The vast majority of my firm’s clients provide either a service or a high-involvement type of product that is not typically bought via an e-commerce store.  As such, the client websites are all lead-generation websites.  Their primary focus is to generate leads that are then in turn used by the sales team to communicate with the prospect and close the sale.  Generally speaking, my criteria for what I will call a “lead” tends to be a bit more strict than most.

When I use the term “lead”, I’m generally talking about an opt-in, direct consumer-initiated action where they are specifically requesting more information from the client.  The most common manifestation of this is the prospect doing a search, finding the client’s website, and then either picking up the phone to call the client or filling out a contact form to request more information about the services, pricing information, etc.  That’s what I think of when I think “lead”.

I know this is a rather narrow definition, and discounts a lot of other great types of leads that are less-direct, but still quite valuable nonetheless.

Anyhow, when working with a new client I often find myself recommending that they add a contact form to their website, if they don’t have such a form already.  Anecdotally, I’ve seen this improve conversion rates and, just as importantly, improve the ability to track effectiveness of campaigns and use that data to improve the campaigns.

We just started with a new client this month, and here is what I emailed them regarding a contact form:

Hi <<Client>>,

I’d very much like to add a contact form to your website, a short form asking just a few pieces of info like name, email address, phone number and service they are interested in, etc.  Here are the reasons I’d like to do this:

1) Improve Conversion Rates – In general, I’ve seen contact forms improve the conversion rate of visitors-to-leads for the vast majority of clients.  The main reason is that it enables prospects to take action during off-hours.  Especially with a service like yours, there is a good percentage of your traffic that is visiting on the weekends, or very late at night.  If their only option is a phone number, they won’t call b/c they expect no one to answer the phone.  Additionally, you also will get the “goofing off at work” crowd which is actually quite significant – people who are spending a few minutes while at work researching personal stuff, and they don’t want to call b/c their coworkers will hear, but they are happy to fill out a form to make initial contact.  You currently have an email listed on the site as well as a phone number.  Again, a form is one better than that.  For some people just having an email address is to vague.  Its not a strong enough “call to action”, and since it doesn’t prompt the user with questions sometimes they don’t know what to write.  On your end, a form submission is better b/c you can ensure you have the 2-3 pieces of information you really need from a new contact.  With an email they might leave something out such as their phone number or the type of service they are interested in.

2) Better Tracking – We can track all form submissions in our analytics package.  We cannot track phone calls or emails sent via the email link in the same way.  With forms, I can gain valuable data and learn which keyword phrases bring you the most leads, not just traffic.  Often we may find that keyword abc brings 100 visitors and 3 leads, whereas keyword xyz brought only 40 visitors but 6 leads.  Without the form tracking we would think keyword abc was better and deserving of more attention.  With the form tracking we clearly know that keyword xyz is more valuable to you.

Convinced yet?  🙂  The cost of implementing this is on us.  Thoughts?

Upon writing this I realized most of the evidence I have is in my head and in my experience. There is a client we started with about 2 years ago that went from 2% to about 3% conversion rates when moving from email to form.  We did not leave the email up so this was email address vs. form rather than email address vs. (form + email).

Who has hard data on this?  Any case studies?

So this blog has been a bit unfocused to date, but in this case I want to share an excerpt from an email discussion I had with a guy who does a little contract work for us in the area of social media…  Someone submitted one of our clients sites to StumbleUpon and it generated a decent number of visitors, but no conversions.  Granted, the sample size was reasonably small.

He wrote:

I understand what you’re saying. Kind of goes back to that strategy where not every site would benefit from it, but it takes like 2 minutes to submit a site to SU so it’s still worth it imo… unless conversion rate is something your clients are strict on rating you on?

My reply:

conversion rate doesn’t matter to me and my clients so much as total leads matters.  thus, if FTH does 3% in general but you tell me we can get 1,000 visitors from SU but they’ll only convert at 1% I’d take it…. that’s 10 leads.  now with that in mind, if I knew or strongly expected that we’d get 0% conversions than there isn’t much upside… but as you said it takes two minutes so not much downside either.

traffic even without conversions can be good, if it results in 1-2 of those people liking the site and spreading word to their friends (viral marketing).  maybe we get a link or two out of it, which will help search rankings, and in turn help generate more total leads.

i think that’s the general idea here.

Side note: In our Google Analytics all we can see is “refer.php” as the referring page from StumbleUpon.  Anyone have a relatively easy way of determining which users and/or which pages on the SU site are sending traffic?  I’m admittedly ignorant as a StumbleUpon user, and have not figured out a good way to actually see where the traffic is coming from.  The response was nice (traffic-wise), so I’m eager to investigate a bit more.

