You are reading contentfolks—a fortnightly blend of sticky notes, big content ideas, and small practical examples. Thank you for being here! ~fio
Hey there 👋
Whenever you talk about work with other content folks, chances are you’re all using the same words but meaning slightly different things, without realising you’re not fully on the same page.
That’s because of a sneaky phenomenon our Head of Marketing at Postmark (hey Justine) mentioned a few months back, which I’ve been thinking about ever since: ‘black hole words’.
Black hole words—and why avoid them
Molly Graham defines black hole words as “words that are commonplace in a given industry but everyone has a slightly different definition of them.” Just like black holes suck all matter and light out of nearby space, words like growth, marketing, sales, CMO, strategy, impact can “suck all the meaning and consensus out of a room, out of a business, and out of a company. […] You can have a whole meeting and if you don’t define the word, you just wasted an hour of everyone’s time.”
As a content person, your conversations will often revolve around topics like content strategy, partner marketing, TOFU/MOFU/BOFU campaigns, sales enablement. What is not immediately obvious is that everyone involved in the conversation has their own definition of these words, yourself included—and unless or until someone spells out exactly how they are using a term, everybody’s going to operate under the assumption of shared understanding.
Black hole words can impact all content roles:
If you lead a content team and use black hole words without making sure everybody is on the same page, you’re causing misalignment and won’t get optimal performance from the folks you manage
If you are part of a team or work as a freelance consultant and don’t understand exactly what is behind black hole words requests, you might end up wasting time and effort delivering X while people were expecting Y.
💡 A practical example 💡
A couple of weeks ago, my content pal Lily asked for my definition of MOFU vs. BOFU (i.e. middle vs. bottom of the funnel) content.
The concept of black hole words was fresh in my mind, so I gave her my definition and suggested that we crowdsource a few others to compare it with.
Here are some of the answers we collected in the Superpath community. Spoiler alert: you’re about to see six people have six individual, overlapping-but-not-really ways to understand the same four-letter concept.
Dom from Mio:
Bottom of the funnel is the bit before they exchange money or sign a contract. So content is around removing any obstacles that get in the way of that.
BOFU assets usually include: 1. Sales presentations 2. Landing pages 3. Case studies 4. ROI calculators 5. Self-setup articles.
Middle is obviously further up and therefore they are not ready to convert just yet. Which means they need different materials.
MOFU assets usually include: 1. How-to articles (that solve their problem using your product/service) 2. How-to videos as above 3. Gated eBooks/whitepapers that dive deep into a topic to demonstrate authority 4. Warm emails introducing your product (after they’ve opted in when reading your TOFU content) 5. Webinars on niche topics.
Tawni from Hotjar:
We sometimes categorize pieces as ‘MOFU-BOFU’ because the line is so blurry 😆
MOFU is a blend of high-level information with actionable, direct tips that show you how the high-level topic relates to the product, which might entice someone to sign up/buy
BOFU is typically focused on how the product helps you do X—so really JTBD-centered—and explicitly shows/tells someone they need to sign up/buy
But the line becomes even more blurry when you’re writing product-led content across the funnel, too!
Elena from Maze:
I think the conversation around the funnel is somewhat outdated because there’s no clear draw line between the types of content <> funnel stages. A case study can be a MOFU or a BOFU piece depending on the angle, the type of content, the customer journey etc.
That being said, this categorization into TOFU/MOFU/BOFU is still occasionally useful, if only to explain quickly to an executive or stakeholder what kind of content the team is creating and what overarching goals it’s contributing to (driving traffic vs. conversions vs. lead generation vs. retention). For example, depending on the business and marketing strategy, sometimes content teams are tasked with opening the top of the funnel and bringing in a lot of new traffic every month. If that’s the goal, then TOFU content is what the team is going to be creating.
Kane from ContentHarmony:
I’ve always replaced them verbally with the goal they align with, and made sure to add in a post-funnel stage.
TOFU goal is Awareness
MOFU goal is Engagement
BOFU goal is Conversion
POFU goal is Retention
Rishabh from Content Beta:
Middle-of-the-funnel content generally tackles keywords and pieces that are aimed towards the primary features or services of the brand whereas the bottom-of-the-funnel is for the conversion stage where the content is very focused and concentrated.
me from this newsletter you’re reading:
Given my product-led content approach, I look at content in terms of how much of a product I can bring into it regardless of where it might sit in a traditional funnel.
I’d rather divide content into: no way to mention the product → product can be mentioned in passing → product helps but is not essential → product is the irreplaceable, go-to solution. The latter two stages might be somewhat adjacent to what other people would locate around the mofu and bofu space… but I usually tell my colleagues we should forget about tofu → mofu → bofu entirely.
…do you see the black hole word in action? The six of us have different perspectives on what counts as BOFU, and some don’t even want to use the term. If we were ever on the same team, we’d first need to stop the stuff we were doing, compare our respective definitions, and then agree on one that works for everybody—or we’d be constantly shipping great but very misaligned content 😉
Black hole words can lead to wasted time and work, and occasionally even to disastrous decisions like hiring the wrong team leads or sinking a ton of money into projects that never stood a chance.
So from now on, avoid them whenever you spot them: make sure you always define your terms and ask your coworkers/clients to clarify theirs—it’s a small step that will make a huge difference.
PS: what’s your most recent black hole word? Mine is ‘operational excellence’, which someone asked me to clarify as soon as I used it over a Zoom call—I’m glad they did, or we could have spent the following 15 minutes discussing very different things.