9 Content Upgrade Ideas to Grow Your Email List + How to Create Your Own

9 Content Upgrade Ideas to Grow Your Email List + How to Create Your Own
Charlene Boutin
Charlene Boutin Oct 12, 2020 — 10 min read
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🙋 Raise your hand if you’ve already heard the following terms:

  • Lead magnet
  • Opt-in bait
  • Sign-up incentives

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know the importance of email marketing by now and understand that lead magnets are one of the best ways to convert readers into email subscribers.

But what if we told you there is an even more targeted way to increase conversion rates?

Meet content upgrades.

What is a content upgrade?

At first glance, a content upgrade might sound very similar to a lead magnet. That’s because both serve the same purpose. They entice people visiting your website to enter their email address in exchange for something of value.

However, content upgrades do exactly what their name suggests: they offer a direct upgrade to the free content on your site, whether that content is a blog post, a podcast, or a video.

Typically, this upgrade is free as well – except for requiring an email address, that is.

If you’re thinking of using this strategy to grow your email list, this is an excellent idea. To help you get started, we’ve covered 9 content upgrade examples used by successful websites in a range of niches.

Feel free to jump to the section you’re most interested in:

1. Free email courses

2. PDF guides

3. Webinar or masterclass

4. Checklists or cheatsheets

5. 5-Day challenges

6. Waitlist for a paid offer

7. Swipes, templates, or toolkits

8. Free trials

9. Case studies

+ How to create your own content upgrade

Why you should use content upgrades (and not just lead magnets)

You can offer your core lead magnet at the end of your blog posts. However, if you want to get even more email sign-ups while also increasing the engagement with your existing subscribers, consider adding content upgrades to the mix.

Content upgrades are much more relevant to the current content your website visitors are consuming. When done right, content upgrades are a logical extension of a blog post or podcast.

The more relevant a content upgrade is, the more likely that engaged site visitors will turn into subscribers.

This technique also offers something new to existing subscribers, which is why it can help you engage them on a deeper level. Even if they are already subscribed to your email list, they may opt in again to access a relevant content upgrade.

When they do, you’ll know they are much warmer than a subscriber who only opts into one of your lead magnets and barely consumes your content.

9 Content upgrade ideas to grow your email list

The great news with content upgrades is that they exist in many shapes and forms. So while you can stick to the basics, such as PDF guides, feel free to explore other content upgrade ideas depending on what you believe your audience will respond the best to.

1. Free email courses

If you’re already confident in your knowledge of the topic you discuss on your business website, building an email course is a relatively easy way to create a content upgrade.

Simply put, an email course is a series of drip emails that teach your subscribers about a given topic.

For example, this blog post on Breaking the One Percent, which is about making money by blogging (meta, I know), contains a content upgrade for their free blogging course.

Breaking the One Percent blog offers an email course as a content upgrade in their blog

For readers who enjoyed this blog post, the blogging course is the logical next step to continue learning about this topic.

Email courses like this serve multiple purposes: for one, they provide value to your subscribers at a low price to you!

Because emails are easy to create (as long as you have the expertise to write your course), they can be produced at a cheaper price than other, more design-heavy resources.

Additionally, they can help increase your email open rates and nurture your new subscribers.

Because the course content is delivered via emails, your subscribers get into the habit of opening your emails, which increases the likelihood of them opening your future emails.

Using email courses also removes the need to create a separate welcome sequence of emails from scratch, since the course itself should perform the task of welcoming them to your email list.

2. PDF guides

PDF guides could be their own topic – there are so many variations you can create for content upgrades!

A PDF content upgrade can be as simple as a downloadable version of the blog post, or it could be as complex as a white paper, an ebook, or an ultimate guide.

For example, The Penny Hoarder upgraded their blog post about writing on Medium with a PDF guide for improving your finances.

The Penny Hoarder blog offers a free guide to improving finances as a content upgrade

This works well because people reading this post are probably trying to find ways to make more money, which may indicate they’re on a path to improving their finances.

However, keep in mind that PDF guides have been used extensively in the blogging world as content upgrades throughout the 2010s. If you’re going to go this route, make sure to create something of high value that your subscribers actually want.

Otherwise, your PDF may end up collecting digital dust, and your subscriber may forget all about it and reduce their engagement with you.

3. Webinar or masterclass

In some cases, the content you want to teach will translate better in a video setting compared to an email course.

