Businesses are finding there’s no faster way to make sales, get leads and improve ROI from online advertising than using purpose-build marketing funnels. That’s why 2016 has seen funnels become the hot new thing in digital marketing. Just consider that…
- Googling “sales funnel” nets over 950,000 results.
- Becoming a certified “funnel master” costs $495.
- ClickFunnels, the leading DIY funnel service, has shot up Alexa’s rankings in the last 12 months:
All of which shows the growing ubiquity of the funnel.
In this piece we’ll cover two key questions…
First – what exactly is a funnel?
Second – if you decide to use one for your business, is the most popular platform – ClickFunnels – a smart choice?
In this in-depth, no-fluff review, we’ll answer both questions by…
- Explaining how funnels make businesses money.
- Comparing ClickFunnels (CF) to its competitors: LeadPages and OptimizePress.
- Taking a look at CF’s features and functionality.
If you’re a beginner – or interested in understanding funnels and direct marketing – set aside 15 minutes to read the entire review. If you know the basics and want to learn about just about ClickFunnels then 5-10 minutes will suffice.
Either way, funnels are perhaps the best way to get leads, sell digital or physical e-commerce products and market effectively – and you’re about to see why. Let’s start by discussing…
What a Funnel Is
Before you understand what a sales funnel – also called a “customer acquisition funnel” – is, you need to understand direct marketing.
The defining feature of direct marketing is that it revolves around a specific, desired action – usually, a purchase made by the consumer.
This is a very important distinction. In traditional marketing, companies like Volkswagen spend $5 million to run one Super Bowl ad – but the ads never explicitly tell consumers to buy anything.
That’s because traditional marketing doesn’t try to make viewers take a specific action like direct marketing does.
Sure: after running that $5-million ad, corporate executives sit in their top-floor board rooms, trying to figure out whether the promotion helped sell more cars or not…
But there’s no way to know for sure – at least not in the short run.
This is why small and mid-sized businesses avoid traditional marketing. It just doesn’t make sense to pour money into something that’s unpredictable and difficult to quantify.
Instead, all but the largest businesses tend to go for direct marketing where the goal is always clear. Typically, the goal is to make a sale or get a new prospect on your list. This is done by reaching out to people directly and seeing if they want what you’ve got.
In the past, this was done via selling door-to-door; direct-mail sales letters; cold calling.
Today, these methods may seem a little cheesy to sophisticated users…
But the fact is that U.S. direct marketers make 2 trillion dollars in sales each year – well over 10% of the United States’ GDP. Odds are, you’ve made numerous purchases via direct marketing yourself.
That’s how big direct marketing is.
And now you can get your own slice of this 2 trillion dollar pie using sales funnels: automated systems that automate the direct marketing process using webpages, videos and e-mails.
That may sound confusing – so here’s a simpler analogy. A funnel is a essentially a website, or a part of a website, where everything is geared towards converting website visitors into leads or paying customers. It’s your business’s direct-marketing base camp. For real-world examples of this you can watch this free webinar presentation called Funnel Hacks. It is actually put together by the creator of CF, Russell Brunson.
You’re about to learn more about what a funnel needs to have in a second – but for now, make note that:
- Direct marketing is a huge industry that’s made thousands of millionaires.
- Sales Funnels automate direct sales, allowing you to make money without.
How Sales and Marketing Funnels Work
NOTE: You can see a simple video explanation of sales and marketing funnels here on this page of the CF website
So how do marketing funnels automate the sales process – and what are they made of?
Let’s answer that by looking at a simple funnel:
- You create a landing page where you could offer people a free lead magnet – like a free e-book or product trial – in return for their e-mail address. This is how you build your e-mail list.
- You create a sales page where you sell your core product via text or video.
- You drive referral and paid traffic to your sales and landing pages.
- You build your list and make some sales, reinvesting some of that money into more traffic which leads to more sales.
- Assuming your product does well, you eventually add a “one time offer” page that shows up after the core offer is bought. On the OTO page, you try to make another sale – and this process can be repeated multiple times.
NOTE: You can learn about different funnel structures and setups in various markets in this free funnel training webinar put together by the CF team.
The wisdom of building an e-mail list isn’t immediately apparent – but common digital marketing wisdom states that each person on your list nets you $1/month.
That’s because you can sell them your product again and again, as well as marketing other products – all at a profit.
So while the end goal of any funnel is to sell a product, getting e-mails is an important stepping stone.
