Skip to main content

What is Lead Generation in Digital Marketing? A Detailed Overview

WVU Online | Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Whether your company is product or service-based, you’ll use digital marketing to build awareness, generate interest and work prospects through a sales funnel.

In the world of digital marketing, lead generation is crucial. For someone aspiring to enter the field of digital marketing, you have to understand lead generation. Learn more about lead generation in our detailed overview.

What is a Lead?

Simply stated, a lead is someone who has shown interest in your product, service or company. They have interacted with you in some way, noting their interest by making information about themselves known to the company.

They are a potential customer and nurturing leads is a cornerstone of successful digital marketing campaigns.

Most commonly, they share their interest and intent by filling out a web form or engaging in various other digital methods.

What is Lead Generation? The Basics

Now that we know what a lead is, let’s look into lead generation and the role digital marketing plays.

By definition, lead generation is collecting prospective consumer contact information by generating interest in a product or service with the goal of turning that interest into a sale or revenue.

Lead generation has evolved through the years, becoming very data-driven today.

Before digital marketing took off, cold calling, direct mail and in-person events were the primary lead-generation strategies — often very resource-intensive with poor targeting potential.

As digital marketing grew, the strategies shifted to targeted digital ads, search ads, content marketing, social media, and more, with strategies continuing to grow with the newest innovation in AI.

Key Components of Lead Generation

There are a few key components to lead generation:

  • Identifying Target Audience. A target audience is a specific group of people with shared characteristics in which ads and other promotional efforts are aimed. Generally, identifying a target audience involves identifying demographics and psychographics of the customers you want to reach, and generate leads from. Learn more about target markets, audiences and the importance of both.
  • Creating Engaging Content. Content marketing has become a critical part of lead generation, often utilizing lead magnets with gated content. You’ll offer value to your prospective customers while you gain some insight about them.
  • Utilizing Multiple Channels. Omnichannel marketing is not going away. It’s often said that your customer needs seven different touches before committing or making a purchase. Digital marketing on multiple channels is a vital aspect of lead generation.

For those interested in entering digital marketing, understanding lead generation is crucial. Want to get into digital marketing? Check out our blog and learn more about building a digital marketing career.

Strategies for Effective Lead Generation

You can significantly impact a business's growth by mastering lead generation strategies. Let’s explore key strategies for effective lead generation, covering various approaches and skills needed to be competent at lead generation in the workplace.

1. Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing:

There are two distinct approaches in marketing, inbound and outbound. These approaches shape the way businesses reach and engage their target audiences.

Inbound marketing is a customer-centric approach that focuses on attracting, engaging and delighting audiences by providing valuable and relevant content. It’s like a lead magnet that draws potential customers to a brand organically. It’s content-centric, permission-based, relationship-focused and utilizes digital channels. Some examples of inbound marketing:

  • Blog posts addressing common pain points.
  • Social media companies sharing informative content.
  • Email newsletters providing valuable insights.

Outbound marketing involves pushing a message out to a wide audience with the aim of generating immediate sales interest. It is a more proactive and intrusive form of marketing. It’s promotion-centric, interruption-based and multichannel. Some examples of outbound marketing:

  • TV and radio ads.
  • Print and online display advertising.
  • Cold calling and direct mail campaigns.

While both are often presented as distinct strategies, successful modern marketing often involves an integrated approach. A well-balanced strategy combines the strengths of both methods, leveraging the immediacy of outbound and the relationship-building power of inbound.

Choosing between the types depends on factors such as the nature of the product or service, the target audience and the overall marketing goals.

2. SEO and SEM:

What is SEO and SEM? Let’s explore both and their roles in lead generation.


Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing a website’s content and structure to improve its visibility on search engines’ organic search results. The goal is to enhance the website’s relevance to specific keywords and provide a seamless user experience. Key components include:

  • Keyword Research.
  • On-Page Optimization.
  • Content Quality.
  • Link Building.


Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a broader term encompassing paid strategies to enhance a website’s visibility on search engine results. It includes paid search advertising, commonly known as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. Key components include:

  • Keyword Bidding.
  • Ad Copy Creation.
  • Landing Page Optimization.
  • Ad Placement.

Both SEO and SEM play a role in lead generation. SEO is useful for increasing visibility and building trust and credibility. Your website will show up higher in search results, driving more organic traffic. SEM gives more immediate visibility, under a controlled budget. You’ll be able to target specific audiences on a set budget, creating a cost-effective way to generate leads.

Whether organically building authority through SEO or strategically placing ads with SEM, mastering these techniques is essential for businesses seeking to thrive in the competitive digital space.

3. Social Media Marketing:

Organically posting to social media platforms generally only results in about 10% of your followers seeing the posts as a business. This is where social media marketing comes in.

