Online Lead Generation: How to Generate Inbound Leads

Learn how to implement the top online lead generation methods for generating quality inbound leads for your small business.

Businesses leveraging online lead generation are able to generate leads the inbound way using various online strategies. There’s no need to pick up a phone or ask for a referral. In this article, we’ll discuss the basics of the online lead generation process, whether it’s right for you, and specifically how to do it. Sound good? Great, let’s begin.

What is Online Lead Generation?

Online lead generation is the inbound processes businesses use to attract and convert strangers into curious leads. It usually revolves around driving people who fit your buyer persona to a lead magnet that offers them something valuable in return for their contact info. The visitor becomes a lead when they take an action that signals their interest in your business. This could be an e-book download or a demo signup.

Here is a quick example of how online lead generation might proceed: 

  1. A business creates a targeted Facebook Ad. 
  2. A relevant Facebook user reads the ad, resonates with it, and clicks on it. 
  3. They end up on the business’s landing page, where they fill out a form with their contact information to receive an offer.
  4. Now, they have officially become a lead for further lead nurturing.

What you do next depends on your prospects, the information they provided, and your business type. For instance, a small B2C business that collected email addresses in return for an ultimate guide might send leads emails until they are ready to purchase. An expensive B2B brand that sourced phone numbers might have their sales reps call each lead.

Before continuing, keep in mind that this article covers inbound lead generation strategies through online methods. Outbound lead generation, on the other hand, consists of prospecting activities like cold calling, cold emailing, and LinkedIn social selling. If you’re interested in these outbound strategies, read our article on sales prospecting, otherwise, keep reading below.

Online Lead Generation Strategies

Broadly speaking, there are two online lead generation strategies that vary based on the lead magnet you create, the software you’ll use to offer the lead magnet, and the traffic you’ll send to that lead magnet. Regardless of what you choose, the overall process is the same however, where you’ll create an “online catchers mitt” for your leads, sending traffic to that mitt and capturing their info.

The best way to separate these lead generation strategies is by splitting them into two categories based on your lead magnet and lead capture software. You really only have two choices here. First, your lead magnet and capture software can live on your website. We’ll call this the lead generation website strategy. Or, they can live directly on social media. This is the paid social media lead generation strategy. Let’s dive into both.

Capture Leads With a Lead Generation Website

In the lead generation website strategy, you drive visitors to a landing page on your website, where they fill out a form to get something you’re offering. This could be an e-book, an ultimate guide, a demo, or a free trial. People fill out the form with the information you ask for (e.g. company name, name, email). To generate traffic to that page, you can use different traffic-driving methods, from free ones like organic SEO to paid ones like social ads.

Generate Leads Directly on Social Media

Capturing lead information directly on social media takes fewer steps as there is now no need to create a landing page with paid lead gen ads. With them, a visitor fills out a form directly on the social media platform in order to receive your offering. You can create these lead-capturing ads using Facebook lead ads or LinkedIn lead gen forms

One main benefit of this method is that users don’t have to leave the social media site. Also, additional data can sometimes be gleaned from your leads. Plus, since it’s easier, they might be more inclined to finish filling out the form.

Again, regardless of which of the two you choose above, the broad process for lead generation remains the same. Therefore, let’s now take a look at the six concrete steps you can take for online lead generation, including whether you want to build a lead generation website or use social media lead gen ads.

How to Generate Online Leads in 6 Steps

Online lead generation is all about creating an effective lead magnet and driving quality traffic to it. If the people who see your magnet like what you’re offering, they’ll click on it and begin their trip through the funnel, which begins when they give you their contact information and ends with them converting into a customer. In this post, we will focus on getting their contact info, which serves as them opting into your funnel.

There are six steps to do this: 

  1. Create a customer persona
  2. Map your lead generation funnel
  3. Create Free content
  4. Create a lead magnet
  5. Choose the Right Lead Capture Method
  6. Drive Traffic to Your Lead Magnet

Let’s now take a look at the entire process in more detail. By the end, you’ll understand how to create an online lead generation funnel by leveraging your website, social media, and more:

1. Create a Buyer Persona

The first step is to define the specific lead you’re targeting, which will dictate the type of lead magnet and the traffic sources you’ll use. You need to push your lead magnet to the people who are good fits for your business. Otherwise, you are attracting leads into your funnel who’ll eat up marketing resources and never buy. To avoid this, create a buyer persona, which is a categorical description of the person or business that’s a perfect match for your product or services:

customer profile example
Buyer persona example from Alexa Blog

To create your own buyer persona or customer profile, there are many templates available, notably from Canva. However, Hubspot has a powerful (and free) tool called Make My Persona, which can help you generate a targeted buyer persona for online lead generation.

