Why Content Upgrades are so Damn Effective in Growing your Email List

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Email marketing is one of the most effective instruments for internet-marketing and online business…

This sentence in different variations can be found in a major part of articles, devoted to online marketing. However it does not reflect the true picture.

And the truth is…

Email marketing is THE MOST effective and profitable instrument for internet-marketing and online business, both small and large.

Just check out the chart, that resulted from a survey by Ascend2 and its research partners:

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Email marketing: most effective, least difficult.

You can take Michael’s words to the bank. No wonder every blogger, every online entrepreneur is so obsessed with growing his or her email list.

There are quite a few strategies to get new email subscribers. But today I want to tell you about the most effective one. Content Upgrades.

Here goes!

The Concept of Content Upgrades

Case study after case study shows that pop-ups are enormously effective in collecting email addresses for you. Content upgrades also use pop-ups. But unlike standard ones, in a slightly different and much less irritating manner.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You create (or find in your repository) some bonus content, relevant to the topic of your blog post, and place a call-to-action link to it inside your article.
  2. As your reader takes interest and clicks this link, a pop-up will appear, asking for his or her email address in order to access the bonus material.
  3. You get a new email subscriber while your reader gets a valuable bonus material. Everybody’s happy.

Unlike standard pop-ups, that sometimes appear in front of your visitors at the most inopportune moment, content upgrade pop-up is triggered by a reader’s click. You see, showing interest in your bonus content, your visitor is already on a hook, he’s got an intention to get this bonus.

Seeing a pop-up and sanely understanding that nothing valuable goes absolutely for free, your reader will eagerly exchange an email address for the bonus material he desired. He knows exactly what he obtains. No pig in a poke.

Let me show you a particular example.

Brian Dean is probably the best in using content upgrades. He says that he managed to increase conversions by 785% in One Day just by implementing content upgrades. I recommend you to check out his random posts at Backlinko to find some cool ideas and examples of post-specific content upgrades.

Let’s see how Brian uses Content Upgrade in one of his posts.

This post about SEO Strategy. Brian used some time and created a checklist, that completes and expands his article. And then he placed a link to this checklist it in his post.

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This article is great alone, without any bonus material. But the readers, who download his free checklist, will get a better experience of using this SEO strategy, shared by Brian. That’s why his readers give their email addresses without any hesitation.

Enormous Conversion Rates

Even compared to the most performing pop-up forms, like exit pop-ups, Content Upgrades give enormous boost to your conversion rates.

I guess all I have to do to is show you some stats from the experts.

and the highlight

If that’s not impressive, then what is?

High Engagement

Only the laziest online entrepreneurs do not offer their ebook, free report or whatever else, in exchange for a visitor’s email address on their blogs. But most of them offer the same damn pdf file throughout their website, mostly by placing the offer at the sidebar.

The best practice of content upgrades is to offer your readers a highly specific piece of bonus material matched with the topic of a particular article on your blog. That’s way more engaging for your readers because the bonus content you offer is always in place.

Let me show you a couple of content upgrade examples, which worked perfectly fine for me.

Article: 3 Easy Outreach Hacks To Make Influential People Notice You
Bonus: A mini ebook, revealing words that you should never use in your outreach emails (took me 15 minutes to create)

Article: Why 100 True Followers Is Really All You Need
Bonus: An ebook with 15 tools for Twitter Marketing (took me no time to craft. I already had this one)

Article: What An Email Response From Rand Fishkin Taught Me About Influencer Outreach
Bonus: Subject line of my email to Rand Fishkin and a few tips on writing them

Article: How To Write Content Strategically: The Guide To Getting Traffic, Subscribers & Sales With Your Articles

That was a huge piece, and I had enough space and opportunities to include three content upgrades:

Bonus #1: The PDF version of my “Strategic Writing” checklist.
Bonus #2: The contact information of my illustrator on Fiverr.
Bonus #3: My cheat sheet with headline formulas.

Your bonus content must not be limited to PDF files only. Just use your imagination, there are so many ways to upgrade your blog posts.

A Huge Variety of Materials to use in Content Upgrades

I’ve read a bunch of articles about content upgrades and the best part of them says, that it takes quite a lot of time to prepare a content upgrade.

That’s only true if you’ve got no imagination at all and try to write a new ebook or an outstanding infographic for each blog post.

Here are just some types of content and materials, which can serve as a bonus in your content upgrades:

1. E-Book or Mini E-Book

There’s a great point I came upon on a Crazy Egg blog recently: no one wants your E-book when it’s offered on a banner, opt-in or CTA directly on a landing page or on a sidebar. It’s so mainstream today that people got a habit of ignoring these and got “book-blind.”

