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List Building Case Study: How to Get 492% More Email Subscribers

by Devesh Khanal

What if I told you that you could build your email list from a blog post, using a technique that outperforms other methods by 500% or more?

You’d think you’re already using it, right? I mean, if it’s that effective, everyone would already be doing it. You must know about it.

You’d be wrong. You probably have never heard of it.

Heck, any content-rich page could use it, not just blog posts. But very, very few people are using it right now.

It’s called the content upgrade, and in my experience implementing it on my own blog and client’s blogs, it blows every other opt-in strategy out of the water.

The best part is that it’s not annoying (like pop ups), or deceitful (like slimy “make money online” squeeze pages). It actually adds value to your readers.

What is a content upgrade?

A content upgrade is “bonus” content that is extremely specific to your post or page’s content—given away for free, in exchange for an email address.

Before you say “Oh, I’m already offering bonus content. I have a lead magnet/opt-in bribe on my site,” let me emphasize the key feature of a content upgrade:

It’s extremely specific.

We’re not talking about your grandfather’s opt-in bribe here.

For example, say you have a post on doing pull ups for your cross fit blog or site. Here is what a content upgrade is not:

  • “Free ebook on getting in shape!”
  • “7 steps to getting started with cross-fit!”

Here is what a great content upgrade could be for that post:

  • “A 3×5 inch pull-ups checklist – print it out and take it to the gym with you. It fits in your pocket.”
  • “Here’s a video of me doing pull ups with the exact steps in this blog post”

See the difference? The first group is just generic lead magnets that every site on the internet gives away to try to grow their email list. Users can spot that from a mile away.

The second group has bonuses that only make sense for people who read that exact post on pull-ups. It’s 100% specific.

That’s why it converts so insanely well.

How well? Let’s look at some examples.

How fast do content upgrades help you build your email list?

Content upgrades are pretty new, and the earliest instances of them that I could find are from Kim Roach of buzzblogger.com, Bryan Harris of videofruit.com and Brian Dean of backlinko.com.

In a previous Daily Egg post, Adam Connell mentions how Kim Roach simply split a blog post into 2 parts and used the second part as a content upgrade—that is, she gave away Part 2 to people who signed up for her list.

This got her a 16% conversion rate on that post. Sixteen percent!  You can watch a video of Kim explaining it here.

Bryan Harris of Videofruit uses a content upgrade on basically every single blog post on his site, and he reported getting opt-in rates of 20–30% and up to 62% on one post!

That doesn’t mean you will get conversion rates that high. Bryan writes wonderfully detailed how-to posts and has a super engaged readership that has come to expect this of him. But it shows you the potential.

Brian Dean is an SEO expert who runs Backlinko.com and had a post that was ranking really well (Google Ranking Factors), but converting at only half a percent. He installed a content upgrade and it started converting at 4.82%, a 785% increase! (Check out Case Study #2 below for more on Backlinko’s content upgrades.)

Case Study #1: Creating a High-Converting Content Upgrade in Minutes

I decided to test these results myself, and I wanted to tackle the #1 barrier people have about this idea: It takes too much time! 

A client, Eric Siu, had a post about waking up early on his blog GrowthEverywhere that was getting consistent traffic from Google:

Rising Early

Since this wasn’t my blog, I wasn’t about to write an entire second part to the post like Kim Roach had done. I wanted a content upgrade that I could make in less than an hour but that still converted well (multiple times increase in opt-in rate, not just 10–20%).

After brainstorming a few ideas, I decided on a checklist that readers could print out and put by their beds so they could implement the advice of the post every day and succeed in waking up early.

So that’s what we did, and it improved the conversion rate of this post by 492%!

lead magnet conversion rate

Yes, this isn’t the 15% or 30% conversion rate you can get by writing an entire second part to your blog post, but this was so much easier and faster, and it still converted 500% better than before.

Imagine doing this for all of your blog posts, or your top 15 content pages. You could be getting five times the email subscribers you’re getting today.

