Content Upgrades: What Are They And Why Use Them?

What if you could turn each and every blog post into an email list-building machine?

Using highly specific email opt-ins, known as Content Upgrades, is the way to do it. Today, let’s get to the bottom of this Content Upgrades thing.

What are Content Upgrades, exactly? And why should you use them?

This article is part 1 of a 2-part series on Content Upgrades. After you learn what a Content Upgrade is and the benefits, move onto part 2 where I show you exactly how Content Upgrades fit in your marketing funnel.

It’s all about email.

In my last post, I talked about the main objective, or key performance indicator of your company’s blog: growing your email list.

The single most important goal of your blog isn’t to build traffic or get social shares. It’s to convert readers of your blog into email subscribers. Once you take your message to your audience’s inbox, they’re far more likely to return and become your customer.

So what are the best ways to build your email list using your blog?

Evergreen email lead magnets

The most common way is to establish an evergreen email lead magnet. This is a single offer to join your list, which is shown across your entire blog.

Examples of effective email lead magnets are:

  • Multi-day email courses (our favorite)
  • A short ebook
  • Registration for a monthly webinar

These email opt-in forms are often placed globally, meaning they’re baked into your site templates so that they show up on most/all pages. Common places for an evergreen email opt-in would be in the sidebar of your blog, at the bottom of each blog post, across the top of the site, and in popups.

While an evergreen email lead magnet is a central piece to your strategy and plays an important role in your overall funnel, they are not the most effective way to drive conversions of readers to subscribers.

Why Content Upgrades convert

Content Upgrade email opt-ins, on the other hand, do convert consistently higher than traditional email opt-ins like an evergreen email course.

Digital marketing trainer and popular blogger Brian Dean saw a 785% increase in email opt-ins (with a 4700 visitor sample size, so not a fluke) when he started implementing Content Upgrades on the Backlinko blog.

Brian Harris reports conversion rates of 20-30% (and up to 62%) when he adds Content Upgrades to his posts on his VideoFruit blog.

I’ve been adding Content Upgrades to many of my posts over on my personal blog and they’ve been instrumental to helping me grow that list from hundreds to over 7,000 in the past 18 months.

OK, you get it.  Content Upgrades convert.  But why?

Specific. Relevant. Useful.

The key difference between a Content Upgrade email lead magnet, and an evergreen email lead magnet, is this:

A Content Upgrade is created specifically for one blog post. It’s highly relevant to the topic of that blog post. This is the magic that drives higher conversion rates.

Put yourself in the shoes of your reader for a minute.

You see a headline come across your Facebook timeline that read, “How to Get More Trials For Your SaaS App”. You own a SaaS app and getting more people to start a free trial is a top priority for you. Since this headline speaks to you, you click it to read the article.

That article delivers on its promise. You gain a few new ideas you hadn’t thought of that might help you get more people to try your software. Awesome!

Within this article, there’s an offer to download a 10-step action guide to implementing one of these tips. You want to put these new ideas to action, and this guide sounds like it could really speed up your team’s effort, as opposed to having them figure out the implementation on their own. So you enter your email and get that bonus content sent to you, so you can pass it on to your developer this afternoon. BOOM!

Notice the connection from the first discovery of the headline, through the article, to the email opt-in. All of it speaks directly to a problem and solution that resonates with this particular reader (who also happens to be a prime candidate to use your company’s product). It successfully converted a first-time visitor into an email subscriber.

Now this person will likely come back to your site when you send them your newsletter for your next article. They’re more likely to take your email course, designed to convert subscribers into leads for your product. And since they’ve been reading your stuff and building trust in you and your company, they’re likely to buy from you.

What is a Content Upgrade, exactly?

The story above told you why Content Upgrades work. But how do they function exactly? Let me show you.

There are 3 basic components:

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

The call-to-action

The call-to-action should be placed within your blog article, at least once near the middle and again at the end. It should be highlighted with some sort of box and a button.

The text of the call-to-action and the button should be compelling and descriptive to get the reader to click and get to the next step, the email opt-in.

The email opt-in popup

Clicking the button in the call-to-action launches the email opt-in popup. Before asking for the email opt-in, this box reiterates the title of the bonus content along with a description of the benefit it delivers.

The delivery of the bonus content

Upon completing the email opt-in form, an email is automatically sent to the reader within minutes. This email contains a link to download the bonus content offered via the Content Upgrade.

In the background, the reader is also added to your email list in your email marketing tool so that you can follow up with more content that is relevant to them, like your newsletters or perhaps a drip email campaign.

Setting Up a Content Upgrade

Considering the results that Content Upgrades have proven to deliver, you’d think more people would be implementing them in their blogs by now, wouldn’t you?

Well the thing that’s standing in their way, aside from the extra effort it takes to produce bonus content for each of your posts, is the setup of these Content Upgrade email opt-ins.

A custom-built solution would involve several moving parts, such as:

  • A specially designed module to place within the content of your blog posts (your call-to-action box and button)
  • A popup form, tailored to each individual Content Upgrade.
  • A system for automatically sending a response email to the user, to deliver their bonus content.
  • An integration with your email marketing tool so that subscribers are added to your list.
  • A way to create these Content Upgrades in your back-end CMS, and store the bonus content files.

Content Upgrades Best Practices

These are the things that make up a Content Upgrade email opt-in, along with some best practices:

  • A Content Upgrade offers a highly specific piece of bonus content matched with the topic of a particular article on your blog.
  • The bonus content offered via the Content Upgrade should be highly actionable and useful. The article teaches the theory. The bonus content helps the reader take action.
  • There should be multiple content upgrades offered throughout your blog (most of your blog posts should have one).
  • The call-to-action should be placed within the body of your blog post. At least once near the middle of the post, and again at the end.
  • Your Content Upgrades should be integrated with your email marketing tool, so those who opt in are automatically added to your list and tagged appropriately.
  • You should treat Content Upgrades not only as lead magnets for new subscribers, but a tool for nurturing existing subscribers too. It’s not uncommon for a subscriber to opt in for 5 or more different Content Upgrades over the life of their subscription.

Capitalize on every blog post

I hope I’ve made the case by now why Content Upgrade email opt-ins can be so effective for your company’s blogging strategy.

But here’s the real concept that I want you to take away from all of this:

Content Upgrades help you capitalize on each and every blog post. Let me explain…

What happens when one of your posts goes viral on Twitter, or a journalist from the New York Times links to one of your articles? A massive spike in traffic! And in many cases, that traffic can be sustained for a very long time.

For example, over a year ago I wrote a post called How to Land Your First Customers Even When You’re Unknown. Soon after publishing, @SmashingMag, who has 937,000 followers, happened to tweet the link to my post. The post instantly went viral, and continued to be linked from several other high-profile publications. Over a year later, my Twitter replies continue to be flooded with RT’s for this post, and it continues to drive traffic to my blog.

So what did I do? I added a Content Upgrade email opt-in to the post. Now I’m able to capitalize on this sustained viral traffic by converting many of those visitors to email subscribers. Had I not added this Content Upgrade, the vast majority of them would never return and would never become part of my growing audience.

Another way you can capitalize on every blog post is to drive targeted traffic to them using promoted (paid) posts on Facebook or Twitter ads. You can also run retargeting ads to bring first-time visitors back to the post.

But you wouldn’t want to run paid ad campaigns without driving some sort of action that can produce a return on investment, would you? By adding a Content Upgrade email-opt-in to your blog posts, you’re establishing that action, the end-point of your promoted post strategy.

Content Upgrades for the Win

When it comes to maximizing the work you put into your blogs, a content upgrade can be just what you’re looking for. But remember, what you give needs to be worthwhile information–people won’t give their email over for something fluffy they could find with a quick google.

Not sure where to start? Take the time to create a juicy, worthwhile content upgrade for some of your best performing posts and see how those do. You can try out a few ideas: checklist, templates, more tips and see which ones resonate with your readers.