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Content Upgrades: 3 Ways to Maximize the Holy Grail of Email Opt-Ins How to grow your ecommerce business by appealing to consumers' abiding love of free stuff.

By Jesse Torres Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Visit most ecommerce sites, and chances are that within five seconds you will be prompted for your email address in exchange for a freebie or "bribe." Typical bribes include coupons, checklists, ebooks, infographics or some other form of content. There's nothing wrong with offering such gifts in exchange for an email. Especially when many of today's businesses live and die by the sales generated from their email marketing efforts. Unfortunately, despite their no-cost features, freebies often fail to generate high email subscription rates.

In theory freebies are a great tool to attract email subscriptions. They appeal to consumers' deep-rooted need for free stuff. But for many, freebies are often too generic and just not good enough to exchange for a valuable email address. Today's discriminating website visitors are on a mission to find very specific information. Anything short of meeting their needs results in them bouncing from your website and onto the next. But don't worry. There is a strategy that can be put into place to capture these visitors. It's called a "content upgrade" and it works likes nothing else.

Related: Content Marketers: Don't Ask Them to Sign Up. Tell Them to.

Consider this example: an online vitamin and supplement business offers visitors in exchange for their email, a pdf comprised of the Top 10 Ultra Fat Burning Exercises. The offer to receive this Top 10 List is displayed via pop up box and the offer is made to all website visitors regardless of the web page they visit. The business assumes that fat loss and exercise are two subjects of interest to most visitors and as such, many visitors will subscribe.

Now imagine that a visitor to the website, using a search engine, lands on a page about abdominal exercises. The visitor, an amateur body builder, is looking for tips on developing more defined abdominals through exercise -- not losing body fat. As a result, the offer of 10 fat burning exercises is of no interest and the visitor does not subscribe, causing the business to lose out on capturing a valuable asset -- the email address.

But what if following the article on abdominal exercises there was a freebie created around the information contained in the abdominal exercise article. For example, imagine if the freebie was access to a video that demonstrated the proper technique associated with the exercises contained in the article. Would the business have a greater likelihood of capturing a visitor's email address in this case? Most definitely!

In this example the offer moves beyond a generic freebie to an article-specific freebie, or a "content upgrade." The content upgrade provides information that expands upon the original content, making it much more targeted and relevant and much more worthy of exchanging for an email address.

The content upgrade can take any form -- text, video, audio or a combination. It can be something as basic as a checklist or as complex as a set of training videos. What is most important is that the content upgrade provides value specifically tied to the original content.

In the example above the visitor was interested in abdominal exercises. The generic Top 10 list was not sufficiently persuasive to convince the visitor to subscribe. However, when presented with a video (the content upgrade) based on the content contained in the article, the visitor is more likely to subscribe as the offer relates specifically to the visitor's interests.

"People have done this and they have gotten insane amounts of conversions. Almost 400 percent to 50 percent more," said Arvindh Sunder recently on his digipodcast podcast. David Risley, host of the Coffee Break Blogging podcast and founder of, stated in a recent podcast that a content upgrade is "The absolute most effective opt-in strategy for a blog." Risley continued by stating that "It needs to be highly specific. It needs to be very tightly related to that blog post."

Of course, the obvious question is "Doesn't this strategy require more work on my part?" The answer is, yes! A content upgrade involves essentially the same or more effort than the original piece of content that is the basis for the content upgrade. However, while the effort may be similar, the return on investment of a content upgrade is many times better than an ordinary website article, a generic freebie or a simple subscription box. The subscription rate on a content upgrade will produce email subscriptions many times greater than other opt-in strategies. Also, to the extent that it makes sense, the same content upgrade can be used with other website content.

Related: Why You Should Use a Subscription Business Model

In an ideal world a website would provide a content upgrade to accompany every item of content. Unfortunately this strategy is not always feasible – particularly for small businesses short on resources. The following are three tips to guide a small business through a content upgrade strategy.

1. Focus on popular content.

Brian Dean, founder of Backlinko, advises on his blog that businesses identify the highest traffic pages as candidates for content upgrades. Once the pages are identified the business should determine how to create a resource that makes the content better. This strategy ensures that resources are dedicated to improving pages that provide the greatest bang for the buck.

Related: 7 Lesser-Known Tips for Growing a More Loyal, Engaged Online Following

2. Use graphics to drive conversions.

In an effort to improve conversion Risley recommends the use of images as part of the content upgrade's call-to-action. For example, a red button at the bottom of a web page stating "Download My Report" attracts attention and will encourage a higher click-through rate than simple text. Other examples can include images of books for ebook upgrades, a video still image for videos or other similar graphics.

Related: The Popularity of Visual Content Will Only Increase, So You Must Be Prepared

3. Use tools to deliver the content upgrades.

When rolling out a content upgrade strategy it is recommended that businesses use a service such as Lead Pages to manage the delivery of content upgrades. These services allow businesses to quickly design and roll out web pages called "lead pages" that are used to describe the offer, collect the email and deliver the promised content. The service provides a seamless experience for both the business and the subscriber.

Jesse Torres

Speaker, Thought Leader, Influencer, Radio Host and Author

Jesse Torres of Manhattan Beach, Calif., hosts the Money Talk radio program on KCAA and is co-creator of entrepreneur-focused YouTube channel Two Men In Your Business. He has held leadership and executive management posts at financial institutions. The Independent Community Bankers of America named him a top community banker influencer on social media. The author of several books, Torres is a frequent speaker at financial and leadership conferences.

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