Here is the bonus I offered, a simple, one-page checklist:

content upgrade checklist

You could do this on your high traffic posts and future posts in minutes.

I’ve done this many times since, and I’ve come up with a framework to help come up with ideas for a content upgrade. Ask these questions after you write your post, and you should have little problem coming up with great content upgrades in minutes.

The Quick Content Upgrade Framework

How do you take the very first step?

Give them the links they should click, the first 3 steps they should take, the exact workout routine to do today, the Excel file they should use, etc. What’s the very first thing you would do? Give them that.

How do you personalize the advice?

I use this one all the time. I give lots of advice on website or email conversions on my blog. Then as a content upgrade, I’ll give 30 examples across a few different specific niches such as eCommerce, SaaS, and education.

How do you save the advice for later?

This is the easiest way to give a content upgrade. It won’t convert as well as more elaborate bonuses, but it will convert multiple times as well as your generic opt-in form, as we saw earlier. You can give away the entire post as a PDF, make a checklist, etc.

How do you conquer the #1 barrier to taking action?

This is more subtle but very powerful. Think of the 5 most common barriers your audience has (e.g., “this takes too much time”) and think of 5 ways to overcome them. Pick your favorite(s) and answer them in a bonus. It can be a worksheet, a written FAQ, a video of you talking about it for a few minutes, whatever.

Takeaway: A content upgrade doesn’t have to take you hours and hours to develop. Use the above framework to make one in less than an hour.

Case Study #2: How to Promote the Content Upgrade to get 300% more email subscribers

Earlier this year, I learned that how you promote your content upgrade can change your opt-in rate by 300%. Three times more subscribers.

Crazy, I know.

I was analyzing content upgrades for a client, Backlinko, and noticed a wide range of conversion rates:

conversion rates

I wanted to understand why some posts were converting so much better than others, so I started to dig deeper and noticed that on all posts, he was promoting the content upgrade at the end:

backlinko

But on some posts, he was also promoting it at the top of the post:

backlinko content upgrade

Did it help conversion rates to also promote the content upgrade at the top of the post?

Indeed it did.

The posts that promoted the content upgrade twice, including at the top, converted 315% better than posts with the content upgrade promoted only at the bottom (3.8% vs. 1.2%, respectively).

What does this mean? Even people who love your content enough to give you their email address still don’t have time to make it to the end of your posts when they first land.

Think about that.

The people who opt in for the content upgrade at the top aren’t “duped” or “tricked” into it. They could very easily just read your post and leave your site without opting in at all. But they don’t. They opt in because they want that information.

But if you don’t mention the bonus at the top, this group of your target audience doesn’t even make it the bottom to realize there is a bonus that they want.

In fact, this is consistent with Neil Patel’s analysis of his own blog posts where he used Crazy Egg heat and scroll maps to learn that only 40% of his readers read entire blog posts:

crazy egg heat map

Neil is one of the most prolific bloggers online, so if his readers can’t even make it to the end, that means yours and mine aren’t making it there either.

But that doesn’t mean your content sucks. It just means it’s the Internet. We are all busy, and the exact moment that a reader lands on your post may not be the best time for them to read it all.

But they still want your content!

Take the First Step (plus a free webinar)

I can’t write a post on content upgrades and not have a content upgrade for you. Here are the free bonuses I have for you (get them here):

I have three professionally designed templates for checklists. They’re in PowerPoint so you can customize them to your heart’s content. Just add your checklist items and give it to your readers.

I’ve compiled a list of my favorite content upgrade resources from the Internet. Things like: multiple case studies, a list of 11 ideas for making your own, guides on how to set up the tech backend to deliver it using tools like LeadPages and MailChimp, and more.

Click here to get these bonuses.

Also, I’m doing a free webinar on February 11 showing more detail and examples of content upgrades plus 4 other favorite tips on capturing email leads from your blog posts, product pages, and other content. Click here to get the bonuses and an invitation to the webinar.