2. Map Your Lead Generation Funnel

A lead generation funnel maps the journey of a lead from their initial expression of interest to their purchase. Typically lead generation funnels are split into three parts known as GNC:

  • Getting someone to opt into your lead funnel
  • Nurturing the lead
  • Converting the lead

In this article we are focusing on the first portion: getting leads to opt-in to your funnel. We want them to sign up for a newsletter, download a piece of content, or take another action that signals it is okay to nurture them. But, before you start creating your strategy for getting them to opt-in, you should have a good sense of what you are going to do with them after they give you their contact info.

Knowing what comes next guides you in creating your lead magnet, traffic driving strategy, and everything else we cover in this post. For instance, if you want them to enter into a six day email marketing campaign, your lead capture software needs to collect their email address. If you want to give them a demo next, your lead magnet should offer a free demo.

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Additional Reading:

For more detail on how to map a lead generation funnel that helps you convert online leads, check out our article on mapping your online lead generation funnel, including a detailed breakdown of the creation and ongoing optimization.

3. Create Free Content

It’s difficult to get someone unfamiliar with your brand to give you their contact info. People who know and trust your brand, on the other hand, will feel at ease giving you their contact information in return for a lead magnet offering. The best way to familiarize people with your brand and increase the conversion rate of your magnet is by creating and sharing free content. 

Free content consists of blog posts, articles, and videos that are all relevant to your industry and promoted organically via social media or Google search. 80% of the free content you create and share should be educational and informative, asking for nothing in return. The other 20% of it should have a clear call-to-action with the main purpose of collecting their contact information in return for an offer in your lead magnet, the next topic of discussion.

4. Create a Gated Lead Magnet

A lead magnet is a free and valuable resource that you offer to your audience in exchange for their contact info. Examples include a free demo, a helpful e-book, and a seat at a webinar. These magnets usually represent premium content residing behind a “gate” that can be opened only with the submission of contact information (name, email, number, etc.).

Common lead magnets include the following: 

  • A free demo of the software.
  • A free estimate on the value of their home.  
  • A report giving them statistics and information. 
  • An SEO check-list for new website builders. 
  • A video course about wilderness backpacking. 
  • 10 free Italian recipes you can cook in under 20 minutes.

For example, if your desired audience needs tips with things you have expertise on, you can create a cheat sheet or an ebook outlining top strategies. Check out a high-value lead magnet in the example below:

lead magnet example
Lead magnet example from Optinmonster

As you can see, lead magnets can take many forms. What matters most is that it is something your audience wants to have. For instance, if you are selling cookbooks to college kids, you might give them free recipes in exchange for their emails. Usually, the easiest ones to make are mini e-books, checklists, or how-to-guides. To create a lead magnet, take the following steps:

  1. Think About Your Audience’s Needs: Figure out what they want to learn more about. Ask yourself what questions they have that you can answer, or what problems you can solve. 
  2. Choose The Type of Content: Think over what format will best get your information across to the reader. If you want to teach them how to tennis serve Western-style, a video course might be a better option than an e-book. 
  3. Create Your Content: If it’s a video, shoot it. If it’s an ultimate guide, write it. Do thorough research and take your time creating and editing it. You want your audience to feel adequately rewarded for giving you their email address. 
  4. Design The Element: Lastly, you have to actually design what the lead magnet will look like. This is what visitors will see when they receive it in their inbox.

Besides winning their contact info, when you give your audience something valuable, they will start to trust your brand and your expertise. Therefore, they will be more likely to become a paying customer down the line. 

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Additional Reading:

If you want a detailed article on the best types of lead magnets, along with key templates to you, check out our ultimate guide on creating high-value lead magnets, including who each option is right for.

5. Choose The Right Lead Capture Strategy

Now that you have your lead magnet, decide where you want it to live and capture lead information. As we stated at the beginning, you can offer it on your website via a landing page or via lead capture software like embedded forms or popups. Alternatively, there are social media ads that let you offer your lead magnet directly on their platform.

Use a Lead Generation Website

Turning your website into a lead capture tool by creating a landing page or by using lead capture software like embedded forms, popups, and more.  The benefit of a landing page is that you have more room for design and sales copy, which can entice your audience to opt-in. Alternatively, the benefit of lead capture software is that you can offer your lead magnet directly within blog posts and similar content-types. Let’s look at both in detail:

Create a Landing Page

Your landing page is a static page on your lead generation website. It acts as a sales page, on which visitors land after clicking on one of your traffic drivers (e.g. a social ad). It’s crafted with one goal in mind: getting the visitor interested enough in your lead magnet to take a call-to-action (e.g. subscribing to your newsletter or downloading a piece of content). If it succeeds in this, the visitor plugs their contact info into a form, and bravo, lead generated! 

