Online Lead Gen: The Year’s Hits and Misses

A bunch of you have asked me to address the year’s best and worst in online-lead generation, so here goes. This should be interesting, because some of the worst offenders in this space are also the best. You’ll understand shortly.

The Good

A few online lead generation companies come to mind as doing the best job. From a lead-buying perspective, first would have to be the Career Education Corp. (CEC) University Group, comprising Colorado Technical University (CTU) and American InterContinental University (AIU), as well as traditional schools. These online university offers generate probably as many online leads as any other organization out there. It did a masterful job this year by pulling back a bunch of media buys (which must have hurt short-term numbers) to ensure its offers weren’t in any processes that were sketchy or offering big incentives (e.g., sign up for this school to get an iPod).

Moreover, it had all its sources send every single site on which the offer was running. It then reviewed every site to make sure it had quality control in place. Now, I’m sure some people still may try to cheat and put their offers in places that weren’t approved, but CEC is watching. From what I can tell, they’re doing a great job. Kudos!

Buying online leads is only one side of the equation, however. Companies also need to get leads outside of search, such as in a co-registration/in-path lead collection capacity. What sites can generate these leads?

Some of the diet- and health-oriented sites we work with are good examples: eDiets, LifeScript, Rodale, and Waterfront Media. These sites care about their brands and the user experience in their funnel. They are eager to see ancillary revenue in their funnels, but not at the expense of the other important factors, and are extremely conscious of metrics.

They make sure there’s very little drop-off in their funnel when displaying lead-generation offers to ensure users continue the process, potentially filling out credit card information and joining the service, which is the operations’ core business. All are very good at focusing on what they’re good at and letting a third-party provider do what it’s good at.

I also want to mention to the folks at Survey Club, Varsity Plaza, and other market research companies. The temptation of cannibalizing users for short-term revenue is sometimes too much to pass up, but these folks have resisted the temptation. Nice work.

The Bad

I was going to get down and dirty here with the worst operators, but perhaps it’s best to stick with a generality. In my not-so-humble opinion, 2006 will go down as the year companies sold their businesses for a lot of cash without really having any business model other than brokering deals. I hate that piece of the business, but congratulations (most of us know who they are), because how you all did it I’ll never know!

The Comeback Kid

Finally, the comeback kid: Aptimus. This company used to roll with the fleas of all the dogs around it, running offers in processes I found horrible. But in 2006, Aptimus confessed it had gone about its business all wrong and was switching its focus toward quality, quality, and more quality.

The longer-term question is how well it will practice what it’s preaching. But at least the folks there are saying the right things, and in this world of ours we should always make every effort to accentuate the positive.

And that’s my contribution to a kinder, gentler holiday season.

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