How To Use Content Upgrades To Explode Your Email List

How To Use Content Upgrades To Explode Your Email List

As a blogger, what’s your end goal?

Is it to share your story and hope to make a change in people?

Is it to earn a side income from your blog?

Or is it to build a tribe of loyal followers and form a community of similar minds?

No matter if you’re blogging to help others or to build a business by offering a service or digital product, one thing is clear – you need an email list.

I know what you’re thinking:

Why do I need an email list when all I want are page views and a bigger social media following?

Well my blogging friend, email blows social media out of the water in terms of traffic and sales – especially if you have your own product.

Last time I checked, everyone has an email account, but not everyone is on social media.

So, you can reach more people with your email list than with your social media followers on any day of the week.

But, how do you actually build and grow your email list?

Traditionally, the main method many bloggers and businesses use is to offer a lead magnet, or freebie, to incentivize their list.

This lead magnet is usually the main free offering a site has. For example, if you go to Smart Blogger, you will see right away what Jon Morrow is offering:

Smart Blogger Lead Magnet

Lead magnets are highly effective at generating subscribers to your list. But, there’s another way that’s much more targeted and will help you grow your list explosively.

It’s the content upgrade, and it can more than triple your conversions overnight.

What are content upgrades?

Want to know why some blogs have a whopping 20% email opt-in rate while others only have a 3% or less opt-in rate?

It’s because they have a highly specific and targeted opt-in freebie. If you have something your readers are craving or want to know the answer to badly, you have the perfect incentive to offer.

From there you can easily create content upgrades that you know your audience wants. Essentially, a content upgrade is a within post freebie that’s related to the topic of the post.

For example, if your post is about how to triple your affiliate earnings, you can offer a freebie of different ways to promote your affiliate product.

Example twins mommy upgrade

If a visitor is reading about affiliate marketing, this content upgrade would definitely relate to what he or she is reading, and they would most likely click on the image and sign up to receive this guide.

And that’s why content upgrades are highly effective – you’ve primed your would-be subscriber with your blog post. It’s only natural that they’re interested enough to check out your freebie.

Compare that to a random visitor coming to your lifestyle site and seeing your lead magnet eCourse on revamping your closet in five days. This visitor loves your travel abroad posts and couldn’t care less about reorganizing their closet – so they don’t sign up to your list.

If you provide content upgrades on your blog posts, you could effectively target your ideal reader every time. And if you use content upgrades on your most popular posts, you can grow your email list like wildfire.

What makes a great content upgrade?

There are a few things to keep in mind when deciding what you want to offer your visitors when they read your post.

1. It upgrades your post

The highest converting content upgrades are the ones that add to or upgrade your blog post. Your freebie provides more value, tips or tools to help your readers take action on what they read in the post.

For example, Neil Patel over on Quick Sprout often has content upgrades on his blog posts.

His blog posts, by themselves, offer a wealth of comprehensive information on marketing strategies to help your business. But, Neil doesn’t reveal all his strategies, and in fact, shares more strategies only with his subscribers.

In his post, How to Reach Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials with Your Online Marketing, Neil goes into detail about each generation and their buying behaviors.

His content upgrade adds to this post by offering a cheat sheet on the best marketing strategies you can use on these generations.

Quicksprout Content Upgrade

2. It makes it easier to read your post

You know, sometimes people are just too busy to read long-form posts. People are working, taking their kids to sports activities or getting meals ready for the family.

Some of the best content upgrades provide a solution to this problem by offering a PDF version of the blog post in question.

Neville Medhora, a copywriter, uses this content upgrade method for some of his longer and more valuable posts.

For example, his 8,000+ word post on How to Become a Copywriter (With No Experience) is available as a PDF download.

Neville Medhora

3. It’s simple

According to Leadpages, the freebie your visitors actually want is something that’s simple.

A 20-page eBook for your content upgrade isn’t something your visitor wants when they’re reading a 2,000-word blog post of yours.

