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I had finally had enough.
The Design for Founders project was, for a time, my baby. I launched it in 2014 to help small business owners DIY their design. In 2016, I released an e-book on the topic, which over 600 people bought.
There was only one problem …
Very few people were signing up for my newsletter.
At that rate, it would take me decades to grow the website to where I wanted it to be. I had to do something.
So I read about growing email lists. Lead magnets, MailChimp forms, exit-intent pop-ups, you name it, I read about it. I quickly learned that the most effective way to accelerate the rate of people signing up to your list is with a pop-up form.
The thing was …
I had already had one on the site. And I hated it. It created a bad user experience, it interrupted the readers on the blog, and finally, it (clearly) wasn’t even working that well.
I needed a different tactic.
So I thought about this simple question:
Why do people sign up for email lists?
Everyone is quite overwhelmed with emails as it is. Do I want more emails? No. If I’m going to give my email address, it better be for a good reason.
This “good reason” can be the promise of great content in the emails you will send—but be ready for slow list growth if you opt for this.
You can offer a short e-book or an email course, delivered to the user’s inbox when they sign up. I tried that—and it worked pretty badly. This was one of my articles in 2015:
Which, of course, surprised me—who wouldn’t want a free course on design? Well, it looked like 99% of people didn’t …
What that offer was missing was relevance to the content and the audience of that particular post. What if I created a freebie specifically tailored to that specific post?
These custom freebies are called content upgrades. They are an upgrade that delivers extra value to the content that is available for free. You can use them anywhere—in articles, podcasts, videos and even social media posts.
And they worked really well—they netted me at least 25,000 email subscribers. And let me tell you, it feels good to finally have a substantial audience I can reach with a click of a mouse.
Here’s the comparison of before vs. after the content upgrades in Google Analytics:
Done right, content upgrades convert very, very well.
On top of that, they automatically segment your subscribers by interest, which allows you to send them more relevant content.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say you have a really popular article on your website about preventing modern slavery in the labour supply chain.
You know that your readers are probably people working in HR or something similar. What would be a helpful freebie for them? Your content upgrade might be a printable PDFchecklist of what constitutes modern slavery.
They sign up to receive the checklist, and your email marketing software tags them with their interest. Now you can send them really personalised emails on this topic whenever you like, plus you can soft-sell your product or service.
There’s just one “little” problem …
Content creation is super duper resource-hungry.
You can’t really hire yet another comms intern to crank out content upgrades for every single blog post.
I tried solving that problem by filing blog posts into different topics and creating a content upgrade for each topic instead of each post. At the small expense of relevance, I now save a lot of time on the content upgrade production.
Another option would be to only produce content upgrades for your most visited content. On a typical website, only 20% of the content brings in 80% of all traffic. Why not maximise this reach first?