I don’t know about you, but as a content marketer, I am pretty stoked about the continuous growth of inbound marketing and the lead generation potential it has.

For the most part, I find disruptive marketing tactics online (like pop-ups, banners, and pre-roll videos)annoying. Who wants to see a video advertising a car when all you really want to do is read an article about who Becky with the Good Hair is?

Luckily, the landscape of digital advertising is shifting. Because of things like the rise in ad blockers and the ability to avoid ads on mobile devices, companies are having to find different ways to get themselves in front of potential customers – which has lead to the rise of inbound marketing. Did you know that inbound marketing isn’t just much more palatable – it also works?

  • According to a report on the State of Inbound by Hubspot, 54% more leads are generated by inbound marketing strategies than traditional paid marketing.

While it might sound worlds different than the traditional marketing tactics you’re used to (it is – but in a good way!), inbound lead generation is actually a pretty simple and cool way to boost business – and once you get how it works, it can be an invaluable tool for cementing yourself as a thought leader, honing your brand, and converting more potential customers into paying ones.

So, What is a Lead?

inbound lead generation brings in new leadsA lead is a person who is a prospective customer of your company. Leads are people who have expressed some kind of interest in what you do or sell, indicating that you may, at some point be able to convince them to become paying customers instead of just prospective ones. Spending an extra few minutes on your site, sharing some of your content, clicking through to various links you’ve shared…these are all signs that a lead is a little further down the funnel than a cold sale might be.

What is Inbound Lead Generation?

Now that you know what a lead is, inbound lead generation is simply the process of attracting new potential sales leads by creating discoverable high-quality content that you publish and share with your potential customer base. Inbound marketing is a permission-based marketing tactic. This means that people have to seek out your content in order to consume it – which means they’ve already given their permission to be marketed to when they find out about you, unlike those pesky ads that always ruin my Breaking Bad reruns. Most companies tailor their inbound marketing content to specifically draw in the type of people they think will make excellent customers for their business (and perhaps even brand ambassadors someday).

Why is Inbound Lead Generation a Smart Marketing Technique?

inbound lead generation is a smart marketing techniqueChoosing to utilize inbound lead generation is a smart way to get the right customers to pay attention to your business. This is because by the time that a potential lead discovers the content you’ve created, they’ve already sought it out – or overtly expressed interest in what you do. This is pretty different than the strategy behind many traditional digital advertising techniques, which simply get ads out in front of a lot of pairs of eyes and hope that a small number of those pairs will end up actually being interested in what is being sold.

When you use inbound lead generation techniques, you end up gathering an audience of people at the top of your sales funnel, which means you can start nurturing them as soon as you know about them, and get them closer to buying.

What are Some Good Inbound Lead Generation Techniques? 

Okay, so we probably now agree that attracting people with high-quality content sounds great – but how do you actually know who is looking at the stuff you create, and who wants to know more about you? There are many effective inbound lead generation techniques out there that will get people to notice you, develop interest, and eventually hand over their contact information so that you can continue to build your reputation as a valuable thought leader and show more about what you have to sell.

Drive Traffic to Your Site and Blog with SEO

To get discovered online, you need to optimize your website for search engines, so that your site shows up at the top of search engine result page (SERP). Both blog posts and the pages (including landing pages) on your website should be SEO optimized so that when people search something related to their business, they will find you and get the chance to know more.

inbound lead generation unlocks potential sales leadsSEO optimization is a complicated science, but if you want to rank high in search engine results, here is an awesome step-by-step guide created by Kissmetrics; for a quicker look at how to optimize your blog content check out this post.

Mike Lieberman, Co-founder and President at Square 2 Marketing, says that SEO plays a huge role – but it’s a long-term role. “No one drives leads from organic SEO on day one,” he says. “However, if you can’t be found for keywords, keyword phrases, and questions, your business is essentially invisible.” His tactic is to boost your long game by targeting long-tail keywords with a high amount of search volume and low difficulty – this will offer the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time.

Download our checklist “Ideation Workshop” and go through it during your next ideation session to consistently develop innovative ideas.

