The Anatomy of a Business Model: Lead Generation Based Websites

In what will become an ongoing series, we’re going to be examining popular internet-based business models and dissecting exactly how they function as well as provide real-world examples of companies currently providing this type of service.  We’re going to dig into the costs and revenues such companies can expect, as well as a summary of the various strategies you can use to support this model.

What Exactly is Online Lead Generation?

Online lead generation refers to practice of earning or collecting a user’s information – often in exchange for a product, service, or information, and then reselling that information to companies interested in marketing to, or selling to those collected leads.

A “proper” lead should contain at least one method of contacting the person.  How detailed this contact information is is huge factor in the value of the lead and depends a lot upon the method of enticing the user into providing his or her contact information and utilizing a proper internet marketing strategy in order to drive traffic to your offers.

Information collected could include:

  • First and Last Name
  • Email Address
  • Home Address
  • Business Address
  • Phone Number
  • Industry
  • Company Name
  • Position in Company
  • “Interest Factor” (please contact me, send me more information, have a salesperson call me, etc.)

In addition many leads are gathered as a result of a survey – this can yield even more detailed information on the lead, such as the time period to a planned purchase, detailed information on buying habits – the possibilities are almost endless.

Most companies utilize these leads within their own company which would classify them as “inbound leads”.

Generating inbound leads should be a goal of any company website – these types of leads close at a MUCH higher rate than bought leads, and your sales staff will appreciate it.

The most important two aspects this type of business model needs to succeed are:

  • A quality offering users want to read or consume in some fashion
  • A method of driving qualified traffic to said offers

Gathering Online Leads – Methods and Practices

There often needs to be some sort of incentive for a lead to leave his or her information and this is the core strategy behind how effective this business model can be.  These offers take on many forms – and we’ve attempted to cover most of them below – but we fully realize this is just a portion of the various online methods for generating your leads – if you have any more for us to add let us know:

Landing Pages

landing page example

Landing pages refer to a single dedicated page of a website whose sole focus is to drive users to complete the displayed form.  The example above is a great display of proper landing page techniques.  They provide just one focused marketing message and have tailored their content to speak to their niche market.  Traffic is often driven to these pages either through online advertising (paid) or by getting these pages to rank organically.  Oftentimes other websites will link to these landing pages as well – driving traffic and leads to this page in exchange for payment per lead (affiliate marketing).

Whitepaper Offers

seo marketing philadelphia

Whitepapers remain a common method of providing information to a lead in exchange for their contact information and is a very popular model when it comes generating B2B leads.  The leads generated via a whitepaper depend a lot on the quality of the whitepaper written.  These offers take a few forms:

  • Product/service offerings
    • a summary of a product or service offered in exchange for contact information.  This method provides very “fresh” leads who you know are interested in the product or service the whitepaper covered.
  • How-to guides
    • creating a how-to guide for specific practices or processes is a great way of generating leads within your industry.  These often aren’t as “hot” as the leads above, but generally are industry specific and still provide a valuable lead source.
  • Industry reports
    • covering niche specific news on a certain industry is also a great way to generate leads.  Covering a year in review or just a collection of recent news coverage can also deliver industry specific leads.

Email Only Signups

seo marketing philly

Some say the heyday of email marketing has long passed (and yes due to spammers there is a reported decrease in its effectiveness) but it still remains a valuable source of leads.

Generally having just an email address these days is a far weaker lead than one containing a phone number, but you can still market to and gain revenue from these leads – even if they are just reading a weekly newsletter you send out.  You can gather these from “get more information” forms, signups for email newsletters, and more.

Webinars

webinars example

Webinars are also emerging as a popular source to gather leads.  By offering a unique and informative webinar you can easily collect leads that not only NEED to provide a phone number (in order to call them for the webinar) but also have expressed interest in a very industry specific offering (your webinar).  These types of inbound leads can either benefit the person giving the webinar – say as an inbound lead offer – or the company hosting the webinar.

Surveys

survey example

Most often, surveys not only provide the chance to collect a lead (consider using an “email me the results” in order to make sure the lead is captured) but they also provide additional information on the buying habits of your lead and can help you market more effectively to those leads – or provide a greater value if they are resold.

Sweepstakes

sweepstakes example

Sweepstakes often garner a hard rep in the internet lead world.  Sweepstakes leads generally create a high-volume amount of low-quality leads.  Unless the offering is tied directly to a specific niche market your forms will get inundated with people just looking for some free products or services.  It’s important in this method of gathering leads to make sure you’re giving away the right product to the right people.

