Driving lead generation with paid media: What’s new and what’s next

What every modern-day lead generation marketer needs to know for paid media success on LinkedIn, Google and Microsoft.

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Lead generation isn’t just about driving leads; it’s about filling your funnel with qualified leads.

The key to achieving this lies within providing your platform of choice with the right information.

Whether you’re using LinkedIn Ads, Google Ads, or Microsoft Ads, Nicole Waddington, digital marketing manager at Cypress North, offered valuable tips on optimizing lead generation campaigns for maximum performance at SMX Next.

Below is a summary of the insights she shared.

What is lead generation?

Lead generation is the process of finding and learning about potential customers. The strategies leveraged to do this can vary based on your target customer, company, and industry.

However, three crucial elements ensure success in lead generation, regardless of your industry or where you advertise, Waddington said you will need:

  • A compelling offer. You need something that will hook the prospect enough to make them want to give you their information.
  • CRM access. This is “key” to seeing if your leads are driving quality conversions.
  • Conversion tracking. And this doesn’t just stop at leads. This continues down the funnel because you need to be able to attribute revenue to any paid campaigns you run.

“If you don’t have these three things, you might as well just forget about it,” Waddington said.

LinkedIn ads

While LinkedIn Ads may have a reputation for being more expensive, the platform proves its worth by being a powerful tool for attracting high-value leads, Waddington said.

LinkedIn increases your likelihood of reaching high-value consumers, ensuring a higher concentration of qualified leads in your marketing funnel, she added. For this reason, Waddington described LinkedIn as a “great platform for B2B marketers.”

Retargeting tactics: Securing qualified leads using LinkedIn ads

LinkedIn has a diverse range of audience targeting options, such as people who have:

  • Visited your LinkedIn page.
  • Clicked on your ads.
  • Attended a specific event.
  • Watched a certain percentage of a video ad you ran.
  • Downloaded a particular document.

Retargeting strategy

Tailoring your content to match where your leads are in their journey is important, Waddington said. Don’t jump straight to bottom-of-funnel offers like sales outreach or free trials — nurture and warm them up first on LinkedIn.

Leverage audience targeting not just to focus but also to exclude; avoid spending on existing customers, those who’ve spoken to sales, or unengaged subscribers, making your LinkedIn ads more cost-effective. She explained:

  • “Don’t waste money on people who are already your current customers or people who have already talked to sales.”
  • “Targeting is great, but so are exclusions, and you should use them to your advantage when you’re on LinkedIn Ads.”

Who to target

For effective top-of-funnel content campaigns, LinkedIn’s Audience Insights tool is the platform’s best-kept secret, Waddington said. This insightful report provides valuable information to pinpoint your target audience without spending on a paid ad campaign. Waddington added:

  • “All you have to do is upload a contact list or import a contact list directly from your CRM, such as HubSpot, and LinkedIn will match that contact list to users in their platform.”
  • “We can see a whole slew of information that will tell us exactly who we need to go after for those top-of-funnel campaigns.”

Account Based Marketing strategy

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) on LinkedIn is versatile, with applicability beyond just creating awareness at the top of the funnel, Waddington said.

ABM can effectively nurture leads already engaged with sales, especially in the decision phase, by strategically targeting decision-makers with ad creative featuring social proof testimonials, influencing the sales process on LinkedIn.

Additionally, consider third-party audience tools to gather more data on your ideal customers and creatively target individuals based on these insights. Waddington added:

  • “You can be so creative on LinkedIn ads, but the key is matching that message with the person’s correct life cycle stage.”

Google Ads

Lead generation through Google Ads starts with successful traditional tactics that have consistently delivered strong campaign performance in her experience.

Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs)

Leveraging Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs) can be more cost-effective for cost per click, Waddington said, adding:

  • “I love this tactic because you can cast a wider net and bid on more general search terms and get it for a lower CPC.”

A broad match RLSA campaign can yield significantly lower cost per SQL (Sales Qualified Lead) compared to a regular prospecting campaign, emphasizing the efficiency of this approach in maximizing budget and acquiring leads, Waddington said.

Audience segments

Leveraging audience segments is powerful as it allows the application of audience segments to campaigns, enabling targeting, exclusion, and bid adjustments for enhanced campaign efficiency.

At the very least, Waddington suggested using audiences as observation, offering valuable data to identify converting customer profiles. She explained:

  • “I recommend everyone should be applying audiences as observation to your campaigns.”
  • “This is free data that you can use to determine who your customers are and who is converting on your campaigns.”

She illustrated her perspective using a client case study, where audience segments like “auto parts and accessories” and “Black Friday shopping” exhibited higher conversion volumes and lower costs per conversion. This information can be used to create dedicated campaigns or adjust bids upward for these high-converting segments. Conversely, segments with lower conversion volumes and higher costs per conversion can be either excluded or bid-adjusted down for cost-effectiveness.

