13 minute read

All About CPL Marketing

Cost Per Lead Target

CPL marketing is a form of direct response marketing used to acquire new sales leads. Advertisements target potential customers, coaxing them to complete a specific action such as signing up for a newsletter, opting in to text messages, or downloading a marketing study. The desired action is not necessarily sales-related.

Success is heavily tied to data and specific performance metrics, especially return on ad spend (ROAS).

Let’s take an in-depth look at how this form of marketing works, and what you need to know about CPL to see real marketing campaign success.

What Does CPL Stand for in Affiliate Marketing?

CPL stands for cost per lead, and it’s a metric that measures how cost-effective your online ad and marketing campaigns are at generating new leads for your sales team. CPL advertising can be more demanding than other forms of marketing, as it’s challenging to get a consumer (often unfamiliar with your brand) to complete a specific action on your website.

The cost per lead is calculated by taking the total ad spend and dividing it by the number of leads that you receive. So if you spent $100 on a campaign and got 10 qualified leads, you would have a CPL of $10.

PPC Campaigns

Pay-per-lead (PPL) campaigns, where you pay for each lead you receive, are less common.

For many lead-generation campaigns, you cannot bid on leads. Rather you have to bid on ad views or impressions (CPM) or clicks (CPC or CPM). On Google AdWords, you can run ad campaigns to be charged on ad clicks or how frequently your ad is displayed; it is not possible to bid on a specific action.

You could spend $1,000 on a pay-per-click ad campaign (i.e., a maximum CPC bid of $1) to get leads. By placing pixels or other conversion tracking, you can still track how many leads you receive from your ad campaign. And you can also optimize your campaign (i.e., audience targeting, pausing ad units that aren’t working) to improve its CPL performance.

PPL Campaigns

Pay-per-lead (PPL) campaigns are more desirable for brands. It’s an extremely efficient use of ad spend as the advertiser pays only for the qualified leads they receive. With other campaign types, there’s the potential to spend several hundred dollars and have no leads to show for it but PPL eliminates that risk.

On a large pay-per-click network (i.e., Google) or demand-side network (DSN), you are charged for ad clicks or impressions. However, there are PPL ad networks or affiliate programs you can work with. Here, you pay only for new leads acquired no matter how much the ad is shown.

ShareASale, Clickbank, and Sovrn are three affiliate networks of many that brands can join to advertise and pay only for the leads generated. You can also work with agencies like Vibrant Performance that will manage your affiliate network marketing campaigns. 

It is sometimes possible to work with ad agencies that offer CPL payment terms. Some digital marketing agencies will advertise your product or service for you on networks like Google AdWords and charge you only for each qualified lead they generate. Here, the agency is assuming all of the risk.

Benchmarking Your CPL

Many brands may do media buying in-house to see what sort of CPL they can achieve. If you spend an initial $5,000 on Facebook Ads and generate 500 leads, that’s a CPL of $10. You have a benchmark of $10 and in subsequent campaigns and on other digital channels, your goal would be to improve upon that figure. Here’s the CPL formula:

Ad spend ÷ Total leads = Cost per lead

$5,000 ÷ 500 = $10

Having a benchmark lets your marketing and business teams understand how expensive it is to acquire potential new customers and is helpful for budgeting advertising dollars.

You also need to consider your ROI, sometimes referred to as return on ad spend (ROAS). While $10 may sound like an excellent CPL, if each of these leads generates only $2.00 each in revenue, you’re losing $8 with every new lead and seeing a negative return on ad spend of -80%.

Here, you would need to figure out how to substantially lower your cost per lead or how to increase the value of each lead by targeting better leads (i.e., focusing on the most valuable demographic segments) or improving the onboarding process so it’s easier for leads to complete the desired action.

Inversely, you may have a CPL of $125 but if each lead is worth $200 then it’s still a good return on ad spend and indicates that your brand could scale up spending and test out new advertising platforms.

CPL as a Moving Target

For CPL campaigns, the targeted goal can change. Initially, your goal may be for a newsletter signup. But you may eventually decide instead the goal is to get someone to sign up for your newsletter and then open the email and click on the call-to-action (CTA) button.

It’s a lower, down-funnel action but will likely result in a better-qualified lead. As it’s harder to get someone to open an email and click the CTA than just signing up for a newsletter, you will need to increase spend and pay a higher CPL. for this new goal.

The CPL is a moving target and it’s a continual balancing act of getting a high volume of mixed-quality leads or a low volume of high-quality leads.