Plus, many of the platforms allow you to have lead generation forms directly in that system meaning customers don’t have to leave their social media platform to engage. Let’s take a look into a few of the platforms:

  • Facebook. With robust ad targeting options, you can find your audience based on demographics, interests behaviors, or even let Facebook build custom audiences off of existing customer lists. A key element for lead generation is lead magnets. Implementing Facebook ads that offer exclusive content, promotions or downloadable resources in exchange for the user's contact information helps build those lists.
  • Instagram. Through visual storytelling, you can showcase your brand’s personality. Instagram features product ads for consumer brands, sponsored posts, story ads as well as collaboration opportunities with influencers. You can also utilize those lead forms here!
  • LinkedIn. With the professional nature of LinkedIn, you can build connections, participate in relevant groups and share industry insights to establish authority. LinkedIn ads also feature lead form capabilities, as well as InMail and display ads. Lead magnets are growing in popularity, as well as promoting thought leadership with content publishing.

With so many social media platforms out there, it can be hard to know which accounts you should and shouldn’t have, and with more and more accounts, the more difficult social media management can become for the busy small business owner. You do need to know your channels, you don’t have to use every platform. If your brand’s audience isn’t using a specific platform? Don’t use it!

For a deeper look into the different platforms, check out our guide on how to get into social media marketing.

4. Email Marketing:

So, you’ve captured information about prospective customers. Now what? This is where email marketing plays an important role. You need to nurture leads to drive successful conversions. Whether this is through a specific communications plan, set to automatically send, or it’s a newsletter that will build your inbound marketing, email marketing has to be used in lead generation strategies.

There are a few techniques you should use when building your email marketing campaigns and plans:

  • Segmentation. Deliver target content that resonates with specific segments to make leads feel more understood.
  • Personalization. Create a personalized experience that makes leads feel valued to improve engagement, increase trust and boost conversion rates.
  • Drip Campaigns. Gradually guide leads through the sales funnel, providing relevant information at each stage with a series of automated, scheduled emails.
  • Educational Content. Position your brand as an industry authority and provide leads with valuable insights to build trust and address common pain points.
  • Feedback and Surveys. Understand your lead's preferences, challenges and satisfaction by getting feedback through email polls and surveys.
  • Calls-to-Action (CTAs). Guide leads to specific actions to encourage conversions and help leads take the next step in the sales funnel.
  • A/B Testing. Identify what works best for your audience by testing subject lines, content and visuals based on data-driven insights.
  • Responsive Design. Reach leads across various devices and provide a seamless experience by ensuring emails are mobile-friendly.
  • Automated Follow-Ups. Maintain consistent communication with timely follow-ups, preventing leads from falling through the cracks.

A well-crafted email nurturing campaign involves understanding your audience, delivering personalized and valuable content, all while strategically guiding leads through the sales funnel.

Tools and Technologies in Lead Generation

As technology continues to evolve, there are so many new lead generation tools and technologies. Here is an overview of a few key tools and technologies that help marketers efficiently generate and manage leads.

1. CRM Software:

Customer Relationship Software (CRM) is designed to manage and analyze customer interactions throughout the entire customer lifecycle. Some popular CRM tools are Salesforce, HubSpot and Zoho. Key features include:

  • Contact Management: Centralized storage of lead and customer information.
  • Lead Scoring: Evaluation of lead quality based on predefined criteria.
  • Sales Pipeline Management: Visualization of the sales process from lead to conversion.
  • Task and Calendar Integration: Scheduling follow-ups and tasks.

Analytics and Data Tracking:

Analytics and data tracking allow marketers to gain insights into user behavior, website performance and campaign effectiveness. Some popular tools include Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics and Hotjar. Key features include:

  • Website Analytics: Track website traffic, user interactions and conversions.
  • Conversion Tracking: Monitor the performance of lead generation campaigns.
  • Funnel Analysis: Visualize and analyze the customer journey.

Discover the significance of analytics in understanding and improving lead-generation strategies. WVU Online offers degree options in this field: Data Marketing Communications M.S., Data Marketing Communications Graduate Certificate.

Automation Tools:

Automation tools can streamline lead generation by setting up repetitive tasks and workflows that occur automatically, increasing efficiency. Some popular tools include Marketo, Mailchimp, Constant Contact and Zapier. Key features include:

  • Email Marketing Automation: Scheduled and personalized email campaigns (can often also be done in CRMs).
  • Social Media Automation: Posting and scheduling content across platforms.
  • Workflow Automation: Automated processes for lead nurturing.

WVU Online’s M.S. in Digital Marketing Communications features built-in certifications to many platforms for lead generation, automation and CRMs.

Lead Generation in Practice: Real-World Example

Let's delve into a real-world example of successful lead generation campaigns, analyzing the strategies that made them effective.

NeilPatel by NP Digital has been a top example in successful lead generation through inbound marketing, providing valuable content and building authority. With numerous blogs to draw customers, NP Digital features pop-ups and built-in CTAs, focusing on using quizzes to capture more information.

For example, pictured is their CTA for a 7-week SEO Action Plan. You answer a few questions before receiving the guide via email. Once you’re in, you gain valuable information with a plan to boost your website’s SEO.