This can be easily fixed with Content Upgrades.

Whenever you come up with a topic in your blog post, related to the content of your E-book, offer your readers a more detailed insight. Here’s a fine example from Singlegrain Blog:

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Such offer is much harder to ignore.

2. Checklist

Checklist is a perfect bonus! Especially when you have a guideline or advice in your blog post. All you have to do is offer your readers a checklist to complete your content and make your guidelines more actionable.

In fact, I cannot imagine a better bonus to be used as a Content Upgrade. Take a look at the example, perfectly demonstrated by Bryan Harris.

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Article: How to double your email list in 24 hours (Case Study)

Bonus: The exact checklist used to double the responsiveness of the list.

Don’t you already want to get your hands on this bonus? I bet you do.

3. Video

Nothing can beat a video when it comes to education and tutoring. Visual + auditory perceptions are the best here. Grab a webcam and share your knowledge with your readers as a bonus to your text content and then place a link to it as a content upgrade in your future posts.

This does not even have to be your video. The bonus video can be available for everyone on YouTube. But you will give it away in the right place at the right time, just for your reader’s email.

4. Resource List

Let’s get straight to a practical example:

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You wouldn’t want want to ruin your cool blog formatting with a 15-position list.

Instead go to Google Docs, create a list, then go to File -> Download as -> PDF

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Ta-da! 15 minutes and your bonus material is ready.

5. Samples and templates

I guess there’s no need to explain how grateful your readers will be as they get a sample document or a template, which they can adapt to their needs and use it in the future.

I will just give you some hints:

Article: The *Working* Guide to Reaching out to Influencers
Content Upgrade: A Proven Sample Letter to Reach out an Influencer

Article: A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking
Content Upgrade: What to Take in your First Hike? A Printable Checklist

Article: Tax information reporting for Dummies
Content Upgrade: Tax Return Sample

Article: Lead Magnets: 11 Ways to Get More Subscribers
Content Upgrade: Download all 35 Videofruit content upgrades. Copy them and use them in your business. (Download Now)

The last is by Bryan Harris again.

General and the most important note:

You bonus material must be relevant to what you’re writing about on your page. It would be silly to write a blog post with a motorcycle review and offer your readers a bonus ebook “How to lose weight 10 pounds in a week,” right?

Most of these materials take almost no time to prepare. And even if you spend an hour or two to create a bonus material of a great value, like an infographic or a mini e-book, you will not use it just once, so it’s a good time investment.

Building Targeted Email Lists

Let’s say you have a blog, devoted to mobile devices. And you have two newsletters for your subscribers: one about Apple products and another about Android powered devices. The fact is that Apple lovers will not give a damn care about Android and would not want to receive emails on this topic from you.

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By using content upgrades, you can send your subscribers to two (or more) lists and use different email campaigns on them.

Depending on the content upgrade through which your subscribers have opted-in (Apple or Android related), they can get only specific emails, that will match their needs and expectations.

Choosing the Right Tool

You can find quite a few tools to start implementing the strategy of content upgrades on your blog. However most of them are kinda pricey or do not offer enough opportunities to use content upgrades at their best.

If your blog is powered by WordPress, you’re lucky, because you can use Content Upgrades PRO plugin. With it you will get every possible benefit of content upgrade strategy for a single payment of $37 for a single-site license, with free support and future  lifetime updates.

This plugin offers you a number of pop-up designs to choose from. The pop-up text is fully customizable so that you could create the best engagement for your readers to opt-in.

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And to make your content upgrade links more noticeable, you can wrap them with awesome-styled fancy boxes.

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Another cool thing about this plugin is that you can create an engaging image and use it as your content upgrade link. That’s a true lead magnet.

With Content Upgrades PRO you can A/B test your pop-up headlines in order to choose the best performing one. You will also get the full overview of your  content upgrades performance in the plugin’s stats section.

Over to You

I made my best to show you why content upgrades are so damn good at bringing you new email subscribers. Just try this strategy yourself. You’ll be impressed, I promise!

Maybe you’d like to share your own experience with content upgrades? Got some more ideas? Questions? The comments are all yours. I’d really like to hear from you.