Early on in your marketing efforts, you may want to aim for a high volume of leads. But as you gain more information about these leads (i.e., best traffic sources), you can define your targeting and CPL goal with more precision.

So How Does Cost-per-Lead Marketing Work?

Businesses run CPL marketing campaigns through affiliate advertising networks.

Here’s one example path of how that works. A user clicks on a banner ad or affiliate link. From there, they are directed to the advertiser’s website where they are prompted to complete a specific action. When that action is completed, the user is considered a lead. For each lead, advertisers pay the ad network a pre-set rate.

To be successful with CPL, you’ll need to understand the value of a lead and the value of different goal conversions. How much is a new user worth? What is their lifetime value (LTV) when they click on an ad? Or what is their LTV when they sign up for a newsletter or visit a specific high-value webpage? Or even the LTV of a lead coming in from one ad network versus another?

This data is critical. With it, you can pinpoint what conversion action to target for your leads and on what channels, and for what spend amount. Here’s how that could work:

  • Network A you set a CPL of $3 for new users who download the app.
  • Network B, you set a CPL of $8 for new users who download the app and then complete a specific in-app action like registering their email address or opting into SMS alerts.

Businesses need this in-depth handle on data so they can confidently and accurately execute campaigns and project their total ROI.

What’s Better: CPL or CPM?

For performance marketing, CPL is better. With performance marketing, you are focused on generating a specific action. Whereas with CPM marketing you’re paying for impressions. CPM means cost per mille (thousand) impressions.

Pros and Cons of CPL


  • Effective at online lead generation. Campaigns drive users to complete a specific action.
  • Pay only for qualified leads.
  • Many affiliate networks can connect you with publishers (websites) who will run your ads or affiliate links and get paid on a CPL model.


  • CPL campaigns are expensive and difficult to scale (grow).
  • Most agencies do not offer services on a CPL model.

Pros and Cons of CPM

CPM campaigns are often quite large in scale with the goal of reaching as many consumers as possible,


  • Inexpensive. Much cheaper than CPL campaigns.
  • Effective for brand marketers running campaigns for mass brand visibility.


  • Lack of measurement. Often, there’s no ability to directly attribute any sales, leads, or other conversions to CPM campaigns.
  • Not suitable for businesses that are focused on immediate conversion and getting a specific ROI.
  • Ad space may be low-quality or remnant inventory. Banner ads for your business could be displayed on poor-quality sites or in low-view locations on the page.

Where Can You Run CPL Campaigns?

CPL campaigns can be run across a variety of digital platforms and ad networks, including Meta (ads across Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, or Meta Audience Network), Google, Bing, and LinkedIn Ads.

While Bing and Google are based on a PPC (pay per click) model and you cannot bid specifically on leads, Facebook and LinkedIn do have CPL targeting where you can bid a certain amount for users to complete a targeted action.

Running PPC Campaigns for Leads

On Bing and Google, you can run PPC campaigns that do generate leads. You would need to target leads by setting the right demographic and psychographic targeting. You would also need to have tracking in place (postbacks and pixels) to measure any leads that come in, and then use the lead data to optimize your campaign for the cost per lead. That may mean increasing or decreasing spend on specific ad units or only targeting users who convert based on certain keywords.

With PPC bidding, it can be hard to cost-effectively generate leads. But you can achieve a lot of scale running PPC campaigns for leads and should be able to reach your daily spending targets.

Running CPL Campaigns for Leads

A CPL can range anywhere from a few dollars to $500. On LinkedIn, as an example, a good CPL generally ranges from $40 to $100.

But even with CPL bidding, it can be difficult to get leads. Before you can start bidding CPL, you need to bid PPC and get some leads — usually at least 20. The algorithm needs this data to begin efficiently targeting leads for you at a CPL bid.

After the algorithm has enough data, it may recommend that you bid $75 per lead to meet your campaign goals but you may only want to pay a CPL of $35 because each lead is worth $36 in revenue.

You can bid $35 per lead, but if you bid an amount too low the ad algorithms could show your ads very infrequently with your daily spend coming to less than $1 per day and no leads, even though your aim is to spend $1,000 a day.

It can be a tricky balancing act and it requires significant audience and ad optimizations and marketing efforts to improve revenue per customer and the overall LTV.

This is why many businesses choose to work with affiliate ad networks or experienced CPL agencies like Vibrant for at least some of their media buying.

