Online lead generation has in the past been described as the “wild west” of online marketing,  but with a whole range of new technologies emerging it looks like the cowboys have finally met their match.

With the IAB’s first online lead generation (OLG) Guide due to be published at the end of May, advertisers will soon have a bite sized guide to help them get started with OLG. While already an extremely successful channel for many advertisers, OLG is still too often perceived as the “wild west” of online marketing.

The guide should help continue the education process that has been gathering momentum over the last few years, driven principally in the UK by Econsultancy and the IAB. The increasing body of OLG related materials available to advertisers is great news but the real “sheriff”, to continue the metaphor, that will clean up the industry and once and for all put OLG on the digital map is technology.

Whether it’s a platform to manage multiple OLG campaigns, software to analyse the effectiveness of various lead sources or systems to validate lead data in real-time, technology is the key to the success of this fledgling industry and it is already a major focus for many of the major players on the supply and buy side.

One the biggest issues at the moment for many in the OLG sector is how to tell good leads from bad leads before any money has changed hands or any man hours have been spent processing the leads.

As a potential lead buyer (especially with a CPL model) you want to make sure that every lead you purchase is a) a genuine consumer and b) a genuine consumer that is interested in the product and/or service you provide. Even if you don’t end up getting billed for invalid leads, there is a cost associated with processing leads and the fewer invalid leads received, the less wastage there will be.

Luckily there are already a range of lead validation and verification technology solutions available which can be broadly divided into two distinct types – pre and post submission validation.

Pre submission validation is where consumer lead data is verified before a consumer is able to submit their information online, i.e. before a lead is created and sent to an advertiser. One of the most basic forms of this is PAF validation of postal addresses where a consumer is prompted to enter their postcode and then select their place of residence from a drop down list.

This form of validation can be effective but is easy to cheat and as many OLG campaigns don’t involve postal fulfillment, PAF validation only takes you so far.

There is also a growing trend in pre-submission validation whereby telephone numbers are verified and validated in real-time. This means when the consumer enters a phone number on a data capture form, there is a piece of technology sitting in the background that physically checks whether the number is a real live number.

All this happens in microseconds and if the consumer enters an incorrect or invalid phone number they can be prompted to re-enter their details. For high value lead products like financial services leads where leads are sent into call centres, these technologies are invaluable.

Despite the rapid development of technology to screen out invalid leads in real-time, there will always be a percentage of invalid leads that get through the process and this is when post-submission validation comes into play.

Essentially, post-submission validation allows the lead recipient (usually the advertiser) to also act as the data verifier. For example, a lead where the phone number is valid but not related to the person on the lead form might get through the first layer of pre-submission validation. However, once dialled from a call centre, the advertiser should be able to feedback to the lead provider that the lead had an incorrect phone number and get a refund or not get billed for leads with these outcomes.

OLG has come a long way in a short space of time and just like in any fast growing industry, there will be the good, the bad (and sometimes the ugly). As the industry becomes more established and best practice starts to spread, coupled with the advances in technology OLG will become a standard part of the digital marketing mix and rather than asking “Do we want to use OLG?” marketers will be asking “How much of our budget shall we allocate to OLG?”.