The Complete Guide to Maximizing Content Upgrade Conversion Rates

by Dale Cudmore

Last updated on August 16th, 2017

Why do some see email opt-in rates of 20% with content upgrades, while others get 3%?

In case you need a refresher, Devesh wrote an article a while back about how he was able to get 492% more email subscribers using content upgrades.

The strategy is to essentially create a highly relevant lead magnet for individual blog posts. It is highly effective.

It’s a simple concept at heart, but not always simple to implement. However, if you can stick with me until the end of this guide, I’ll show you:

  • How to create quality content upgrades
  • How to integrate content upgrades with your email marketing platform
  • What the biggest mistakes are and how to avoid them
  • And the reasons why some content upgrades are way more effective than others

How Do You Create Quality Content Upgrades?

While it would be great to hire a designer and writer for every content upgrade you make (if you can, awesome!), this isn’t possible for many online marketers. I’m going to assume you’re a DIYer and are producing upgrades by yourself.

I’m also going to divide up content upgrades by type, as you’ll need different tools and skills for each of them.

Type 1: Ebooks

Creating an attractive and useful ebook can take a lot of time. However, short ebooks are versatile lead magnets that can often be used on more than one post.

You can use any standard text-processor to write an ebook; just save it as a PDF when you’re done:

  • Google docs (free)
  • Openoffice (free)
  • Libreoffice (free)
  • Microsoft Word

If you want to get really professional, you can create the book in Adobe InDesign. This will provide you with more flexibility with images and layout. Though, if you know what you’re doing, you can create a professional layout with Word.

Type 2: Infographics/Cheat-Sheets

Another popular type of content upgrades are cheat-sheets.

You have the option of making a simple summary sheet using a text editor. This is the simplest and fastest option, and you can still make a relatively attractive sheet. Here’s what a basic one looks like:

basic cheat sheet

Not too flashy, but good enough that many people will actually save it and use it.

However, If you want a cheat-sheet that people get excited about, it has to look more like an infographic. Here’s an example of a great photography infographic:

photography cheatsheet

While this takes a lot more effort, it’s also something that people will print out and use for a long time. If you include your brand and/or site name on it, you’ll always be on their minds.

You can create infographics using:

  • Photoshop

Making attractive infographics takes time, so if you really want to blow your readers away, you may have to hire a designer.

Type 3: Checklists

Again, I have two options depending on what resources you have to put into your checklist.

The basic option is to create one with simple html or using a checklist creator application:


They all make reasonably attractive checklists, but also have limitations. You’ll end up with a functional list, but it won’t blow anyone away.

If you have some design experience, you can really take it to the next level. Here’s a checklist Bryan Harris offered on one of his posts:

Checklist content upgrade

To put it simple: it’s beautiful. This is something I would print out and use.

To make something like this, you’ll need custom graphics, as well as an advanced design program like Photoshop or InDesign, or be very comfortable with HTML and CSS.

Type 4: Email Courses

A short email course can be a great content upgrade. The biggest benefit is that they will expect your emails, so you won’t have many who aren’t sure why they are receiving emails from you.

You can deliver your email course with just about any email marketing service (e.g., MailChimp, Aweber, etc.).

The beautiful thing about creating an email course is that you can often repurpose existing content (like guides) by breaking it up into small digestible pieces. You can create most courses in less than an hour.

Type 5: Interviews

If you offer a training or coaching program, chances are that interviewing other experts in your field could be a great addition to your paid content. You can also use interviews, either in video or mp3 format, as content upgrades.

Not only can they convert highly, but it also gives readers a sneak-preview of your product and it will be easier to move them down your funnel.

What you’ll need:

It will take you some time to figure everything out the first time, but after that you’ll be able to create high quality and valuable interviews in under an hour.

How Do You Collect Sign-Ups for Your Content Upgrades?

If you want to use an embedded sign-up form, you’re welcome to. However, having too many visible sign-up forms on a page can turn off a large percentage of your readers, and can also take a substantial amount of time to set-up for each post.

The alternative is to use popups. Instead of just having the popup show up after a certain amount of time, you can set it to only show up if a reader clicks a link. Here’s an example:

content upgrade in content link

When your reader clicks the link to indicate that they want the upgrade, the popup comes up:

content upgrade popup example

Many popup tools also have exit-intent pop-ups, which are worth experimenting with as well.

So How Do You Make the Pop-ups?

The simplest and most popular pop-up tools are:

OptinMonster is designed specifically for use as a pop-up, while Leadpages is an entire suite of opt-in tools, which is why it’s much more expensive. If you go with Leadpages, you’ll be using LeadBoxes for pop-ups.

Creating Clickable Pop-Ups

With OptinMonster…

Step 1: Get the optin slug for your pop-up

Creating a pop-up is simple in WordPress. Once you’ve done so, copy down the slug that appears on the OptinMonster dashboard.

get slug optinmonster

Step 2: Manually Put the slug into a link

Here’s the example HTML:

<a href=”#” class=”manual-optin-trigger” data-optin-slug=”paad3r32ws-lightbox“>Click me!</a>

This would show up as “Click me!” as a link, which would trigger the pop-up when clicked.

With LeadPages…

Step 1: Create a LeadBox

Step 2: Click Publish and copy the html link given to you

It’ll look something like this:

leadboxes link

Then just copy that HTML to your post.

Managing and Delivering Content Upgrades (VERY Important!)

When I began using content upgrades I was blown away by the opt-in rates. I ended up creating a separate list in AWeber for each opt-in.

However, like many others, I planned poorly and ended up with this mess of separate lists:

aweber chaos

…and that’s not even all of them.

Unless you want to set up several unique autoresponder sequences, which is extremely annoying and time consuming, you’ll have to use automation features. These allow you to subscribe a user to more than one list at a time.

The problem with using automation is the resulting massive amounts of duplication. It gets really hard to keep track of unique subscribers.

If you’re on AWeber or MailChimp, this makes using content upgrades a pain. If you’re on a more expensive platform, there may be a simpler way.

Editor’s note: In InfusionSoft, you simply tag the subscriber with a unique tag, such as “Interest -> Benefit sheet,” as well as your regular subscription tag. This allows you to easily segment subscribers. 

The Solution: Use a Bonus Section/Page

I wish someone told me about this from the start.

With this method, everyone signs up to the same email list. No worrying about delivering individual bonuses, setting up separate lists, or user duplication.

Once they sign up, you simply send them a link to the bonus area.

Easy Option: A Bonus Page

If you’re a smaller business or just getting started, the easiest way to do this is to create a simple page. You can de-index it, but technically people could access it without signing up if someone gave them a link. This may or may not be a concern for you.

Here’s an example of a bonus page I use for one of my sites. Very simple, but saves a lot of headaches.

More Robust Option: Private Bonus Section

I mentioned Bryan Harris at the start of this article because he is one of the best examples of using content upgrades effectively. When you sign up for one of his upgrades, he creates a WordPress log-in for you at VideoFruit.

If you try to access the bonus section without being logged in, this is what you see:

Videofruit Oops! This Content is Members Only

However, if you log-in, you see this dashboard:

Videofruit Member’s Dashboard

This is genius! Not only do you gain access to all of the content upgrades, but it also allows Bryan to integrate his paid products and coaching into the same area.

The Biggest Mistakes Affecting Conversion and Profit

Now you know exactly what to offer as content upgrades and how to offer them. But like anything else, there’s a right and wrong way to do things.

There are 4 main mistakes that I see business owners make with content upgrades; let’s break them down.

1. Delivering Low Quality Upgrades

You’ve impressed a reader with your content, come up with an intriguing content upgrade, and then deliver garbage. I’ll never understand it.

Your content upgrades should always be useful to readers. Don’t spend 10 hours writing a post, and then 10 minutes creating an upgrade.

If you under-deliver, your upgrade goes into the trash bin and you’ll likely get marked as spam. This is why you have to look at user interaction after the initial sign-up in addition to your email sign-up conversion rates.

2. Taking Away Too Much Value From the Content

Here’s the opposite problem of the first mistake. Some site owners will deliberately withhold value from the content in order to save it for the content upgrade.

If you take away too much value from the content, readers won’t be impressed by the public content and sign-up rates will suffer.

Additionally, even if your public content is still useful, if readers feel like the initial content was missing an expected piece of information, they’ll sign up to get it and immediately unsubscribe or mark you as spam.

Content upgrades should provide extra value on top of the initial content, not detract from it.

3. Not Welcoming New Sign-Ups

When someone normally signs up to “get updates,” they’ve likely visited the site a few times and know who you are.

Part of the reason content upgrades are great is that they convert a higher amount of readers on their first visit. You have to remember the average subscriber from a content upgrade is not as familiar with who you are.

After they sign up, I strongly recommend redirecting them to a welcome page if you don’t already. It may have your best posts, a little about what to expect as a subscriber, or even some information about your company.

In addition to that, when you deliver the link to their bonus page in an email after they sign-up, include details about what they will get as a subscriber.

4. Not Reminding Subscribers How They Signed Up

Here’s a big thing that took me a while to figure out. While it didn’t happen with a huge frequency, I was getting a few unsubscribers saying:

“I never signed up for this.”


“But I’m not a subscriber.”

It’s really easy for someone who has just visited your site to forget about it. This is partly why welcoming new subscribers is so important.

But what I’ve noticed recently is that well-known bloggers like Jon Morrow have preemptively addressed this issue.

Here’s an email he sent recently for Boost Blog Traffic:

Jon Morrow email content upgrade

Notice the paragraph at the bottom. Most people who are confused about why they got the email will instantly think, “Oh yeah, now I remember,” which will dramatically cut down on unsubscribes and spam markings.

