Online Marketing Strategies - Money Journal

Content Upgrades: The Secrets Behind 10X-ing Your Conversion Rate

Every once in a while, there’s a new lead generation tactic that rises in the online marketing space.

Some are one-hit wonders and others go on to be the best lead generation tactics for years.

Once upon a time, it was the sidebar opt-in.


People were happy getting 1, 2, or 3 percent conversion rate. Those kinds of conversion rates won’t cut it anymore.

There’s a new sheriff in town and she’s tearing up lead generation town.

Say hello to the content upgrade.

What is a content upgrade?

A content upgrade is a bonus created specifically for a blog post that readers can get in exchange for their email address.

Unlike generic lead magnets, content upgrades are highly relevant to the context of the article.

They convert at astronomical rates due to the contextual relevance and intent of the visitors.

There are a lot of articles on content upgrades telling you to create a checklist or cheat sheet and your conversion rates will explode.

But you want to know the truth?

Content upgrades are not about checklists, cheat sheets and PDF versions of your blog post.

While there is some validity to this approach, there’s a piece of the puzzle missing that’s never talked about.

I want to approach this topic differently. I want to challenge you by giving you the secret ingredients to high converting content upgrades, so I won’t waste your time with another rehashed post on content upgrade types.

Instead, I want to show you how to create content upgrades that convert 10X better than any sitewide offer you have ever made. Perhaps even better than some of your landing pages.

More importantly, I want you to be able to repeat the process without throwing out another forceful offer in a pathetic attempt to get more leads.

Been there, done that.

Hint: it comes down to what people value most in life and the context of your relationship.

Still curious? Let’s jump right into some practical applications and learn from the best content upgrade examples published to date.

Content upgrade examples

Let’s start off in baby steps. I created two offers for a mom blog. The first is a “food kit for moms.” This offer appears in the sidebar of every blog post.


The second is an eBook in a blog post called “Essential Oils + Carrier Oils – What, When, and How to Use Them”.


Which one generates more leads? A or B?

Let’s take a look at the numbers.

The sitewide lead magnet in the sidebar converts at 25% while the contextual offer converts at 42% (clicks to sign up).


Over the last 3 months, the above content upgrade has brought in 528 new leads with a conversion rate of 5.29%.


Within the same timeframe, all other generic offers like the sidebar and end of post opt-ins have brought in only 115 new email subscribers. With 247,629 sessions, that’s a conversion rate of 0.046%.


It’s not because one of the offers was an eBook and the other has templates with cheat sheets.

It’s because I applied the core principles to high converting content upgrades.

Core principles to explosive bonuses

If you think adding a report or a pdf to all your articles will turn them into lead generating machines, you’re wrong. People are smart and they’ve already subscribed to hundreds of other newsletters.

So why would they give you their email address for something that’s already right in front of their face?

Before you embark on this journey, you need to understand the psychology behind creating successful content upgrades.

We’ve already established that the offer needs to be hyper-relevant to the post you’re creating. But let’s dig a little deeper.

Content upgrades that yield high conversion rates revolve around four core principles.

  1. They save people time.
  2. They save people money.
  3. They fulfill the visitor’s next intent.
  4. They help the visitor take action.

1. Save people time:

People are busy and they’re only getting busier. A study from Harvard Business School found that 94% of professionals work at least 50 hours a week.

People are always looking for ways to save time. The multi-billion dollar productivity niche is a testament of this.

So why not give them something that money can’t buy?


If your content upgrade can deliver on the most valuable asset in life, your chances at grabbing a new lead will increase significantly.

Michael Pozdnev created a mega post on doing SEO audits. Originally, he had a checklist but had a conversion rate of around 2.6%.

He added a PDF version of his mega blog post and boom. Conversion increased to 4.5%.


The idea of a PDF version of the blog post allows people to read it on their own time and on their own terms. It’s naive to think that because they clicked through, they will read your 7,000-word post right then and there.

Razor Social followed this exact technique and converts at 44%. Pay attention to the copy in their content upgrade.


2. Save people money (or make it for them):

Time is money. But you know what else is money?

Saving it.

Take a look at how many people are searching for Amazon promo codes every month.


That’s over 400,000 thrifty shoppers from three keyword phrases, excluding long-tail.

But you don’t have to give discounts to capture leads in your content upgrade.

LeadPages pioneered this concept and brought in thousands of leads with this money saving technique.

If you’re not familiar with LeadPages, they are a SaaS company that makes landing page creation a cinch.

They began creating video tutorials on how to use their landing pages like this B2B style enterprise template.

But hold on a second…

You can only create this landing page if you have a paid subscription to their software.

Then enters the money saving content upgrade.


They began giving the HTML version of the template for free. Once you opted in, you would full access to the source code.

