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If you’re working on growing your email list, you probably have a lead magnet to encourage sign-ups. This piece of free content entices leads to give you their email addresses, in return for a guide, video training, case study, or whatever “goody” you’ve chosen to give away.

Lead magnets are still useful, but they’re not the only way to build your email list. There’s a similar strategy that may provide a better conversion rate and more sign-ups. It’s called the Content Upgrade.

Why Aren’t Lead Magnets Enough?

Readers have grown accustomed to the inevitable “sign up for my email list and get this free PDF” pop-up. While they will get some conversions, there’s such an overabundance of free content out there that most lead magnets just don’t attract the attention they used to.

Plus, a “one size fits all” lead magnet doesn’t necessarily speak to each person’s specific need.

For example, let’s say I’m searching for a piece of blog content to improve my Facebook ads, and I end up on the blog of a prominent digital marketer. I find the content I’m looking for — great! But if their lead magnet is an eBook called The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, I’m probably not going to sign up for that. It’s just not why I came to that website. It’s not solving my immediate problem.

This is where the content upgrade comes in.

What is a Content Upgrade?

“Content Upgrade” is a term coined by Brian Dean over at Backlinko. The idea is to create a piece of content specifically designed to enhance a specific piece of content, like a blog post or YouTube video.

These upgrades speak directly to the reason that your viewer or reader is engaging with your content in the first place. It’s highly relevant, which improves conversions.

In his original post, Dean found his conversion rate for email sign-ups went up from .54% to 4.82%. Sounds like a winning strategy!

But…

After this strategy gained traction in 2016, the marketers went bananas. Content upgrades have been slapped onto every blog post from here to infinity. And many of them don’t deliver the goods.

A popular strategy is to provide basically the same content from the blog post in PDF form. The idea is to provide a resource that people can download and refer to easily in the future. But does that sound like something you’d opt in to?

That’s why your content upgrade has to be great if it’s going to work.

Content Upgrade Tips

So if it has to be great, what should that look like?

Solve a problem right now

Content upgrades need to provide immediate value. They should solve a problem the user has right now and help them move forward today.

That’s why 100 page eBooks are usually not the best option. Think quick and actionable.

In the Facebook ads example from up above, a content upgrade with some case studies comparing poorly performing ads with well-performing ads might be just the ticket. That would be a useful piece of content that I could refer to right now as I create the ad that has to go live today.

Content Upgrades

Think outside the PDF

PDFs are incredibly popular because they’re easy to make. Repurpose some blog content into a Canva template and boom! Done.

That’s also why they’re so easy to ignore.

Some of the best content upgrades are in formats you may not have thought of before. Some clever examples:

  • One productivity coach used her own Trello organizational system as a content upgrade.
  • A copywriter provided a swipe file of great blog headlines that content creators could use for inspiration.
  • SEO company The HOTH provides several free tools on their website for keyword research, backlink building, and more. And all you have to do is give them your email address…

Other content upgrade ideas:

  • Checklists
  • Video tutorials
  • Worksheets
  • Plugins
  • Chrome extensions
  • Discounts/coupons
  • Extra content (expanding a listicle, for example)
  • Case studies

Different audiences will respond differently to different types of content, so there’s no “best practice” for the type you should deliver. It all comes down to how well you know your audience.

Re-use content upgrades

If the idea of creating a different content upgrade for each blog post or video sounds like too much work, don’t worry!

A content upgrade needs to be relevant but it doesn’t have to be unique. For example, a guide to UX design could serve as a content upgrade on several blog posts for a web design company, since that’s a topic they’ll cover frequently.

So don’t hesitate to revisit existing content before starting a new upgrade project.

Putting it All Together

Once your upgrade is complete, you must post it on your site behind an email address “paywall.”

You can create a pop-up form that only appears on the appropriate blog page, or you can embed your form directly into the content. Plugins like OptinMonster and Poptin make it easy to both share the upgrade and sync those new email addresses to your email provider.

Just like all digital marketing, the key here is testing. If you’re not seeing the conversions you want, play with different sign-up forms and content types. Once you find a winning formula, you can recreate it across your site for a list building boost.

Then you’ll have to optimize your emails to max out that open rate…but that’s a different blog post.

Putting the Content Tips All Together