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How To Create "Content Upgrades" That Turn Your Readers Into Email Subscribers

Can you name the best tactic to convert your blog visitors into email subscribers?

If you think it’s the pop-up email form – you’re wrong.

If you think it’s the so called “feature box” – you’re wrong again.

Even the “opt-in bribe” floating in your sidebar isn’t the best converting tactic.

I wish I could keep the intrigue a little longer, but there’s a spoiler right in my headline, which I’m sure you’ve noticed.

The name of that tactic is “content upgrades” and today we’re taking a very detailed look at it.

The All-Important Email List

Everyone knows how important an email list is to a blogger.

Your subscribers are the people who you email about your new articles. They are the people you pitch your products and services. You can even ask them for advice when you’re out of ideas on what to write about.

But there’s one thing that took me a few years to understand:

Your email subscribers are the people who help you grow your blog!Click To Tweet

Whenever you send them your new article – they will share it with their friends and followers and bring a lot of new people to your blog.

Your job is to turn these new visitors into your email subscribers.

I call this thing the “subscriber growth loop.”

The most effective way of creating a subscriber growth loop on your blog is the shiny new content upgrades strategy

Lets take a closer look at it.

Using Content Upgrades In Your Articles

I’m sure you’ve already noticed how some bloggers are filling their articles with catchy yellow boxes.

These boxes prompt you to download the complimentary bonus materials that go along with the article you’re reading.

Here’s a screenshot from the blog of Brian Dean:

Complimentary Bonus


If you click on that link, a pop-up box will appear, asking you to leave your email address in order to get the bonus materials. And once you do that, you’ll instantly get redirected to a page with the file that you have requested.

You won’t believe how effective this is.

Some of the bloggers I’ve talked to say that they’re getting conversion rates of up to 30% on some of their articles. But why does it work so amazingly well?

Well, think about the opt-in bribe that you offer to your visitors. Is it 100% relevant to every article that you have on your blog?

Let’s say a person came to read your article on content promotion, and you’re showing him a pop-up with your free ebook on getting more Twitter followers. Your opt-in bribe is not something he is interested in at the moment, and that’s why your conversion rate will be very, very low.

It would be much more effective to create a dedicated opt-in bribe for each of your articles. This way you’ll be offering your readers something you know they are interested in and your conversion rates will go through the roof!

Here’s another reason why content upgrades work so well: you have the full attention of a person who is reading your article and thus you can easily persuade him to download your freebie.

This is something Seth Godin calls permission marketing. By reading your article, the reader is giving you his permission to tell him whatever you want.

Seth Godin

On the contrary, pop-ups and sidebar forms are the examples of interruption marketing, where you interrupt the reader on his way of reading your article and try to sell him on something that might not even be relevant to him at the moment.

How To Create a Content Upgrade That Converts Well

It does not matter what you use as a content upgrade, as long as you have the arguments to persuade your readers to take it.

Think of your content upgrade as if it is a product and your article is sales copy.

Many bloggers go the easy way and give out the PDF version of their article as a content upgrade. But if you ask me, I have no clue of why would anyone want it.

  • To save for later? – just use bookmarks
  • To print it? – you can print directly from your web browser
  • To read on iPad? – Pocket app seems to be more convenient

If you don’t have a strong reason for why readers should take your content upgrade, you’re going to have a hard time selling it to them.

But if your content upgrade complements your article and contains a lot of extra value – they’ll go for it.

The best way to accomplish that is to write an article that tells people WHAT they should do, and offer them a content upgrade that shows them HOW to do it.


Let’s say you’re writing a post titled “5 Ways To Promote Your Content Online.” A perfect content upgrade for this article would be a video screencast where you show people how you execute each of the promotion tactics that you shared in your article.

And maybe you could also give out some of your own templates and spreadsheets which will make readers want to get your content upgrade even more.

The Technical Side Of Content Upgrades

If you’re still reading, I guess my rant about content upgrades was persuasive enough and now you’re looking forward to trying out this fancy new tactic on your own blog.

I have two different options for you.

Option #1: LeadPages

Most pro bloggers are using an online service called LeadPages to create content upgrades in their articles.

LeadPages is a very powerful service with a variety of different tools for webpreneurs. The one we’re looking for is called “LeadBoxes”

Lead Boxes

“LeadBox” is basically a pop-up that you can easily customize to make it sell your content upgrade:

Lead Box Customize

Once you’re happy with how it looks, the service will give you a link that you can use to call that pop-up within your article.

