The best customer acquisition strategies include paid search, tailored remarketing, great content, referrals, and SEO. Learn how the experts do it in this guide.

Here, you’ll find 7 customer acquisition strategies for growth:

  1. Paid search marketing
  2. Search engine optimization (SEO)
  3. Social media marketing (organic & paid)
  4. Remarketing
  5. Content marketing
  6. Email marketing
  7. Referral marketing

New customers bring in over a third of a brand’s total revenue. That’s a pretty big slice of the pie.

While there’s no magic formula for securing conversion-ready leads, there are digital marketing strategies with customer acquisition at their core.

We tapped into HawkSEM’s VP of Growth and Strategy, Steve Dang’s expertise, to map out seven of our favorite customer acquisition methods. Each is backed by real-world success and practical insights to help you master the art of customer acquisition.

line of people outside from aerial view

Companies that use paid search for successful customer acquisition know it’s not only about the ad. (Image: Unsplash)

What is a customer acquisition strategy?

A customer acquisition strategy is your brand’s blueprint to attract, engage, and convert prospective customers into paying ones at every stage of the sales funnel. The goal is to expand your customer base, boost profits, and take your business to the next level.

Sounds a lot like lead generation, right

“Regarding how general leads are different from marketing qualified leads (MQLs), general leads are higher in the funnel and represent anyone interested or motivated enough to fill out a lead form. This is a higher-level step in the conversion funnel,” explains Dang. “Once these leads are qualified or scored by the marketing team, they’re regarded as a MQL.”

Meaning? There’s a stronger likelihood that the lead will convert into a sale or, better yet, a loyal customer. 

An effective customer acquisition strategy considers every step of the customer journey—from lead generation and fostering loyal customers to conversion rate optimization.

Keep in mind that the acquisition starts at the very first contact with a prospect. Then, it naturally rolls into your customer retention strategy. Together, these strategies work synergistically to ensure your marketing efforts stay profitable.

Is customer acquisition the same as marketing?

The biggest difference between your marketing efforts and customer acquisition strategy is that the marketing falls under customer acquisition. The same applies to lead generation and sales, too.

Put simply, your marketing costs account for a portion of your customer acquisition efforts

For instance, say you invest $9,000 into a targeted display ad campaign. Every click and conversion this ad generates contributes to acquiring new customers. Therefore, it feeds into your customer acquisition strategy.

Whether it’s a specific marketing campaign, a display ad, or a piece of content, if it’s aimed at attracting new customers and evoking interest, then it’s all part of the broader customer acquisition process

Picture the traditional sales funnel. Marketing usually sits near the top, focusing on the initial stages, like brand awareness and consideration. Customer acquisition, on the other hand, is the overarching strategy that shapes the entire customer journey, from first awareness all the way through to conversion.

Customer acquisition 101? Check. Time to talk strategy.

7 methods for a successful customer acquisition strategy

Ready to make every new customer your best customer? As a top 3% SEM agency, we’ve got the inside scoop on how to craft an effective customer acquisition strategy that truly delivers.

1. Paid search marketing

Paid search, also known as pay-per-click (PPC), is one of the most effective digital marketing strategies when it comes to customer acquisition. That’s because it allows companies to target their ideal customer with the right keywords at the right time.

Paid search ads appear at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) on sites like Google and Bing. If someone’s searching for “women’s black cycling shoes,” for example, and you’re an ecommerce brand selling cycling products (including women’s black cycling shoes), you want your targeted ad to be the one they see.

The same goes for brands selling other products and services.

The companies that use paid search for successful customer acquisition know it’s not just about churning out a decent Facebook ad or two. It’s just as important to pair eye-catching, appealing ad copy with an optimized landing page that boasts consistent verbiage, clean design, and a clear call to action (CTA).

At HawkSEM, we go the extra mile for our clients. 

We supercharged ThriftBooks’ paid search efforts, partnering closely with Google for beta opportunities and zeroing in on key audience segments. The result? A 35% jump in clickthrough rates (CTR) and a 50% boost in average order value (AOV).

2. Search engine optimization (SEO)

Along with a strategic paid search plan, you need a solid SEO strategy for search engines to recognize your website easily. This vital aspect of inbound marketing helps improve your rankings and, ideally, grow your reach for better customer acquisition.

High-impact website SEO means having elements such as:

  • Unique, relevant title tags and meta descriptions for each page
  • A stream of consistent, high-quality content 
  • Internal and external links to authoritative sites
  • A comprehensive sitemap (organized list of all your web pages)
  • Images with descriptive alt tags

These are some of the tactics we leveraged, along with conversion rate optimization (CRO) audits and content strategy, to steer our client DILO back to its industry-leading position. 

The proof is in the data: an increase of 36% in organic clicks, 24% in Google clicks for high-value keywords, and 46% in Google impressions—all within a few short months.