Performance Max campaigns

Although using PMax for lead generation “can sound scary,” it can be done as long as you optimize for lower funnel stages, Waddington said. The key to success is ensuring you feed Google good data. Explaining why she is a fan of using PMax for lead generation, Waddington added:

  • “What’s cool about PMax is you have the ability to use page feeds to tell Google specific pages from your website that you want it to use in order to serve ads through PMax campaigns.”
  • “This is a new feature, and it is so much better than the prior strategy that we would use in order to have more control over PMax campaigns.”

Performance Max tips

Some top tips and advice for maximizing the performance of PMax campaigns for lead generation from Waddington:

  • Start slow: PMax has a tendency to spend quickly, so set your budget lower than what you would for search campaigns. Scale when you see a response.
  • Use first-party data: Ensure you leverage first-party data for audience signals because it works beautifully. It is the best data that you can feed Google Ads, so integrate with your CRM and feed Google first-party data.
  • Don’t lump audience signals together: Test them separately in different campaigns because PMax still has poor reporting. You need to know what’s working and what’s not regarding audience signals, so you can determine what audience signals you should continue investing in.

Demand Generation campaigns

Demand Gen campaigns on Google Ads take a hybrid approach, using both images and videos. This campaign type differed from Waddington’s initial expectations when Google introduced it last year.

Although Demand Gen campaigns haven’t been as successful as PMax campaigns, this may not be a fair comparison at this stage, she said, adding:

  • “This is a very new campaign type so it is still wroth testing – but just know that it is at the very beginning stages.”
  • “The one good thing about Demand Gen campaigns is that you can create Lookalike segments. So you can, for example, upload a co a contact list or a customer list and make a lookalike segment that has narrow balanced or broad targeting. This could be a possible replacement if you used Similar Audiences in the past – which is something that Google sunset last year.”
  • “Remember, it never hurts to test, so I encourage everyone to test if you want. Bear in mind, if Google wants something to work, it will make it work.”

Microsoft Ads

Bing remains a significant player in lead generation as it continues to be the default search engine for many users. However, Microsoft Ads has undergone significant changes since 2022. Notably, there has been a decline in the accuracy of keyword matching, Waddington said.

Adapt your strategy

Despite the challenges she’s encountered, you can still effectively utilize Microsoft Ads for lead generation with a robust negative keyword list. The key is adapting strategies and staying on top of optimizations as well as negative keyword management. She added:

  • “I don’t want this to scare you away from Microsoft ads because there is a way you can mitigate negatives; negate, negate, negate.”
  • “You can use exact match and combination with a robust negative keyword list and still make Microsoft Ads work hard for you and your lead generation strategy.”
  • “But Microsoft Ads is not the same animal as it was in 2022. You need to change your strategies.”

Audience ads

Opting out of audience ads on Microsoft advertising is no longer an option, and it’s a reality marketers must accept, Waddington added. This shift means it’s necessary to take a mindful approach in managing accounts and reporting on ther platform. Waddington added:

  • “You can’t compare apples to apples anymore. You have to compare apples to audience ads. So just be aware of that in your accounts and also in your reporting.”

Performance Max

Microsoft introduced its own version of Google’s Performance Max, currently in beta testing. While Google’s Performance Max typically takes around two weeks to learn and produces quick results, Waddington noted that her experience with Microsoft’s version has been very different. The learning period has extended beyond the expected two weeks, and the results have been inconsistent.

Key takeaways

Some key takeaways from Waddington’s SMX Next session:

  • LinkedIn Ads Creativity: Move beyond pushing bottom-of-funnel offers on LinkedIn. Tailor your creative to the targeted life cycle stage, nurturing leads effectively with the myriad options available, including audiences and the audience insight tool.
  • Google’s Performance Max Campaigns: While it can work for lead generation, it requires careful management. Feed it solid bottom-of-funnel data, start slow, and gradually scale as results become evident.
  • Microsoft Advertising in 2023: It remains effective, but demands more effort. Watch for audience ad bloat, stay vigilant on negative keyword lists, and adapt to the changing landscape of year-over-year data.
  • Creative Targeting: Embrace creativity in targeting, audiences, offers, and align your messaging with the funnel stage to ensure a steady flow of leads. Aim not just for leads but qualified ones that convert into business, ultimately driving revenue for your company or client.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for Search Engine Land and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the search community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Nicola Agius
Nicola Agius was Paid Media Editor of Search Engine Land from 2023-2024. She covered paid media, retail media and more. Prior to this, she was SEO Director at Jungle Creations (2020-2023), overseeing the company's editorial strategy for multiple websites. She has over 15 years of experience in journalism and has previously worked at OK! Magazine (2010-2014), Mail Online (2014-2015), Mirror (2015-2017), Digital Spy (2017-2018) and The Sun (2018-2020). She also previously teamed up with SEO agency Blue Array to co-author Amazon bestselling book Mastering In-House SEO.

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