Creating a User Account

user account example

This remains an ideal way for many companies to gather inbound leads – especially those that require some sort of client interaction on their website – whether it be a forum, blog comments, an application, or access to a private area of the website.

These leads can be resold (and often are) but the most value comes to the website owner where these were created.  Developing a strategy to resell new products to your customer base is important with these types of leads.  Email too much and you’ll quickly see open rates and click-through rates bounce down.

To Resell Leads or Not to Resell Them…

While most companies are happy to use generated leads to further their own company’s sales force – there remains a HUGE market for individuals looking to resell these leads to other companies.  Oftentimes this is where affiliate marketing comes into play – you can pay other people to generate leads for your website (often at a cost per lead rate) and let others deal with the hassle of lead generation.

Cost Per Lead vs Cost Per Action

These two terms are the most common cost types you’ll see when you’re buying or selling leads you generate.  Commonly referred to by their acronyms (CPL & CPA) what sets these costs apart from CPC (cost per click) and other online advertising costs is that these generally deliver a lead at the end of the of the day.

Cost Per Lead (CPL) occurs when a lead (often fitting tight demographic or geographic requirements) is generated and delivered successfully to the end client.  The ability to generate a quality lead here is what will create the most revenue – companies don’t want to buy a list of 500 names at a $50 CPL who won’t even pick up their phone calls.  It’s not uncommon for about 15% of your generated leads to actually pass muster and provide you revenue.

Again this number depends entirely on the industry and lead specifics.

Cost Per Action (CPA) refers to a much broader lead delivery – in this case you are paying (or buying) a set amount of form fills no matter how spammy or unqualified they are.  This type of action suits companies looking to build email lists or generate cold call lists, but still provides more value than a cost per click campaign.  In this regard we still get a lead upon delivery of the action.

Summary of Online Lead Generation

More and more companies are realizing the benefits of this type of business model and you can already see popular industries saturated with lead generation services.  Oftentimes these companies rely on organic search and so in order to stay competitive, need to provide huge amounts of information specific to their fields.

While we can spend days reviewing lead generation companies in a variety of industries we’re going to begin with some of the major players – in this case, the legal industry:

FindLaw

findlaw example

While lead generation certainly isn’t the only revenue source for FindLaw, it definitely is a major source of their revenue model.  FindLaw uses the leads its website generates to sell to lawyers and law firms looking to grow their business.  They provide this service, as well as some pay-to-play light legal marketing, SEO, website development, and more.  Their vast network of blogs and client web sites allows them to gather much of these leads organically through their very well-ranking website.  It has been suggested and outlined on other websites that Findlaw skates very close to violating Google’s terms of service for essentially operating a paid network where its customers have to pay a price to have backlinks to their site placed on other law firm websites that are also paying customers.  Another problem with Findlaw is that they maintain ownership of the websites – often, if you discontinue your engagement with their services, you will have to start over again from scratch.  In this sense, they trap customers into very expensive contracts.

Martindale Hubbel

martindale example

Martindale not only provides a plethora of lawyer-focused products and services much like FindLaw, but also sells leads generated through their websites to paying lawyers and law firms. Much like FindLaw, Martindale Hubbell also has a large website that ranks well enough organically to provide them with a low amount of resellable leads.

Lawyers.com

lawyers.com example

Another major lead generation site in the legal industry, Lawyers.com follows in the route of our previous two examples offering both lead generation services as well as multiple product and service offerings that it can upsell to it’s client base.

Is it All Worth it?

The short answer is that it’s debatable.  I know that’s not a good answer, however there are many other factors to take into account.  The most upfront is the level of your current exposure within the industry (both online and social), and the cost-to-acquire a new client through other pay-to-play models such as pay-per-click.  Often, a well-run pay-per-click campaign will yield much higher quality and cheaper leads than participating in a lead-gen network, even if the cost-to-acquire is very high.  An industry with a high lead acquisition cost would be the divorce attorney niche.  If you consider that a click in a saturated market can cost upwards of $10, you may burn through 5-10 clicks before you get a phone call.  That would be an acquisition cost of anywhere between $50-$100 per new client.  Now, that may sound like a lot, but it can often be less expensive than participating is some of the above examples for the legal industry.  So in that example, it makes much more sense to go with pay-per-click if you are looking for immediate lead generation.  The main thing here is to do your research.  If there are lead-gen sites that can provide useful leads and the cost to participate is less than the lead acquisition cost of a pay-per-click campaign would be, then it makes sense.

With pay-per-click, there are other advantages as well, including controlling the budget and reach.  However, you may not need to pay-to-play at all if you have a balanced and robust SEO, content, and social marketing strategy in place.  These strategies allow you to get the word out about promotions or target a niche yourself.

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