For many years I’ve been asked by agencies and businesses alike “John, how do I find more leads?” While I fully understand the heart behind question, respectfully it is the wrong question to be asking.
There are quite a few ways to grow a business, some of which are easier than others. In the tech world people talk a lot about “demand generation”, which is essentially when you’re creating a new category and teaching potential customers a new paradigm of how to solve something.
Then there’s the easy way, which is building a service or company in a space where there are already people looking for it. In this case, you simply need to be findable to those people who are already looking for it.
This is where SEO comes in and can be extremely useful in generating leads for a business. And I should know, because over the last 5.5 years I’ve generated over 10,000 leads mostly through SEO and I’ve done it in an extremely competitive niche – the SEO and digital marketing industry itself.
While we’re not the biggest player in the space, we’ve done well for ourselves and I’ve learned a lot about lead generation and how doing SEO to drive leads is different from doing SEO for ecommerce or other types of consumer businesses.
Lead generation is a broad term and can apply to a lead generation business like mine or local businesses like car dealerships, lawyers, or real estate. Some of the strategies change based on if you’re a local business or not, but at its heart the framework and many of the strategies for generating leads through SEO remains the same.
And that’s what we are going to talk about in this article.
The SEO Lead Generation Framework
Search engine optimization can seem like a black box to many (maybe even you), but fortunately it can be boiled down to three main areas that comprise successful SEO.
When you start with this framework and then identify the strategies within each and then the tactics to get those strategies done, SEO becomes clear to pretty much anyone:
With any one of those three missing, your SEO program will not be as effective as it otherwise could be.
If starting from scratch, first make sure your technical SEO is taken care of by auditing your website and making sure it is optimized according to SEO best practices.
Then, do keyword research and create the pages that target the keywords you need to rank for in order to drive leads.
And then, start working on building backlinks to your site via a variety of strategies. Guest posting, digital PR and content columns, etc are all viable strategies.
With that context understood, here are the 5 elements you need in place on your lead generation site to see success with SEO:
- A crawlable website
- Pages targeting your key transactional terms
- Content to target informational queries through the funnel
- Website optimized for conversions
Technical SEO for lead generation
Technical SEO is the platform off of which all the other parts of SEO work. You can create the absolute best content and build more quality backlinks than anyone else in your space, but if your website is broken for SEO you will never rank as well as you could otherwise.
There are three core tenets to a website that works well for SEO:
- Built on a trusted platform
- Crawlable and fast
- Secure and mobile optimized
In this day and age, there are a myriad of trusted website platforms that have worked hard over the years to become as SEO-friendly as possible because they recognize how important SEO is to business success these days.
Whether you’re a local business generating leads for your car wash or an online fitness coach generating leads for your practice, a website built upon a trusted platform that is or can be optimized for SEO is the best thing you can do for your business to give it a solid chance at success. After that, you need to drive traffic and audience.
The most trusted and widely used platform on the internet is WordPress. When in doubt about what platform to use to build your lead generation site, WordPress should be your first choice. It is open source, which means there are literally thousands to tens of thousands of the best developers on the planet contributing to it for free and building tools for it to make it do pretty much anything you could want. Plus, because it’s the most widely used platform on the internet (40% as of April 2021 according to Kinsta) that means there are a lot of developers who work on it.
There are other platforms you can use as well that are becoming more and more popular, including Squarespace and Webflow. Both of these are solid platforms to build on top of that require less technical knowledge than WordPress, but that also comes at a cost because they are less extendable and therefore many changes needing to be made for SEO can’t be done by a developer you hire. They have to be done by the platform’s core team for everyone.
Check out our article: WordPress vs Squarespace
Crawlable and fast
Next up your website should be both crawlable and fast.
When we say crawlable, we mean it needs to be accessible to search engines and pages linked to internally and submitted to the search engines via sitemaps to improve discoverability. Without being discovered by search engines, your pages cannot be ranked.
When we say fast, it should load as quickly as possible so that the visitor can accomplish what they are looking at accomplish as quickly as possible. According to the digital agency Portent:
The first five seconds of page-load time have the highest impact on conversion rates
Website conversion rates drop by an average of 4.42% with each additional second of load time (between seconds 0-5).
