Content Upgrades: Gimmick or the ‘Real Deal’?

Couple weeks back I ranted about “gimmicky” marketing tactics.

These techniques work initially because they’re novel—web browsers aren’t used to them, and that curiosity factor makes these techniques seem a lot more effective than they wind up being.

Subscriber Fiona wonders whether a popular list building tactic falls in this camp:

I’ve been stalking your interwebs presence and noticed that you don’t do a lot of “content upgrade” type of posts.

Do you feel that content upgrades are also gimmicky? That people don’t really need to be making one for every blog post?

Because you don’t and you seem to be doing just fine without a million content upgrades.

Could you talk a little bit more about this, even if it’s in a future blog post or e-mail? 🙂 Thank you.

If you’re not familiar with a “content upgrade,” the basic idea is this:

For a given blog post, you create an additional piece of related content to offer as an opt-in incentive.

Could be a tool, like a checklist or a spreadsheet, a video walkthrough of some tricky process, an audio interview on the same topic—really anything, as long as it “upgrades” the content in the blog post.

And instead of the usual 1-3% conversion rate on a standard popup or optin form, content upgrades can get as many as 5-10% of blog post readers to sign up.

So goes the sales pitch.


In my experience, content upgrades pretty much work as advertised.

I have several of them in place on the Simple Programmer website, and they beat generic optin offers by 3-5X.

To get more specific, the catch-all popup that I use across the site converts at an average of 1.51%.

My best performing content upgrade convert at 6.57%—and that’s just the popup. I get additional signups from some embedded forms that are harder to track.

The *worst* content upgrade I have converts at 2.13%. (To be perfectly honest this one is pretty lame, and I should probably just take it down.)

Content upgrades work and continue to work because they’re not based on a new user interface trick, like a “welcome mat”-style optin form.

Instead they honor the fundamentals of good marketing:

Getting in step with your prospect’s goals and interests, and making an offer that moves them down the path they’re already on.

Good stuff.

The main drawback to content upgrades is the complexity they add to your funnel.

It takes time to create the upgrades, and it can be a hassle to set up and maintain the automation required to send the upgrades out after your subscribers opt in.

For that reason I recommend only creating upgrades for your best-of-the-best blog posts—the top 10 posts that account for 50% or more of the traffic to your site.

It’s an investment that will pay you back with new subscribers for a long, long time.