That’s where the webinar – also called masterclass or workshop – comes in. Webinars can be either live or pre-recorded and automated. But in both cases, they can pack in a high amount of value in a relatively short amount of time.

If you are planning on launching a new product or service, your blog posts can serve as pre-launch content to warm up your audience. Meanwhile, your content upgrade – the webinar – will take your most engaged readers down the next level of the funnel.

Kate McKibbin, who teaches entrepreneurs how to create their own courses, uses this exact method by offering a content upgrade on relevant blog posts:

Kate McKibbin offers uses webinars as a form of a content upgrade to grow her email list

In this case, her blog post discusses the pros and cons of different webinar software, while her content upgrade teaches people what her webinar funnel looks like.

She uses this webinar to sell her signature course on autopilot.

You don’t have to use your webinars to directly sell a product or service though. You can also decide to use it as a way to cultivate trust with your new subscribers.

4. Checklist or cheatsheet

Yes, a checklist is technically a PDF. But I think this content upgrade deserves its own section.

That’s because a checklist can help your readers turn a blog post that they’ve just read into a clear plan they can take action on right away.

Instead of giving them more content to read through, like a regular PDF guide, a checklist or cheatsheet provides a shortcut to implementing what your readers just learned about in your blog post.

For instance, Miranda Nahmias upgrades her blog post that discusses hiring a team with a handy New Hire Checklist.

A hiring checklist is an example of a content upgrade to convert those looking to hire virtual teams

With a combination of the checklist and the blog post, her readers are well equipped to make better hiring decisions.

The better results her readers get, the more likely they are to trust her and decide to hire her team down the road!

5. 5-Day challenge

Want to create an interactive experience for your subscribers and guide them through actionable steps that will lead them to a transformation?

Offering a 5-day challenge as a content upgrade may be for you.

During a 5-day challenge, you can offer daily prompts or guides to help participants take baby steps each day to achieve an overarching goal.

From another blog post by Miranda Nahmias, we have this great example of a 5-day challenge where her audience is invited to get their first client in 5 days or less:

An example of a 5-day challenge offered as a content upgrade by Miranda Nahmias

See how she doesn’t offer the same lead magnet on every single post?

That’s what content upgrades are all about! Miranda knows to offer only the most relevant content upgrades on her posts because it keeps her conversion rates up.

Keep in mind that a challenge doesn’t have to run for 5 days. Some are shorter (I’ve seen many 3-day challenges), while others can last 30 to 60 days.

Just remember that the longer your challenge runs, the more likely participants will become unengaged. This means you need to put in more effort to mix it up and keep them engaged throughout the duration of the challenge.

6. Waitlist for a paid offer

If your blog post is part of your pre-launch runway for a new offer, you don’t necessarily have to use webinars as a content upgrade.

Instead, you can use a waitlist to gauge interest in that new offer on audiences that are already interested in a given topic.

This can allow you to decide whether there is enough demand for your new offer before you create and launch it. And what is a better way to validate demand than by testing already engaged audiences?

At the end of Melyssa Griffin’s blog post about goal setting, she introduces the waitlist for her mastermind.

Melyssa Griffin invites her readers to join a waitlist to collect their emails

She knows that people who are trying to set goals would probably be interested in working more closely with her to achieve those goals.

Waitlists aren’t a resource in themselves. However, you may choose to offer an extra incentive to join your waitlist, such as a discount on the launch price.

7. Swipes, templates, or toolkits

Once again, this type of content upgrade could have technically fallen under PDF guides… but they are SO powerful and distinct from checklists that they need to be talked about separately.

First off, let’s define the difference between swipes, templates, and toolkits:

  • Swipe: An existing piece of content (not fill-in-the-blanks)
  • Template: Fill-in-the-blanks content
  • Toolkits: A collection of swipes, templates, and other resources

These types of content upgrades are highly effective because they can drastically cut down the time it takes for your subscribers to achieve the results they want.

For example, Tarzan Kay, who teaches entrepreneurs all about email marketing, has made these types of resources her specialty.

She knows that her audience struggles to write emails and product launch sequences from scratch, so on a blog post that discusses how to win at affiliate launches, she offers this launch toolkit as a content upgrade:

Tarzan Kay uses toolkits as her main content upgrade type

This means her audience not only have the information they need to succeed at affiliate launches – they also have time-saving templates and swipes to take action!

8. Free trials

If you offer software, memberships, or other products eligible for free trials, it’s a great idea to use this as a content upgrade on relevant blog posts.

Once your readers become subscribers through this method, they are also free trial users, which means that you now have an opportunity to retain them as a paying client.

For example, Koantic, course creation software, naturally transitions from their blog post conclusion to a free trial:

A free trial sign-up form can be used as a content upgrade along with a powerful CTA

9. Case studies

Case studies are highly effective ways to cultivate trust with your readers since they provide real social proof that your product or service actually works.

The best case studies usually achieve all of the following:

  • Establish why the customer or client was struggling in the first place
  • Explain how they discovered your products or services
  • Showcase how your product or service helped them achieve a transformation
  • Use engaging storytelling to achieve all of the above

The more a case study correlates with the topic of a blog post, the better.

For example, if you have an ecommerce store that sells beauty products and your blog post teaches about easy ways to control acne, why not include a case study with a real client who got rid of their acne using your products?

How to create and implement your content upgrade

Awesome, so you’re ready to create your own content upgrade and start growing your email list. Let’s try to look at the process, step by step.

Step 1. Decide which type of content upgrade you want to create

First things first – you need to figure out the purpose of your content upgrade. This depends heavily on the blog post you’re upgrading.

What was the purpose of that blog post? What can your readers get from it?

The purpose of your content upgrade should be directly related to this. You can either:

  • Continue in the same direction and offer a deeper, more in-depth perspective, or
  • Offer the next logical step forward from the blog post

Breaking the One Percent’s free email course is an example of the former, because it serves the same purpose as the blog post – teach their audience how to make money blogging.

On the other hand, Kate McKibbin’s webinar is an example of the latter. While her blog post teaches her audience about the best webinar software, her content upgrade teaches the logical next step: how to build a webinar funnel.

See the difference? Both methods are valid ways to upgrade your blog post content, but it’s important to be mindful about your decision so that what you create is aligned with the rest of your content strategy.

Step 2. Get the right tools to create your content upgrade

When it comes to actually creating your resource, you have several options available depending on the type you choose, including:

  • Email marketing service such as Convertkit, Klaviyo, Infusionsoft, and more for email courses
  • A user-friendly design tool like Canva to develop the visuals
  • A more robust design tool as needed, such as Photoshop, as well as someone who knows how to use it
  • Webinar software such as EasyWebinar or Zoom Webinars if you’re hosting a live or automated webinar
  • Software to host your assessment or quiz, such as Interact or Bucket.io

Step 3. Create an opt-in box to promote your content upgrade

Once everything is ready, you’ll need a way to showcase your content upgrade so that your readers can opt in.

There are a few ways you can do this.

First, you can create an in-line opt-in box. This type of opt-in box is static and will show up at all times where you decide to implement it, like most of the examples I’ve shown above.

However, you can also create conditional opt-in boxes using Getsitecontrol:

These popups can appear depending on the conditions you set, such as:

  • When readers reach 60-80% of your blog post (which means they are highly interested in your topic at this point)
  • After your reader spends a certain amount of time on a page
  • If this is the first time this reader is visiting your website (that day, that week, or forever)
  • If readers are located somewhere specific in the world
  • And much more!

You can also choose how your opt-in box shows up. For example, you could create a more attention-grabbing popup, showcase your content upgrade via a slide-in form, or decide to use a sticky bar at the top of the page.

Step 4. Decide how you will deliver the content upgrade

The way to deliver your content upgrade will heavily depend on the type of content upgrade you’ve created.

Some business owners automatically redirect new subscribers to a download page. However, I prefer to send an email that contains a link to the resource instead, while using the thank you page to remind new subscribers to check their email to claim their upgrade.

Why? This incites your new subscribers to open your email, which will increase your open rates!

Increase your conversion rates with content upgrades

If you want to make email marketing an integral part of your business growth strategy, consider optimizing some of your blog posts with targeted content upgrades.

Using a single lead magnet doesn’t mean you can’t grow your email list, but when you offer more targeted resources to already engaged audiences, it will help you increase your conversion rates and grow faster.

Charlene Boutin is a B2B writer for hire specialized in creating compelling case studies, blog posts, and converting copy for digital entrepreneurs and SaaS businesses. When not writing, she can be found prototyping weird games in Unity or playing on her Nintendo Switch.

Main illustration by Icons8

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