It may capture leads, qualify leads and convert leads, but it will never, ever, generate leads.
Think about it. How does someone end up at your website? No one just types it in randomly. Somehow or another, they heard about your site and thought that it might be of interest to them.
This is an important distinction. A great website is an essential piece of your lead generation strategy, but it does absolutely nothing on its own. You have to provide it with a steady flow of interested people for it to do its job. Without actual lead generation tactics, you’ll share your message with absolutely no one.
Fortunately, there are many, many effective ways to generate leads for your website:
- Generic domain names – This could be considered an exception to what I said above, so I’ll address it first. Many people will try just typing in generic words as domain names to see what comes up. Some businesses have simply made that generic name their brand (Bags.com, Blinds.com), while others have purchased those generic names as a way to generate relevant traffic (Books.com – Barnes & Noble, Aspirin.com – Bayer). Those one-word domains may be hard to come by, but a 2 or 3 word descriptive domain appropriate to your business might not be, e.g., DallasDivorceAttorney.com or PhiladelphiaDJ.com. Even if people don’t type it in directly, descriptive domain names will generally rank well on searches for those keywords.
- Organic search (SEO) – For many small business sites on a budget, this is the #1 source of online lead generation. It’s free, and it’s very effective…if you can get ranked well for keywords relevant to your business. There have been volumes written on search engine optimization, and the nuances of it are constantly changing, but for most small businesses, a simple two-pronged strategy is extremely effective: 1) publish keyword-rich content on your site on a regular basis that’s compelling enough to make people want to link to it, and 2) interact with people to share the link and encourage them to as well. Which brings us to…
- Social media – The new social web offers several tactics for lead generation. First, your fans can easily tell others about you and share your content. That’s great if you have a bunch of raving fans who also happen to be active social media users. Most companies have to work for it a little more. As with your website, publishing alone won’t bring followers — you have to proactively seek out people and participate in the venues and public conversations that are relevant to your business. Interaction creates attraction. And when those people link to your content, that helps your search engine rankings.
- Advertising comes in many forms online. While the old horizontal banner ads have all but disappeared from most mainstream websites, display advertising is still alive and well on the web. While some sites sell ads directly, most work with advertising networks, which they’ll be able to refer you to. The other approach is text ads, which are usually on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis. These are offered by most of the major search engines, as well as some independent ad networks. Again, the site you want to advertise on should be able to refer you to the appropriate ad network.
- Joint ventures and affiliates are a great way to reach new people. One form of joint venture is the “quid pro quo” approach — they promote your product to their list and you promote their product to your list. This is usually only done, though, if the lists are of the same order of magnitude. Otherwise, there will have to be some sort of revenue sharing, or affiliate program. This can be a highly effective strategy and usually involves little or no up-front cost to implement. Choose your associates carefully, though, as their behavior will reflect on you to some extent.
- Content marketing is kind of a hybrid of some of the tactics listed above, but it still merits its own entry. The key here is to publish your content on sites (other than your own website) that already have traffic, that already have an audience of people looking for information about the topics you’re creating content about. Videos on YouTube, slide presentations on SlideShare, white papers on Scribd, articles on EzineArticles — the opportunities are endless. If you can get a regular column in a major outlet, that’s even better. Don’t be overtly promotional, but do be sure to always have a link back to your site, if possible, or at least have your domain name prominently displayed. You want to drive direct traffic, not just create brand awareness.
- Publicity should be an essential part of any small business’ marketing strategy. At a bare minimum, you should be monitoring Help A Reporter Out (HARO) for media opportunities and pitching relevant local and industry media about your company. Seek out relevant internet radio shows and podcasters that might interview you. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and contains relevant keywords — it’s how many reporters, bloggers and other media producers find expert sources to interview.
- Email lists – Depending on your business, you can buy or rent a list of people matching certain demographic criteria. How effective is it? It depends on the quality of the list, the relevance of it to your business, and then having a compelling offer that will drive people to take action. Stick with an established provider and focus the list as narrowly as possible to get to your ideal clients, not just a broad demographic segment.
- Offline promotion – Put your web address (URL) on your business cards, invoices, brochures, menus — pretty much every piece of printed material that a customer will receive from you. Use it on billboards, TV and radio ads. Show it on the last slide of any presentations you do. Of course, if you’re not putting a piece of paper in their hands, it needs to be short and memorable — yet another reason to get a descriptive domain name!
Notice that webinars and teleseminars aren’t on the list. Why not? Because you have to promote them, too, to get people to attend and you can only promote them to people you’ve already reached via some other means. They’re a great conversion tactic, but not usually a good lead generation tactic, unless they’re being done as part of a joint venture and you’re accessing someone else’s list.
Note also how many of the items on the list above refer to another item on the list. Each tactic may be moderately effective on its own, but they work best when combined with the others. That’s why an integrated marketing plan is so important. Remember, people have to hear your message an average of seven or more times before taking action. The more channels you’re distributing your message through, the sooner you’ll reach that critical mass in the mind of your potential customers.