How Do I Run a CPL Campaign?

To run a successful CPL campaign, start by defining your goal objectives and your target audience. Research their interests, behaviors, and online habits. Then you can choose the best platforms to reach your prospective customers.

Additionally, spy on your competitors. Where are they advertising and what are they doing? You may notice that one of their Instagram ads has a lot of positive engagement and has been running for several months; this is a great indicator of what converts and the type of ads you should try running.

Then, create ads in a range of different sizes and mediums (i.e., text, visual, reel) and with different calls-to-action (CTAs). You have lots of different options to test in a range of styles. In addition to mimicking your competitors, you can use ChatGPT and other chat AI tools to brainstorm ideas for successful ads.

Here, you’ll also need to ensure that your landing pages are optimized. The right landing page can make a huge difference in converting visitors into leads or traffic that bounces (immediately clicking the back button). Ensure that the messaging is clear and engaging, and any sign-up forms are simple and easy to fill out.

Finally, you need to continually monitor and analyze your campaign performance. Tools like Kissmetrics and Google Analytics can help you track leads, user flow (what pages they visit on your website and in what sequence), best audience segments, LTV, and many other performance metrics.

An effective CPL campaign isn’t just about getting the most leads and the lowest CPL; it’s about attracting high-quality leads that are likely to become good customers.

How Can I Lower My CPL?

There are many ways you can go about trying to lower your CPL; generally, you’ll need to experiment and try a mix of approaches to find out what works best for your business.

Evaluate traffic networks

Yahoo Ads may perform extremely well for you, while other networks with native ad formats (i.e., Outbrain) may not deliver a cost-effective CPL.

Segment via subaffiliates

If you do advertising on affiliate networks, these affiliates are connecting you to thousands of partners (websites and blogs) that advertise your brand.

Each of these partners is a subaffiliate and will have a subaffiliate or publisher ID number. You can analyze the performance of subaffiliates within one larger network, pause ad spend, decrease rates, or increase rates for specific subaffiliates.

Segment by device type

Analyze traffic by device type: Mobile, tablet, or laptop. You may find that some specific operating system (OS) types or device types (Android vs Apple) perform significantly better.

And when looking at device mobile device traffic, evaluate mobile web separately from mobile app if you have an app. For mobile web campaigns, make sure your landing page is optimized for mobile visitors.


Make sure you are only targeting the correct countries or local areas for your product. Many advertisers can lower their CPL simply by adjusting their geotargeting settings. Additionally, you may need to set up different CPL target rates for different countries with one rate for the U.S. and another rate for international countries where you do business.

Audience exclusion targeting

Beyond targeting the right prospective customers, make sure you’re excluding the wrong ones. If your product is designed for men but you’re targeting all genders, you can cut your CPL in half just by excluding women.

Additionally, make sure you are not targeting existing customers with ads designed to attract new customers. Different ad networks have processes in place for you to create custom lists so you can exclude existing members.

Remarketing campaigns

Retarget or remarket to traffic that previously clicked on an ad and visited your website but did not convert. CPL costs for remarketing campaigns are generally much lower and also have higher conversion rates.

Review your ad creative

It may be time for a creative refresh. Top-performing ads may need to be updated or even paused as performance will taper off eventually over time. Underperforming ads should be paused, and you should continually create and test new ads. When you find a concept that works, keep iterating off that theme.

Additionally, if you find success with an ad type on one platform try reformatting or repurposing it for another ad channel. Inversely, concepts that work on one channel won’t always translate to another.

Optimize your landing pages

Continually test and update your landing pages, the pages your ad traffic lands on where you ask them to take a specific conversion action. Successful performance marketers may create and test dozens of landing pages to find the best-performing pages. Having hundreds of different landing pages is not unheard of. Marketing teams should always be creating and A/B testing new landing pages to improve conversion rates.

For each ad network or audience segment, you may find that a different landing page performs best. Page A may have a 5.85% conversion rate for TikTok whereas Page B may have an 8.93% conversion rate. But for email marketing campaigns, Page A may be the winner with an 11% conversion rate.

Ask your agency to spy on your competitors

You can’t ask your agency partners to give away confidential information. They obviously can’t comply and if they do, it’s a sign to break up with them straight away.

But ideally, your agency has experience working with other businesses in your industry. Ask your agency what other businesses in your vertical are doing to see success. What type of ad units work best? How are they improving their CPL?

