How to Do Content Upgrades Without Annoying Your Readers

how to do content upgrades without annoying your readers

You can’t read anything about growing your email list these days without hearing about content upgrades.

They’re everywhere!

That’s because the humble content upgrade enjoys universal acceptance as the 100%, hands down, best ever way to improve your email list opt in rate.


Don’t know what a content upgrade is?

A content upgrade is a post-specific freebie that adds value to your blog post. Some examples include:


But, as more bloggers use this method, are readers getting annoyed that you are effectively holding content to ransom in exchange for their email?

Remember the side bar opt in form? It’s practically invisible now.

How invisible?

Try 3 people in 1000 might click on it.

(So if you’re using your sidebar to house, well, anything… its wasted space).


A Guaranteed Way to Annoy Your Readers with Content Upgrades

Promise “25 ways to do X”. …only put 5 in your blog post.

Have the other 20 available to download as a PDF in exchange for your readers email.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Don’t do content upgrades wrong! If you promise 25 ways to do X, deliver. @thismamalearns” quote=”Don’t do content upgrades wrong! If you promise 25 ways to do X, deliver. @thismamalearns”]


There’s nothing inherently wrong with adding ‘bonus’ ways to a downloadable PDF, but if you promise 25 ways, deliver.

Add another 5 ways as your bonus.

This is a true story by the way.

Happened to a friend.


Content Upgrade Delivery

I’m a blogger.

But I’m a reader too.

And I can tell you, I’ve seen a LOT of content upgrades and a lot of ways of delivering content upgrades.

I can say for certain that I prefer not skipping between screens to access my email and confirm my subscription just to get the freebie.

Here’s the thing: a content upgrade is meant to be bite-sized and fuss free. The more work I have to do to get it, the more reward I expect.

How would you rather get a freebie (as a reader)?






Best Practice for Content Upgrade Delivery

Here’s some fantastic reader-centric ways to deliver content upgrades:


Give Them Away

The first way is to not require any opt in at all. Just give them away.

Say what?

You thought this was about building your email list?

Yes, you do miss out on grabbing your readers email address right then and there but, building your list for the sake of having a big list is kind of pointless.

Laura The Badass Business Mum has an awesome post about The Problem with Blog Content Upgrades that No One Ever Tells You.

Laura is firmly on her reader’s side – she’d rather you sign up to her list because you want to, not because she bribed you into it.


Redirect to Download Page after Email Capture

This is a smooth way to deliver your content upgrade and definitely streamlines the experience for the reader.

Bryan Harris of Videofruit is a fan of this method.

It doesn’t require the reader to interrupt their engagement with your content and you still get their email address. Win, win!

It’s really simple to implement this too, especially if you have LeadBoxes.


Use a Content Locker

This is my favorite method of the moment. Have a look at my post from the other day – How to Launch Your Blog With a Bang.

There are two content locker opt in forms in that post,

When the reader signs up, they immediately gain access to the download right on the page. It’s a very neat option.

I’m using the Elegant Themes plugin, Bloom, which makes this super simple.


Wrapping It Up

Content upgrades are an important piece of the blogging puzzle and each blogger needs to find the balance of what they give away free, what they keep back and how they deliver it.

Have you started using content upgrades yet? If you are using content upgrades, have you given thought to how you will deliver them?


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14 thoughts on “How to Do Content Upgrades Without Annoying Your Readers”

  1. Hey Cath,

    This is totally new topic for me & I will try the tips for sure to make my blog successful.

    I am struggling to get more visitors to my blog & I will check your other blogposts as well.



  2. Your post has me thinking!! I particularly like the idea of having immediate access to the download and the idea you linked to from The Badass Business Mum. But you have me intrigued with Bloom – I use Bloom too, but have no idea how you had the form, and then the download as soon as someone subscribed. Would love to have you explain that to me.

    1. Hey Belinda,
      I really like Bloom now that I’ve got it working for me! I’m using the “Locked Content” type of optin. Once someone submits their email address, it ‘unlocks’ and I have a normal graphic that when you click on it, downloads the file. I hope that makes sense? I’ll email this to you as well 🙂

  3. The sidebar issue is why my redesign that I’m launching this weekend doesn’t have one! Unless you have ads, they’re pretty much pointless these days. In mobile-first world, they’re also horribly impractical. People only see them if they scroll all the way down to the bottom of page on phones (or otherwise it’s awful for your SEO to put it on top!).

    1. I totally agree with you – a lot of top sites are moving away from having a sidebar entirely and as more people move onto mobile devices, I think even more will follow.

      I don’t like ads, so I’d say if all you are doing with your sidebar is hosting ads… don’t do it! (Unless you are making actual dollars from them.)

      I hope your redesign goes well! Can’t wait to see it.

  4. Hey Cath,

    I love content upgrades and how they can really grow your list. I totally agree with not hood-winking your readers by giving your post a title of 25 x ways to x and then only provide 5. The rest you have to opt-in.

    It’s better, like you mention to do the 25 and then offer 5 more as a bonus.

    I like to use my content upgrades as an additional extra help tip. So if I write a post about using Pinterest to grow your blog I might put a content upgrade on a guide to making the perfect pin (which I have).

    I personally don’t like if I grab a freebie from a blogger and then next month they offer a new freebie that I have to opt-in again.

    If I’m on your list the blogger should give me the new freebie. That’s what I do with my subscribers. Any new freebie I have on my blog I give to them.

    I totally agree with you. As a user, the easier the better to grab those freebies. But as a blogger, you gotta protect yourself! If you’re doing double optin, way less than half will click the confirm if you give the goods first.

    1. Good point, Elna! I feel like a bit of an idiot signing up to someone’s list over and over again because I want a cool freebie. This is where having a resource library is a good thing. (And I love the way you send out your new freebies to your list on Twins Mommy!)

      It boggles my mind that bloggers obsess over building their email list, talk about how ‘the money is in the list’, yet so many people don’t show their list any love when it comes to freebies. Your list should be first in line 🙂

      My one worry about using a content locker with double opt in was that people wouldn’t care enough to confirm if I gave them the download first. I might have to experiment with ways to entice people to confirm 🙂

  5. Thanks so much for this. I need to get in gear and always am afraid of making my readers mad and that’s why I don’t do any upgrades when sending out anything.Thanks for the tips.

    1. Don’t be afraid! If you are truly focusing on bringing value to your readers, they won’t have any reason to get mad.

      A good way to try out the content upgrade method would be to just give it away for free. Once you’re used to that, you can try using it as an opt in.

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