Quality landing usually pages have the following elements: 

  • Title: The title should be short and specific and should speak directly to your target buyer.
  • Sales Copy: Write in language that explains to visitors why they should take your call-to-action. It highlights the benefits of your lead magnet and how it can solve the audience’s problem.
  • Call-To-Action: The call-to-action should tell your reader to do something. “Read our e-book to learn how to invest during the next downturn”, is a common example. It should be clear and personalized to your target audience.
  • Lead-Capture Form: Your lead-capture or signup form is where you ask for a name, email address, and any other information you want to collect. Lead capture software, which we touch on below, can help you here. 
  • Other Features That Sell: You can also add testimonials, statistics, and images on your landing page. These can help you build credibility and evoke trust in the visitor.

Remember to A/B test your landing pages. For instance, try creating one with a testimonial and one without, and see which converts at a higher rate. Continue to test out different styles and iterating until you have an optimized landing page.

Also, try using video on your landing page. Sometimes the most effective videos are ones where you, or a colleague, speak directly into the camera to the visitor about your offering. This is a great way to help the customer connect with your brand, personality, and mission.

Landing page example
Kissmetrics landing page example

If you want more information on the best landing page builder options, check out our editorial review of the top landing page builder options for website lead generation.

Choose Your Lead Capture Software

Lead capture software consists of a wide range of tools and apps that help you collect contact information from leads. The two most common ways it does this is through embedded forms or directly in content like blog posts, or as a popup that will often trigger based on some specific event. The benefit here is that you can add these to any blog post or web page, whereas a landing page is its own individual page.

If you want to learn more about lead capture software and figure out which one is best for you, read our editorial review of the top lead capture software for online lead generation.

lead magnet example
Hubspot lead capture example

For both lead capture software and landing pages, also make sure you can actually deliver the lead magnet. Some software allows you to do this automatically via an email or download link. Other times, you’ll have to use an email marketing tool to deliver the lead magnet.

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Additional Reading:

For a full guide on how to capture online leads using your website, check out our in-depth article on creating and optimizing a lead generation website, including steps and best practices.

Capture Leads on Social Media

The other method for generating online leads is capturing them directly on a social media platform via paid lead ads. This is good for businesses who don’t want to optimize their website for lead generation or those who want to shorten the number of steps it takes to capture lead contact information. Currently, Facebook and LinkedIn offer ads that capture lead contact details directly on their platforms.

How this direct social media lead capture works is simple. You run an ad offering your lead magnet on LinkedIn or Facebook. Within the ad is an embedded form which users must fill out to receive the lead magnet. So they click on it, and instead of being transported to your website, they remain on the platform and fill out the form that appears, which includes fields for their contact details.

This strategy is effective because it reduces friction for the user. In both LinkedIn lead-gen forms and Facebook lead ads, the embedded form will auto-populate with the user’s information, all without sending them off-platform to an unfamiliar website.

LinkedIn Lead Gen Forms

LinkedIn lead gen forms allow you to capture contact information directly on the platform. They are best for B2B businesses since many of the users on the platform are looking to make business connections. These forms can be embedded into a variety of ads, including sponsored content and sponsored InMail. They will appear on users’ news feeds or in their inboxes. For more info, check out our article on how to use LinkedIn lead gen forms.

Linkedin lead gen form
Example LinkedIn Lead Gen Form
Facebook Lead Ads

Facebook lead ads are FB ads that contain an embedded form that captures a lead’s information such as company name and email address directly on the platform. These can be displayed on the user’s newsfeed, stories, instant articles, and more. Just like with LinkedIn, when people click on the ad, they will be promoted to fill out the lead form.

To learn the step-by-step process for creating and optimizing Facebook lead ads, read our article, How to Generate Leads With Facebook Lead Ads.

example facebook lead ad
Facebook lead ad example

6. Send Online Traffic to Your Website

If you’ve decided to turn your website into a lead generation tool, you’ll need to drive traffic to the lead magnet on your website. There are multiple ways to do this, including free methods like writing blog content that ranks on Google or paid methods like running social ads. Let’s go over four best strategies for driving online traffic to your lead magnet.

Organic SEO Traffic

You can generate organic SEO traffic through content marketing. Content marketing is the act of publish blog posts to your site with the goal of getting them to rank high on Google search based on relevant keywords. You could also create videos that rank well on Youtube. Content that is valuable to your readers and answers their specific questions will rank highest. And on average, the higher the ranking, the more traffic the content will receive.

Now, how do you get that blog traffic to your lead magnet? Within 20% of your content, you will offer your lead magnet. For instance, at the end of the article, you might write “Thank you for reading about how to invest in the stock market. If you want to learn about three stocks that are set to take off, check out {lead magnet}”.

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Additional Reading:

If you need more information on how to generate organic SEO traffic and capture lead contact information, check out our ultimate guide on SEO lead generation, which includes a breakdown of SEO and the process for generating leads.

