Even when you pour hours into long-form content, getting visitors to convert is still an enormous challenge.
A content upgrade can be a game changer in overcoming that conversion challenge.
Content upgrades (also known as bonus content) can deliver incredible results. Backlinko’s Brian Dean used a content upgrade to raise his conversion rate from 0.54% to 4.82% (a 785% increase) in one day.
In this article, I share tips and examples to creating a high-converting content upgrade. It is a lot easier than you might think.
Psychology of the content upgrade
The idea behind the content upgrade is simple. Offering a bonus resource adds value to the content your visitors consumed in exchange for subscribing to your email list. As a content consumer, you’ve probably taken advantage of lots of content upgrade offers, like this one from CoSchedule:
Content upgrades offer a resource to your readers when they are most likely to need it. They also convert well because they follow the reciprocity principle – people inactively desire to repay others who have done something good for them.
And if you want to promote a product or service later, many of your readers will be interested to hear about it because you’ve already given them something valuable.
Now, let’s go through the things to keep in mind while developing a content upgrade.
Make it high impact
Select content upgrades that will make the most impact by focusing on your high-traffic pages as identified in your analytics. Pick up to five pages that would benefit from a content upgrade offer.
Effective content upgrades work because they’re tailored to readers who want to take the next step after they’ve consumed your article or other piece of content. They’re not a ubiquitous offer like that e-book or checklist promoted on every page of your site.
For example, Ryan Robinson published an article with a step-by-step guide to building a content marketing strategy. At the end of the piece, he offers a content upgrade especially relevant to the article topic – a content marketing calendar template.
Read through each of your five potential content upgrade pages as your audience would. Then ask what content, if any, you would want next. Pick the one page that offers the most potential and create that content upgrade.
Let’s look at a few more examples of upgrades that crushed it to inspire your content upgrade options.
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After Eric Siu wrote a popular post for Growth Everywhere on how to get up early, he collaborated with Devesh Khanal to create a simple content upgrade to attract more subscribers. When their checklist of steps for rising early went live, it increased the opt-in rate for the post by 492%, as reported by The Daily Egg.
When Val Geisler wrote the article 7 Don’ts of Facebook Groups, she included a downloadable list of the best Facebook groups for creatives. By giving her readers a shortcut to the most useful Facebook communities, she reports boosting her conversions by 600%.
Kim Roach details in this video an experiment she conducted at BuzzBlogger. She first wrote an ungated post about the top 10 Fiverr gigs of the year. At the bottom, she touts a second post – the content upgrade – that shares the top 20 gigs of the year. According to Kim, about 15% of those who read the first post converted so they could read the second one.
When Jacob McMillen published his epic guide to becoming a copywriter, he paired it with a content upgrade – a freelance writer’s career blueprint and a promise for even more relevant content. He reports that it converted at 7.7%.
Chris Von Wilpert’s article on 10 hacks for content marketers is great on its own. But it’s just a teaser for his real attraction – a massive list of 100 content marketing hacks under $100. (Note: Unlike the other examples, Chris promotes his content upgrade before the article begins.)
Condensing everything your readers need to know into one page can make for a great, high-value upgrade. Bill Widmer offers a white hat SEO cheat sheet as a targeted upgrade with his SEO case study:
Giving all the resources your readers need to act is another terrific way to make your advice actionable. When Brian Dean wrote a guest article for Buffer on the strategies he used to increase conversions by 134% at Backlinko, he promoted three content bonuses at the end. It linked to a landing page with additional strategies, checklists, and tutorials:
TIP: Personalize your content upgrade landing page. In this example, Brian customized the sign-up page for Buffer readers who saw his original content – and the bonus offer.
Barry Feldman enhanced his explainer on lead magnets with a pack of ready-to-go lead magnet templates:
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Streamline by topic
You’ll get the best results from content upgrades tailored to each piece of content. If that seems unrealistic given your team’s workload, you can streamline the content upgrades – focus on each topic rather than each piece of content. Single Grain executes the topic-specific approach brilliantly. It offers the same content upgrade across most of its podcasting-related content – a how-to guide on building a podcast – in an inline call to action:
Keep it simple
If a new content upgrade is too daunting even in topic form, you can still do this simple hack – create a downloadable PDF of each piece of content.
Former Rejoiner growth manager Thomas Krawiec told The Daily Egg he got great results with this strategy:
“Rather than making new offers for every specific post or trying to mix and match old offers with new posts, we simply turn our high-quality posts into a PDF and offer that as a content upgrade.”
To kick it up a notch, consider transforming long-form articles into downloadable e-books. Packaging your content as an e-book elevates the value of your bonus content in the eyes of your readers, making them more willing to hand over their contact details.
Easily digestible article summaries are another simple, low-effort option. Offer a 500-word summary of a 5,000-word masterpiece and you’ll likely get email sign-ups for people who prefer a shorter option.
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Create attention-grabbing CTAs
Even incredible content upgrades won’t deliver results if your readers don’t know about them.
You need to create an effective opt-in form to promote your offer. And the best way to do that is with a pop-up.
Stay with me here.
No matter how you feel about pop-ups, you can’t deny the numbers. Pop-ups convert. A Sumo study showed that a typical pop-up gets a conversion rate of almost 3.1%. And the highest-performing pop-ups convert on average an eye-popping 9.28% of visitors.
Just as with your content upgrades, consider creating topic-specific pop-ups. By building a handful of topic-based pop-ups, you can reap the benefits of highly targeted upgrades while dramatically simplifying your workflow.
But don’t let pop-ups be the only call to action on the page. Every reader doesn’t see all parts of the page, as research from Chartbeat shows. And many readers spend no more than two seconds at the bottom of the page where many calls to action usually appear.
As The Daily Egg reports, Brian Dean found that adding a second CTA for a content upgrade resulted in a 315% increase in conversions over a single, end-of-post CTA.
HubSpot consistently uses a multiple CTA strategy. A typical post includes at least three offers to download the content upgrade – top of the page (below the byline), halfway down (slide-in pop-up), and at the end of the article:
When designing your CTAs, write copy that highlights the value of the content upgrade to the reader. After implementation, test the CTA copy against alternatives to find what converts the best.
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Upgrade conversion rates with a bonus content offer
A successful content upgrade offer provides an additional value to the reader around the topic (e.g., a checklist or template) or even by the format (e.g., summary or PDF). It also can be easily found on the page with deliberate but not intrusive opt-in promotions. By implementing content upgrade offers, you should see your conversion rate rise.
If you’ve seen any awesome content upgrades lately, tell us about them in the comments.
You didn’t think we’d go without offering a content upgrade, did you? If you don’t have your strategy written down, this will help. And if you do have a written strategy, revisit it to make sure you’ve answered all these questions. Download the Content Marketing Institute’s e-book The Essentials of a Documented Content Marketing Strategy: 36 Questions to Answer.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute