If there’s one truth in email marketing, it’s this: Leads grow cold and people unsubscribe.

In order to be successful with email, you have to consistently grow your list. If you’re like most marketers, you’re always looking for ways to capture subscribers.

The smartest way to encourage sign ups is to give away a piece of content. Some brands give away product discounts or consultations, but those options raise your customer acquisition cost. Content, on the other hand, has a fixed cost to produce and it scales well.

EBooks, email courses, white papers… These freebies work to some degree, but their results have always been lackluster. No one clicks your sidebar links and those popup overlays are disruptive.

Over the last year, smart marketers have begun including content upgrades with each post.

What’s a content upgrade?

Content upgrades are lead magnets created for specific pages. They are bribes offered in exchange for the reader’s email address. They are placed within the article (where we know the reader is looking) and offer a bonus piece of actionable content that’s highly related to the article’s topic.

There’s no debate as to whether content upgrades work. SEO expert Brian Dean used them to boost his conversion rate 785% in just one day. Wishpond improved their email sign ups by an astounding 1,650%.

Look carefully at your favorite blogs. Over the last year, many online marketers have adopted this approach to list building.

A content upgrade has three components: The call-out, the opt-in form, and the delivery of the bonus content. Here’s an example from the website of content marketing service owner Brian Casel.

content upgrade call out

He smartly places this content upgrade call-out three times throughout his article: After the introduction, towards the middle, and at the very end. This is important because most readers skim through articles, so you want your call-out available in multiple places.

Notice how the call-out and button are styled separately from the article’s content so they stand out. The language is actionable, and he clearly explains the value of the bundle you can download.

Once the visitor clicks the button, this form appears.

content upgrade opt in form

The form only requests the minimum information required to get the visitor on to the email list. Any further information (perhaps to qualify your leads) can be requested later.

Like Brian’s form, your copy should be clear and compelling. Tell the visitor what they’ll receive (in this case, a “collection of templates, checklists, and resources”) and why it benefits them (“validating and pre-selling your next SaaS product”).

Upon submitting the form, the visitor should be able to immediately download the content upgrade. They have already “paid” for the bonus with their email address, so don’t make them jump through more hoops.

content upgrade delivery

They should also receive an email with a link to the resource. This message is redundant, but it establishes a relationship with the new subscriber through their inbox. Since the subscriber requested this content, the email isn’t intrusive, which sets the tone for a healthy relationship.

content upgrade email

Upon submitting their email address for the content upgrade, your visitors should be added to your list within your email marketing tool. If you segment new subscribers based on where they signed up, make sure to implement the appropriate automation.

What makes a great content upgrade?

A content upgrade should directly relate to the article it’s embedded within. A categorical relationship isn’t enough. Your upgrade should be an extension of your article. In the example above, the article discussed SaaS validation and the upgrade included a process to validate SaaS products.

The content upgrade should be actionable. The reader should be able to use the upgrade to implement the lessons taught in the article right now.

Content upgrades should be used in conjunction with your email marketing tool to segment and qualify your leads. Tag new subscribers subscriber based on the type of content that captured them.

If you use categories for your articles, your architecture is already in place. A subscriber who downloads an upgrade from an article in the “SEO” category should be given an “SEO” tag and receive SEO-specific email content.

Well-written content upgrades also have an interesting lead nurturing effect. Don’t be surprised if current subscribers download multiple upgrades. That’s a sign that your subscribers continue to find value in your content, bringing them closer to becoming customers.

Getting started with content upgrades

To start offering content upgrades, you’ll need a plugin for your website. If you use WordPress, here are a few of the most popular options:

If you don’t use WordPress, Brittany Berger has an excellent guide on creating a content upgrade system using free MailChimp and Zapier accounts.

At the end of the day, you should remember this: The trick to capturing email subscribers is two-fold:

You need to provide lots of value in exchange for their address and give visitors plenty of opportunities to subscribe. Content upgrades do both.

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