Instead, they want something simple to download when they opt into your list. Some of the most popular incentives are:


Checklists are the easiest content upgrades you can offer. They take minutes to make and everyone loves checklists!

Take a look at Mariah Coz’s Course Launch Collateral cheat sheet on Femtrepreneur:

Mariah Coz content upgrade

Or how about Caitlin Bacher’s Ultimate Checklist for Facebook Group Hosts:

Caitlin Bacher Content Upgrade

Both of these women know that checklists are easy to read, implement and use, which makes it much more likely that their visitor will give up their email address in exchange for the opt-in freebie.


Printables are very popular with moms and crafty people. From printable checklists to recipe cards and even your grocery master list, if you can design it, then you can use it as your content upgrade.

Abby Lawson from Just a Girl and Her Blog, has a ton of printables for her readers. She’s even created a resource library of all her printables as one of her content upgrades.

Just Girl blog content upgrade


Offering a free eBook is not as popular as workbooks nowadays. These are interactive guides that help you plan and execute your goals. And they make for great upgrades to your blog posts.

For example, Allison over at Wonderlass has a goal-planning workbook to help you achieve your business and blogging goals.

Wonderlass content upgrade

Free tools and samples

Who doesn’t like a free sample? Whether it’s a free tube of toothpaste from the dentist or a free plugin for your WordPress site, if it’s free you want it.

This is what Lead Designer of Rainmaker Digital, Rafal Tomal, uses for his lead magnet and content upgrades.

For example, he offers a free Genesis child theme called Journal as a within post freebie:

Rafal Tomal Content Upgrade

Now that you know what kinds of content upgrades do well, here are three pro tips to help make your content upgrades convert better:

  • Some people, including Brian Dean of Backlinko and Mariah Coz of Femtrepreneur, say that using a yellow content upgrade box increases your click-through rate.
  • One way to increase your conversions with your content upgrades is to link to a landing page offer. You can have up to a 60% conversion rate (from the landing page) using this method rather than an opt-in form on your site.
  • When you guest post, link to a blog post with a content upgrade in it. This will help you generate more subscribers, turning your guest post into a list-building strategy.

How to make content upgrades

Okay, here’s the fun part.

How do you create those fancy guides, printables, and workbooks other bloggers use?

While you can outsource this to a professional designer on Upwork or Fiverr, if you are bootstrapping your blogging business, there’s no shame in DIYing your opt-in freebies.

Here’s my quick guide to creating your content upgrade (for free, mostly).

1. Use Google Docs to write it out

Your content upgrade doesn’t have to be fancy. Google Docs makes it easy to create your freebie and personalize it with your brand colors, icons and images.

As an example, one of my content upgrades over on my new blog, Twins Mommy, is a checklist to grow your blog. I used a bullet list with boxes to create my checklist.

Grow Blog Checklist

2. Use an image editing tool to make your cover

Remember those within post content upgrade graphics I showed you? Many of those examples showed what the content upgrade looked like.

So, instead of showing virtual sheets of paper as your workbook or guide to entice your readers to opt-in, you can take it a step further and create a cover graphic.

There are a lot of image editing tools and graphic design software programs available – many are free – but a popular one for bloggers is Canva. Canva has a ton of free templates to use as well as different fonts and images to choose from.

You can pick any template, but the Blog Graphic template works well for a content upgrade cover sheet.

Canva cover

Also, be sure to check out Venngage – a specialist tool for creating infographics. While you may not have considered infographics for your content upgrades, this tool makes it particularly easy to visualise data in various ways.

3. Add your cover to Google Docs

Once you download your cover from Canva, you can upload it to your Google Doc. Click on Insert > Header.

Then click the box that says, Different first page header/footer. Drag your cover image into the header.

It’ll look like this at first:

Google Doc header

Just click on the image and then click on Wrap text to reveal the full image. Change the margins from 1/8″ to 0″. Then drag your image cover to fit the Google Doc page.