And, yeah, don’t forget to share this post 😉

Tim Soulo

Tim Soulo is the head of marketing at Ahrefs.com (a well known toolset for marketers and SEO professionals). He also runs a cozy little personal blog at BloggerJet.com


You also can setup click triggered content upgrades for free with WordPress by combining a few plugins like contact form 7 and shortcodes ultimate. I wrote a guide on how to do this which I am linking to below. It maybe takes more work than using a paid plugin, but it is easy enough once you get going and saves new bloggers that initial cost.

Just Plain Marie

I have been working at adding upgrades to my posts, but my goodness, does it take time and energy away from the blog. I wish it were simpler and quicker to create them.


Hi Tim,

Definitely a great post indeed!

Yes, I agree with you all of these points. E-mail marketing is still very important to get more success on online business. Without proper planning on your business you can not go so far anymore. So, building an email list is highly important from now if you are serious to get good results.

Anyway, very well written article. Helps me a lot. Thanks for sharing.

Keep it up!

Nicole Pary

Hey Enstine,

Amazing article, and an impressive and interesting information about Email Marketing or email is really high engagement.

Thanks for sharing and enjoyed to reading this article too much.

Nicole Pary

Kurt Kummerer

Hi Tim,

Great stuff here on content upgrades. You can clearly see how they can benefit you. I’ve done a few content upgrades in earlier blog posts, but only offered a pdf of that particular blog post as the upgrade. Suffice it to say that didn’t work out the way I had hoped.

Based on your examples in this blog post I can see where I went wrong and need to offer something additional that is related to that particular blog post. Thank you for that.

Also, if you have Leadpages you can use a Leadbox to help you implement your upgrade, rather than needing an additional tool or service.

Thanks Enstine for allowing Tim to share this awesome advice!


Rajesh Jhamb

Great Post Indeed!
Email marketing is the glue that holds all your #marketing loose ends together.
There are various ways to increase your Email list to make money online.
I was looking for this kind of plugin.
Thank you for this.
Want to hear more from your side.


Hi Tim,

Very nice and informative post. I started using content upgrades a while back and I am really happy with the results. You only need to make sure that the content upgrade:
1. is relevant
2. has value and adds/augments your current read
3. is Lucrative

You will surely get high quality and relevant leads.

    Tim Soulo

    what tool do you use for content upgrades? what your highest converting blog post right now?

Areesha Noor

Hello Tim,

Great information indeed!
I totally agree with you. Email marketing is now a days very popular instrument to grow your business. We can make our fixed customer with email marketing and you provide us great information and detail about content upgrade to promote our business with email marketing.

Thanks Tim for sharing such wonderful information with
Areesha Noor!

    Tim Soulo

    glad you found my post useful, Areesha 😉


Hi Tim,

Great Post!! Email Marketing is one of the best ways to drive sales with high conversion, but collecting email list is not an easy task, although we can make it easy with content upgrades, but only if we use it the effective way.

So, keeping this mind, I would say, this is the perfect article Tim!!


    Tim Soulo

    thanks, Atinder! are you using content upgrades on your own blog? 🙂

Mathew Arts

Hi Tim,

Yes, so true that email marketing has its great impact in various businesses online. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Indeed, it’s great to read this very informative article.

Ryan Biddulph

Hi Tim,

Upgrades just give readers something to digest, and the list part just builds those bonds. Makes sense to offer something helpful to strengthen those connections and to do so from an easy space. I’ve not used them yet but may do so in the future. Seems like if you’re over delivering in all that you do you can’t help but to grow those list numbers.

As for pop ups I added a slew of subscribers quickly by adding a benefits-laden pop up to my blog. So mix pop ups with an upgrade and you can create something special. Thanks so much for sharing with us Tim, and Enstine.


    Tim Soulo

    hey Ryan,
    Long time no talk, mate! I actually haven’t seen content upgrades on your blog.. do you have any so far?

Chris Hufnagel

Hi Tim,

Ohh so true about the content upgrades. I remember first hearing about the results and everyone elses success, I was skeptical. Gave it a try, and it worked! I wish I had kept better numbers to find out the increases, but it definitely has been instrumental in my email list growth.

The great part, is those content upgrades say there forever, and will continue to grow your list long after the initial boost from the new post.

Thanks for sharing,

    Tim Soulo

    Hey Chris, what tool are you using for content upgrades right now? what’s your highest converting article so far?


Hi Tim,

Totally agree with you, Email marketing is the most effective and profitable instrument for any online business. You provided very helpful and detailed info for growing email list using content upgrades, and proved this is the best method with highest conversion rates.

Subha Sadiq

    Tim Soulo

    Hey Subba! you’re totally right! I haven’t seen a better way to convert readers into subscribers yet 😉

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