16 Comments

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Devesh Khanal

Devesh Khanal is a conversion optimization consultant. He and his team focus on growing email lists and A/B testing high traffic pages. He writes about his successes and failures at http://deveshdesign.com.

16 COMMENTS

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  1. Loz James says:
    February 11, 2015 at 4:39 am

    Hi Devesh

    Love this approach and the checklist idea for a quick, easy and valuable content upgrade is a great method.

    Have shared this on my social networks 🙂

    Cheers!

    Loz

  2. Samantha says:
    February 5, 2015 at 10:37 am

    Love this idea. Does anyone have any good suggestions for a free WordPress plugin that would connect with MailChimp lists to do this? I’m still really small, so am not ready to pay for a conversion plugin, but would love to get something like this going.

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      February 5, 2015 at 1:33 pm

      Hey Samantha, the link to your MailChimp list is available inside MailChimp. You can put that link in your blog, either as a text link (Subscribe to my newsletter) or to link an image to your list. So you can create a “Subscribe Now” graphic, put it in your sidebar, and link it to your MailChimp form. No plugin is needed.

  3. Xavier Major says:
    February 4, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    I have been struggling with email optins so I just implemented this on my blog to help you since I have a sad 1.3% total site conversion rate. Thanks for the content Devesh!

    • Devesh Khanal says:
      February 5, 2015 at 10:48 am

      Xavier, way to take action and implement it. Let me know what the results are!

  4. Devesh Khanal says:
    February 4, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    Sue, I know many bloggers than have done the same!

  5. Sue Anne Dunlevie says:
    February 4, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    Hi, Dev,

    Great to see your post here on crazyegg!

    I love doing content upgrades – they convert so well that I have gone back to my most searched blog posts and put content upgrades on them too.

    Thanks,
    Sue

  6. Cav says:
    February 4, 2015 at 10:50 am

    Hi Devesh,

    I had read about the content upgrade strategy from Brian Dean and I started to implement it, but my biggest problem was coming up with ideas for the upgrade.

    I like the ideas you give on how to come with ideas for content upgrades. I also signed up for the webinar and bonuses.

    Thanks for sharing, it’s what I was looking for.

    • Devesh Khanal says:
      February 4, 2015 at 5:11 pm

      Cav, I found it’s best to start slow – just an item or two you think the reader would want. But the questions do help, always ask what the next most useful piece of information is that would help them move forward.

      See you at the webinar!

  7. Mindaugas says:
    February 4, 2015 at 10:40 am

    Wonderful strategy, Devesh. I have already used this technique many times before and it really works. And, the better the content upgrade is the better results you get. If someone haven’t tried it, they definitely should.

    • Devesh Khanal says:
      February 4, 2015 at 10:50 am

      Awesome, great to hear you’ve seen results with it! (Yeah, REALLY good bonuses convert crazy well).

  8. Leesa says:
    February 4, 2015 at 9:40 am

    Ha! You gave away my plan! I saw Bryan Harris do this and I was instantly sold on the idea. Who wants ANOTHER “7 tips to better health”, or “Top 10 Superfoods”? This is a fabulous way to exchange real value for someone’s email address. I imagine it would work especially well for visitors who land on your site via search engines – they’re specifically looking for info in that exact post. I’m gonna go grab your content upgrade right now! 🙂

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      February 4, 2015 at 10:18 am

      Love it! Leesa, thanks for confirming what a great idea this is.

    • Devesh Khanal says:
      February 4, 2015 at 10:49 am

      I’ve actually found that search engine traffic can be some of the toughest to convert, but this is certainly going to do a LOT better than a “sign up for my newsletter” opt-in box on the sidebar. 🙂

  9. Richard says:
    February 4, 2015 at 9:36 am

    Love this strategy, Devesh! Planning on implementing these for my clients soon…thanks for the insight.

    • Devesh Khanal says:
      February 4, 2015 at 10:47 am

      Glad you like it Richard, let me know how it goes when you implement it!

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