But remember, optimizing your site for search engines doesn’t guarantee you’ll snag the top spot of search engine results pages (SERPs) or even land on the first page, for that matter. Search engine algorithms are constantly changing. And those shifts? They’re not always clear.

However, by keeping your site up-to-date, easy to navigate, and educational for prospects and current customers, you’ll position your brand as a thought leader and your site as a trustworthy information source.

3. Social media marketing (organic & paid)

When it comes to social media, you’ve got the option to leverage both organic and paid marketing channels. But don’t make the mistake of assuming you can leverage each path in the same way or achieve the same results.


Let’s start with organic social media. The practice of regularly creating social media posts can help spread the word about new business offerings or updates, increase your exposure, and even help you go viral (in a good way, ideally).

While organic social posts won’t always directly result in customer acquisition, they can aid in brand awareness, content sharing, and highlighting your unique brand persona.


Paid social, on the other hand, can be a powerful tool if wielded properly. When choosing which social media platforms to advertise on, you should first consider your target audience and the platforms they use most.

For example, if your ideal customer base consists of professionals and business decision-makers in the SaaS space, LinkedIn is a prime choice. 

Branded and influencer-generated content, PPC ads, and display ads are all forms of paid social media. Each of these can draw in audiences that encounter your brand for the first time, potentially turning them into paying customers.

Once you’ve honed in on your ideal platforms, you can use the audience targeting tools most have in place to get your content delivered straight to those who need to see it most. 

group of millennials on their laptops laughing

While blogging is a great medium for businesses when it comes to customer acquisition, effective content marketing can encompass much more. (Image: Unsplash)

4. Remarketing

Remarketing uses display ads to connect your business with people who have already visited your site or mobile app. When done right, it’s one of the best and most cost-effective ways to get prior visitors back to your site. 

Not only does it keep you top of mind when someone takes an action like visiting your site or requesting a consultation or demo, but it also allows you to hyper-focus your ads and increase your chances of turning a lead into a conversion.

Is remarketing the same as retargeting? Not quite. 

Search Engine Journal says the biggest difference is that retargeting focuses on steering prospective customers down the purchase path, whereas remarketing re-engages current customers through other channels (like email or paid ads).

Of course, the most successful remarketing campaigns aren’t one-size-fits-all. A new site visitor shouldn’t be remarketed the same way as a returning visitor. Why? Because they’re at different stages of the customer journey—a new customer is in the ‘awareness’ stage, while an existing customer is likely closer to making a purchase.

Take our client Timbuk2. We helped them ditch the cookie-cutter approach and tailored their remarketing to both new and returning visitors. This garnered a 56% boost in net revenue and a 21% uptick in AOV—a clear win for custom-fit strategies.

Along with data and online privacy changes, the eventual demise of third-party cookies will force changes in digital marketing, particularly for remarketing ads. But there’s no need to panic.

While more solutions will become apparent as the process unfolds (such as replacement tools like FLEDGE and Topics), focus on attracting new customers to keep your lead pipeline flowing. 

Looking for more ways to increase your customer acquisition? Let’s talk.

5. Content marketing

Blogging is a great medium for businesses when it comes to customer acquisition, but truly valuable content marketing encompasses so much more.

Some examples of high-caliber content include:

  • Blog articles
  • Videos
  • Webinars
  • Guides
  • ebooks
  • Infographics
  • Checklists
  • Podcasts
  • Downloadable templates
  • Product descriptions
  • Case studies

No matter the content you create, you want to make sure it’s accurate, helpful, and keyword-targeted. The more deliverables you publish and promote, the more industry topics you can cover. This makes your site more likely to surface in organic search results for people seeking what you have to offer.

Pro tip: You can take things a step further by partnering with another brand (that’s not a competitor but shares a similar audience) on something like a podcast or guest blog. Moves like these can grow your number of customers, build your professional network, and further solidify your brand’s credibility.

But don’t bow out of the content marketing game before seeing the fruits of your labor. Like SEO, it takes time and sustained effort. 

One way to take your content from once-in-a-while to 24/7 automation? Leave it in the hands of a dedicated content marketing team devoted to increasing customer lifetime value (CLV) and your return on investment (ROI).

two people working on laptops at a coffeeshop

You’re six times more likely to get a click-through from an email campaign than from a tweet. (Image: Unsplash)

6. Email marketing

Email newsletters are another powerful acquisition channel if you follow a few best practices. 

As Campaign Monitor reports, you’re six times more likely to get a click-through from an email campaign than a tweet. That’s a pretty sweet incentive to get a newsletter going, wouldn’t you say?

In our experience, the most successful newsletters:

  • Include a single, clear CTA
  • Offer actionable value (like a pro tip, discount, or statistic)
  • Grab attention with compelling subject lines
  • Use well-planned, straightforward templates
  • Are easy-to-read
  • Are optimized for for mobile 
  • Conduct A/B testing to narrow down the best formats

To build your non-client subscriber list, get creative! You can add exit-intent pop-ups to your site or include a subscription box in your site’s footer navigation. 

