If you are publishing content, whether for your business or as an entrepreneurial figurehead, and not capturing subscribers and email addresses then you are leaving a lot of opportunity on the table.

I’ve been an acquisition-focused marketer (SEO, content, PR) for a long time, but only really thought about it in terms of traffic to the site. When you’re hired an SEO, especially a young one, you’re focused on things like rankings and overall organic traffic.

But as I’ve been building Credo and working with other businesses still as an SEO consultant, I’ve become much more focused on what acquisition actually means.

If you are getting traffic to your site but not doing anything with them to get them to stick around, then what is the purpose? Unless you are selling advertising against them directly, then you need to get them to do something in order to keep them around.

Many marketers talk about these as “microconversions”, meaning they’re not paying you any money (yet) but they’re giving you permission to keep in touch. This can mean:

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

There are others, but these are the the major ones.

Today I’m going to focus on the second one – getting email addresses from site visitors who find you primarily through organic, direct, or referral channels.

My email journey

Over the last years as I’ve blogged, I’ve driven over 750,000 sessions to my sites. That’s a lot of people, almost the size of the city of San Francisco.

But I’ve historically been quite bad at executing on strategies to convert visitors into email subscribers and then customers.

I’ve used MailChimp since my earliest days of blogging, though never prioritized building a list. In recent years they’ve added different features like automation and the ability to send automatic RSS blasts, but it’s still a list-based tool.

Over the last couple of years I have finally taken the approach to content upgrades that I always should have. 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 content.

This has always gone against my SEO-sensibilities, but there are other way to do it.

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.

Simple as that.

A content upgrade should follow on from the topic at hand and offers the visitor something of value.

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. For example, on our ways to drive traffic to your website I also give them an option to download a specific guide to converting more users:

Content upgrades have one main goal:

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

Let’s talk about planning content upgrades next.

Planning content upgrades

Maybe you have a decent amount of traffic to your site, but you’re not really getting any visitors. This is a great place to start, and honestly I always recommend building a base of traffic first before you start trying to convert them in.

First thing to do is to look at your Analytics. Navigate to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages and view your most-visited pages for the last six months or so:

From here, identify your top 5 pieces of content. For Credo that’s going to be our:

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

From here, I can plan out one piece of content per post that the reader may be interested in after reading that specific topic.

If you can, then take other content you have written that follows on 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 five top visited pieces of content. Spend no more than an hour on each.

It doesn’t have to be gorgeous. It just has to add value.

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

Connecting your email 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 your email provider.

I personally have moved over to Drip for my email marketing after being on MailChimp for a long time (7-8 years). Drip’s workflows allow me to do more with personalization based off behavior than MailChimp, so I made the switch in early March 2018.

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

  • Email provider of choice (Drip, MailChimp, or Active Campaign likely);
  • Sumo if on WordPress, or your email capture plugin of choice (all ESPs offer these natively too);
  • Dropbox or similar file storage system.

Once you have your content created and within a storage solution like Dropbox and that linked within an email that the subscriber receives upon giving you their email, you’re ready to implement.

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 pitch based on the page the user is on.

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

As you can see, it does not 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 better approach than specifying the pages on which an upgrade should not appear, as you are likely always adding new pages and managing the display rules can become unwieldly.

You need to pick a form solution that allows you to target dynamically this way. This is why I love Sumo, though others also allow it.


So now let’s talk about potential results. 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.

Whenever you build out a new content upgrade, I recommend that you have a specific idea for the conversion path they may take to becoming a customer. Like any good funnel, only a percentage of people who begin it will get there.

This is why we 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) and then bring them down your funnel.

Here is a screenshot of the leads that we have acquired since I began doing content upgrades in mid-2017. Note that some of these with lower view counts are newer lead magnets and I am still figuring out if they’ll work:

In total, we’ve driven over 1,500 new “leads”, aka email addresses, to targeted content upgrades since September 2017. That’s an average of 250 a month or 8 a day.

What could you do with an additional 250 email subscribers a month, especially in a B2B business?