Research published by Econsultancy earlier this week has shown that there is a continued trend towards online lead generation at the expense of offline techniques, but methods such as natural search, paid search and email are becoming more competitive. 

The Online Lead Generation Report (B2C) 2009, released this week in association with Clash-Media, has shown a continued movement towards digital channels as marketers favour an online approach because of better performance and better measurability. 

Two thirds of company respondents (65%) say their use of online lead generation (OLG) has increased in the last year, compared to only 11% who say it has decreased. The average proportion of lead generation budget which is spent online has increased to 61% from 53% in 2008.

The research, published for the third year running and based on a survey of more than 600 digital marketers, has found that natural search (SEO) and email marketing in-house lists are still the most widely used methods for generating consumer leads, and have held steady at 76% and 74% of companies respectively. 

However, there has been a significant 12% drop in the proportion of companies using paid search for OLG, from 71% last year to 59% this year.

Digital channels have become more competitive and this is reflected by fewer respondents saying that channels such as SEO, PPC and email marketing to in-house lists are ‘very effective’. 

As more companies have become professional and committed to digital marketing, and as the recession has continued to bite, there is less scope for easy wins online even though there are still tremendous possibilities for great return on investment.  

It is paid search where a scaled-down approach to online lead generation is evident, because companies are focusing on areas such as search engine optimisation and email marketing where there is more perceived value. The average proportion of OLG budget going to paid search has dropped from 33% last year to 22% this year. 

For companies using online lead generation specialists such as Clash-Media, the focus must be on measuring their activities properly so that they can fully understand their returns, and use this approach effectively as a truly performance-based channel. 

There is more bad news for traditional media in the report. The proportion of companies using newspapers and magazines to generate leads has decreased from 65% in 2008 to 54%. Direct mail has slumped from 50% last year, to 38% of businesses using this channel. 

You can download a free sample of the full Online Lead Generation (B2C) Report 2009  here: http://econsultancy.com/reports/online-lead-generation-report