4. Create a PDF version

You can make your freebie a shared Google Doc and only provide the link as your content upgrade if you like. Sometimes this is a better option for content upgrades that might need frequent updating – for example, providing a list of popular Facebook groups.

Otherwise, create a PDF that you can then upload to your web hosting account, or even Dropbox.

5. Capture the visitor’s email address

Since the main point of offering content upgrades is to grow your email list, you’re going to need a way to capture a visitor’s email address, send the data to a provider like ConvertKit, and then send the content upgrade to the visitor (something which ConvertKit does like no other email platform).

There are a number of ways to do this, but traditionally when someone clicks on the content upgrade box or graphic in your post, a pop-up appears asking the visitor for their name and email address. If you’re using WordPress, a content upgrade plugin makes this a cinch.

In the Thrive Leads WordPress plugin, for example, start with one of Thrive’s pop-up (lightbox) templates. Next, customize it with their visual builder and then use Thrive’s content upgrade template to insert a trigger into your post.

Thrive Leads Update

And if you’ve entered your email service provider’s information in the Thrive Leads backend, it will send your visitor’s name and email address to your provider behind the scenes (learn more in our review of Thrive Leads).

You can also set up content upgrades for free by using the Content Upgrades WordPress plugin, but it hasn’t been updated in over 2 years and it seems you’d eventually need to upgrade to the paid Content Upgrades Pro plugin for more functionality.

Finally, Leadpages* is yet another popular option that does content upgrades extremely well (and much more), but it can be pricey at $37/month, and up, for more functionality.

Content upgrade delivery options

With your visitor’s email captured and sent to your email service provider, the next thing you want to think about is how you’re going to deliver your content upgrade.

There are two popular ways you can give your subscribers your freebie: by directing them to a single page containing links to all of your downloads, or by sending your content upgrades individually.

1. Resource library

If you’re using a list-based email service provider like MailChimp or GetResponse, setting it up to deliver individual content upgrades through email can be time consuming.

Also, if you have multiple downloads that you want to bundle together as a value-add, the easiest and best way to deliver your content upgrades is to host them in a gated resource library on your site.

This is what Adam does for visitors who subscribe to Blogging Wizard’s email list.

Blogging Wizard VIP Resources

Since he has over a dozen free resources, he’s created a resource library where new subscribers have access to all his content upgrades. When someone subscribes, they are sent the private URL of the library.

2. Individually

Another popular method is to deliver your content upgrades individually. This works well when you don’t yet have enough content to create a valuable resource library, or when you’re just getting your feet wet with the whole content upgrade method.

Thrive Leads has a built-in asset delivery feature that makes it simple to send content upgrades to your visitors through email.

And the best part? Once configured, the asset delivery works independently from your normal email service provider, so there are no automation or tagging setups required.

While Thrive Leads is an excellent investment, if you’re looking for an all-in-one solution that doesn’t require additional plugins or services, ConvertKit* can handle everything.

In fact, ConvertKit can optionally combine the double opt-in email confirmation and content upgrade delivery into one easy step – instead of the several steps that many other email service providers require.

Upload your freebie to the Incentive Email section:

Incentive email convert kit

Then you can either use their plugin to drop your opt-in form into your post or use the embed code for your WordPress site:

Embed Code

Visually, the actual form will appear in your post – it won’t be a two-step popup process like in Thrive Leads or other content upgrade plugins – but it gets the job done, collects email addresses perfectly, and should be a hassle-free setup.

Further Reading: The Complete Guide To Creating And Delivering Lead Magnets (That Will Actually Grow Your Email List)

Wrapping it up

Growing your email list doesn’t have to be boring! By strategically placing content upgrades in your blog posts, you can create different resources your audience wants and craves.

By using Google Docs and Canva, you can DIY some snazzy looking graphics and guides.

And if you use a plugin like Thrive Leads or an all-in-one system like ConvertKit, even a newbie blogger can do content upgrades like a boss.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means we may make a small commission if you make a purchase.

How To Use Content Upgrades To Explode Your Email List
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