Now, the example above is an illustration of a simple funnel. In reality, there are lots of different components you can use. Here’s a comprehensive list:
– Landing Pages
Also known as opt-in pages and lead pages. These pages offer the user a product trial, physical freebie or free content in exchange for their e-mail, which you can later use for marketing purposes.
– E-mail Series
The point of a funnel is to automate the sale. That’s why most marketers have a series of e-mails that gets sent to new subscribers automatically. A typical e-mail series is anywhere from 5 to 15 letters, at least 2 of which invite users to the sales page.
– Sales Pages
Sales pages are where your “product pitch” goes. Some pitches are just a few hundred words long. Others come in the form of 1-hour videos or 5,000-word manuscripts. Longet sales pages are standard on clickbank.com: the internet’s leading direct-marketing platform.
– Quizzes and Surveys
Quizzes and surveys help figure out exactly what a visitor wants and needs. They can redirect users to customized sales and landing pages that are tailored to the answers given in the quiz.
– Upsell and One Time Offer Sales Pages
You’ve made a sale – but it’s not time to let the customer exit the funnel just yet. Upsell and OTO sales pages pitch more stuff to people who just bought from you, maximizing your sale there and then.
Not all funnels are continuous, “in-the-moment” experiences. Sometimes, it’s better to let the customer have a close look at what they’re about to buy – especially if you’re selling products that cost hundreds and thousands of dollars. A live or pre-recorded webinar helps educate users before they commit to buying a high-ticket product like that. CF is a particularly good platform for webinars. They have actually put together this script which outlines what the “perfect” webinar should look like in terms of structure.
– Checkout Pages
After users agree to buy from you via a sales page, webinar or e-mail, you’ve got to finalize the sale. This happens on the checkout page. A sloppy, unprofessional-looking checkout page can affect your marketing success; the same goes for pages that don’t seem secure.
In the past, setting up funnels to include all of the above elements was expensive and complicated. Just consider the Apple Music funnel, which gave the service 17 million users (as of November 2016):
- Apple’s didn’t have a “landing page” but they did have iTunes: a popular, free app that required users’ e-mails during registration. This is how Apple built its list.
- Once Apple was ready to roll out Apple Music, they e-mailed their list – which had 800+ million people at that point.
- They used e-mails and in-app promotions to direct people to their sales page, which offered a free Apple Music trial.
- As a result of this simple but effective funnel, Apple had a user base of 6,500,000 individuals the month they rolled out Apple Music. Today, the number is 17 million.
At $8-$10/month for individual users, you can figure that Apple makes well over $100 million monthly off this core offer – and the great thing is, they’ve still got that massive list. They can keep sending people new limited offers, new upsells and new products – all at a profit.
Now, this case study is cool, but it also illustrates why funnels were too complex for small and mid-sized businesses to run. There was too much stuff to do and keep organized…
At least until celebrity online marketer Russel Brunson went public with ClickFunnels: an unprecedented all-in-one funnel solution that’s been blowing up all of 2016. Now, you have the ability to make your own funnel websites in as little as 10 minutes!
And in the next sections, we’re going to take an in-depth look at exactly what ClickFunnels offers you – and how it’s different from its competitors, LeadPages and OptimizePress.
The In-Depth ClickFunnels Review
ClickFunnels is a complete funnel solution, which means there’s a lot of moving pieces. However, CF is bafflingly simple to use – and it all starts with the user interface.
- User Interface
There’s a lot to do in ClickFunnels – so it’s important that all the buttons and content are presented in a way that’s easy to use.
CF succeeds here, with the post login page having:
- Clearly labeled videos that help you figure out how the platform works in under 30 minutes.
- Links to all your funnels, ordered by group.
- A drop-down menu where you can ask for help, access advanced functions or make changes to your account.
- A bottom-right corner support button where you can get live support – or, during peak hours, pose your question for a specialist to answer later.
All in all, the user interface is clean, simple and effective. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a total internet newbie, you’ll get the hang of things in just a few minutes.
And once you do, you’ll want to dive into the editor and try your hand at making your various funnel pages, which we’ll explain below.
Also, if you don’t want to build funnels from scratch we’ve created this resource for you: Our library of free high converting ClickFunnels templates.
- Landing Pages
Traditional direct marketing wisdom says that the money’s in the list. That’s why making a landing page, also known as a “squeeze” or “opt-in” page, is the first thing you’ll want to do.
Fortunately, ClickFunnels has over 40 templates that make it easy to get a page you’re happy with in minutes. Some of the designs look cheesy and cheap, while others resemble stunning corporate pages – so there’s something here for everyone.
The page builder makes it easy to create your own page from scratch, copy a competitor’s design or play around with one of the templates. All you need to do is create the elements you want; configure them; drag and drop the elements to where they should be.
Although the design options aren’t technically limitless, ClickFunnels does offer a lot of options with their 3-tiered layout system, composed of:
Website sections make up your page and typically include the header, body and footer. CF gives you total freedom over your sections: you can change their size and color or make a section with a video background. Once you’ve configured the sections, fill them up with…
- Rows and Columns
Rows and columns go inside sections. For example – let’s say you want your header to have a logo and a few links. You’ll want to make a 2-row column, with one column containing the logo, and another – the links. All of this may be hard to imagine, because rows and columns tend to be invisible – but suffice to say, this is how all modern websites are built, and CF’s drag-and-drop interface makes things easy.
Once you’ve set up your sections and the rows and columns inside them, it’s time to deploy your elements. These range from pictures to countdown timers to autoplay videos; there’s a lot of options, and we’ll cover all of them in the next section.
What matters for now is that, unlike its competitors, CF gives you:
- A simple, drag-and-drop interface with 3 editable “tiers”: sections; rows and columns; elements.
- Full freedom in using the builder. This means you can make your site look (and function) whichever way you like, with very few limitations.
The one element you will not be able to deploy on your landing page is a buy button. To do that, you’ll have to start building…
- Sales Pages
Sales pages are built using the same intuitive, 3-tier interface used to make landing pages. The key difference is that landing pages are optimized for getting e-mails while sales pages are optimized for selling.
This means that Sales Page templates – all 15-odd of them – come with buy now buttons, which are disabled in the Landing Page builder.
Speaking of the templates… They’re best suited for Video Sales Letters (videos that sell your product). If you have a text Sales Page in mind, you’ll likely have to make (or copy) a design on your own.
This is no big deal, with CF’s page builder giving you as many options as you could want when it comes to making a page…
But it still feels like a letdown after all the great Landing Page designs available on CF. It feels odd to say we have a gripe with a platform that’s so all-around outstanding – but this section could definitely use more templates.
Fortunately, CF has so many different page elements you can make any kind of page you want. Here’s a list of some our favorites, just to give you an idea of how powerful the platform is.
- Page Elements
All the “regular” elements are here: text blocks, headlines, an embedded video player, input forms, buy buttons…
But what’s really cool is the unique elements that help you create an attractive, professional page in the builder. Our favorites are:
- Price Table – allows you to create a professional-looking, customized price table on your page!
- Countdown Timer – counts down the time to an offer’s expiration. Can be used together with ClickFunnels’ “timer” setting to make page elements appear (or disappear) once the timer runs out.
III. FAQ Block – helps you display frequently asked questions and the answers to them; looks great.
- SMS Sign-Up – allows users to sign up for SMS reminders when they join your e-mail list or sign up for a webinar.
- Survey element – allows you to create a multi-step, multi-page survey process that you can use to make the most appropriate offer possible to your prospects.
There’s other stuff too, like a progress bar and a video unlocker, but the point is this…
One or two of the elements aren’t as complex as what you’d get in a custom-made website. For example, the countdown timers only work once; when a user opens a page twice, the timer will be “expired” from the start.
But considering you’re getting the complete CF page builder for $97, this is still a steal!
Especially when you consider…
- Auxiliary Pages
Usually, a drag-and-drop page builder would only have 2 page types: landing pages and sales pages. This is what LeadPages started out doing, offering opt-in pages and nothing else.
ClickFunnels picks a different strategy, and does its best to offer customers a true all-in-one DIY funnel solution.
For example, let’s say you have an online academy or digital course where people need to access audio files, video lessons and e-books.
Usually, you’d need a separate service to run the membership section of your site… But ClickFunnels gives you a separate “membership” funnel type, with 2 unique pages that let you run a membership site from inside ClickFunnels.
Pretty impressive, right? And it’s not (nearly) all.
ClickFunnels has a page that you can connect with Google Hangouts or a variety of other services to run Webinars – also from inside ClickFunnels.
What’s that? Still not awesome enough?
How about having a quiz funnel, which – again – would usually cost you extra and involve a third-party service…
Also from inside ClickFunnels?
We don’t know about you, but we think that’s downright awesome – and this kind of attention to detail is what’s made ClickFunnels the market leader in the Funnels niche.
And if you want something ClickFunnels doesn’t offer, that’s fine too: they offer a rich variety of integrations for everything they don’t personally do themselves. This is great, because there’s 2 things ClickFunnels does not do…
Remember how the whole point of a funnel is to drive sales?
To do that online, you’ve got to be able to process sales. While ClickFunnels doesn’t do that per se, they do offer integrations with Braintree, Stripe, PayPal, Ontraport and other payment services.
That way, your customers can continue to use the services they know they can trust – and you can easily integrate them into your website.
Even better, with services like Stripe and Braintree, you can enable 1-click buys and upsells, helping you get even more out of every sale you make.
Another important thing ClickFunnels doesn’t do is deliver e-mails; you’ll need a dedicated service like Aweber, MailChimp or GetResponse for that.
Fortunately, ClickFunnels integrates with every major e-mail delivery system – which you can (partially) configure as part of your funnel from inside the platform.
In other words, ClickFunnels leaves you to look for third-party support in some areas, namely: payment processing and e-mailing clients.
At the same time, you can integrate whatever services you’re using with CF in seconds – so the whole process is neither difficult nor time-consuming.
And CF more than makes up for these minor shortfalls with their…
- Affiliate System
Have you ever heard of affiliate marketing?
If you haven’t, here’s how it works. You let someone else drive traffic to your funnel. Usually, this is a partner with a huge e-mail list or a large ad budget.
Then you track their traffic – and give them commission on each sale made from it. Simple and profitable – all you need to do is create a funnel that works.
The tricky part is usually tracking traffic. Automating this usually requires a third-party service like Omnistar or iDevAffiliate…
But with ClickFunnels’ Backpack feature, available to advanced users paying $297/month, you’re going to save hundreds of dollars by getting your own built-in affiliate system.
That might seem expensive, but let’s be real: partnering up with list owners to market a successful funnel usually creates 5 or 6-figure profits. When you look at it like that, Backpack is well worth it – and you don’t have to upgrade to it until you’re ready.
In fact, when compared to the “other guys” on the market, ClickFunnels isn’t particularly expensive at all.
Their full-feature memberships start at $97; about even with LeadPages’ $79/month, especially considering the extra functions you get… And comparable with OptimizePress, where $97 lets you run 3 sites – albeit indefinitely.
NOTE: See a full list of the CF platform features here on this explainer page
What’s that? You think the platform you can use INDEFINITELY sounds like a better deal?
Don’t jump to conclusions just yet. Not all funnel platforms are created equal – and you should hold off on making a decision you see how LeadPages and OptimizePress are different from CF in the next section!
Competition, Comparisons and ClickFunnels Alternatives
Okay, so now that we’ve looked at ClickFunnels in detail, let’s look at the “other guys” on the block! First up is LeadPages; perhaps the best-established platform on the market.
Lead pages started out as a simple platform with just one function: creating landing pages. Since then, it’s evolved to allow users to make sales pages and even complete funnels – although to a lesser degree than ClickFunnels.
The first thing you’ll notice with LP is that their page builder isn’t drag and drop. This means you can’t just pick up and move page elements; in fact, most of the templates have strict limits on what you can and can’t do.
In other words, you’re pretty much stuck with whatever layout LP gives you…Which isn’t as bad as it sounds, because the platform has 100+ templates – many of them proven to work. Sure, the pages aren’t really customizable, it’s not all bad.
Still when compared to ClickFunnels, the lack of flexibility feels less fun and modern. In 2016, you sort of expect the ability to move things around as you wish – and in this department, LP is lacking.
It’s also lacking in terms of auxiliary pages, integrations and affiliate functionality. In a nutshell, LeadPages just wasn’t built to do everything ClickFunnels does. It’s first and foremost a landing page platform – not one made with complete funnels in mind.
Fortunately, their pricing policy reflects this, with LP costing consistently less than CF. Their monthly membership starts at $79, and goes below $50 when you pay for 1+ years; significantly less than CF.
One area in which LeadPages clearly trumps ClickFunnels is mobile reach. LeadPages’ builder allows you to preview how a page will look on mobile – and since their pages are quite rigid, most designs translate well to smartphones.
This is not the case with ClickFunnels, which tends to look awful on mobile devices and has no preview function, period.
Those are just about all the reasons you might want to choose LP: it costs less, it has more templates and it’s better for making mobile-optimized pages.
In everything else, ClickFunnels is just plain better – which is why most people choose it, and why LeadPages’ traffic rankings have steadily fallen over the past year.
