The success of your online business venture is — at its core — almost entirely dependent on creating interest in potential customers and then persuading them to purchase your product.
You may have the world’s most incredible product. Still, that innovation only goes as far as you can express it to new people who have never seen it before. Not only that, but you must then persuade them to spend their hard-earned money on it.
Most people take a surprisingly naive approach to their business. They don’t do any serious marketing and expect leads to pile up out of nowhere. Unfortunately, reality soon catches up to them and they go out of business.
It goes without saying that you want to avoid that. You want to learn how to create leads consistently and effectively. Thus, we find ourselves as students in the school of lead generation.
Class is now in session; let’s dig in:
What is a Lead?
A lead is anyone who has expressed interest in a company’s products or services.
Giving contact information, adding products to carts, or doing any other action that says, “Oh, I’m interested!” makes someone a lead.
That is, in the broad sense. But, unhappy with that general term, marketers came up with three specific types of leads that give greater insight into where those customers are in the purchase pipeline:
- Information-Qualified Leads
- Marketing-Qualified Leads
- Sales-Qualified Leads
Now let’s talk about the meaning of those outlandish phrases, shall we?
Information-Qualified Leads (IQL)
An information-qualified lead is someone who has given your business any sort of contact details.
This kind of prospect is at the very beginning of their buyer journey and probably has no idea what’s going on except, “Hey, this looks cool!”
In most cases, businesses get IQLs by holding information hostage in exchange for contact information. For example, “Want our free eBook? Give us your email, and we’ll send you a link!” Bet that sounds really familiar.
These leads are icy cold because you’ll never hear from them again in most cases. Yikes!
Marketing-Qualified Leads (MQL)
Marketing-qualified leads are people who have expressed continuous, enduring interest in your business.
Customers who follow you on social media, visit your website often, and do other things that say “I like this business” are MQLs.
These beautiful people are in the middle of the sales funnel. They’re also known as “warm leads.”
They’re very valuable, and you should always be encouraging them to move to the next step of making a purchase.
Sales-Qualified Leads (SQL)
A sales-qualified lead is someone ready to close a deal with your company.
An SQL is saying, “You know, I think I’m ready to buy your product!” So they’re “hot leads” because they’re ready to cross the finish line in the sales marathon. Woohoo!
This kind of lead is the most valuable of all, and you should do whatever it takes to nudge them over the edge and into paying customer status.
How to Create Leads for Your Business
Getting those high-quality leads we talked about above doesn’t happen by accident. If you really want your business to succeed, you have to be smart about the lead generation strategies your employ.
Below, I’ve listed the best strategies for generating leads for your business. Your resources are finite, so let’s not waste any time getting started.
1. Write High-Ranking Blog Posts
At the heart of content marketing is the SEO-optimized blog post. When someone searches for anything to do with your content, it should be your business ranking #1 in the results.
The great thing about content marketing is that it’s more engaging than most other channels. Companies with a solid blog game are known to regularly generate high-quality leads totally hands-free, just because they produce epic content that ranks high on search engines.
When writing a blog post, always ask yourself these two questions:
- “Is my content truly valuable? Am I providing a deeper perspective than other posts on the subject?”
- “Am I writing for search intent? Am I answering all the implicit questions the searcher is asking?”
If your blog writing revolves around that philosophy, you’ll find new leads showing up to your business like clockwork.
For an extra edge on your competition, I highly recommend SurferSEO to create blog posts with search engine optimization in mind.
Whenever you’re writing a blog post, you should be targeting a specific keyword/keyword cluster. Knowing that you have a finite amount of time, you can’t write an article for every single keyword in the world.
Thus, you have to do keyword research to figure out which keywords are most worth your time to target, based on traffic and keyword difficulty.
For example, let’s say you wanted to target “best lead generation tools” with a blog post. Pop that phrase into a keyword research tool like SpyFu and see what happens:
As you can see, “best lead generation tools” has a decent search volume with a reasonable difficulty. If you wrote a high-quality blog post and got some good backlinks for it, you could probably rank page one without too much trouble.
Writing Search-Optimized Articles
SEO isn’t just about building links and having a nice website. Each individual blog post on your site will compete on its own merit, meaning you must always produce high-quality, search-optimized content.
Earlier I mentioned a tool called SurferSEO which can make this much easier. I’m using to write this article now, as pictured:
When I have a high rating on SurferSEO, I’m confident I can rank high, provided I have the right backlinks. Other content optimization tools like Clearscope will do the same thing.
2. Guest Blogging
Guest blogging is when you write blog posts for other websites. It’s a fantastic way to generate leads while building backlinks and social proof.
Each guest post you write is an opportunity for brand exposure and more leads. The more of your content that exists on the web, the greater a net you cast. You may not get a ton of results with one or two posts, but dozens or even hundreds can turn into a sales funnel over time.
Here’s how to get started guest blogging:
- Create an email using your domain
- Use LinkedIn to find the content marketing directors of target websites
- Use Hunter to find their emails and add them to a list of leads
- Come up with a viable email template and personalize it for each recipient
- Add all leads to an outreach campaign and have the emails deliver Monday through Friday
The more you build your writing portfolio, the easier guest posts will come. When I first started, it was a slow drip of content. Now I always have a huge queue!