This opened the gateway to email communication with a much larger audience than just their customers. And if you’ve ever attempted to convert their HTML versions into WordPress compatible pages, then you probably ended up buying their software.

I did.

Their content upgrade provides a money-saving option for those that can’t afford their software and gives a preview into the value their SaaS product. Brilliant.

While we’re still on the topic of money; what if you can make it for them?

In the last 2 days, I’ve had 574 visitors to my Amazon case study. The page converted 31 new subscribers with a conversion rate of 5.4%.



First, I showed them proof of my $80,000+ month. Then I told them that I wanted to help them make their first $300 on Amazon. No strings attached.


From this list, there are a handful of people who took it seriously, put it into action and made a whole lot more than $300.

Money is a sensitive topic and if you can convincingly save or make people money, then getting a lead is a no-brainer. Even better, you’ll accelerate your trust relationship without breaking a sweat.

3. Fulfill Intent:

Intent is king and the content upgrade is the conniving mistress.

If you want to create content upgrades that convert with exponential growth, you need to understand the intention of the person who clicks through to your website.

Let’s revisit that example on Essential Oils. This post has generated over 1,000 new leads for an MLM funnel that we’re working on. We paid $70 to have an expert write a short eBook, which works out to a cost-per-lead (CPL) of $0.065. And the lead count continues to grow each day.


Let me break it down for you.

The strongest indicator of intent is the headline of your article.


Here’s what we know about a visitor who clicks through to the article:

  • They are an absolute beginner.
  • In an awareness stage in their buying journey.
  • Looking to pick up a new hobby.

With this information, we can create a very entry level guide to fulfilling the intent of the visitor. But then what’s next?

They’ll want to know the different kinds of oils, when to use them, and how to get started. So that’s exactly what we offered.


Your content upgrade should provide more value than the article to fulfill their intent and then give them the next steps to progress in their journey.

4. Help them take action.

The digital marketing space has a whole lot of great information.

Most of the good articles are in-depth 2,000+ word posts that make it challenging for people to consume and then put into action.

For example, my SEO checklist is a 4,500 word article on the SEO process for bloggers. If readers connect with me in the first 150 words, then the remaining 4,250 will blow their socks off.

This post has an infographic in it and infographics are near impossible to print in an easy to read format.

They can either try and remember everything, not do anything at all, or opt-in to download my printable PDF checklist.


Well 8.3% of new visitors decide to go with the “help me put it in action” option.


Devesh Khanal followed a similar strategy for a blog post on “waking up early.”

After implementing a content upgrade with copy encouraging action, he saw a 492% increase in his client’s conversion rate.


Look at the highlighted snippet in their copy.


People want results. But they want them with as little effort required. If you can ease that pain, then you can instantly bump your conversion rates on your content upgrades.

Before creating your next forceful lead magnet, remember that it’s a user first world.

With these simple principles at the core of your lead generation strategy, converting visitors into subscribers will become significantly more effective than throwing stuff against the wall and hoping that it sticks.

If you’re new to the world of content upgrades, then keep reading.

There is a three step lead generation strategy that I use for every client and new acquisition.

And if you follow it to the tee, I’m confident you’ll be able to raise your site’s conversion rate by over 100%.

Conversion audit: look at your most visited pages

Hubspot found that 76% of their monthly blog views came from “old” posts. They also discovered that 92% of monthly blog leads came from the same “old” posts.

Rather than using their resources on new and unpredictable articles, they optimized posts that already had a track record of traffic and engagement.

They optimized the past…


This is the first step you should take in your conversion audit. You can start by looking through your Google Analytics “All pages” report to see your traffic distribution.

Step 1: Login to Google Analytics.

Step 2: Go to the “All Pages” menu by navigating to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. Alternatively, you can do a search for “All Pages.”


Step 3: By default, they are put in descending order by pageviews.


One other metric to pay attention to is the “Average Time on Page.” This is an indicator of how much content the average user consumes before leaving that page.

For example, if one of your top pages has an average time on page of 10 seconds, then a content upgrade isn’t the solution to getting leads from that page.

You should revamp your content first to retain your visitors for longer and then create your content upgrade once your engagement metrics are stronger.

As time passes, you can perform monthly audits of your content upgrades to see what’s working and what’s not by visiting your landing pages report in Google Analytics.

Go to Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages, or search for it in the search panel.


Next, look through your pages and identify your low converting pages with existing content upgrades.


Analyze your lowest performing content upgrades and reoptimize them with different upgrade types, better placements or better copy (more on that later).

Content upgrade placement

There are four key places to include your content upgrade offers.

