Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Lead Generation are the modern-day Romeo and Juliet. Minus the grisly fate, mind you.
Before we delve into the ins-and-outs of this marriage of sorts, we should probably introduce one of our protagonists. Lead Generation.
This is a term that’s been thrown around so much it’s become part of the furniture in the SEO world. But what actually is it?
Hubspot defines Lead Generation as:
“The process of attracting and converting strangers and prospects into someone who has indicated interest is you company’s product or service. Some examples of lead generators are job applications, coupons, and online content.”
So, already, you can see how important this process can be to a business. In layman’s terms, it’s basically the process where you finally land a conversion. Someone who’s been interested in your product, or your service, has jumped from a potential client to a client.
Let’s say you’ve just flopped down onto the sofa after a long day at work. It’s a Friday night, and you are decidedly not going out. No, you’re going to tuck happily into your gigantic takeaway pizza with stuffed crust. Then, just as you open your mouth to take a greasy bite–
The phone rings. Infuriated, you answer, only to hear: “Hello, is that Miss Ice Cold? I’d like to talk to you about your bank. Did you know that some banks are–?”
You slam the phone down.
And, weirdly, that’s kind of a perfect explanation why Lead Generation is vital to digital marketing and businesses these days. Inbound Lead Generation is the equivalent of disconnecting your phone for the night, so pizza lovers everywhere can have their bite, uninterrupted by cold-callers.
Briefly, let’s just explain what a lead is.
We’ve written extensively about Lead Generation strategies before, so it’s probably harmless to pinch a bit of our own content. But in case you need a refresher on what leads are…
“A lead is any person who has indicated interest in the products or services that your company has to offer in some way, shape or form.
They are prospective consumers who visit your website, develop an interest in the products and services that you offer and freely supply their contact information. A visitor on your site converts into a lead only when they:
- Sign up for a free trial, webinar or a product demo
- Fill up the lead capture form and voluntarily give their contact details
- Call or shoot an email to know more about what you offer”
Lead vs. Lead Generation
So, where Lead Generation is the process in order to get these customers interested and attracted to your service, a lead is that customer you’re trying to reach.
Instead of receiving a cold call from some random person whose employer bought your contact number from a third party, you’d hear from a business who you’ve already been in contact with. You might have willingly supplied your email in order to subscribe to that business’ newsletter. Or you might have given your phone number in a survey you completed.
If you received an email from a clothing company you’d subscribed to, promoting season discounts, that’d probably pique your interest. Especially when you compare it to a cold call about credit cards when you don’t even own one.
Firstly, if you’ve subscribed to the clothing company, we could assume you’re a fan of their fashion lines. Therefore, when they’re announcing a sale, the likelihood of you clicking on it and making a purchase is quite high.
From the clothing company — the business’ — perspective, the information they might’ve collected from you will give you a better idea of who your potential lead is. That way, you can personalise your communication with them and hopefully meet their specific needs.
That’s Lead Generation. And the fashionista receiving your email and buying new shoes is your lead.
Why do you need Lead Generation for your business?
The best thing about Lead Generation as opposed to cold calling is that the customer will already be familiar with your business. If you have a lead, whether or not that lead converts, there’s a much higher chance than if you were randomly called by some team in a dodgy office in a field somewhere.
Essentially, if you’re already a lead, it means you’ve actively shown interest in the website/product already. So, whatever promotion or email request you send out, it’s more likely to appeal to the customer rather than an unwelcome cold call.
Furthermore, it’s pretty good for your brand personality, too. You don’t want to be seen as a spammy presence or company to avoid contact with. But if potential clients/customers have already volunteered their personal information, they wouldn’t not expect contact from you. In fact, they’d probably welcome the fact that you emailed them specifically to let them know about a 20% in-store discount.
By having the customer show interest in your business, they’re initiating the relationship with you. Not the other way around. Therefore, you can only assume that if they were to convert to a purchase, it would just seem more natural for the customer to want to buy from you. You’re not pushing the sale on them. They’re coming to you.
Ultimately, in the future, that’ll be great further down the line, too. After a hopefully positive experience, the customer might return multiple times, or even refer your business to a friend. And you’re not spending a single penny to get the word out.
Okay, but what has this got to do with SEO?
Firstly, we should establish that SEO =/= Lead Generation. Sometimes, the terms can be mixed up, and it’s not impossible to see why. Both ways involve attracting a potential customer with the intent of turning that prefix of ‘potential’ to ‘purchasing’.