So how do you make your website crawlable and fast?
By default, a website on the internet should be accessible to search engines. Unless it is using meta noindex, blocking crawlers using robots.txt, or putting content behind a login wall (such as with a membership site) then the site and content will be publicly available.
As long as this is true, to get your content crawled by search engines it should be:
- Linked internally from other pages
- Have backlinks from other websites (if possible)
- Load quickly
- Be included in XML sitemaps so it can be discovered more easily and revisited when updated
Be sure to follow site information architecture SEO best practices when building your website so that content is found by search engines consistently and ranked well.
As mentioned above, a fast website leads to more conversions. For every additional second of load time you lose 4.42% of conversions, which means that for every second of load time you improve you see that many more conversions. A faster site has also been proven to correlate to higher search rankings as search engines do not have to work as hard to download your site and thus can discover more content on your site.
And when you think about it, if a search engine’s goal is to make its users happy and a way to do that is to serve them content that meets their needs and provides a great user experience, it makes sense that a faster site can lead to better search rankings when all else is equal.
So how do you make your website fast?
- Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN). The best known and most widely used is Cloudflare, though there are many and pretty much every website host offers one (often a whitelabeled Cloudflare).
- Minify as much code as possible to reduce file sizes, which reduces the amount of work a search engine or browser has to do to load a page. Where possible, cache these too.
- Reduce image sizes where possible without reducing image quality to where it is a bad user experience. You can also try lazy-loading (there are plugins for this) or moving images to a subdomain (often good website hosts will do this exactly for this reason).
- Upgrade your hosting! If you’re using cheap shared hosting like Bluehost, your website will likely be quite slow because it is sharing the server with many other websites (this is how they make it so cheap!). Instead, upgrade your hosting to a premium host like Kinsta and you’ll almost certainly improve your site’s load times.
- Reduce the number of external services you are using. If you’re using a lot of external services that all have their own scripts that need to fire in order to work, your site is going to slow down. Instead of installing them individually in your core theme, use Google Tag Manager to load only the required ones on each page and to load them all aynchronously so they do not slow down your site as it loads.
- Reduce the number of plugins you’re using on your site (if WordPress). Often the main reason a WordPress site is slow (other than low quality hosting) is that there are a lot of unneeded or unused plugins and themes installed on the site. Remove these which will then reduce the number of files and stylesheets needed to load each page, and your site’s speed will improve.
To get an idea of areas you can still improve, I highly recommend using Google Pagespeed Insights to identify them. Don’t forget to run this report on each template your site contains as well, as each template is coded differently and needs its own diagnosis and fixes!
A deeper category page:
Secure and mobile optimized
A few years ago there was a constant debate about whether a website had to be on HTTPS for SEO purposes. In 2021, this is much less of a debate because Google have used their might (and their web browser) to encourage website owners to use HTTPS by implementing warnings like this:
Before that debate, an endless debate was whether a site needed to be optimized for mobile to still rank well. If you want to go even deeper, there were also debates around what type of mobile site was best to use for SEO and how to optimize for the different types – responsive, mobile subdomain, mobile subfolder, etc.
Thankfully, these debates have also largely ended and it has become accepted that yes, you do need to have a mobile-friendly website because over 50% of internet traffic is now mobile. Mobile traffic is higher for news and consumer-focused sites and lower for business/B2B sites. Here is a screenshot from Statista:
So now we’ve established that your site needs to have HTTPS and be mobile optimized.
Content marketing and SEO for lead generation
Content marketing is a great way to attract potential customers to your website in a scalable inbound way. Instead of going and proactively reaching out to them, you can bring them to your website no matter their stage in the funnel and then nurture them down the funnel by educating them with additional content.
Content marketing can also drive SEO effectively because you can:
- Expand the keywords you’re able to rank for
- Target potential customers across the marketing funnel
- Do it cheaply
- Keep acquiring those potential customers and leads for a long time with evergreen content
To use content marketing to acquire new site visitors and therefore new leads, there are a few things to get right:
- Transactional vs informational
- Keyword research
- Content mapped through the funnel
- A next step
Transactional vs informational
First, you need to understand the difference between transactional and informational keywords and content.