As long as it doesn’t damper the customer experience or get too pushy, you can find unique ways to expand your customer base.

Pro tip: Let your readers help you spread the word! Encourage forwarding in your email newsletter to make sharing a breeze. Thanks to the psychology of social proof, peer-recommended content is usually considered more trustworthy..

7. Referral marketing

Have you ever tried a new product you loved and immediately shared your enthusiasm with a friend? Referral programs reward you for this, offering incentives for recommending their offerings to other prospective customers.

Unlike word-of-mouth marketing, which relies on people spontaneously sharing information (usually verbally), referral marketing provides tangible perks and rewards to encourage referrals

For instance, Uber’s rideshare service rewards credits to both the new rider and the person who referred them.

Not only does referral marketing have a lower cost per lead (because it uses your current customers to spread the word vs. paid ads or high-budget marketing campaigns), but it’s also incredibly effective. 

In fact, referral programs generate an average of 3 to 5 times higher conversion rates than other strategies.

Dang believes referrals are valuable because it means they’ve been vetted and vouched for by someone familiar.

“Oftentimes, they’re also likelier to convert than a cold lead because there’s an element of trust and familiarity already embedded in the relationship,” highlights Dang.

Referral programs can include:

  • Exclusive discounts
  • Free gifts
  • Cash-back rebates
  • Complimentary upgrades
  • Charitable donations in their name
  • Early access to sales or events
  • Branded merch or swag items

These perks can tip the scales for a potential customer toward your business over a competitor.

What is customer acquisition cost?

Customer acquisition costs, or CAC, is how much a brand invests to acquire new customers. Your CAC covers ad spend, marketing, sales personnel, and more, divided by the number of customers acquired.

CACs are one of the primary key performance indicators (KPIs) you’ll want to keep an eye on. According to Dang, other relevant metrics include the average:

  • CPL (cost per lead)
  • Cost per MQL
  • Cost per SQL (sales qualified lead)
  • Lifetime value of a customer (LVC)
  • Click to lead conversion rate
  • Lead to MQL conversion rate, lead to SQL conversion rate & lead to sale conversion rate

However, he says the exact KPIs will depend on your company and business model.

So, why is your CAC such a big deal? Growth is good, but growth at any cost can hurt your business in the long run. Think about it: if you spend too much to acquire each customer, you might win battles but lose the financial war.

Sustainable growth is critical, and that’s where a balanced CAC comes into play. It boosts your profitability rather than draining your resources.

That’s why it’s vital to know how to lower CAC. Your first step is to track all expenses and ROI. Our proprietary tech ConversionIQ makes keeping a finger on the pulse of your data a breeze. 

“ConversionIQ can absolutely help improve average acquisition costs and a variety of conversion rates by letting us see all the factors that might influence the quality of the lead,” Dang says. “It can also give us insights into what to adjust in order to craft and optimize for a more effective conversion funnel, whether that has to do with the originating keyword, match type, time of day/day of week, device type, and so on.”

But he warns against falling into common traps.

Pitfalls to avoid in CAC analysis

It’s all about seeing the big picture.

“The biggest challenge is not having a full view of the conversion funnel and seeing in and around all the potential weak points along that funnel,” says Dang.

He explains how this could signal issues at the first interaction or somewhere in the middle of the conversion funnel. The catch? 

“All of this data needs to be collected and presented in an easily digestible manner in order to be useful. Furthermore, having a full picture of the conversion funnel isn’t sufficient,” Dang explains. “It’s equally important to be able to turn these insights into an actionable plan or strategy.”

The solution? That oh-so-exclusive proprietary tech we talked about earlier. (cough, cough, ConversionIQ).

The takeaway

It’s no secret that customers are the bread and butter of any business. And digital marketing is one of the most direct ways to connect with your desired prospects.

By knowing your audience, meeting them where they are, and analyzing the data behind your marketing campaigns, you’ll have the tools you need to not only attract more customers but keep them loyal and happy as well.

HawkSEM’s mission is to make your customer acquisition strategy your greatest triumph. With data and expertise, we reach your target audience and make your brand stand out in even the most crowded markets.

Don’t take our word for it, though—just peep our collab with real estate crowdfunding marketplace, Patch of Land.

“We noticed they promote heavily on the Bigger Pockets podcast and decided to buy display ads on the Bigger Pockets website/domain to piggyback off of, and reinforce their audio ads on the podcast,” shares Dang. 

The result? 

“High-quality leads for them at a fraction of the cost that we were seeing even on the search side. This insight was only possible by having a complete 360-picture of their marketing strategy,” says Dang.

If you want to do a full 180 on your acquisition strategy to pull in and captivate the best customers for your business, we’re here to make it happen.

This post has been updated and was originally published in December 2019 and updated in January 2024.

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