Content Upgrades 101: How to Use Content Upgrades to Build your List

8 min read 1 Responses
Syed Naimath 2 years ago

“What’s a content upgrade?”

A lot of people have this question right now. Everyone’s singing the benefits of them, but no one’s really outlining what exactly they are, how to use them and the tips & tricks to making a great content upgrade that converts well.

But that’s about to change.

In this article, you’re going to get every question you’ve ever had about content upgrades answered. The goal here is to take a complete beginner to content upgrades and have them feeling ready to produce and implement their own by the time they’re done reading.

What is a content upgrade?

So firstly, a content upgrade is simply a resource that upgrades the content of your blog. For example, if you’ve written a blog post on a 10-minute workout, a good content upgrade could be a quick reference PDF to print out. So they can refer to it during the workout and such.

Obviously that was only one example. They don’t have to be as in-depth or detailed as the example given. There are really no hard and fast rules to a content upgrade, except for the fact that it should provide the reader with more value or ease-of-use than just reading the blog post alone.

How do content upgrades work?

The basic flow for a content upgrade is simple. You pull in traffic, in the form of people reading your blog post. They read the post. In the post itself you put multiple references to the content upgrade, including a few 2-step opt-in boxes. Hopefully, they like what they read and then opt in.

How this is different from a blog without content upgrades is what the reader is receiving and how they’re choosing to opt in. With content upgrades, the reader is always receiving an extremely relevant incentive to opt in. And they do it straight from the post, rather than intrusive pop-ups.

What makes content upgrades so good?

Content upgrades create an environment where the reader is always getting content that’s relevant to what they want to see, rather than general incentives that may not be relevant to their current interests. Not only greatly increasing conversions, but creating a far better user experience too.

However, when a blog is not using content upgrades the user is not always getting relevant offers. As mentioned, they get general incentives which may not appeal to them. And when offered something irrelevant, there’s always going to be a part of them that considers declining it.

Now declining your free gift wouldn’t be a big deal if it were merely a passing offer. But declining your free gift, in this case, could potentially mean they’ll never find their way onto your email list. Who would’ve thought you could drive people away by offering them free stuff, huh?

Do content upgrades convert well?

For comparisons sake, let’s use Bryan Harris’ numbers. He says he’s optimised his pop-up box to convert at 6.8%, but we’ll round it up to 7% to be generous. On the other hand, his content upgrades convert at 20%-30% on average. Some even hit 62%. This is a huge difference of at least 13%.

Content upgrades don’t just perform well. They out-perform pretty much every other strategy out there right now. Could you even imagine converting 62% of your traffic into email list subscribers by implementing one technique? Well, it has happened with content upgrades. Even if it’s an anomaly.

How can you use the content upgrade strategy?

Essentially, to utilise the content upgrade strategy all you need to do is come up with a relevant upgrade and make references to it in your post. However, there’s a few defining factors that’ll control how successful or unsuccessful your content upgrade is.

  1. Relevance

You could provide an amazing piece of bonus content to your readers, but if it’s not relevant to the post – it’s not going to get the conversion rates you’re looking for. The entire purpose of a content upgrade is to upgrade the post they are currently reading.

For example, if you write a really great post about email list building techniques, your content upgrade should be related to those techniques, provide bonus ones, or be related to email lists in general. A content upgrade about increasing productivity wouldn’t be as effective here.

  1. Visibility

content upgrades should be very visible People need to see your content upgrade for it to work. They need to know that you’re actually offering them this piece of content if they’re going to opt in for it. With this in mind, you need to ensure that your content upgrade doesn’t just blend into the body of your post.

There are a few ways you can make your content upgrade more visible, such as associating images with the download of the content upgrade. Another way is to change the colour of the text/background around the part of your upgrade.

However, the most common way to make a content upgrade is by using a promo box. A promo box is an explanation of the content upgrade that sits within the content but is made to stand out so that people will click on it.

  1. Opt-in Process

The last factor is the fluidity of the opting in. If your opt-in process is clunky and confusing, people are not going to opt in. It’s too much effort. They’ll skip over it without hesitation. This means that you need to pay close attention to 1 or 2-step opt-in process, how the box comes up, etc.