  1. After the introduction.
  2. At the end of the post.
  3. An exit pop-up.
  4. Floating sidebar.

One important design principle of landing pages is to include your call to action (CTA) multiple times throughout your page. This creates a better experience for your visitors, allowing them to opt-in for your offer wherever they may be throughout the page.

And it turns out that the same principles work for content upgrades.


Be smart and aggressive with your placements, but don’t let your blog posts become a commercial for your company.

Case studies: choose the right upgrade type or fall on your face.

Now that you’ve figured out your most visited posts, you need to create effective bonuses for them.

We’re going to discuss 6 different types of content upgrades and how you can use them to maximize conversions. Keep some of your popular posts in mind as you go through these content type.


When you hear the word “checklist,” you probably think of something like this:


The point of a checklist is to systematically reach a goal in micro steps or to structure an organized list of “to dos.”

And honestly, who doesn’t love crossing things off a checklist?

Checking items off your list allows you to experience success in small doses. This causes the brain to release dopamine, which makes us feel good and continue on with motivation.

Checklists can easily fall under the category of helping someone take action without an overwhelming amount of details. They can also be a tool to save people time from reading a long-winded post that only requires a few bullet points.

Use checklists as content upgrades to break down long form posts into bite-sized points with only the most valuable information to achieve a goal. They also work well in “how-to” posts to abbreviate multi-step sequences to accomplish a set of tasks.

Increase conversion by 785.1%.

Brian Dean, wrote a massive guide on Google’s 200 ranking factors. That’s a lot of points to consume and some points hold more weight than others.

He created a checklist of the 10 most important points and turned it into a content upgrade.


His offer allows people to save time from reading through 190 factors that don’t hold as much weight as the others. It also provides a short list that SEOs can use to ensure they are optimizing their website to be ranked in search engines.

The results?

He saw a 785.1% increase in conversion.

Checklists are easy to create. If you want the design to be top-notch, then search for freelancers on Upwork or 99Designs. Alternatively, you can create one for free on Canva.

If you want to create a simple printable checklist, then here’s how you can do it in 3 minutes.

  1. Open Microsoft Word
  2. Create bullet points for your checklist.
  3. Add your logo
  4. Change the format to ‘squares’ instead of bullets.
  5. Export it as a PDF.

msword-checklist Keep your points short, easy to digest, and use sub-headings to stay organized.

Alternatively, you can try some of these tools alongside a screengrab tool like Jing.

Templates and swipe files

Templates work best on pages that are case-study based. The intention of a case study is to show off what your products, services, and processes did for a person or company.

People want to replicate your success and if you can give them a shortcut to save time, money, and avoid pitfalls, then why wouldn’t they trade a wee bit of privacy for their success?

I mentioned LeadPages offering HTML templates of their landing pages as content upgrades. But you don’t have to have a product at all to use this tactic.

If you’re creating an in-depth case study on how you achieved certain results, you can offer email scripts, sales letters, detailed processes, or Excel sheets you used to succeed.

A few months ago, I created a video showing how I increased email open rates to 71.9%.

If you haven’t watched the video, then the two main points I highlighted were:

  1. Intrigue based subject lines.
  2. Follow-up emails.

Check it out if you can spare 3 minutes.

I know that a lot of people struggle with creating good subject lines without resorting to clickbait. So I curated a list of 149 of the best email subject lines that they can use as templates and modify for their own email marketing campaigns.


The sample size is pathetically low at 200 video views, but 27 people have opted in for the offer (13.5% conversion rate).


As my sample size grows, conversion rates will likely drop 2 points, but I believe it will stand the test of time as it follows 3 of the core principles.

  1. Time saving.
  2. Action based.
  3. Fulfills next intent.

Creating templates requires time and effort.

Unless you’re one of those people who documents your every move in Google Drive or Evernote (*raises hand*), then you’ll need to put in the sweat to create something that’s extremely helpful for your visitors.

Templates don’t generally have to be pretty. If you used Excel, then create a copy, remove your data, and send it to people who opted in for your bribe.

PDF of your article

Creating PDF versions of a blog post and asking people to opt-in to get it is something that your readers will love or hate.

There is no in between.

They don’t always produce great results. Most of the time they’re used in the wrong place with the wrong article, resulting in poor conversion rates.

Let me ask you a challenging question.

Why would someone give up their email address in exchange for something that’s right in front of their face?

A couple things should have come to mind.

1. Visitors don’t have time to read your post right then and there. 

On average, 55% of your visitors spend less than 15 seconds on your website.

This is the primary reason I like to create short introductions. It allows the average visitor to at least see your content upgrade offer.

PDF versions work best with value-packed posts that promise results within the first 150 words. In general, posts with immense amounts of value tend to be lengthier.

2. Emails are easier to search than bookmarks or browser history.

I have 634 bookmarked pages organized into 40+ folders and sub-folders.