Transactional keywords are something like “SMS software” or “SMS marketing for startups”. These are keywords that people in a buying state of mind will search and you want to be ranking for because they are ready to convert. You should target your homepage and main features pages towards these keywords.
Information keywords are things like “how to use SMS to grow a startup.” The person is investigating the channel and looking for a how to. They’re problem aware, but they’re not necessarily solution aware (aka, they don’t know about your product…yet!)
Informational keywords are the keywords that you should be using in your content marketing to acquire people higher in the funnel. At the very top you’re writing for “how to use SMS to grow a startup”, but in the middle of the funnel you’re targeting “SMS marketing strategies” and at the bottom you’re targeting “SMS vs email marketing” alongside your “marketer’s guide to implementing SMS” download.
It is important to note that not all content has to be keyword driven, especially as you get to the bottom of the funnel. Content can mean many things and encompasses everything from blog posts to epic guides to templates and even social media creatives.
Now that you’re committed to content marketing, you need to do keyword research to identify the topics and keyword phrases your potential customers are searching for.
Our guide to keyword research is here, but there are a few main keyword research strategies you can implement:
- Use Semrush (click that link for a free 14 day trial) and see what your competitors are ranking for but you are not by using the Keyword Gap tool.
- Use the Semrush Keyword Magic Tool to enter your topic, then go down the rabbit hole with filters to uncover both transactional and informational keywords.
Content mapped through the funnel
Now that you have your list of keywords, map it through your funnel and categorize if it is transactional or informational.
I like to start with 4-5 pieces of outlined content for top, middle, and bottom of funnel to start. By doing this you are covering your bases, and then can expand upon each section depending on what is most important to your business.
A next step
Finally, content marketing without a next step or call to action is just content. You create the content so you can do the marketing to get eyeballs on the content and then convert some of those eyeballs to leads and ultimately customers.
Next steps can include any of the following (there are others too):
- Free resource/downloadable in exchange for their email
- Templates or other useful things for them to use that they can use your product to do more easily
- Follow on social media or sign up to an email newsletter (this one is less effective than others)
- Demo request
Play around with different downloadables or resources and how you merchandise those on your site. When you find one that works, double down on it and figure out how to drive more leads through it.
Backlinks and SEO for lead generation
Finally, the third tenet of good SEO is backlinks. Backlinks are still the strongest ranking signal for the search engines, and they’re increasingly hard to get as well. There are unfortunately a lot of people out there selling “backlink services” that are cheap and ineffective.
I firmly believe that the best link building is done by real companies that are doing real things that are adding value to the internet.
I want to quickly cover three things:
- What is a good backlink
- How to build good backlinks
- Local citations (link building for local companies)
What is a good backlink
I’m here to tell you that while those things matter, they’re not the most important thing.
The backlinks that search engines want to reward are backlinks that are naturally given and move people around the internet. They should be in-context and relevant to the content that they are within.
The best backlink, in my opinion and experience, is on on an authoritative site that has your ideal audience and refers people from that authoritative site back to your website, ideally through a link with text that describes what they will encounter on the other end of that link.
How to build good backlinks
Good backlinks are hard to acquire, which honestly is why they are still such a strong ranking factor.
I firmly believe in acquiring good backlinks by producing incredible value through your own content and talking about the topics and problems that your company/product/service offers. But of course, you also have to tell people about it.
Some of my favorite ways to build good links are:
- Podcasts – being a guest on industry podcasts and receiving a backlink through their writeup of the episode.
- Expert opinions – contributing to roundup and thought leadership pieces and receiving a link back in return as credit.
- Guest posting and columns – this one is a lot of work especially if you’re writing a lot on your own site, but it has always been a great way to get in front of new audiences, provide a lot of value, and earn links back to your site.
I’m well aware that a lot of businesses that are generating leads are local businesses, doing local SEO. While I like to think that it’s mainly SaaS companies doing lead generation, that just belies the circles in which I live online.
Local businesses are fortunate to have a different way to build links than most. These are links from within your service area and in the SEO industry we call them local citations. These are in things like local business directories or local events where your business is mentioned and linked.
There are tools like Whitespark built entirely around building local citations for SEO purposes. They take into account your NAP (Name, Address, Phone) and make it easily to scalably build a lot of relevant local citations to help your business rank in the Map pack. That’s where you will, as a local business, get most of your leads from SEO.
