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If you publish content–whether for your business or as an entrepreneurial figurehead–and aren’t capturing subscribers and email addresses with content upgrades then you are leaving a lot of opportunity on the table.

I’ve been an acquisition marketer focused on SEO (search engine optimization), content marketing, and public relations for over 15 years. The funny thing is the only thing that matters is this: more traffic to your website.

When you’re hired as an SEO specialist, especially as one new to the industry, you focus on KPIs like rankings and overall organic traffic. As you should, this all matters and it does contribute to better website traffic.

But as I’ve built Credo and worked with other businesses simultaneously as an SEO consultant, I’ve become much more attuned to what acquisition actually means and the value it provides.

Customer Acquisition and Conversions

If you get traffic to your site but don’t do anything to convert them–aside from salesy copy and hard sells–then what are you really accomplishing? Not a whole lot aside from general brand awareness, unfortunately.

While brand awareness is great, you’re not moving the needle in a meaningful, profitable way. And that is probably costing you a pretty penny in time and ad spend–or both.

The truth is that you need to get users to do something to keep them around. You need a clear-cut conversion.

Many marketers talk about these as “micro-conversions”. Basically, this means they’re not paying you any money (yet) but they’re giving you permission to keep in touch.

This can come in several forms:

  • A social follow;
  • An email address;
  • Newsletter sign-up;
  • Time on site (triggering an ad cookie);
  • Create an account (if applicable);
  • Add to cart (if applicable).

There are others, but these are the major micro-conversions.

Today I’m going to focus on the second one–getting email addresses from website visitors. Primarily, those who find through organic, direct, or referral marketing channels.

An Example of Where To Start Your Email Journey

Now! Yesterday, actually. But start now. That’s first and foremost.

Jokes aside, I’ve been able to drive well over a million sessions to my websites by sticking with a routine blogging habit. That’s a lot of people. Almost 20 percent larger than the city of San Francisco–but who’s counting?

But I’ll be honest with you. Historically, I’ve been quite bad at executing on strategies to convert visitors into email subscribers and then customers.

MailChimp continues to be my go-to email marketing platform since I began blogging. However, I never reakkt prioritized building an email list.

That all changed in recent years, as MailChimp added new, simple features like automation and the ability to send automatic RSS blasts to help capture email addresses. But at its heart, it’s still a list-based tool.

That’s why–over the last couple of years–I have started to focus on content upgrades.

This approach requires a view towards content and promotion of covering one topic, then purposefully gating additional content in order to incentivize a reader to subscribe to access the desired content.

This has always gone against my SEO sensibilities, but there are other ways to perform content upgrades.

And that’s what we are going to talk about.

What is a Content Upgrade?

A content upgrade is a piece of content that you offer to a site visitor to encourage them to give you their email address in return for receiving some knowledge from you for free.

Yes, it is as simple as that.

A content upgrade should follow the topic at hand and offer the visitor something of value within the framework of that same topic.

This could be the post as a download–if it’s long–or it could be the next thing that they need to learn after reading your post. Again, make sure to keep the continuity of the topic the user showed interest in learning about.

For example, in our 46 Ways to Drive Traffic to Your Website post, I also give readers several options to 1.) learn more about Credo through email newsletters or 2.) download our Executive’s Guide to Hiring a Digital Agency:


If you’re reading this on a desktop, you’ll notice the same content upgrades on the right side of this post.

As in both of these examples, content upgrades have one main goal:

To build your email list so that you can continue to market to them.

Now, let’s go over how to plan your content upgrades.

How To Plan Your Content Upgrades

Maybe you have a decent amount of traffic to your site, but you’re not really getting any visitors of value i.e. low quality traffic. We hear this a lot from brands who come to us to help improve their digital strategy.

Fixing this is a great place to start. Honestly, I always recommend building a base of traffic first before you start trying to convert users.

The first thing to do is to look at your analytics. To do this, navigate to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages and view your most-visited pages for the last six months or year (as an example):

From here, identify your top 5 pieces of content.

For us, that’s going to be our:

  1. Drive Traffic post;
  2. Digital Marketing Pricing survey;
  3. Digital Marketing Pricing post;
  4. Picking Keyword topics;
  5. Average SEO consultant rates.

From here, I plan out one piece of content per post that the reader may be interested in learning more about.

If you can, then take another piece of content you have written that follows naturally from that topic. If you don’t have it, then create it as a public post and also use it as a downloadable content upgrade.

Your goal here is to produce one piece of content for each of your top five visited pieces of content.

It doesn’t have to be gorgeous. It just has to add value. Don’t beat yourself up aiming for perfection.

Challenge yourself to ship it faster than you might be comfortable with. You can always improve it later!

Connect Your Email Marketing System to Your Website

Next, you need to set up the download so that a new subscriber can access it. How you do this specifically will depend on the email provider that you use.

We use Drip for Credo’s email marketing after being on MailChimp for nearly a decade. Drip’s workflows allow me to do more with personalization based on behavior than MailChimp, so we made the switch in early March 2018.

If you want to go ahead and get started without having to use a system like Salesforce or Marketo (which are right for some businesses),  I recommend using the following tools:

Once you have created your content, save it within a storage solution like Dropbox. Then, link an email that the subscriber receives upon giving you their email.

Rule-based Triggering

Many marketers are guilty of a “one size fits all” approach to content upgrades. You stick a specific offer at the bottom of every blog post and call it a day.

This worked well in the past when the stakes were lower, but if you want to effectively drive email subscribers today then you need to tailor your content depending on the page the user is viewing.

Here is an example of how we target an ecommerce guide that we have on Credo:

As you can see, this doesn’t have to be super complicated! I have a web of content upgrades around the Credo site, and for each one, I try to do a very targeted site of URLs on which the upgrade can appear.

This is a more effective approach than specifying the pages on which an upgrade should not appear. By doing this, you are likely always adding new pages, and managing the display rules. That can quickly become unwieldy and bulk up (slow down) your website–and Google will penalize your SEO accordingly.

You need to pick a form solution that allows you to target dynamically. This is why I love Sumo–though there are a handful of other options that provide similar benefits, such as Semrush.


At the end of the day, the return on your work is getting more people to subscribe to your email lists so that you can keep them involved. In turn, this should lead to a better conversion rate and more sales.

When you build a content upgrade, I recommend that you have a specific idea of the conversion path users take before turning into a customer. Like any good sales funnel, only a percentage of people who begin it will get there.

Prioritize the top traffic-acquiring posts so that you can convert more users (even an average percentage of more users is better than a high percentage of few users). Then, bring them down your funnel.

Here is a screenshot of the leads that we have acquired since adding content upgrades in mid-2017:

In just our top 10 content upgrades, we’ve driven well over 10,000 new “leads” (email addresses), to targeted content upgrades since September 2017. Not to mention nearly 13 million views and counting.

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