So I just did a Google search on “lead generation” and noticed my lead-gen firm is ranking #16 and this blog is floating towards the top of page 5…  anyhow somewhere on page 7 I saw a firm called Admire Group and the approach their site takes really intrigued me.  First of all, its nice and simple, which I love.  Secondly, they really presented “lead generation” as the clear service they are selling… and SEO is merely the way they generate traffic and interested prospects.

I’ve been running an SEO agency for 5 years now, and I’ve just realized in the past 6 months that what I’m really selling is lead generation, not SEO.  Sure I always knew that the leads (results) were what kept my clients – as opposed to rankings (the means to the ends or results)… but I’ve always thought of my firm as an SEO agency.  Well screw that.  We’re now a lead generation firm.  Now someone just needs to find some time redo the website a bit…  Perhaps I’ll use my backup instead?

So back to Admire Group.  I love their approach.  They basically boil their service offering down to four simple steps, and walk you through the process.  They are:

  1. Hi, we’re a lead generation firm.
  2. We use “search engine maximization” so that the prospects find you, not visa versa
  3. We then optimize the landing pages to produce better conversion rates
  4. We do this by building “microsites” …that presumably saves them time and trouble versus overhauling a client’s main website.

I love how this isn’t overcrowded.

So this appears to be a relatively new phenomenon, as many firms that may have thought of themselves as SEO firms are now viewing themselves as either e-commerce consultants or lead generation specialists today.  Count me in.

Why the change?

Several reasons, as I see it

1) SEO has negative connotations. Sure, most of us are good (most?)… but search engines tolerate SEOs at best, and there are so many snakeoil salesmen out there that give the industry a bad rap.  Check out Aaron Wall’s post about this:

Pick a Smart Professional Label

Google can not keep growing their revenues at an acceptable rate without beating the value out of others. If you are new to the SEO field and want to excel online, call yourself something other than an SEO. Using the label SEO invites arbitrary monitoring and punishment, and there are too many plastic personalities in this field willing to dime out a friend in exchange for a wooden nickel.
from: http://www.seobook.com/to-google-you-are-a-spammer

2) Clients have evolved. While hopefully most SEOs worth their salt have long since realized rankings for specific keywords are virtually meaningless – since they fluctuate so often and are now subject to personalized and geo-based algorithm variations – and that traffic and conversions are what really matter… well truth is most buyers are just starting to get this.  SEO is still a nice buzzword, but its allure as “cool” is wearing off as businesses start to look at the real ROI, which is most easily measured in the contribution of search traffic to the top and bottom lines.

Still Not Perfect…

While SEO has negative connotations, so does “Lead Generation”.  In fact, the word “lead” means dramatically different things to different people.  To me, its an opt-in, “they contacted us” type of inquiry where all we are doing is giving a price to someone who specifically wants to work with us.  That sort of lead can convert at 20-50%.  To others, a “lead” is a name and phone number on a list of 50,000 others that is five years old and consists of people who are no more targeted for a given offering than the general public.  I hate this word “lead”, as I have to explain how our leads are actually good things and not what others might associate the word with.

Anyhow, perhaps its not so much SEO firms switching over to lead generation, as it is lead-gen firms realizing the power and effectiveness of SEO?

Okay I’m about to call it quits here as this is a terribly incoherent post and its 11:00pm and I need to go home…  I’ll leave you though with one other link, here is another firm’s presentation of SEO-based lead generation program.  Again, I like the simplicity… I just get a slight uneasy “infomercial product” vibe… maybe b/c of the single-page approach.

Tim Staines recently posted about early adopters and I brought in some comments about the product life cycle.  It got me to thinking about the Industry Life Cycle for Online Lead Generation.

What stage of growth do you think this industry is in?

I’d say obviously not the last two or three stages… but what about Stage 1 (Dormant) versus Stage 2 (Takeoff).  Some might argue either way.  I’d dodge the question and say Stage 1.5 🙂

I hope to soon touch on this topic much more in-depth. But in the meantime there is a great article I’d like to share that I found by Todd Miechiels via Blue Collar SEO.

> Better B2B Web Copywriting Lowers Your Cost of Sales

On a side note, I very much like how Todd brands and positions himself.  He is the founder of an SEO firm though now positions himself as a B2B Internet Marketing consultant… who happens to have a very strong foundation in search marketing.  I’ve been contemplating this myself lately, especially after Aaron Wall’s suggestion as well as just looking at what exactly I do.  Aaron’s post said:

If you are new to the SEO field and want to excel online, call yourself something other than an SEO. Using the label SEO invites arbitrary monitoring and punishment, and there are too many plastic personalities in this field willing to dime out a friend in exchange for a wooden nickel.

I’m not an SEO.  I’m an internet marketer.  SEO is merely one of my tools – but I don’t want to be associated with those spammy SEO’s who neglect things like branding, conversion, building quality sites, etc.  That’s not what I do.  I should do a better job of communicating that message despite my internal pull to focus at all costs.