First impressions are crucial. But as many a nerdy guy knows (what has two thumbs and is writing this article?) a first impression is only as good as how you follow it up. Without getting some details, you’ll probably never speak again.

Whether we’re talking romance or readers on your blog, the days of missing out on the opportunities right in front of your nose are gone. Don’t suffer from marketer’s heartbreak.

When the perfect reader comes across your site, you’ve only got one shot to make a lasting connection. Your foremost goal is to convert them into an email subscriber, and eventually, a paying customer. To further the relationship, all you need to do is get their email. But this can be tricky. You don’t need any more content. You need the right content. And it must be used correctly.

Time to get familiar with the content upgrade. Content Pros is here to give you the lowdown on how to bring your online marketing game to the next level with this groundbreaking best practice. Here’s the skinny on the strategy that’s changing the way we blog and build out email lists. This walkthrough is specifically written to help founders and businesses create content marketing plans that drive leads and convert them into paying customers.

Why do we use the Content Upgrade?

The truth is, the number of visitors to your website is irrelevant. It’s what we at Content Pros call a vanity or an ego metric. The goal of your blog is to convert readers into email subscribers. Once you’ve turned a reader into an email subscriber, you have a much greater potential to turn to a subscriber into a customer. The number of conversions is what really matters.

So how do you ensure that someone reading your blog shares their email, instead of just a clicking-through and saying good-bye? Your content plays a huge part. The value you build, the storytelling elements, and relationship building materials in your blog posts are essential. There is no substitute for quality content. But quality content does not guarantee conversions. The content upgrade, however, is as close to a guarantee as it gets!



What Is a Content Upgrade?

A content upgrade is an extension of your blog post. It’s a separate, exclusive, and very relevant resource that is irresistible to your readers.

You may have heard terms like lead magnet, opt-in bonuses, or opt-in bribes. Perhaps you already utilize them in your marketing funnel. Instead of offering subscribers a single, general lead magnet across multiple pages and emails, you can offer them something better with a content upgrade.

The content upgrade is embedded into an existing blog post. Readers then click on the link that promises the bonus content. In exchange for this valuable information, the reader provides his or her email address to access the content upgrade.

A content upgrade might come in one of these forms:



Why Do Content Upgrades Work?

The content upgrade is the next logical step following your blog post. It is an actionable resource to build upon the ideas discussed in your blog post. Because a content upgrade is specific to a blog post, the allure of this bonus material compounds, making it irresistible to visitors. It’s best designed and formatted for quick and easy use.

Imagine that you’ve just finished reading a blog article about SEO – and you loved it. It was informative, relevant to your needs, and it provided great insights for improving your online marketing. You want to pursue the topic further. Especially the bit about HTML tags.

Now, as a blogger, I’d be foolish to leave you wanting more. Why not just create a content upgrade with the information you need about using the different HTML tags? It’s as if a trusted friend gave you a tip on how to max-out your SEO and then started helping you get it done. All for the low, low cost of an email address. Most readers find this to be a reasonable trade.


The 3 Steps in a Content Upgrade

Let’s examine exactly how the content upgrade functions. There are three basic components:

  1. The call-to-action
  2. The email opt-in popup
  3. The delivery of upgraded content

The call-to-action

The call-to-action (CTA) is placed within your blog article and should be highlighted with some sort of box and a button.

Make the text of the call-to-action button compelling and descriptive. Get the reader to click to the next step, the email opt-in.

The CTA should appear once in the middle and again at the end of a post. Check out Neil Patel’s CTAs on Quicksprout. He does an amazing job of placing them at the front, the middle, and the end of all blog posts. This way, readers may opt-in to download the PDF or a checklist to save themselves valuable time if they don’t want to stay and read the whole post.

The email opt-in popup

By clicking the button within the CTA the reader launches the email opt-in popup.

Before asking for the email opt-in, this box should reiterate the title of the bonus content and include a description of the benefit to be delivered. LeadBoxes offers a low-cost and easy two-step opt-in tool. Leadboxes boasts an additional 30% conversion rate, over single-click opt-ins.

The delivery of the upgraded content

Upon completing the email opt-in form, an email is automatically sent to the reader within minutes.

As promised, the email contains the link to the bonus content. On your end, the reader is added to your email marketing list within your preferred email tool (we like Active Campaign and use a double opt-in to avoid any bots). Now you can follow up with them via any newsletters and drip email campaigns you may have established.

This way, you can welcome the reader into the circle of subscribers and inform them of great things to come. As a business, your conversion rate success hinges upon how tantalizing the upgrade offer is, how specific the information is, and how well you can integrate the content upgrade in the blog post. Here are the 5 steps to doing just that:

The 5 Easy Steps to Great Content Upgrades

1) Find/write a blog post that gets the content upgrade

The ideal blog post for a content upgrade already has lots of traffic. Find the amount of traffic by using Google Analytics. To do this go to Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages to determine which post is best.