Why Are Some Content Upgrades More Effective Than Others

There are 3 main factors that will determine how well your content upgrades will convert.

1. Relevance

The driving force behind content upgrades is that they target the subject in the post. The more relevant they are, the better they will convert.

If you have a post about getting more traffic through SEO, some visitors will subscribe for a content upgrade about getting more traffic with social media, but many more will subscribe for your personal SEO tools or tactics.

2. Value

It’s always a fine line to balance value with investment. The most valuable a content upgrade is, the higher your conversion, but your investment is also higher.

In general checklists and cheat sheets are the simplest content upgrades to create, but have lower conversion rates.

If you can solve a related problem by offering templates or expert interviews, you’ll get a much better conversion rate.

3. Curiosity

Like any piece of marketing, a curiosity gap will drive action. The more curious a reader is about your content upgrade, the more likely they are to opt-in.

Instead of offering “My 5 Best Sources of Links for SEO,” you could offer “My 5 Best Sources of Links for SEO that No One Knows About.” Here’s a guide to help you learn more about curiosity.

You Are Now a Content Upgrade Master

If you implement content upgrades they way I’ve laid it out here, you’ll see conversions and profits that demolish your competition’s results. Like any innovation in online marketing, those who are ahead of the curve get the best results — and now’s your chance.

Let me know how content upgrades are working for your business in the comments below. If you have any questions or hesitations, leave those too!

Read other Crazy Egg posts by Dale Cudmore.



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Dale Cudmore

Dale Cudmore is a professional marketing writer. He focuses on actionable, exciting ideas and strategies that can be used to grow your business.


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  1. chawki trabelsi says:
    April 28, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    Nice article Dale, creating quality content upgrades like ebooks, infographics, checklists and the way to use it on our website is very important and we also must be aware of how not to be losing subscribers. I come up with a good conclusion in this article that using the second part of a blog post as content upgrade drive more sign ups and engagement with our visitors.

    • Dale Cudmore says:
      April 28, 2015 at 3:19 pm

      Thanks Chawki,

      That’s definitely a good strategy, you just need to make sure you give enough value in the first part that your readers can’t wait to read the rest. Brian Dean actually does this with a video that stops playing halfway unless you put in your email.

  2. PS Website Design says:
    April 23, 2015 at 2:19 am

    Hi Dale,

    Great post with a ton of resources thankyou for this!

    On the contact form where you mention about keeping it simple I really think it’s critial that you think about the type of auidence you are trying to attract. I think that also you need to think about the type of device they are using. It’s not good enough to just focus on your desktop users. I’ve seen this happen on a number of sites even to the extent that the checkout page is not mobile friendly at all and users litterally cannot scroll to the right hand side of the page because the site doesn’t allow it. On that with the recent mobile update from Google it’s imperative that users think about this.

  3. Matt A says:
    April 21, 2015 at 10:31 pm

    Agree with your points about relevance & value of the upgrade offer. Even moreso than the first. Some people are happy to trust you once but need a really good reason to trust again and re-submit info, spend more on later purchases, etc. You can’t make these things too much of a “step 1, sign up, give us your email address. Step 2, book in a training call after we give you this infographic, step 3 – watch our webinar & step 4 – buy our stuff.” People can see step 4 at step 1.2 so they stop stepping with you and let it go.

    (If you want an unfortunate example of this, sign up for Ramit S’s emails. It’s “welcome, pre-sales, sales, more sales, cool down period, pre-sales, sales, more sales.” ABC is ABSS … always be selling something. I’m sure it works wonders but you can see it coming from 7 and a half miles away. I’m certain it turns some people WAY off.

    • Dale Cudmore says:
      April 22, 2015 at 9:50 am

      It’s definitely a fine line Matt.

      I think you also need to consider that you have an interest in marketing and are looking for these things, where the average person on Ramit’s list probably isn’t.

  4. Sleep.Eat.Run says:
    April 21, 2015 at 10:32 am

    Perfect timing for this article for me. I’m just looking to add some content upgrades to my site.

    Do you have some stats to say which type encourages users to leave their email address or would it be different depending on the the type of site and user?


    • Dale Cudmore says:
      April 21, 2015 at 11:20 am

      Hi Jason, thanks for stopping by.

      The issue isn’t really “type”, but more of “apparent value”. While it may be easier on your end, sometimes a checklist is more valuable than a video, even though usually it isn’t. So it’s really a matter of creating an offer that is extremely relevant and useful.

      If you have any good friends that read your blog, send them a link to your new post early, ask them to read it, and then ask them if they have any big questions left or what could you provide to make the topic you wrote about easier to apply in their own lives. Your content upgrade can then answer these questions or make it easy for them to apply the concept; both of which have obvious apparent value to readers.

      There really isn’t near enough data out there to say that one type always works better than another. And like you said, it will depend on the site, topic, and audience.

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