But a simple text link might easily go unnoticed. So most bloggers use a few lines of code to place that text link into a catchy yellow box.

If you want to learn how to do that, check the tutorial by Brian Dean:

Function code

LeadPages is easily integrated with your MailChimp account, or Aweber, or almost any email service.

But the most important question is how do you deliver your content upgrade to a person who have just opted in?

This mostly depends on your preference to have people confirm their email addresses or not.

Double Opt-in turned OFF

In case you have the Double Opt-in option turned OFF, you can just redirect a person to a page containing your bonus right after he submits his email address.

You can specify a different page for each of your bonuses, making sure your reader will get exactly what he has opted for:

Double Opt-in


  • Visitors are redirected to the exact content upgrade that they have opted for
  • They don’t have to confirm their email address to get it


  • Since visitors don’t have to confirm their email, you will end up with tons of fake emails in your list

Double Opt-in option turned ON

But what if the Double Opt-In option is turned ON, and people have to confirm their email address by clicking on the confirmation link that was sent them?

In this case, your only option is to store all your bonuses on the “thanks for subscribing” page where your email service will redirect people after they confirm their email address.

Create Forms

I tried to find a way to have MailChimp redirect people to a different “thanks for subscribing” page based on a specific bonus they had opted for. And the only way to do that is by creating a separate MailChimp list for each of your content upgrades which is not very convenient.


  • No fake emails


  • Your visitors will be redirected to a page with all the bonuses that you have, instead of only getting the specific one

But if you ask me, I see nothing wrong with giving all the bonuses I have to my new subscribers. And I would definitely want to avoid fake emails in my list.

Automated Email

LeadPages gives you an option to send a custom automated email to the address that was submitted to your LeadBox.

Custom Automated Email

This is a great way to avoid all the hassle of creating different pages with bonuses on your site.

But there’s one major downside to this method if you want people to confirm their emails.

The email with the bonus and the email asking to confirm your email address arrive to your inbox pretty much at the same time. This way a person can download his bonus while ignoring the email confirmation, which means he won’t be added to your list.

I should also mention that LeadPages is a subscription-based service and the pricing starts at $25 per month.

It may sound a little steep to some people, but like I said, LeadBoxes is just one of the many awesome tools they have in their toolbox.

Option #2: Content Upgrades PRO

Another way to setup content upgrades on your website is a WordPress plugin called Content Upgrades PRO.

It has two versions: the premium one and the free one.

Let’s focus on the latter.

The free version of Content Upgrades PRO requires people to confirm their email address. So your only option is to store all your bonuses on the “thanks for subscribing” page.

But like we just discussed, that’s not too much of an inconvenience since your subscribers are getting even more than they have opted for.

So in the admin panel of Content Upgrades PRO you’re given a simple popup design which looks like this:

Content Upgrade Pro

And you have the shortcode that you can use to link to this pop-up from your article (the whole process is not much different from LeadPages):


Since you’re going to offer different content upgrades in different articles, you can easily customize your pop-up in the settings panel right under your post editor:

Content Upgrade Options

This is roughly all you need to know in order to create the first content upgrade on your blog using this free plugin.

I should also mention that I am the one who developed it. And I purposely didn’t talk about the benefits of the premium version, because that would be considered shameless self promotion.

So in case you have some further questions or need some assistance with my free plugin – please ask your question in comments and I will happily instruct you.

Take Action Now

One of the coolest things about this strategy is that you can use it on your past articles and get tons of extra email subscribers with the same traffic that you’re getting right now.

First, go to your Google Analytics account and get a list of your top landing pages.

Then, open each article and think of what people reading it might want to get from you. Create that thing they want and use it as a content upgrade for your article.

And don’t worry, there are tons of different things you can offer as a content upgrade.

To prove to you that I practice what I preach, I’m inviting you to take a look at my Guide To Strategic Writing I recently published on my own blog.

I’m offering four different content upgrades there:

  1. The PDF version of my Strategic Writing Checklist
  2. The contacts of an illustrator, who can draw awesome comics for just $5
  3. The example of a specification that I’ve sent to this comic-guy
  4. My “Headline Formulas” Cheat Sheet

Each of these content upgrades is highly contextual and perfectly complements my article.

I’m afraid I don’t have the exact numbers (my plugin doesn’t have statistics yet), but based on my raw calculations  more than 12% of people who visit my guide subscribe to get the bonuses.

This is a way better conversion rate than I get with my pop-up and my feature box combined.

So what do you guys think about this new strategy? Are you willing to try it on your blog?

Feel free to throw examples of your articles with content upgrades in the comments to this post.

About Tim Soulo

Tim Soulo is the head of Content Marketing at Ahrefs. Check his Guide To Strategic Writing if you want to get more traffic and sales from your articles.


  1. dieu khac chan may says:

    Hello Tim Soulo,

    Nice article, I guess you have shared some informative points here and I really love the convenient productive tips.


  2. Vicky says:

    When I first started out I was under the delusional belief that if your content was good enough then it would spread. How wrong was I!! Fortunately this post, and a load of others, have helped me correct that erroneous belief.

  3. Tom Southern ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hey Tim, using Content Upgrades is a tactic that I’m just getting started with. I can really see their value, especially for providing handy tools to put the action points and/or the advice given in content to use. And as reminders of the original content they correspond to rather than getting lost in bookmark limbo.

    I plan to make Content Upgrades for my most popular content. I’m considering offering these instead of the usual opt-in “giveaway”. Have you tried this? If so, what were your results like?

    Thanks for the yellow box code. I’m proud to say that (with Google’s help 😉 ) I managed to create some boxes in my last blog post. But I’ll definitely give this a try too.

  4. Pat ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Tim, any more info on content marketing beyond the scope of this article. I just noticed the negative power of an unsolicited survey in my inbox. So invasive. Then, I thought of a popular blogger who I would bend over backwards to answer his surveys. It has to do with what do you offer me first.

  5. Elmi says:

    Hi Tim,
    Maybe it’s a silly question, but you talk about a free and pro version in the article, yet I only see two paid versions on the plugin page website. Am I missing something?

  6. Andrew says:

    Hey Tim,

    Great post here. Funny thing. I remember listening to a podcast Pat Flynn had with Clay Collins about offering a different “bribe” for each post to grow your list. I thought to myself, that wouldn’t look too good and that wouldn’t work.

    Low and behold, content upgrades are all the rage. And the few times I’ve created my own, they’ve worked wonders. This is something that I need to be doing more of because they work.

    Superb post here.

    – Andrew

    1. Tim Soulo ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      hey Andrew!

      yeah.. “the next big thing” as they say :))

      honestly I don’t think content upgrades can work for ANY article, however most of the time you can easily come up with some relevant bonus that will convert insanely well 🙂

  7. Jessica ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hi Tim, I wondered about giving away a PDF version of the same content when I published my first “pillar post” article. But now that the buzz of that article has faded a little, I’m thinking about how to introduce a new content upgrade to give that post a boost.

    I was pretty happy with the opt-in rate even though my content upgrade was just a PDF of the same article. My opt-in rate on that article averages 16% and during the promotional campaign I grew my list by almost 20% in about ten days. However, the LeadBoxes I use on my web site do convert better – between 32-44%. So, maybe this is the reason, and a different content upgrade is a better idea. Good food for thought.

  8. Christy says:

    Hello Tim Soulo,

    Nice article, I guess you have shared some informative points here and I really love the convenient productive tips.


  9. Jami Gold says:

    As a reader of blogs who have used this approach, I’ve run into a problem that I think is hurting virtually all content providers who use this method.

    Let’s say I like someone’s bonus content on post A, so I sign up with my email. Months later, I might come across post B on that site that also has bonus content. I try signing up for that content, and the email provider REJECTS my email, saying it’s a duplicate.

    My choices then are to walk away without the content or to sign up with a second email. Either way, I’m frustrated. There’s no instructions for *current* subscribers to receive the content, and that hurts the relationship with those who already like them.

    There needs to be different messaging–either on the original post with bonus content teaser or on the rejection message–to say “If you’re already signed up with us, go here to see all the bonus content we offer.”

    Thanks for letting me vent about a situation I run into with virtually ALL bonus content providers. 🙂

    1. Jami,

      It’s like when you walk into your bank (the one that’s been holding all your money for years) and they’re giving a toaster to anyone who opens a new account. But they’ve got NOTHING for their longtime, loyal customers. When you ask for the toaster, they say, “Nope, only new customers.”