2) Brainstorm great content upgrade ideas

Think of ways to improve the user experience of your blog post. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Think of what questions they might still have after reading or what next steps you’re prompting them to take. When crafting these free resources for readers, consider questions like:

  • What’s the biggest challenge a reader might have with applying the knowledge you’ve given them?
  • How did you overcome this challenge?
  • What can I create to help this reader move through this barrier?

We’ll go over some of Content Pros’ favorite content upgrades at the end of this post!

3) Create the content upgrade

A content upgrade is free, yes. But it shouldn’t look like it. This resource should be visually appealing, an opportunity to wow your readers. Think of it as a chance for your company to brand itself and stand out to readers. So put some energy into the content upgrade. It is, after all, an upgrade.

Something like this is sure to catch and hold anyone’s attention. The first email you send to these new subscribers should deliver not only the promised resource but in an impressive format. For example, if you’re providing a checklist, pass it off to a visual designer so they can add images, bold colors and icons. Head over to Upwork or Freelancer for visual work.

By making the content upgrade both visually appealing and informative you truly enhance the content experience. Readers will want to return for more standout information and assistance!

4) Add the content upgrade to the chosen blog post

Once you’ve created a good looking resource, it’s time to position it in the blog post. Some businesses will only post the content upgrade at the end of their blog post. Instead, offering the content upgrade once in the middle of the post and once at the end is a sure way to maximize your conversions.

Having multiple opt-in points means your readers won’t have to read to the bottom of the blog post to access the opt-in box. Also, inset the upgrade in a text box with some enticing text like Bonus: Get an exclusive checklist of the 10 most important Google ranking factors. To make sure this stands out, utilize a colorful box to draw attention to this.

5) Watch the conversions accumulate and your email list swell

Now that you’ve seen the results think about new ways to implement content upgrades in other posts. Content upgrades are an effective way to establish a relationship with new readers. They also serve to nurture existing subscriber relationships and move these relationships towards the buying phase.


Capitalizing on Every Blog Post

Say one of your posts goes viral online or is linked to by a journalist from the New York Times. What happens?

A huge spike in site traffic for you! In many cases, this traffic sustains for some time. With a content upgrade in the post the email opt-in allows many of those readers, who might never be seen again, to become email subscribers and potential customers in your larger audience.

Another way to capitalize on each and every blog post is to drive targeted traffic from promoted, (paid) posts on Facebook or Twitter ads. You might even run retargeting ads to entice first-time visitors back to your site. Especially in terms of paid ad campaigns, you wouldn’t want to run the campaign without driving an action that has some return on investment, would you? By adding content upgrades to your blog posts you’re establishing an action and benefit to promoted post strategies.


Content Upgrades and Your Marketing Funnel

Your blog is a key component of your marketing funnel. The goal of the marketing funnel is to convert web visitors into paying customers. If you want your marketing funnel to drive revenue within your business, you must continuously drive ideal customers – and many of them – into the top of your funnel. Lead magnets, such as content upgrades, are an essential aspect of this process. Through your marketing efforts you develop a nurturing relationship with potential customers to create what is ultimately a buying relationship. Every step in the funnel leads to a buying decision.

The more content upgrades you create, the more unique entry points you create to your sales funnel. Remember, the content upgrades must be specific to the blog post to achieve maximum response. So the longer you do this, the more and more leads you can accumulate over time through a diverse range of portals.

A second benefit of using content upgrades is it increases the quality of leads entering your sales funnel. This goes back to being specific. By targeting a select readership with your upgrade, you curate and engage a more interested, more valuable prospective client because they’re interested in your topic. The more qualified people you can drive into your funnel, the better. But don’t forget to pay attention to those already within your funnel.


Nurturing Leads with Content Upgrades

After your bonus content has been delivered, readers should receive another email to prompt them to join some larger nurturing sequence. Say an educational email course or a webinar. When they click the link in this next wave of emails, they should automatically initiate the start of this course. There are a variety of email marketing tools available for this. We recommend Drip.

This lengthier nurturing sequence should facilitate two processes:

  • Educate and develop reader trust over a number of days/weeks
  • Conclude with a compelling and rational pitch for your product (after you’ve established trust)

Every time you post new content you’re engaging current subscribers with new and valuable material. Readers come to anticipate these high-quality resources.

When you consistently engage your subscribers, you:

  • Reduce the risk of boring, and therefore, losing subscribers
  • Increase trust between yourself and your subscribers
  • Create buyers from your interested, ‘on the-fence’ subscribers

Every time you post something valuable, your readership gets closer to you, more interested and more get into buying mode. So keep it coming!


Tracking results

You’re going to want to know how well this is working. This requires Google Analytics. Head to Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages and find the post used for your trial run. Select the period since you added the content upgrade to the blog post. Compare it to the previous period. This data will detail how conversions have increased since adding the content upgrade resource.


Content Pros Top 10 Content Upgrade Ideas

As a team of content creators, copywriters, and content upgraders, we obviously have our favorite models for this best practice of marketing. Here are some of our current favorites:

1.) A List of Tools and Resources

A downloadable PDF file of your tools and resources is very helpful. It will help readers organize their thoughts and take action. Remember, the content is about an actionable extension of the blog content (the theory). It can be a single or a few pages at most. But even this is very valuable.

2.) A Cheat Sheet

Relative to the subject of your blog post, cheat sheets are a simple content upgrade. Say you write a blog post explaining the variety of ways to use social media to drive business to a website. You can draw up a one-page PDF of how to implement the different social media tweaks. People are both busy and multitasking. Any method they can use to save time, they like. Check out Neil Patel’s Quicksprout blog to see this method in action.

3.) A Checklist

Lengthy blog posts can often be converted into easily-digested checklists. You can itemize step-by-step processes for how-to posts, list materials for a DIY project, or share your best practices. For example, if you’ve written about how to create outstanding blog posts, create a checklist of everything the reader should do when writing their own posts. Easy tools for checklists: SweetProcess, Checkli

4.) Templates

Look into the processes of your business. Where do you use, or can you create, a template to share with readers? Template examples include email templates, budget templates, Photoshop or InDesign templates, business stationery templates, etc. Share something of value with your readers.

5.) Exclusive Interviews

Do you have friends in the field who are very knowledgeable? Know any experts in the industry? Interview these people on a topic of interest to your readers and provide a recording of the interview as a content upgrade. A downloadable transcript of an interview is also a valuable bonus resource. Our favorite user-friendly transcription tool:

6.) Video or Audio Recordings

If you’ve hosted or been featured on a podcast, an interview, a webinar, or any informational video relevant to your readers, make this available to readers as a bonus. You might create a how-to video of your blog post. Or record yourself reading the post aloud. Some readers process information differently, so this will be valuable to them.

Audio editing tool: Audacity; Video Editing tool: Camtasia

7.) A Quick Start Guide

If you’re teaching something complicated, simplify it. People want to get started quickly without worrying that difficulties will slow them down. Take the first few steps of a process and break them down. Help the reader get over the initial barrier (often these difficulties prevent all action). Routine help is something subscribers value and gets them into anticipating your emails. A few screenshots or even a video could be all it takes to satisfy readers. Definitely worth an email address.

8.) A Free Course

A course is a great way to inform your readers and gain recognition as a thought leader and authority in your industry. The course can be an email or video series, perhaps an eBook. Regardless of the format, make it valuable. Here’s a great list of free marketing courses to give you ideas (or to learn from)! Tools to deliver course: Kajabi, Drip or Mailchimp

9.) Swipe Files

For those unfamiliar with a swipe file, it’s a collection of material you reference for ideas. Great for creatives. For example, a copywriter might have a collection of headlines or screenshots of well-written content. Graphic designers routinely collect their favorite graphics to inspire and inform their work. Package these assets and offer them to readers. Great tools: Dropmark, OneNote, and Pocket.

10.) A Mini eBook

Create a mini eBook by conjoining a series of related blog posts. Or break apart chapters from a larger eBook you have to create sample size bonus content. Compile a short read of good ideas and you’ve got a valuable eBook to give out as a bonus.


Everything You Need to Make the Content Upgrade

Content upgrades require a bit of visual flair. And unless you’re skilled in graphic design or have one on call, you’ll need some additional resources to create visually compelling upgrades.


This superb tool is a surefire way to create brilliant visuals. And it’s free. Canva is very easy to use and totally comprehensive. It boasts thousands of images, illustrations, and design templates. There’s even a full font library available.


Infographics are one of the leading formats through which readers prefer to access information. Piktochart is a great way to create colorful, engaging infographics without incurring the steep cost of a visual designer. The drag-and-drop interface makes creating infographics easy for everyone. Simply place images, illustrations, text and icons into the infographic. Once it’s finished, you can download the file in a variety of sizes to share anywhere.


The Content Upgrade Setup Checklist

Given the proven efficacy of the content upgrade, you’d think more people would use them, right? Aside from the additional effort required to create the bonus content, the only thing left to do is setup the content upgrade. Here’s a final checklist:

  • A specially designed module to place within the content of blog posts (the call call-to-action box and button).
  • A popup form, specific to each distinct Content Upgrade.
  • A system with which to automatically send a response email to the reader, delivering the bonus content.
  • An integration with your email marketing tool so subscribers are added to your list.
  • A means to create the content upgrade in your back-end CMS (like WordPress), and store bonus content files.


Final Words on the Content Upgrade

For those serious about creating businesses through their blog, implementing content upgrades is a no-brainer. Just remember, be sure to make your free resource completely relevant to a specific blog post. And don’t skimp on appearances. Everyone wants to reap the rewards of premium content creation. The question is who will be willing to step up and deliver.

Book a call to discuss your content marketing strategy