Ask me to find a specific resource and I’d have to take a day off to find it. People forget website names the second they leave.

When you have a PDF in your inbox, you can search for the keywords that you remember. For example, you might remember that my domain has the word “journal” in it and that I wrote a post about content upgrades.

Within 10 seconds, you’ll find the PDF version of this post in your inbox.

Using PDFs as content upgrades work best for long-form posts. It almost gives the illusion of it being a free eBook.

Wishpond uses PDF version of article (3,555 words, 5.5% conversion)

Kevin Ho from Wishpond created a stellar article called, 17 Knockout Growth Hacks to Nurture Leads into Customers [Infographic].

His introduction is 60 words and then jumps right into the content upgrade.

The post has a ton of value in it without the fluff and weighs in at 3,555 words.

The results?

A whopping 5.5% conversion rate with a simple copy > paste > export as PDF.


Length is not the secret ingredient to high converting PDF copies of articles.

It’s value.

Offer half the article. Hide the rest.

This is a risky move and not everyone can pull it off.

The idea is simple. You provide an insane amount of value in the first half of your article and hide the rest behind an “opt-in wall.”

You might think it’s a dirty move, but if you can position it how Kim Roach did, then you can get higher conversion rates than even some of your landing pages.

Kim Roach’s genius play: 

Kim created a post called Best Fiverr Gigs of 2014.

Fiverr is a marketplace where you can get jobs (gigs) done for $5. But Fiverr comes with one big pain point:

Finding quality freelancers.

So Kim put together a post about 20 of the best Fiverr gigs that she has used. And what does this do for someone who clicks through? to both save people time and money.

It saves them time and money!

She provides the exact sellers who do traditionally expensive tasks for just five bucks.


Once you pass number 10, the article stops…

You can either leave or download the “Top 20 Fiverr Gigs of 2014.”

She gives an insane amount of value first and then goes in for the ask.


It blew her mind that this post was converting at 16%, so she created a video explaining the entire process.

Cheat sheets

The goal of a cheat sheet is to condense a large amount of information into an organized set of bite-sized points. Checklists are about ordered processes or a list of “to dos” to complete a task.

Cheat sheets are most effective when short and can act as a quick reference guide.

They work particularly well with posts that include several pieces of micro information. For example, an article on learning HTML or CSS would be a perfect opportunity to insert a cheat sheet considering there are hundreds of different code elements to learn.

And that’s exactly what Moz did in their web developer’s SEO cheat sheet.


While Moz provides their cheat sheet with no strings attached, you can provide a printable cheat sheet for next relevant content upgrade.

And that’s exactly what Sumome did.

Sumome’s cheat sheet converts at 6.54%

SumoMe created an article on using WhatsApp as a marketing tool.

This guide is truly the “definitive guide” to WhatsApp marketing. And since this channel is rarely talked about in the online marketing space, all of the tips , tricks and processes are new to most of us.


Consuming over 4,100 words of new content is a feat for anyone. The Sumos added a quick cheat sheet that summarizes the various “how-tos” and converted 6.54% of their visitors into subscribers.

The cheat sheet acts as a time-saving solution to quickly learn how to utilize a new marketing medium without confusion or ambiguity.

Convert with copy.

Your offer is only as good as your copy. Even if you create a helpful and well-designed offer, you need to create persuasive copy that sparks interest in your readers.

And it all begins with one question:

What’s in it for me?

Answer two things for your visitors and you’ll be on your way to a compelling offer in 2 sentences.

  1. Here’s what I have.
  2. Here’s why you need it.

Take a look at this example from my SEO checklist.


  • Here’s what I got: a printable PDF version of the checklist.
  • Here’s why you need it: to cure your SEO woes.

Another great example is the one mentioned earlier on waking up earlier.


  • Here’s what I got: a checklist of key steps to wake up early.
  • Here’s why you need it: practical ways to use it and a bedside reminder to achieve your goal.

One of my favorite words in marketing is “because,” or any variant of it. This single word is the best transition between, “here’s what I got,” and “here’s why you need it.”

Here’s a part of my script from a video I created.


Above all else, your offer must supplement the visitor’s intention for clicking through to your blog.


There is much more to creating effective content upgrades than adding random bonuses.

It requires an understanding of why your visitors are clicking through, what they expect to see, and then overdelivering with something they can’t refuse.

If you haven’t used content upgrades before, then take the next 10 minutes to create your first using the information in this post. You’ll find that this is the best lead generation tactic for blogs.

If you’re already using content upgrades, then apply the four core principles to your lowest converting bonuses and compare your growth over the next month or two. My hope is that you’ll be floored by the exponential growth that one simple tweak can make.

Have a tip on content upgrades? Share in the comments below.

Author: Sam Oh
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