fit for their needs.
This has a massive business impact. According to Demand Gen Report, 95% of buyers chose a vendor that provided content for each stage of the buying process. Marketers also told Forrester Consulting that a full-funnel SEO strategy improves customer lifetime value (CLV). Read the study below.
What’s more, if you nurture leads, they’ll make 45% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads. Funnel-optimized websites don’t just convert more people; they convert more people at a higher average order value (AOV).
Full-funnel lead generation strategies also drive higher audience engagement. One HubSpot survey found that companies with a refined middle-of-the-funnel strategy have a 10X increase in response rate compared to generic email blasts.
Marketing and sales teams work together throughout the sales process. A full-funnel content marketing strategy unified by SEO supports this partnership. Therefore, start thinking in TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU terms, and you’ll be thinking in the personalized, audience-first way that wins over today’s customer.