This is very much personal preference, but the overall rule of thumb would be to make it as easy as possible for your readers to become email subscribers. Don’t make the reader jump through hoops to join your list unless it’s necessary. Every step you add potentially lowers your conversions.

With the above said, the common theme on high-converting blogs is a 2 step opt-in process. Usually, they will have a promo box or image within their content that requires the user to click on it. Once the promo box has been clicked on, it opens up a LeadBox for the user to actually opt in.


An effective example of a relevant, visible and easy opt-in content upgrade.

Creating a relevant content upgrade

Now that we’ve clarified the factors, here’s a quick and easy way to coming up with a great content upgrade:

  1. Write down the ultimate goal or question your post is planning to answer/achieve.
  2. Write down the steps you’re taking to answer/achieve the goal.
  3. Answer the following:
    1. Can I turn the steps taken into an easy-to-answer checklist?
    2. Will people refer to this post again in future to achieve this?
    3. Is there anything that I’ve left out of the post that could help the reader achieve the ultimate goal of this post?

If you answer yes to a, create the checklist. If you answer yes to b, make your content upgrade a printable PDF version of the post. If you answer yes to c, leave it out of the post and write it up as a small content upgrade. If you answer yes to multiple, create them all. Provide more for your reader!

You see, coming up with a great content upgrade isn’t hard when you’re clear on what you’re trying to achieve for your reader. The more overall clarity of your purpose with the blog and the posts, the more clarity you’ll have on how you can add extra value to your reader’s experience.

Implementing the content upgrade

Now that you’ve created your upgrade with all the above factors in mind, you’re ready for it to be a hit. At this point, you should have a post written up and ready to go. The last step is actually getting the content upgrade into the post itself.

Begin by creating a small call-to-action below the introduction of your post. If you’ve got the promo box plugin, this is the place to put it first.  If not, some creative copy and a link will have to do instead.

Tell them what the content upgrade is and make a note of how it’ll improve their experience. For example: “Learn to implement these techniques using this checklist!”

Set up a LeadBox for this call-to-action. The process for this obviously varies depending on what tools you’re using to achieve this effect. If you’re ever uncertain, LeadPages has a great amount of resources on the topic.

Next up, create the call-to-action at the bottom of the post. This one should be a lot less subtle than the promo box. Make it an image, make it stand out. Shameless promotion is very much allowed here, they’ve read your entire post – you just have to hook them now.

Yep, it’s that easy. Now watch as your conversion rates soar. Keep an eye on the rate at which your content upgrades convert and adjust according to what works the best for your site, of course. With a little refinement, you should be able to convert over 20% of your traffic!

Final tips and tricks

There are some tools for better conversion rates. These tools vary in their impact, from better visibility to a more fluid user experience. In this section, we’ll explore the variety of different tools that you can use and why you should look into using them.

Promo Box Plugin

Promo boxes are the usual form of content upgrade promotion. What you’ll usually see is something like the screenshot below. These seamlessly integrate into every post and are easy to point to an opt-in box using your specified promotion text. You can find this plugin here.

LeadPages Plugin

LeadPages is basically the bread and butter tool of content upgrades at the moment, because of their LeadBox feature. LeadBoxes allow for a user to trigger a small opt-in box to be opened just by clicking some anchor text in the post, which makes for a targeted opt-in process.

Upgrade Old Posts

Michael Hyatt has a very good example of turning old posts into new leads. In his post “Literary Agents Who Represent Christian Authors” – which was the #3 most popular post on his site – he transformed the list of agents into a very clean and slick content upgrade PDF.


He didn’t write this post with content upgrades in mind, but went back to it after noting that it was a very popular post of his that still gets traffic. The articles don’t have to be fresh for this to work. They just have to be getting traffic. Remember that!

So grab your toolbox and get working on your site, it’s about time you joined the list building pros. Start producing that value for your readers, watch your email list grow like it never has before. Then reap the rewards for your hard work!

If you have any strategy or comment that’s been left out of this post, please go ahead and drop it in the comments below. We’re always looking for ways to improve. If you know anyone that could benefit from this post, or if you just enjoyed the read, please share it!

About Syed Naimath

Serial Entrepreneur. Co-Founder and Marketing Lead at @Plugmatter and @Foundora.

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