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May 08, 2012

Marketing Research Chart: Inbound lead sources more important to marketers

SUMMARY: Nearly 95% of marketers report that SEO has become more important as an inbound marketing lead source. In the recently released MarketingSherpa 2012 Inbound Marketing Handbook, we asked more than 1,500 search marketers about the importance of their top inbound lead sources. Look at this week’s chart for more results.
By Kaci Bower, Senior Research Analyst

SEO and social media lead sources increasing in importance

Q. Which sources of leads have become more important and less important to you over the last 12 months?

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Click here to see a larger, printable version of this chart

Leads obtained from inbound marketing tactics, such as SEO, social media and blogs, have increased in importance over the last 12 months, particularly when compared to leads from outbound marketing programs. Inbound marketing tactics tend to be cost-effective, and offer an efficient option for generating highly qualified leads.

More than 90% of marketers surveyed indicated that SEO was increasingly important for driving new inbound leads. This is a predictable trend, as the source of most external traffic is search.

In fact, on average, search drives 41% of traffic for organizations, according to the Q1 2011 Outbrain Content Discovery and Engagement Report. This is not an insignificant amount. With so much riding on this source of traffic, SEO should not be an afterthought.

SEO efforts are not just about getting listed and being highly ranked in SERPs. Ultimately, SEO is about creating content that searchers would want to find, and helping search engines find it!

According to marketers, social media is also an important source of inbound leads, with over 85% of firms turning to this tactic. Interestingly, social drives an additional 17% of external traffic.

It’s important to evaluate your lead sources. The worksheet below will help you quantify the value and importance of your lead sources.
  • Allocate the percentage of your total leads that each lead source represents.

  • Rate the value of these lead sources in terms of their importance. Has the lead source become more important to your organization over the last 12 months? If so, give it a score of 3. If not, assign it a score of 1. If there’s been no change in its importance, then give it a score of 2.

  • Calculate the total score per line by multiplying the second and third columns.

  • Calculate the final score by adding up all the scores in the last column. This will give you a look at the average value and importance of all your lead sources and help you identify where you might shift more money and attention. For example, if your total score is 1.7, you would know that your leads as a whole have been decreasing in importance because the score falls between 1 and 2. You could then identify individual lead sources that may be driving this decline.

View Chart Online

Click here to see a larger, printable version of this worksheet

For additional research data and insights about inbound marketing, download and read the free Executive Summary from the MarketingSherpa 2012 Inbound Marketing Handbook: Synchronize search, social, and content to get found more often, more effectively, by more customers.

Useful links related to this research

Webinar Replay -- How to Accelerate Lead Quality and Conversions with Content Marketing Optimization

Overall Content Marketing Strategy Leads to 2,000% Lift in Blog Traffic, 40% Boost in Revenue

Content Marketing: How employee content drove 200 leads per day at Guitar Center

Content Marketing: Effort reduces cost-per-lead 90% and achieves 30% clickthrough rate on barrier page

See Also:

Comments about this Chart

May 08, 2012 - Gordon Graham of ThatWhitePaperGuy says:
Once again, Marketing Sherpa ignores a huge category that drives inbound marketing: content?! "Blogs" are NOT the only form of content... what about case studies, white papers, webinars, video... I've been dismayed in the past few years to watch Sherpa discard any mention of these powerful tactics in your surveys and reports. You used to cover them. Now you're suddenly ignoring them. What's going on?

May 08, 2012 - Sergio Balegno of MECLABS/MarketingSherpa says:
Thank you for your comment, Gordan. I agree that blogs are not the only form of content. However, the question which produced this chart refers to "sources of leads" not "forms of content." We have a benchmark study scheduled for later this year that will be dedicated to social media, SEO and content in the context of inbound marketing. We would be happy to take any constructive insights you may have into consideration when planning this study. I look forward to hearing from you. Best regards, Sergio Balegno, Director of Research, MECLABS/MarketingSherpa

May 08, 2012 - Michael Malone of DemandBlox says:
How exactly is a lead defined here? To me, a lead is a known party with an expressed interest (either indicated or detected). SEO is important for driving traffic to my site certainly, but those are suspects because I can't identify them and depending on the pages they interact with, I may not know what they are interested in either. Hopefully I can capture their contact information with an offer, but when I report what a company's best lead sources are, SEO isn't on the list. Additionally, this is a good chart from a trending perspective as we all have additional lead sources we are activating because others are more mature, but I think the trend may mislead the real results of where the bulk of actionable leads for a business really come from. Thoughts?

May 08, 2012 - Daniel Kuperman of Aprix Solutions says:
Interesting, but I think the title of this post is misleading. If the question posed was "Q. Which sources of leads have become more important and less important to you over the last 12 months?" then it is very different from asking "Which sources of inbound leads have become more important..." - big difference! Not sure Email would be considered 'inbound', and certainly not 'direct mail' or 'telemarketing'. Maybe a more accurate title would be "Inbound lead sources more important for marketers" or something like that.

May 09, 2012 - Kaci Bower of MarketingSherpa says:
Michael, thanks for your insightful comments. We asked the question, “Which sources of leads have become more important and less important to you over the last 12 months?” Marketers answered that question from the perspective of their organizations and their organizations’ lead definitions. Naturally, that could vary by organization depending on the lead definitions they have in place for their funnel stages, but the idea is that these are leads, not opportunities. To your point, many leads are not immediately actionable or sales-ready – they’re leads, not opportunities – so lead scoring and lead nurturing processes are critical. This is the case no matter the lead source. This particular report did not get into the marketing-sales funnel, lead definitions, lead scoring, lead nurturing and lead qualification, however.

May 09, 2012 - Kaci Bower of MarketingSherpa says:
Daniel, you make a good point. The purpose of this week’s chart was to draw attention to specific inbound marketing lead sources, like SEO and Social, and demonstrate how the majority of marketers consider these particular lead sources to be growing most in importance. I like your suggested chart title, so I’m going to see if we can revise it. Thanks for the suggestion!

May 09, 2012 - Rob Bullock of says:
Kaci, Would it be possible to breakdown the 1,500 survey participants, so we know the proportion that were b2b vs. b2c, bricks and mortar vs. e-commerce only, and also by location and company size.

May 10, 2012 - Abdullah Eissa of KONE Areeco Ltd. says:
what is SEO?

May 10, 2012 - Kaci Bower of MarketingSherpa says:
Rob, we do have a partial breakdown of this chart (lead sources growing in importance only) by certain segments: maturity phase (strategic, transition and trial organizations); primary channel (B2B, B2C, B2B2C); org size; and industry type (Education/Healthcare, Media/Publishing, Retail/E-commerce, Professional/Financial Services, and Software/Saas). Those charts are available in the 2012 Search Marketing Benchmark Report - SEO Edition, available at

May 10, 2012 - Kaci Bower of MarketingSherpa says:
Abdullah, SEO stands for search engine optimization. The purpose of SEO is to help search engines, in response to a search query, find and rank your Web content higher than competing sites in organic (natural, unpaid) search results. This is accomplished through a focused and ongoing process and set of techniques (such as keyword research and optimization, link building, title tags, social media integration, content creation, etc.).

May 10, 2012 - Deborah Maselka of Blue Corona says:
Abdullah - Here's a very basic definition: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a website or web page in organic (unpaid) search results. SEO is one of two tactics under the classficiation of Search Engine Marketing. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the process of gaining website traffic from various forms of visibility on search engines. SEM includes: Organic Search: Driving traffic through FREE search engine optimization efforts. Paid Search: Driving traffic through PAID search advertising, commonly referred to as PPC.

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