Conversion optimization for SEO
All the traffic in the world is useless if you’re not able to convert it into leads. Ultimately, for your business if you don’t generate traffic and convert (qualified) leads you’re not going to be in business for very long. That’s where the science and art of conversion optimization (also known as conversion rate optimization) comes into play.
The strategies outlined in this section are not SEO-specific, but they are important to include in this SEO lead generation guide because without them your efforts will not be as fruitful as they otherwise could be.
So what are some simple things to implement on your website that can help conversions?
- Have an ever-present call to action
- Move your form above the fold
- Use psychology with images
- Narrow your focus
- Reduce number of required form fields (and use a funnel filter)
- Offer a conversion higher in the funnel (such as a lead magnet)
- Social proof
- Build specific pages for specific audiences (ok, this one is SEO related)
Have an ever-present call to action
One of the cardinal rules of conversion optimization to get more leads is to make it obvious how to contact you, and then make it easy to do so.
One of the best ways to do this is to have an ever-present call to action across your site, often in your top navigation that is also sticky as the user scrolls, that persistently gives your visitor the opportunity to Get Started with your company.
Here are two examples (Credo and Carrot.com):
Move your form above the fold
Following on from the above, moving your form or signup (such as an email) above the fold is a great way to put it front and center that the right next step for your visitor is to sign up/contact you to get started.
We implemented this on some of our category pages to great effect, and I’ve seen many other companies that operate based on leads do it successfully as well.
Here’s how SalesMessage.com does it:
Use psychology with images
A great way to increase conversions on your website is to leverage a psychological trick where you use a person (or an arrow even) to point towards the action you want your visitor to take.
This is an old school internet marketing tactic, but it works incredibly well and can be done in very non-spammy ways. For example, Unbounce does it incredibly well on their homepage:
Narrow your focus
Too often we as marketers (or entrepreneurs) know too much about our own product and know that it can help a lot of different types of people.
But when you do this, it becomes incredibly hard to focus your marketing and make your acquisition metrics make sense and be profitable.
Instead, to increase conversions it can often make sense to purposefully shrink your total available market (at least for a while) in order to focus your marketing and figure out your conversion channels so that later you can expand (if you so desire).
Reduce number of required form fields (and use a funnel filter)
How many times have you been targeted by an ad or a popup on a site to download a “free resource” only to be asked for a ton of information that isn’t necessary for the company to gather? When you see this, you instantly know that they’re just trying to get your information (especially your phone number!) and they’ll just keep emailing and following up until you ask them to stop.
So why do you do it as well? It doesn’t even work that well.
Instead, in order to get more leads and therefore more people in your funnel it often makes sense to reduce the number of form fields included and required. You gather just enough information to get them started, and make sure that you have something on the form that lets you qualify out leads that are not worth your time (low budget, service area, etc).
For a demo request, you might ask for multiple things (name, email, website, etc), but for a simple lead magnet you might just ask name, email, and their role at the company.
Offer a conversion higher in the funnel (such as a lead magnet)
If you’re struggling to generate demo requests, you may be in a space where you need to educate your potential customer more before they are willing to get on the phone with you. This is especially true when you’re in an enterprise space and your product is not cheap.
In this case, offering something for free such as a buyer’s guide or “5 ways to do X” can be a great way to acquire a lot of prospects who may be interested and then nurture them down to a demo via emails and even other pieces of content.
For example, here is one of Credo’s:
Another way to increase your conversion rates is to show who has already trusted your company. When a prospect visits your site, they’re asking themselves “Can this company/product/service help me?”
When they see companies similar to them, or companies around their size, it makes it easier for them to quickly say “Yes I think so” and then go deeper.
Many sites do this on their homepage. I also recommend it on deeper pages because every page on your website is a potential entry point to your company.
Build specific pages for specific audiences (ok, this one is SEO related)
Finally, if you are targeting multiple types of buyers then you’ll want to create specific landing pages for each buyer type. For example, maybe you’re selling to both real estate investors and real estate agents.
It doesn’t make sense to just have one page targeted towards both. Instead, have specific pages for each that talks about each’s main pain points and how your company solves the problem for them.
Carrot does this well: