The Big Fat Guide to Content Upgrades

by Peter Boyle

Last updated on July 25th, 2017

You know how to grow a list, right?

I mean, it’s a topic that’s been covered more times than I’d care to count. Well timed pop-ups, landing page best practices and appealing lead magnets have been the talk of the marketing town for years now.

And sure, they’re all great methods proven to help you grow a sizable, quality list.

But there’s a problem.

These methods are often ineffectual without large amounts of targeted traffic. Landing pages need to be ranking well on Google or have large amounts of targeted referrals. And popups, well, they’re often generic and quite disjointed from the content that initially captures attention.

For instance.

Your most popular article gets 90% of its traffic from search engines. It’s a piece that focuses on how to increase conversions with a few copywriting tricks.

Once your audience lands on the page they’re hit with your site wide, generic pop up offering an eBook on increasing app downloads.

Both useful resources, but there’s zero connection. There’s little chance those looking for copywriting tips will be interested in increasing app downloads.

Your options are to segment your audience so only interested parties see the popup, or remove it and try to increase the organic traffic to the eBook download page.

Reasonable solutions, but neither takes advantage of the high levels of traffic that are interested in the original copywriting article.

If you want to make the most of the high traffic article you need to create an effective, targeted lead magnet related to the content that brings users to your site.

What you need is a content upgrade.

What is a Content Upgrade?

The clue is pretty much in the name.

A content upgrade offers extra value on the initial article or content. It’s a downloadable, email-gated piece that strikes while the proverbial iron is hot.

Let’s imagine you’re a coffee bean producer whose most popular article examines the differences in flavor between Colombian and Kenyan coffee. A few potential content upgrade ideas could include:

  • A list of the best places to purchase high-quality Colombian and Kenyan beans
  • A checklist on how to quickly identify the difference between the types of beans
  • A step-by-step guide on proper coffee brewing practices

Each of the above ideas are simple. They’re highly related to the initial attention-grabbing article and add value to your readers. Most important for you is how they’re also taking advantage of the interest that article has built.

Rather than me sitting here listing hypotheticals for industries I’m not familiar with, let’s take a look at three real-life examples that have drastically increased online marketers sign up conversions.

A Simple Checklist

Devesh Khanal saw a 492% increase in conversions after implementing a simple checklist on an article about the importance of rising early.

Content upgrade idea for growth everywhere

The above is a simple checklist for users that outlines a handful of actions they can take to hit the 5 a.m. rising time. It’s directly related to the article and would take next to no time to create.

The Final Piece of the Puzzle

Tim Soulo created an article on influencer outreach. He purposefully held one piece of information back from the article and instead offered it in a content upgrade email gate.

The result, a 300% increase in list sign ups.

More content upgrade optins

Example of content upgrade

Tim includes multiple optins throughout the article

The Top 10 Performers in an Existing List

And finally Brian Dean of Backlinko increased conversions by a whopping 785% in one day!

All he did was pick the top 10 most important entries from an article listing the top 200 Google ranking factors and offer them in a content upgrade.

Very little extra work but something which saves the reader a lot of time.

How content upgrades can increase conversion rate

You can see that a content upgrade doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. More often than not the most successful upgrades are simple, short and to the point.

The question is what upgrade will increase your conversion rate by a few hundred percent?

The Basics of Killer Content Upgrades

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Your content upgrade should upgrade the piece of content to which it’s attached.

But apart form the obvious you’ll also want to consider the following:

One Piece of Content, One CTA

I adore the one page, one purpose rule because it works. But it’s often misunderstood.

One CTA does NOT mean you should only add one option at the bottom of the page. What one CTA does mean is that users should be prompted to take only one action, in this case that’s downloading your upgrade.

You should, however, include a handful of optins on the page to increase the chances that they take the action you want them to.

Let Your Upgrade be Shared

If you can, enable social sharing on your content upgrade.

Letting people share the details of your awesome upgrade will help create a viral effect. If you link everything together well you should see an increase in traffic to your initial piece of content and, of course, a further increase in list subscriptions.

Add an Upgrade CTA

Downloading the upgrade is not the end goal. Sure, you’ve grown your list, but you’ve also managed to elicit a yes from the user.

Once one yes has been received it’s easier to get the second, third and fourth.

Make sure you’re adding a CTA at the end of your content upgrade that helps you build your business or increase revenue.

Don’t Skimp on Design

Look, the content is what’s going to be most important. But if it’s poorly packaged then no-one is going to want to read your awesomely useful upgrade.

You won’t need to spend a ton of cash to get your content upgrade looking good, but you will need either a basic level of design skill or be willing to pay a nominal fee to someone who can give it that professional veneer.

Short and Sweet

No one wants to read a 2000 word article to then follow it with a 5000 word content upgrade. It’s just not done.

The upgrade is an addition to the main content. It shouldn’t outshine it. It’s there to bolster the usefulness, not offer a completely different insight on a different topic.

Keep your upgrades short and sweet.

Where to Offer Your Free Content Upgrade

Working smarter, not harder is the goal.

Whilst not long, you’re going need to put a lot of effort into your content upgrade to make it work. To save yourself from wasting time you want to choose an existing piece of content that already has a high level of traffic and engagement.

It’s marketing 101, right? Before you start producing anything you need to ensure that there’s a market out there for your product.

Thankfully for content upgrades Google Analytics will be enough.

Head to your analytics page and drill down to behavior > site content > landing pages to find the pages that attract the highest level of inbound traffic.

Content upgrade location

For maximum effect, you’ll want to pick the page that has the highest inbound traffic. More eyes on your content, more opportunities to sell the subscription.

Finding an Incredible Content Upgrade Idea

So you now know the basics of kickass content upgrades and should know existing content is going to be best for you to target.

The next step is to focus in on the two questions you need to answer in order to produce a kick ass content upgrade.

  1. What content will add the most value to the initial piece
  2. Which format will be most appropriate to deliver that message

To answer the first question you’ll need to do a little research into what your audience thinks is missing from the initial piece or what extra content they would love to see.

You can accomplish this in a few different ways.

The easiest of which is to simply ask your audience. You could either send a survey to your existing subscribers or go old school and ask friends and family what they think would work.

You can also implement a little review mining. Check comments on similar articles for reader thoughts and reviews of books on similar topics.

For example, the below is the top shared article on Crazy Egg according to BuzzSumo (you should look into your own analytics for this stage).

top shared article on buzz sumo

Checking the article comments throws up a few ideas.

Where to research content upgrades

Mike’s comment makes me think that perhaps a comparison checklist on the best A/B testing platforms might be a good idea. Or perhaps a listicle that outlines the steps of taking your basic GA testing to the next level.

Of course one comment shouldn’t form the basis of your content upgrade plan. You should be looking at numerous different articles and all of the comments associated with it.

On top of the articles, you might also want to look at reviews of products, services and books on the topic.

Below is an Amazon review from a book on A/B testing.

research for content upgrades

The reviewer’s basically made this super easy for us by leaving a list of items that could be improved. The most interesting idea to me seems to be the final suggestion.

You could play around with the idea of a checklist of testing mistakes to avoid, or a quick guide on the basic steps to successful tests.

Once you’ve been through a few comments, articles, books and reviews you need to cross reference your discoveries to find the repeated topics. The more an idea, need or suggestions repeated, the more likely your content upgrade is to succeed.

But What About the Format?

The last thing you need to do before creating your content upgrade is find the format that’s best suited for the message you’re delivering.

It’s an important step as the wrong format could derail all your hard work. A transcription of a podcast on the steps needed to implement successful tests might be useful, but you’d be better served creating a checklist or step-by-step guide that outlines the main points and actions.

You need to choose the right format for quickly and efficiently communicating your message.

I can’t tell you the best format for every kind of potential content upgrade, but I can outline a few of the more popular formats others have used to great effect.

Checklists / Lists

Checklists are a great format to simplify complex actions or processes and help your readers ensure that they’re not missing anything when recreating your process.

Amy Porterfield uses a lot of content upgrades on her site (pretty much every post). Below is a quick example of one checklist she uses on an article about building your own online course.

Example content upgrade format

It’s a simple offer but one that’s directly related to the content and, I’m willing to bet, it’s pretty damn effective.

Tools to quickly and easily create checklists: Checkli, Forgett

QuickStart Guide

No one likes receiving a new gift or access to a digital product only to have no idea how to use it.

QuickStart guides are incredibly similar to checklists. The only difference is the focus. A quickstart guide focuses only on getting yourself up and running. It’s not outlining a specific process or method but is more about getting the product activated and working.

You could always follow your quick start guide with a checklist of more advanced features or how to use the newly understood product to achieve a specific goal.


Podcasts have grown into a huge market that can be entered by pretty much anyone. The audio format allows listeners to catch up with the latest industry news when they’re in the shower, driving the car or picking up a few things down at the grocery store.

The only real problem with podcasts is how difficult it can be for readers to follow instructions. You may have heard a great point or action during the mid-point of a podcast, but what are the chances of you finding that same action or point when you need it? Pretty slim right?

You’re going to have to skip through lots of audio content to find that one point you needed.

And that’s why transcripts are so useful. A text based retelling of everything discussed allows your audience to search and find whatever they need at a moments notice.

You’re not adding any information, but you’re adding value through making key information easily accessible. You could also add transcripts of full interviews that informed content or panel discussions.

Pat Flynn content upgrade

An example from Pat Flynn of SPI. Interestingly Pat doesn’t email gate his transcripts and makes them available for free.

Great tools to get your audio transcribed: Fiverr

List of Resources

Businesses, entrepreneurs, and even employees now use a huge variety of tools to increase productivity and get the job done.

Think about your day-to-day job actions. How many tools do you use to complete even a single task? Quite a few right?

If you’ve managed to achieve something incredible your readers won’t just want to know how you achieved your results, they’ll also want to know what tools helped facilitate the process.

People love to get their hands on a new tool or service which will increase productivity, revenue or reduce the time they spend doing menial tasks.

You can use the same tools recommended for creating a checklist to put your resource list together. If you’re smart you could also utilize a few affiliate links to generate a little extra income.

Additional Supplementary Content

These downloads are a little different and stray ever so slightly out of the best practices I outlined at the start of this article.

You’re not aiming to create a piece that directly relates to the initial content, but are rather offering some supplementary information on a closely related topic.

For instance, a piece of content examining content upgrades could include one of the below content upgrades:

  • Directly Related – 10 Popular Content Upgrade Ideas
  • Indirectly Related – 5 Quick Methods to Drive More Traffic to Your Key Pages


Printed content is a little outdated, but that’s not to say that it’s useless.

People still sit at desks, still look around from their screen when they need a break or motivational boost and still take pen and paper notes.

You can capitalize on this by creating a visual printable that aims to either:

  1. Inform
  2. Motivate
  3. Offers a physical format for users to chronicle their ideas or map their progress

The trick is to make something that’s highly visible and useful to your users.

Great tools for creating visual printable – Canva

What Content Will You Upgrade?

Content upgrades are a great method for capitalizing on the interest your initial piece of content builds.

If you can devise a simple, actionable and valuable upgrade you should be able to see some of the incredible conversion gains that others have.

The best advice is to start where you know there’s already an audience and don’t leave anything to chance. Check you analytics for your highest performing content and research your audience to find what they want and need to make that piece of content even better.

There’s no point in wasting your time creating an upgrade on a piece of content that gets no views or creating something which doesn’t add any value.

As is always the case, start with research and remain flexible along the way. Do this, and you should be seeing huge numbers of new subscribers in no time at all.

Not sure if content upgrades could work for you? Drop a comment below to get the opinion of CE writers and readers at large. What have you got to lose, it’s free!



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Peter Boyle

Pete Boyle is a conversion focused copywriter and marketing consultant. He helps brands increase their revenue through compelling copy and smart email campaigns. Click here to connect with Pete or download one of his free marketing guides.


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  1. Tim Soulo says:
    May 30, 2016 at 2:52 am

    Hey Peter! Huge thanks for featuring my work!

    You created an awesome guide on “content upgrades” indeed!

    And yet one little thing you didn’t mention is a tool that will allow people to create content upgrades on their articles. 🙂

    I always point people towards either “LeadPages” – which is a powerful online service with tons of features other than “content upgrades”.

    …or “Content Upgrades PRO” – which is a premium WordPress plugin. (full disclosure: I’m the co-creator of that plugin)

    • Peter Boyle says:
      June 3, 2016 at 12:43 pm

      No problems Tim!

      Happy to hear you enjoyed the piece!

      And thanks for pointing people toward lead pages and Content Upgrades Pro as useful resources for creating content upgrades!

      If you have any other tips or anything to add we’d love to hear it!

      Thanks again Tim.

    • andymci says:
      August 10, 2016 at 3:43 pm

      In addition to a tool like LeadPages or a purpose-built plugin like Content Upgrades Pro: If folks want to try something a bit less polished and a bit more DIY, they could use something as simple as a contact form plugin (e.g. Ninja Forms, Formidable, Gravity Forms, WP Forms, etc…) and embed that in the post or page. 🙂

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