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Online Lead Generation (2022 Guide) (2023)

Online lead generation is the process of building consumer interest in your products and services on the internet. Before making a purchase, customers go online to research products and services, compare competitor offerings and learn more about their interests. Learning how to capture that online traffic and convert it into actionable leads is essential to grow your business.

In this guide, we will discuss what lead generation is, why it’s important, and how you can start generating leads online for your business today.

What Is Lead Generation?

A person or a company showing interest in your product or service is a “lead.” The process of proactively attracting the leads, with the aim of converting them into paying customers, is called “lead generation.”

Lead generation primarily consists of two types—inbound and outbound.

Inbound Lead Generation

Any prospect or lead who is attracted by your marketing and comes to you is an inbound lead. The exhibition of interest could be through:

  • Filling out the inquiry form after reading content on your website
  • Downloading an e-book
  • Requesting a demo after watching a webinar
  • Filling out a survey

Inbound lead generation strategy is called “inbound marketing.”

Outbound Lead Generation

Sending messages to the target audience, whether they have expressed interest or not, is called “outbound lead generation.”

This can take the form of:

  • Cold calling
  • Cold emailing
  • Mass emailing
  • Direct advertising
  • Social media advertising

Outbound lead generation strategy is also called “outbound marketing.”

Inbound vs. Outbound: Which Strategy Is Right for You?

Each of these two strategies has its own advantages and limitations. Outbound marketing gives you better control over how and when the prospects engage with your brand. With inbound strategies, you allow the prospects to choose how they wish to engage.

Outbound lead generation works best in the short term but inbound lead generation works over a long period of time. These campaigns have higher costs because advertising or cold calling is typically expensive. Inbound campaigns have lower costs and, since they work for a long time, the cost per lead reduces significantly as time progresses. It is also cheaper to start with and has lower risks.

It is up to you to choose the right strategy that fits your business needs. If you have the budget, you can start with outbound strategies for quicker impact and keep building on inbound assets in parallel. Once inbound lead generation gains momentum, you can start cutting on outbound strategies.

In this article, we will focus on inbound lead generation strategies because they have a low barrier to entry and all businesses—whatever their size or maturity level—should give them a try.

Types of Leads

There are multiple types of leads, depending upon the source. Here are four of the most common:

  • Marketing qualified leads: These are leads that have interacted with your marketing team and shown interest. However, they are not yet ready for sales and need to be nurtured further.
  • Sales qualified leads: These are contacts who want to buy a product or service. The interest could have been expressed by sending an inquiry, filling out a form to ask more about your product or services or calling up your sales help desk. They are often the easiest leads to convert.
  • Product qualified leads: Customers who have already tried out your product and shown interest in upgrading to a paid version are called product qualified leads. They are typically people who signed up for your free or trial product version and now want to upgrade to a paid tier.
  • Service qualified leads: These are customers who are interested in your product or service. For instance, say you offer five products to your customers. During a service request, one of your customers tells your service representative that they are interested in two of your other products.

How Online Lead Generation Works: 4 Simple Steps

This is how the online lead generation process for gathering inbound leads typically works:

  1. Prospects discover your business through one of your marketing channels (social media, blog, website, webinar, etc.)
  2. They read your posts or blogs and then follow through with your call to action (CTA)
  3. This CTA takes the visitor to a landing page on your website
  4. On the landing page, you collect their information in exchange for an offer. This offer may be an e-book, case study, research, white paper, cheat sheet, newsletter subscription, etc.

Collecting contact information is the first step toward converting the lead into a paying customer because it takes multiple contact points before they are ready to purchase. You need to cultivate a relationship with them over a period of time. Engaging with the leads, supporting them and maintaining continuous communication to prime them for making a purchase is called “lead nurturing.”

You should store all leads in customer relationship management (CRM) software so that it is easy for you to nurture the lead. There are many CRM software options available. Explore some of the best ones and you can choose the one that’s best for you.