SEO graphic with an example of traffic.

SEO graphic with buttons.

SEO graphic with an example of a form.

SEO graphic with statistics.

SEO graphic with a YouTube video.

Lead Generation for Digital Marketing Students

With WVU Online’s degrees in Marketing Communications, you’ll learn how to meet your potential customers where they are through SEO, organic and paid search, display marketing, social media marketing, content marketing and more! You’ll gain the knowledge and skills needed to be a digital marketer and build a lead-generation funnel for your future company.

You’ll take courses such as:

  • Introduction to Digital Marketing. In this Digital introductory course, students explore the fundamentals of digital media and the latest methods for collecting, creating and disseminating persuasive messages through digital media channels.
  • Customer Engagement Ethics and Strategy. Examine contemporary content strategies for engaging customers through the channels and at the times they prefer. Facilitate customer journeys from lead generation to sale that provide seamless user experience and path to purchase utilizing omnichannel marketing strategies.
  • Digital Storytelling. Explore advanced thinking and strategies for concepting, developing and promoting digital content used in product marketing and anchored in brand storytelling. Create visual content that reaches targeted audiences across various channels.
  • Social Media and Marketing. Examine the latest strategies for monitoring and engaging consumers in social media from a marketing perspective. Explore popular platforms that brands use to connect with, engage and analyze target audiences. (Includes two Meltwater certifications)
  • Web Metrics and SEO. Examine how marketers strategically gather online information to measure traffic, engagement and potential impact on ROI. Explore search engine optimization (SEO) and social media optimization (SMO) strategies used to build a presence for clients.

You’ll gain the knowledge you need to build campaigns that will reach the right audiences to generate qualified leads. Many careers in digital marketing focus on lead generation, within roles such as:

  • Product Marketing Manager
  • Social Media Manager
  • SEO Content Writer
  • Digital Marketing Manager
  • Digital Sales Manager
  • Digital Strategist

Lead Generation for Digital Marketing Students

As technology continues to evolve and consumer behaviors continue to change, the future of lead generation has a positive outlook in the future. Marketers who stay ahead in this dynamic digital landscape have the potential to grow lead generation in their future roles.

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI will likely play a pivotal role in lead generation, automating tasks, personalizing interactions and enhancing predictive analytics. AI-driven personalization will create highly-tailed content and experiences for leads, boosting engagement and conversion.
  • Chatbots and Conversational Marketing. While Chatbots are already here, they will continue to evolve and provide better, immediate support, become more conversational and assist in qualifying leads based on their preference and behaviors.
  • Privacy-Centric Approaches. Privacy has been a growing concern in digital marketing and more transparent and consent-driven lead-generation strategies will be the result to alleviating those concerns. Building trust will become a crucial part of lead generation.
  • Video Content Dominance. Video will continue to dominate, providing immersive and engaging experiences that resonate with modern audiences. We’re going to see more interactive elements within videos and video lead magnets, capturing leads by offering valuable insights and tutorials.
  • Voice Search Optimization. Conversational keywords and localized search are focuses for digital marketers to make sure they are keeping up with how users seek and discover information with voice-activated devices.
  • Account-Based Marketing (ABM) Evolution. ABM will evolve more better targeting and personalization from AI-driven insights. We’ll see hyper-personalization within content and predictive analytics.
  • Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). As the need for immersive experiences grows and brands like Meta and Apple are leading the way, AR and VR aren’t going away. We’ll continue seeing try-before-you-buy and virtual showrooms grow and lead to more lead generation and conversion. (We have an Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality in IMC course!)

There are so many exciting evolutions in the future of digital marketing and lead generation. You have to embrace innovation and stay on top of emerging trends to succeed. Knowing the strategies and tactics you can use behind these trends is also a key element.

One way to do that is by expanding your education with WVU Online’s fully online master’s degrees in Marketing Communications. Our programs are focused on what is happening next in marketing. Learn more about the M.S. in Data Marketing Communications, the M.S. in Digital Marketing Communications and the M.S. in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) and how you can learn from practitioner faculty who are literally practicing what they preach every day.

Explore Digital Marketing Careers at WVU Online

Develop a solid understanding of lead generation and pave the way for a successful career in digital marketing.

We're here for you.

Call us, write us, or fill out the request information form. Whichever communication style you prefer, there will be someone from WVU Online on the other end waiting to help.

(800) 253-2762 Email Us Submit a Contact Request Form

WVU Online

Be a decision maker. First, your degree. World-class academics at an exceptional value.

Occasionally a student will encounter an issue with an online course that he or she doesn’t know how to resolve. Should this occur, please visit the link below.

Internal Student Complaint Process

Contact Us

WVU Online
West Virginia University
PO Box 6800
Morgantown, WV 26506-6800

Phone: (800) 253-2762

Connect with WVU Online

Facebook Twitter Instagram LinkedIn YouTube TicToc Icon