3. Use Targeted PPC Advertising
Pay-per-click advertising is when you purchase visibility in search results, rather than earning them organically. While this tactic can be effective, it requires a lot of research and testing.
Many online businesses will try PPC and end up paying hundreds of dollars with nothing to show for it. To get a return on investment, you need to heavily research your target audience and advertise to them directly — AKA targeted advertising.
Let’s say you’re a local delivery ice cream store in Seattle, Washington. If you just target the keyword “ice cream,” you’re going to be paying for traffic that’s largely not interested in your product.
In the above search result, we see several different types of results:
- An ice-cream recipe website
- A music video
- An ice cream recipe
- A nation-wide ice cream delivery service
If you were to advertise “ice cream,” you’d just be wasting your money because it’s way too broad. You have to be much smarter than that to generate leads with PPC advertising.
Quick aside: this touches on the broader category of local SEO, which is distinct from “global” SEO. If you’re serious about upping your local SEO game, check out these tools I’ve recommended to businesses.
PPC Keyword Research
Think more of specific keywords better suited for your business, such as:
- Best ice cream in Seattle
- Ice cream Seattle delivery
- Does anyone deliver ice cream in Seattle?
- Next-day ice cream delivery in Seattle
Once you have a few ideas, take them into a PPC research tool:
Use can use this information to develop an intelligent PPC strategy that doesn’t just burn cash as most do.
Just remember: paid traffic is always inferior to organic traffic, because:
- Organic traffic is free
- People trust organic traffic way more than paid
While PPC can still be great, organic is always going to be better for creating business leads.
4. Optimize Your Home Page
Your homepage is the fulcrum of your website and where everything meets together. Therefore, it’s critical to optimize it for lead generation to avoid wasting your traffic. If your homepage is a mess, people will get confused and leave your website.
Here are the main parts of a homepage optimized for generating leads:
- It explains exactly what your website’s about in one sentence
- It understands the purpose of most people’s visits and provides relevant information
- It has a relevant call to action, e.g., “sign up for our email list,” or “learn more”
- It doesn’t overwhelm the visitor
I think Ahref’s homepage is an exemplary example:
Also, take note of how minimalistic the page is. Keeping distractions to a minimum makes a big difference in keeping your visitors focused and turning them into new leads for your business.
As a bonus, use a heatmap tool to track your visitor’s navigation patterns for further tweaks. Good homepages turn visitors into paying customers.
5. Direct Engagement (Cold Outreach)
If your business is service-oriented, you should be reaching out to potential customers directly as part of your lead generation strategy.
The process is simple:
- Find potential leads through LinkedIn and/or direct research (finding their website, reaching out to contacts, et cetera)
- Reach out to them directly via email, InMail (LinkedIn messaging), or phone call
While the concept is simple enough, the finer details are more complex. To do cold outreach right (actually get responses) is an art and a science. Lucky for you, I have a ton of experience with cold outreach, so I’ll give you a few tips for your emails:
- Keep it as brief as possible, no longer than 150 words
- Get to your main point ASAP. Long-winded intros are unnecessary
- Always have a “click here to unsubscribe” button at the bottom, so recipients don’t report you as a spam
- Only follow up once if the person hasn’t expressed any interest
- Have a professional headshot for your email contact picture
- Use an email-warming service to maximize your deliverability
- Don’t just look for sales leads; establish healthy relationships
The philosophy is essentially the same for cold outreach phone calls: keep it brief and to the point. If the contact is not interested, respect their decision and leave them alone.
6. Offer Free Tools
Offering a free tool is one of the single most effective methods of generating leads for your business. Companies like Hunter, Ahrefs, and Semrush can count a huge portion — if not the outright majority — of their lead generation from their free tool(s).
Using a free tool, companies give you a taste of their product. That sample helps you out but leaves you wanting more.
Ahrefs has some of the best free tools out there, making them a prime example of this lead generation strategy. To see how they really drive it home, let’s try out their free keyword generator.
For our example, we’ll enter “lead generation.”
Notice how Ahrefs gave us exactly what we were looking for. However, they held a little bit back for their premium tool.
At that moment, we became prospective customers. We’re interested in Ahrefs product, and we’re now considering a purchase on some level. That’s the formula that makes free tools successful in online lead generation.
7. Fully Leverage Social Media
Every company knows to have a presence on social media, but most of them do it wrong.
My observation is that companies overextend their social media presence, leading to lower-quality content across the board. So instead of juggling every platform, focus on having a high-quality presence on just a few channels.
On those select platforms, create fantastic content, reply to every comment, and like all the posts that mention you. Do everything you can to create a rich presence that leaves a big impression on an audience, and you’ll generate leads like nobody’s business.
As your business grows, you can hire social media managers to expand your business across more platforms — but only as many as you can create great content for. When done right, all social media channels are marketing channels.
While creating leads for your business can be a complicated science, it comes down to one simple thing: value.
If you’re creating value with everything you do, you will generate leads for your business — period. So ultimately, it’s not going to be fancy websites or content marketing that creates a paying customer; it’s going to be value.
Value is why sales leads come into being, and it’s the fulcrum of the lead generation process. So whatever you’re creating, make sure it’s doing something for your business leads.