Organic Social Media Traffic

You can drive traffic to your lead magnet for free by generating social traffic on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Twitter. Essentially, your goal is to build a following to which you can market your lead magnet. You build this following by consistently posting valuable, entertaining, or educational content specifically created for your target audience.

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Additional Reading:

For a detailed breakdown regarding how to generate leads across all the major social media platforms, check out our ultimate guide on social media lead generation, which includes strategies for organic and paid methods.

PPC Google Ads

“PPC” stands for “pay-per-click”, an online advertising model where you pay a fee each time a digital ad is clicked and traffic sent to a specific destination. One of the most popular forms of PPC is Google advertising. Advertisers bid for top ad placement on the Google results pages for relevant keywords. For instance, a law firm might bid for the phrase “dog injury in New York City” and earn the top spot on Google.

When the ad is clicked, you’re charged a small fee and the user is sent to a landing page or blog post optimized with lead capture software. If your page is well-crafted and your lead magnet valuable, it can be a cost-effective strategy. On the other hand, if you’re bidding on high-value keywords or not seeing a lot of your traffic converting, then this can quickly get pricy.

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Additional Reading:

If you're interested in launching a PPC Google Search campaign, read our ultimate guide on PPC lead generation for PPC leads, including an overview of the ad-types as well as a detailed breakdown of the steps.

Paid Social Media Ads

Another way to pay for traffic to your website is with paid social ads. These are ads that you run across social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. The platform you choose depends primarily on where your customers hang out on the web. These paid social ads will show up on user’s newsfeeds or homepages and offer your lead magnet to users. If they want it and click on the ad, they will be swept away to your landing page.

For more information on paid social media ads, check out our two articles on Facebook lead generation and LinkedIn lead generation, where you’ll find the top strategies for both platforms.

Benefits of Online Lead Generation

Besides avoiding the feeling of being an interruption, online lead generation has many other benefits for salespeople, marketers, and business owners.

  • You Generate Qualified Leads: If you set up your online lead generation strategy correctly, the majority of people viewing your offer and giving you their information will be qualified. This leads to shorter sales cycles and saved resources such as ad spend. 
  • Sellers Can Spend Time Talking To The Best Leads: With inbound leads, salespeople can focus on calling those who have already expressed interest in the company. This saves them time. 
  • You Are Forced To Build Brand Awareness: Many of these strategies require you to market to your target audience. Whether it’s through social media or continent marketing, you are building a brand and awareness around it. 
  • You Build Trust With Potential Buyers: When you offer your buyers something like a lead magnet, and they find it valuable, you have earned some trust points with them. 
  • You Collect Useful Information About Leads: When you collect email addresses, you can email market to them. When you know their company title, you can personalize your phone call. 
  • You Have Data At Your Disposal: There is a hefty amount of available data in online marketing that you can use to guide your strategy. Metrics can show you what’s working and what’s not. You can tweak your ads, content strategy, or landing page and see real-time effects.

Top 4 Online Lead Generation Tips

No matter which of the two online lead-generating strategies you choose, there are some best practices to keep in mind.

Revisit Buyer Persona Often

It’s critical that you maintain knowledge about who your typical customer is and what they need. If you are going to market to them properly, you should know their demographics, attributes, and pain points. You should know what content they love to see and what they respond to. Therefore, revisit your buyer persona every quarter at a minimum. This will ensure your messaging stays relevant to your audience.

Use a Variety Of Marketing Channels

Not all of your potential buyers find their information through the same means. Some will be on Facebook. Some will Google every industry-related question that pops into their head. To ensure you are reaching as many of them as possible, use a variety of marketing channels. Try content marketing in tandem with social media marketing. In general, a diversified method is best.

Respond To Comments On Social Media

If you are using social media to drive traffic to your landing page, you should be spending time making posts that don’t relate to your offer. Instead, they should be engaging posts like questions or funny pictures that relate to your audience. If done right, people will comment on the posts. Instead of neglecting them, comment back. When they receive a reply from you, they will feel more connected to your brand.

Make Your Call-to-Action Clear

Whether it’s in an ad, an article, or your landing page, be specific about what you want your visitors to do. If there is a link in your blog post that drives them to your landing page, make it obvious. And tell them to click it. When they are on your landing page reading, tell them exactly what they will receive. Bullet points work great for this, as do pictures of the offer. People will appreciate straightforward instructions, and so will your bottom line.

Bottom Line

Learning how to generate leads online lead generation can save you time. It can help you build a scalable business, and it can make your life as a sales rep or business owner a bit less hectic. It can even improve your overall sales process. Whether you’re capturing lead information on a web page or directly on social media, you’ll benefit from the fact that you have leads coming to you. So get started today.

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