      It just makes me feel bad about the relationship.


    2. Tim Soulo ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hey Jami!

      I guess these guys are using some oldish software.. because most solutions actually identify you as an existing subscriber and forward directly to the bonus content.

      For example my own WP plugin pretty much does that!

      1. Jami Gold says:

        Ha! Good to know! 🙂

        Yes, I think they’re just directly connecting to MailChimp or whoever to collect emails and not thinking about things from the user perspective.

  10. Pat ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Great article. It makes sense for new people visiting my site who want to learn more before committing. More experienced people like me, sign up right away to get all of the goodies. Jay Fiset was one where I couldn’t stand his delivery and now, he’s the number one online teacher for me. I didn’t discover his message until after I signed up for his lead magnet. I didn’t like what he was saying/his introduction. I just signed up to get the goodies.

    I find the best online stuff costs money (Leadpages, Webinar-Jam, Aweber) which makes no sense at this time. I have no list. If I had a list of 50-1000 people or had someone who had a list like that who wanted to JV partner then it would make sense.

    I am finding my best results are in person. When I talk to people about my coaching program, their minds open up. I’m going to a couple meetups in the next few weeks. I imagine everything still happens in person when it comes to coaching.

  11. This blog post is itself a “content upgrade” to the Firepole Marketing Blog. The blog is already awesome in its content but this post makes it even “awesomer.” Is that even a word? :<)
    Yes, Tim, given your degree of excellent "how to" information the technique will be a part of my future blogging. I don't really have to think about it…I can just do it.

  12. Tim,

    Can you talk a bit about how content upgrade opt-ins fit into the auto-responder engagement sequence?

    My first auto-responder email sends my new subscriber the opt-in bribe. If the subscriber comes from a content upgrade and I don’t want multiple lists, how do I manage this sequence? The subscriber is going to get something s/he did not ask for.

    Then, the second email in my sequence says, “Yesterday, I sent you ABC and I wanted to make sure you got it.” But really, what I sent to a content upgrade subscriber was XYZ or 123. How does this get managed?

    I use AWeber, btw.



    1. Tim Soulo ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hey Kathryn!

      I was waiting for that question! 🙂

      I believe you can do that if your content upgrades solution allows you to assign “hidden fields” to your subscribers.

      You can then use these “hidden fields” as triggers in your email client to customise your automation.

      Yet I can’t state that for sure, because I haven’t tried that myself. (though I just opened MailChimp and it seems that it’s not too hard to do)

      All in all I think that this is too much hassle, if you’re going to have content upgrades in most of your new articles.

      I just stack all my bonuses on the “thanks for subscribing“ page and never follow up with any “bonus-specific” automation.

      But that’s me.. 🙂

      1. Hi Tim this is wonderful stuff! I hope you don’t mind me butting in here but I can confirm that mutiple bonus thing is doable with MailChimp. You use hidden fields on the sign-up form which automatically select a field value corresponding with the giveaway. You then set up an automation workflow that is triggered from the list sign up and the value of the field. So you end up with a set of workflows depending on the field value. Seems to be working for me! It is a bit cumbersome though and not very “scaleable” so I am also working on ways to use the WP Redirection plugin to pick up the referer information (ie including the code sent from either lead pages or mailchimp email clickthrough for double optin) and redirecting to a dedicated download page.

          1. I have put together a video which takes you through the setup. I use the LeadPages plugin, hidden fields on the landing page and multiple autoresponders on a single MailChimp list so when people sign-up they get the standard welcome email with double opt-in and a specific email for the bonus requested. If they are already on the list they just get the bonus email. You can tryout the full process and then watch the video by using this link – – (feel free to unsubscribe after if you want to! )

  13. Tracy Sohl says:

    This makes perfect sense to me. I am one of those people that will only subscribe if I like the article. Why would I want the free stuff if the article is crap? And I certainly won’t give you my email if I don’t get value from the article. So, yes, create a great article, offer more great stuff, and people will come. Bread crumbs, bread crumbs, bread crumbs.

    1. Tim Soulo ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hey Tracy.. don’t you feel that the blogging world is changing for good? 🙂

      I do feel that!

      We’re now trying to be more genuine and connect with each of our readers in a more convenient way for HIM.. not for US..

      I think that’s a very cool trend 🙂

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