Double-check your conversion tracking

Setting up tracking — through pixels and postback and publisher IDs — can be tricky. There’s a lot of manual human entry at play. An affiliate partner could have a dated or broken link. The pixel could be firing on the wrong event (every time the ad is clicked instead of every time a customer signs up). Go through the full conversion path, from ad click to completing the targeted goal, and make sure the tracking works.

You should do this for all of your traffic sources. Tracking may work for organic tracking and Outbrain, but it may be broken for LinkedIn or Facebook.

These are 10 common fixes to lowering your CPL; there are other steps you can also try but this is a solid starting point.

Working with a CPL marketing agency may be beneficial for businesses that don’t have the internal expertise to manage more complex lead-generation campaigns.

How Do I Find a CPL Marketing Agency?

To find a CPL marketing agency, start with some online research and ask industry peers for recommendations. Look for agencies with strong testimonials and in-depth experience working with clients in your industry. Look over their case studies and portfolio of work.

The next step is to contact a few agencies for a consultation. Ask them about their experience, process, and services they can deliver. Don’t be afraid to ask pointed questions to make sure it’s a good fit. Make sure that they have powerful analytical and reporting capabilities, as campaign success hinges on accurate data. Asking for references is prudent.

Finally, consider pricing and budget. Do they offer any guarantees? A few CPL agencies, exceptionally adept at generating leads, may offer their services for a revenue share (“rev share”). If they help you generate $100,000 in revenue, they would take a cut of that figure and if their efforts yield no revenue then they would get paid nothing.

Pros and Cons of Running Your Own CPL Campaigns

There are pros and cons to running your own CPL campaigns. We’ve touched on some throughout the article, here’s a quick highlight:


  • Cost Savings: By managing the campaigns in-house, you can save on agency fees.
  • Direct Control: You have total control over all aspects of the campaign, from audience targeting to ad creation to budgeting.
  • Immediate Responsiveness: Ability to make immediate changes to campaigns (i.e., halting campaign spend or pausing ad units) based on business needs.


  • Lack of In-House Expertise: Successful CPL campaigns require extensive knowledge of digital marketing strategies, industry advertising regulations, tracking, data analytics, and other skills your marketing team may not possess.
  • Resource Drain: Successful campaigns may require continual creation of landing pages and ad units, dozens of new iterations per week, or more. Most businesses do not have the internal bandwidth to continually execute creative at this scale for just CPL marketing alone and campaign performance will suffer.
  • Lower ROI: With less expertise in CPL marketing, your cost per lead will typically be much higher meaning you’re getting a lower return on your ad spend.

Pros and Cons of Working with a CPL Marketing Agency

There are numerous benefits to working with a marketing agency, but there are drawbacks as well. Here’s a rundown of the pros and cons:


  • Expertise and Experience: Agencies have specialized knowledge and experience, ensuring campaigns are set up and continually optimized efficiently.
  • Effective Resource Deployment: Leverage external agency assistance frees up your internal teams to focus on their core business duties where they can drive maximum value with their existing skills.
  • Advanced Tools: Agencies have access to premium analytics tools and ad network features that many businesses do not have in-house. You can access their expensive, enterprise-level resources.


  • Cost: Hiring an agency can be expensive with service fees, commissions, and other costs. Some may expect a minimum spending commitment of several thousand dollars per week or per month.
  • Less Direct Control: With an agency handling day-to-day management, you have less control over how campaigns are run, including ad rotation, targeting, or budget pacing.
  • Communication Challenges: Managing communication among internal and external stakeholders is challenging and delays response times. If you need to immediately pause an ad campaign, you may have to wait 1-2 business days or more. Additionally, there may be negative customer comments on ads that remain unchecked or inquiries that do not receive a timely response. 

Bottom Line

In summary, having a CPL marketing strategy is essential for businesses looking to obtain high-quality leads at a cost-efficient price. This practice aligns with performance marketing goals and requires a thorough understanding of lead value and strategic campaign planning. Whether managing CPL campaigns in-house or through an agency, the key lies in balancing lead cost and quality, and continuously refining campaign elements based on conversion rates and customer lifetime value (LTV).

The decision to run CPL campaigns internally or with an agency depends on a business’s in-house capabilities and acquisition objectives. In-house management offers control and potential cost savings, while agencies provide expertise and more sophisticated tools.

With either approach, success in CPL marketing hinges on meticulous tracking, optimization, and a deep understanding of the target audience, enabling businesses to drive cost-effective, conversion-focused results.

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