However, they’re not worlds apart, either. And the more effective your business is at bridging the gap between SEO and Lead Generation, the more customers you’ll attract, and the more of those customers will convert.
Each technique can be a masterpiece alone, but you will not create a symphony with just a single instrument. Therefore, both SEO and Lead Generation must work in harmony to build an effective SEO-driven Lead Generation strategy.
If we consider SEO at the top of what we call a ‘sales funnel’, we know SEO is improving your site’s online presence. It requires assistance in the form of quality content, social media, multimedia, link building — among other factors — to boost your site to #1 on Google. But what SEO cannot do is improve conversions.
It can boost the chance of increased conversions, though. There’s a misconception that SEO is just raw, spammy and all about that rank. Google’s evolved, and so has SEO. So, let’s just quickly bust a big SEO myth.
A good content marketing strategy is will usurp the necessity of SEO strategy
Okay, this isn’t a myth as such. Widely, people still don’t consider SEO and content together. Nowadays, they’re pretty much inseparable. Inseparable to a point where the reason why I’ve said this is technically a myth is because really, you shouldn’t have an SEO strategy and then a content strategy.
It’s nit-picky, but truly, you should have a content-based SEO strategy.
If SEO demands content, because — yes, I’ll say it — content is king, then what does it need? Content. Words, articles, press releases, guest posts. Generally, where SEO shouts out a requirement, content can fulfil that.
Backlinks are an SEO expert’s dream. But how do you get backlinks? You get them by curating high quality content people want to link to.
Keywords are also associated with SEO. Yes, a lot of keyword research is required, but what for? For the targeted content you’re going to write that carefully places the relevant keywords in there. Of course, if you go overboard, Google’s Panda will slap your wrist.
You may be sensing a theme. SEO calls for user optimisation, and content marketing comes running with an attractive, easy-to-navigate article or landing page. And then SEO’s wondering where the Fresh King of Content is, because we all know how Google’s not so big on older stuff. So this is where content marketing fires back with consistent updates. Content marketing is constantly active, just like Google is constantly evolving. And SEO is, yes, constantly evolving too.
Let content be that bridge between SEO and Lead Generation
Something both the strategists behind SEO and Lead Generation need to understand is user intent.
The real meaning behind the keywords people type as a search engine query. There are two types: inform (when someone is looking to educate themselves on a topic) or purchase (someone is looking to buy something they have described by the keyword).
Discovering what your potential customer really wants when they search for something is crucial to delivering The Right Stuff. Google’s always trawling the web for relevant content because they want to give the user the quickest, easiest, most appropriate answer.
Therefore, the content you do publish can’t be weak. However, if Google’s using your site and your content to judge whether or not to rank you #2 or #6, you can leverage that.
User intent and your SEO strategy
One of the most basic tactics to deploy is simply Googling the keyword you’re targeting. The sites that show up on the results page will contain the type of content users are looking for and have browsed most often.
If someone types in “King sized bed sheets”, they are typing with purchase intent. That customer is ready to buy bed sheets (well, we could assume — because we can never know 100% for every customer). Therefore, your site should have a strong product page with content containing keywords and other related terms.
Conversely, if someone types in “World’s fastest car”, they want information. Your keyword research will likely turn up a lot of definitions and explanations on Page 1 of Google. So, your site in that case should contain high-quality, helpful content that doesn’t sound like it’s trying to push sales or spam.
This is valuable to SEO strategy because understanding user intent offers valuable insight and contributes to steering your content to fulfil users’ needs. So, it’s time for some intense Googling to understand what your searcher wants. And then it’s time for your SEO’s flip personality, content marketing, to deliver the goods.
User intent and your Lead Generation strategy
Lead Generation recognises that simply by building quality content, it doesn’t mean you’ll result in with a dozen leads all at once. Additionally, you should recognise that whilst high quality content is a necessity, it’s only going to appeal to the right customer at the right time.
That’s why the sales funnel, as we mentioned earlier, is so important. You might be sitting on a dazzling piece of content. But it must be search engine optimised for that user specifically for where they are on their buyer journey.
For example, if you consider the buyer at the top of the sales funnel, they’re looking for basic information and educational content. Content they’ll likely click on are easily digestible, maybe something like an infographic or ‘listicles’, as BuzzFeed has made so popular. So your content should be entry-level, targeted at keywords the users at the top of the sales funnel.
In a way, the sales funnel is almost like a direct answer to the challenge user intent proposes.
Adversely, buyers at the bottom of the sales funnel are pretty much ready to purchase something. The keywords they’re entering will generate strong purchase intent search results, so the content you publish should target those keywords. These’ll likely be product pages or price comparison tables.
You’ve pretty much just described the same thing there…
Whilst the SEO and Lead Generation approaches to user intent are similar, that’s because you want to generate the same result: sales. However, whilst user intent is a problem area for both strategies and needs researching in order for it to be effective, the level of understanding and methodology are different.
Yet both approaches cannot successfully answer the question of user intent alone. Take one away, and you find yourself awfully lacking. A Lead Generation strategy may know when to target customers at certain points of their buyer journey. But they still need SEO’s keyword research to actually inform themselves of the content they should be publishing.
The SEO journey, on the other hand, provides ample information about keywords so you know what kind of content to curate based on research. Further research might be done on the SEO side of things, like competitor analysis, a targeted keyword list, a backlink strategy.
But without understanding the Lead Generation side of things, especially the sales funnel, ultimately you’d just be cycling through quality content to keep it fresh for Google. Lead Generation provides more of a ‘timeline’ for publication in order for the hard work put into the content to pay off.
And notice how for both strategies, content is the sturdy link between them.
Instead of all that hassle, why can’t I just buy leads and save some time?
Understandably, most businesses want to fill their sales funnel ASAP. It’s logical! If more customers are sitting at the bottom of the sales funnel, you’ll immediately be earning more money. They’re purchasing a hatchback, rather than looking up what a hatchback is.
Yes, buying leads rather than generating them organically is going to be more expensive. But it’s quicker and easier, and isn’t time money?
Firstly, these leads won’t know you. They won’t be organic leads so they likely have no interest in your product or services. Most likely, they’ll have given their details to another third party who’s sold them to you. So, if that user has never even indicated an interest in your product, or even that industry, your email or contact method will be an interruption. (Think of the pizza).
It might just seem like an annoyance. But the danger is the likelihood of them flagging your email as spam. As a result, the email provider will blacklist your address, and they might also share this with other providers. Therefore, it will damage your IP/email address. Going from that, it’ll also damage your site’s reputation — in the user’s eyes, and in Google’s eyes.
So, it’s always better to generate leads organically. And that’s why you need solid content-based strategies and lead generation strategies.
The five-step programme for using SEO in Lead Generation
#1: Compile a list of target keywords
If you aren’t too sure of what to do here or you’ve never done this before, you can brainstorm a list of your main services and terms that are important to your business. Or the industry that your business is in. Though there are tools, you are really the brains of the operation because you will know the business inside-out to know what kind of terms you want to be found for on Google.
As well as this, you can use free tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner. To use this tool, you’ll need a Google AdWords account. If you think about it, the list of your target keywords isn’t just aimed at boosting your ranking once and leaving it up there. We’re planning for the long-term, i.e. your informed SEO strategy moving forwards.
Keyword Planner works by using phrases related to your industry. Input those, and Keyword Planner will produce a list of keywords related to your business, and you can pick from them. It’ll tell you how many people have searched for that keyword too, so you know how popular that search term is. Also, you can interpret that as competition. The more people searching for that term, the more likely there’ll be competition for it.
Moreover, Keyword Planner compares trends across this industry to see how the search volume per term changes over time – if it’s consistent, or if it’s just hit a peak. That’ll further inform you about the keywords you really want.
#2: Use the list of keywords and Google them
You might end up collecting quite a few potential keywords, so my suggestion is to use Microsoft Excel or any other spreadsheet programme to organise all of this. The numerous keywords and huge list you’ll hopefully attain may seem daunting at first.
But you may notice that some keywords are similar rephrasings of the same search term, or some may not be relevant to your business, so you can cross them off.
Once you’ve initially skimmed through the spreadsheet, and assessed what potential target keywords can and can’t work, then you can get to work.
You can Google each of your keywords, and see if the results that show up accurately reflect user intent. After all, this is what you’re trying to go for – via SEO and lead generation, joined together by content, as we’ve said above. Think of it like an audit, almost. Make a note of whether or not your search results do indeed reflect user intent and how so. Are they very sales-oriented? Or are they looking to inform?
#3: Using the results of your search, organise them along your search funnel
Keywords that generate a strong inform intent are most likely going to represent users at the top-of-the-funnel. Those that generate search results with a strong purchase intent are likely being used by people closer to the bottom-of-the-funnel.
We’ve mentioned the search funnel above, so you know that users at the Top of the Funnel (ToFu) are looking for basic information. These will be searchers Googling something like “supercars”.
Those at the Bottom of the Funnel (BoFu) will be searchers with strong purchase user intent. They are close to buying something. So, instead of simply looking for information for supercars, they might Google something like “supercar dealership near me Porsche”.
We can only assume, of course, not know for certain, but from that phrase it’s suggestible that the searcher is looking to buy a Porsche and wants to find a dealership near him/her to do so.
This is where the initial SEO aspect of keyword research meshes with lead generation strategy. Though the numbers and trends you may be provided from Google Keyword Planner are important, having a ‘timeline’ of sorts for these keywords is equally vital.
By giving educated guesses as to where a user is along the sales funnel, you’re building a better picture of your potential customer. Furthermore, you are well on your way to steps 4 and 5!
#4: Audit existing content and optimise it
Now you’ve organised your keywords onto a spreadsheet, and you’ve lined them up along your sales funnel, you’re on the brink of getting into the nitty-gritty of assessing user intent. You’ve had the SEO part – the keyword research. You’ve utilised your lead generation strategy via the sales funnel.
You know how we said further up that content is kind of like the bridge that joins SEO and lead generation together? This is where you need to whiz back and forth via the bridge. Audit the content on your website, with all you’ve learned through your keyword research and proportion of customers along X stage of the sales funnel per keyword in mind.
Have you got some pages with content designed specifically for one stage of the funnel? For example, if it’s a Top of the Funnel page, have you made sure it’s informative rather than pushing for sales? Is the target keyword you want to rank for, for this ToFu-designed page, present in the content? Is the content relevant to the keyword? Make sure the content uses appropriate language to get all of this across, because you know now to address user intent.
#5: If your audit finds any holes or spaces in your site, fill them with content
Inevitably, there’ll be holes in your site – it takes a long time to cover all bases. For example, if you’ve audited your site and your content isn’t quite on the right track, you don’t need to remove it. You can optimise that content, but what’s important is that you create additional content too.
This really brings together all the above points. Let’s say a targeted keyword you’ve identified lies at the Top of the Funnel. However, your website gives product pages instead for that search term. You’re not meeting the user intent – they’re looking for information. You’re giving content suitable for users at the Bottom of the Funnel.
You don’t need to remove your product pages. That’s an important part of your business! You might want to focus, instead, on getting those pages to rank for different keywords with a strong purchase intent in the search results. However, it also means you need to build some blog posts, landing pages and informative content hubs in order to retain those customers still at the Top of the Funnel.
High-quality, engaging content can be key. Especially if you’re an ecommerce website, for example. If you have informative blog posts or recommendations, people will browse your website, at the Top of the Funnel. Hopefully, you can instill such trust in them that if interested, their intent grows from inform to purchase, and you’ll guide them to the Bottom of the Funnel.
Now we’ve given SEO and Lead Generation the perfect marriage ceremony, what’s their future looking like?
The higher the level of search engine optimisation, the more SEO keyword research you do, the further you’ll boost your lead generation strategy.
We’ve already mentioned the benefits. Having organic customers come to you rather than have you approach them via intrusive emails or cold calls (and nobody likes them really…) is just a more efficient way of marketing.
If a customer comes to you, they already like what they’ve initially seen. So, you’ve got them by the hook. These strategies are basically here to help you cast your spinning rod into the right spot of the lake. Targeting not just a specific customer demographic, but customer intent. Reel them in with intent-specific content that is engaging, helpful (especially when we’re ToFu’ing!) and appealing (for those BoFu’ers).
Beyond sales, though, you’ll hopefully grow a base of loyal customers and build a good reputation for your brand. Recommendations for your brand from one customer to several others might happen, bringing in more web traffic. And they won’t just be random referrals, either – if you sell kitchens, your buyer will not refer your site to a friend who isn’t even remotely interested in buying a new kitchen.
There are many other factors that can affect lead generation and the number of conversions you gain. Social media strategy is increasingly important, too. Most businesses will be utilising some form of social media in order to spread the word about themselves.
But again, it falls back on user intent. And the ways you discover that and implement the information you glean will come back to SEO and lead generation.
SEO is the often overlooked first step of boosting your lead generation strategy, but it pays off. So, invest time in it, confer with SEO specialists to create a solid, content-based SEO strategy that’ll kickstart your lead generation strategy to life.