Which brings us to competitor #2: Optimize Press!
OptimizePress is substantially different from both ClickFunnels and LeadPages. CF and LP are monthly services. They allow you to build multiple pages and websites so long as you continue paying them each month.
With OptimizePress, what you’re paying for is a piece of software that you have to install on your website. Specifically, you’re getting a WordPress theme designed for landing pages and sales pages.
And that might seem cool – because unlike with CF and LP, you can get 3 OP licenses for just $97 and use them forever…
But the sad truth is that no matter how hard it tries, OptimizePress is still a WordPress theme – and with WP being 13+ years old, the platform’s age is starting to show.
There’s no drag-and-drop functionality at all. In fact, there isn’t even a WYSIWYG editor where you can see changes as they’re being made. If you want to work with OptimizePress, you’ll be clicking from tab to tab and reloading pages to make sure the changes you wanted were made.
Oh, and it gets worse…
ClickFunnels pages are highly customizable; LeadPages has lots of beautiful, proven templates. OptimizePress gets the worst of both worlds by having neither.
Most of the time, you won’t even be able to make the page look exactly how you want it to unless you know PhP and/or HTML!
So while this is the cheapest of the 3 platforms, and the only one you won’t have to pay for on a monthly basis…
Is your sales funnel – your online profit center for your entire business – something you want to penny-pinch on?
That’s why, if we may be totally frank, we discourage you from using OptimizePress unless you absolutely must avoid monthly payments for whatever reason.
Now, at this point you might be thinking…
“Gee, these guys must be on ClickFunnels’ payroll. I mean, aren’t they going to say a single bad thing about the platform?”
And it’s true; we’ve mostly talked up CF while downplaying the other 2 platforms in this article. That may seem biased…
But the truth is, we prefer because CF it’s the newest and best platform, as shown by its dramatic rise in popularity. We’re not paid by the platform – and to to prove it, we’ll tell you about the annoying, unfixed problems we dislike about ClickFunnels.
ClickFunnels: The Bad
Here are the things we really don’t love about ClickFunnels:
- By default, every page comes with a ClickFunnels badge. This is cool if you want to make affiliate sales for the company – but for most of us, it’s just an annoyance. There’s an option to turn the badge off for good, but it doesn’t appear to work. You’ll have to disable this badge on just about every single page you make – which only takes a few seconds, but is still irritating.
- When you’re moving your funnel website to your domain, you’ve got to set the URL up in 3 places: Funnel settings, Page settings and Account Settings. This, again, is unnecessary and annoying – even though it only takes a few seconds to “fix”.
- ClickFunnels can malfunction and glitch because they’re constantly adding and testing new functions. We’re hard-pressed to think of a time when this affected our work in any way, but we do believe it has happened at some point, so, you know… Be careful.
None of these problems are serious; certainly not when compared to LeadPages’ editing limitations and the woefully outdated OptimizePress.
At the same time, issues are issues – and ClickFunnels certainly isn’t perfect.
You’ve almost finished the article. Well done! In a few moments, you’ll be well on your way to making your first money using a funnel… Even if you don’t have a product and have literally never marketed before.
That’s a huge promise, but before I make good on it, let me show you a fun case study.
In 2014, Harry’s created a pre-launch landing page. In just 1 week, the page got them 100,000 list subscribers – which, as you may remember, should roughly correlate to $100,000 in monthly turnover.
And the amazing thing is, most of the people didn’t end up on the landing page via paid traffic.
They were referred there.
That means over 65,000 people joined the list without Harry’s having to pay to bring them there…
Eventually helping the young brand stand up to the established Dollar Shave Club.
That’s the kind of power sales funnels, and landing pages in particular, have – and now you have everything you need to make your very own funnel.
Don’t just take my word for it. The next step is see some more proof in different industries.
In this Webinar, Russel Brunson, the creator of ClickFunnels’, shows you how he makes $17,947 each day with just one funnel…
And explains how you can ethically copy what he’s doing to start making money immediately – even if you’ve got no product right now.
Watching this webinar will also get you a 2-week trial of ClickFunnels, so there’s absolutely nothing to lose if you click this link and hear what Russel has to say.
Because I could sit here all day and tell you how much I love ClickFunnels and how much money it’s made for myself and other people…
But at the end of the day, nothing beats watching over Russel’s shoulder as he shows you how his $17,947 funnel works – and how you can replicate what he’s doing.
Let me know what you think about this article, and the webinar, by commenting below.