Fill Your Blog with Relevant Content

This one seems pretty basic, but once your blog is SEO optimized, make sure you fill it with super relevant and valuable content so that people will find you interesting and useful. This is a good way to build buzz about yourself via your potential customer base and encourage current followers to promote your content on their own social media pages – which is more free exposure for you.

Lieberman is a huge fan of publishing tons of content. “For companies with decent traffic,” he says, “the best and fastest way to generate leads is to publish more content. Today people come to your website three, four and five times while they’re making their purchase decision – so the more you publish, the more chance you have to capture their attention and convert them from visitor to lead.”

Lieberman says that companies with lower traffic but decent email lists should begin with an aggressive email marketing campaign to re-engage folks who are still in the buyer journey. And for companies that are just starting out, he says it’s worth considering pay-per-click ads to take advantage of the highly targeted aspect they offer. “Just make sure that you still have content to promote via the campaign and a decent website to direct them to.”  You can get more gems from Lieberman on Square 2’s awesome blog.

Offer Email Optin Forms (lots of them)

Give leads a chance to find out more about you by giving an opt-in form where they can hand over their contact information in exchange for more information from you (this info from you can be a newsletter, more company info, special deals, etc. etc.).

Inbound lead generation is aided by good contentYou can have pop-up or slide-in opt-in forms that visitors encounter when they visit or linger on your site.

Alternatively, you can have static opt-in forms that exist at the top, bottom or sides of every page of your website, as well as in the middle and at the end of blog posts you create. Create a CTA on all of your opt-in forms to encourage people to hand over their contacts (e.g. “Join more than 7,000 marketers who are in our content marketing secrets by filling out this contact form with your information.”)

Engage on Social Media

These days, social media is a big part of the inbound lead generation puzzle. From Facebook to LinkedIn to Twitter, consumers are turning to their networks to discover what to buy and who to buy from. In fact, in a study on social lead generation, nearly 25% of companies said they increased revenue by simply using their social media pages as lead generation tools.

Lieberman tells us that social media isn’t as likely to drive as many leads as organic, referral, email or paid tactics. But, he argues, “I do think having an active social media marketing effort helps build up your reach – the number of people following you.” That way, when you do have content to publish, it gets a lot more leverage and you get more people reading, watching and talking about your business, which can ultimately contribute to lead generation.

inbound lead generation is boosted by social media engagementTo drive leads on your social media networks, you can do things like advertise events you are hosting, track brand mentions, contact people who mentioned you, and hold and advertise contests. Social media is not only a great way to get in touch with a lot of people that are looking to interact on the web, it’s also a great way to take advantage of free marketing and promotion since followers can easily share your content to their followers with the click of a button.

Offer Gated Content

One extremely effective inbound lead generation method that also grows your email list is gated content. Gated content is content that’s blocked by a literal “gate” – aka a form asking for your email address. This can be a double-edged sword because some people run the other direction when asked for their contact information, while others find the fact that something is gated a sign that it packs extra value. The gated stuff that works is stuff like:

  • Webinars
  • Ebooks
  • White Papers
  • Comprehensive Guides

A good way to convince people to download your content is by pairing a piece of gated content with a piece of ungated (or free) content. This means you can promote and include opt-in forms for your gated content in free blog posts on related topics. For example, you can include a link to a gated eBook called “Online Marketing for the Restaurant industry” in a free blog post called “Social Media Tips for Restaurateurs.” By including relevant gated content, you can snag the attention of people who have already expressed an interest in what you’re talking about.

Lieberman is a huge proponent of gated content – especially if leads are what you’re after. But he also asserts that having a balance of gated and ungated content is important.

“A blog is a great example of ungated content,” he explains. “Anyone can read it, anytime, without any information required. But if you want to be notified that new content has been published, then a subscription is required. That seems like a fair deal to most people.”

Inbound lead generation is not only effective in today’s digital world, it’s also important. People have shorter attention spans; they like to consume on demand, and they are choosing NOT to see ads they don’t want. Try to tackle inbound lead generation, and you may just find that you’re growing a bigger and bigger list of happy (potential) customers.

Want to know more about how to use gated content to generate inbound leads? In partnership with Visage, we created an Ebook called The Content Gate Debate, which outlines the pros and cons of gating content, and explains just how you can create content with opt-in forms that will convince people to hand over their email address.