5 Ways Lead Generation Helps Small Businesses

Inbound lead generation helps small businesses in multiple ways. Here are just a few:

  • Build brand awareness and visibility. Online lead generation activities help you in building brand awareness and generating customer interest in your products and services. Once the prospects start trusting your brand, they will be more willing to share their contact information in exchange for an offer and eventually make a purchase.
  • Generate business opportunities. Besides providing you with a list of qualified prospects, lead generation activities can generate other business opportunities such as collaboration and building partnerships.
  • Improve the quality of leads. The quality of leads is often higher when you facilitate inbound lead generation activities rather than buying leads. Needless to say, higher-quality leads mean more value per customer and lead to business growth.
  • Reduce outbound lead generation efforts. As discussed earlier, outbound lead generation efforts are more expensive. As inbound lead generation efforts take hold, you can cut back on outbound marketing and reduce your cost per lead.
  • Targeting desired customers. If you have multiple demographic sets to target, you can create lead generation campaigns targeted specifically for each segment.

How To Generate Leads Online: 8 Time-Tested Techniques

Here are eight simple techniques you can use to generate online leads.

Search Engine Optimization
Whenever your prospects want to know something or solve a problem, they search online. You can optimize your online presence—website, blog, social media accounts, aggregator platforms, etc.—in a way that they find their way to you. As these are people searching for solutions to their problems, if your content helps them, they are likely to buy a related product or service from you. Many powerful SEO tools are available for a low monthly cost.

Content Marketing
Content marketing is a great way to send qualified leads to your landing page. To accomplish this, you need to create useful and informative content and distribute it where the target audience is. Although the content is free to read, you can add calls to action anywhere on the page to ask for their contact information in exchange for more relevant information such as an e-book, reports or white papers.

If your content solves their exact pain point, they are highly likely to sign up to receive your offer. Content marketing is a long-term game and you should expect it to take at least six to nine months for the organic traffic (market qualified leads) to snowball into purchases (sales qualified leads).

If you feel you are not yet ready to start content marketing on outside platforms, consider starting a blog. Create blog posts around keywords your prospects are searching for and you can attract organic traffic from multiple search engines. Don’t forget to add calls to action in the blog posts so that you can generate leads from the organic traffic.

Consistent blogging can push your content to the featured snippets and top of the search engine results page (SERP), generating high-quality organic traffic.

Social Media Marketing
Social media platforms are a great way to gather followers by sharing useful content and then guiding them to take appropriate action. You can promote your offerings and even include a call to action in your bio, caption or posts. Pick up some free social media management software to push content on multiple platforms at the same time.

Informative webinars that solve the pain points of your target customers are a good way to make a more personal connection and generate leads. If the prospects find your webinar useful, they should be willing to share their contact details at the end of the webinar to receive information about your related product or service.

Industry Research Reports
Publishing industry research reports is a good way to establish your credibility and share contextual information. You can commission original research studies, partner with online research organizations or curate the latest studies from multiple credible sources. Then, get leads by offering a free download of the report in exchange for contact details.

White Papers or E-Books
White papers and e-books that solve problems or provide information to your target audience are good ways to generate leads online. People who share their contact information in exchange for these resources are already looking for solutions that your product or service solves. Hence, these are highly qualified leads.

Weekly or monthly newsletters are a good way to keep your leads engaged. Set expectations from the newsletter so that people on your list know what to expect from you and when. You can share new product releases, promotional offers, surveys and more through the newsletter.

Bottom Line

Online lead generation should be the top priority for your business because the way customers make buying decisions has changed. Use the techniques we have discussed in this article to start generating leads online. Explore each of them and then decide on the one that best fits your business needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I buy leads?

Purchased leads come from people who opted in for a different product or service. Therefore, they are low-quality leads for you. When you send them a “cold” email, they have no idea who you are and the chances of converting them to paying customers are very low. Many of them will either send your emails to their spam folder or opt out of receiving communication from you entirely.

How can I generate online leads?

Lead generation primarily falls into two categories: inbound and outbound. Outbound lead generation typically involves cold calling, mailers and other methods of getting your information directly to potential customers. Inbound leads are cultivated by drawing customers to you, by creating an online presence that encourages them to provide contact information, sometimes in exchange for exclusive offers.

What types of leads are there?

There are several different types of leads you may have, including marketing qualified leads, sales qualified leads, product qualified leads and service qualified leads. Marketing qualified leads are leads that have contacted your marketing departments in some manner, such as filling out an interest form but have not purchased any goods or services. Sales qualified leads are leads that show they plan on becoming a customer, such as asking detailed questions about your services or products. Product qualified leads are those who have used your product previously and are open to continuing or expanding that use, such as those who have taken advantage of a free trial and now want to continue after the trial period ends. A service qualified lead is one who made contact through your customer service department and indicate that they wish to purchase your good or services.