You want more email subscribers, right?
More subscribers means a bigger list. And a bigger list means a bigger audience to promote your content and offers to.
Maybe you’ve been struggling to build an email list with incentiveless email-optin forms. Or maybe you’re still on the fence about even jumping into this whole email marketing thing.
No matter where you’re starting from, this post can help you out.
See, that’s because content upgrades are one of the best ways to grow your email list. But only if you know how to effectively promote and deliver them to your readers.
That’s what this post is about. I’ll first give you a quick primer on content upgrades (and how they’re different from lead magnets), then I’ll dish up some of the best content upgrade plugins and tools so that you can easily add content upgrades to your WordPress site.
There’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive in!
Content upgrades are more targeted lead magnets
A lead magnet is basically a juicy incentive that you offer readers to sign up to your email list. For example, Adam has a lead magnet on “32 Proven Tools To Help You Manage, Market And Grow Your Blog” that he links to right from the navigation menu:
If someone wants access, all they have to do is enter their email to get the PDF. It’s a good tactic – no doubt.
It’s the same offer to every single visitor, no matter where they came from and what they’re interested in.
Content upgrades tweak that formula by offering post-specific upgrades instead of one general incentive for your entire site.
Because someone who reads a post to the bottom is presumably interested in that topic, they have a better chance of signing up if the incentive is closely linked to the topic.
Content upgrades are easier with a tool
Because content upgrades are post-specific, you need a tool that allows you to easily create different offers (and deliver different content to people who sign up for those different offers).
That’s what the following tools are for. They help you:
- Create opt-in forms
- Deliver a targeted content upgrade to people who sign up for each specific form
Of course, you’ll still need to actually create the content upgrade by yourself. But once you do that, these tools can help you with everything else!
Boost your list building efforts with these content upgrade plugins and tools
1. Thrive Leads
This plugin can help you build your email list in a whole heap of helpful ways. But because this post is about content upgrade plugins and tools, I’m going to skip some of those more general features and focus specifically on how Thrive Leads helps you create effective content upgrades.
First up, you can create a variety of different opt-in form types to entice your readers with your content upgrades.
You can always opt for the classic “after content” content upgrade, or you can get more aggressive with popovers, ribbons, and lots more.
For all of your content upgrade forms, you can choose from a variety of templates or use the powerful new Thrive Architect builder to create the design.
Then, you can have Thrive Leads automatically handle delivering your content upgrade via a third-party mailing service to ensure it actually reaches peoples’ inboxes.
Let’s take a closer look at how Thrive Leads helps you deliver content upgrades!
Creating a content upgrade form with Thrive Leads
When you create a content upgrade with Thrive Leads, the first thing that you need to do is build your actual form. Thrive Leads offers a huge number of templates for you to choose from (and you can always start from a blank template as well):
Once you choose a template, you can edit it using Thrive Architect, a powerful WordPress page builder that’s the successor to Thrive Content Builder:
Once you finish up your form, Thrive Leads makes it easy to display your form on your site in a few different ways.
Uploading digital assets to act as your content upgrades
An enticing form is only half the battle when it comes to creating a content upgrade – you also need a way to manage your digital assets and actually deliver them to your readers.
That’s where the Thrive Leads Asset Delivery feature comes into play:
This feature does a few neat things:
- Lets you use a third-party email delivery service to ensure that your content upgrades actually make it to your new subscriber
- Helps you set up a default email template for when you actually deliver the upgrade
- Lets you easily upload and manage files via the familiar WordPress media library interface
Other helpful features available in Thrive Leads
Outside the core content upgrade features, Thrive Leads also includes plenty of other helpful features like:
- A/B testing – Test different form elements or completely different form types to find out which perform the best
- Detailed targeting – Target your content upgrades to specific posts, categories, and more
- Smart Links – Display a different call to action to people who’ve already signed up to your email list
- In-dashboard reports – See how effective your content upgrades are right from your WordPress dashboard
All in all, Thrive Leads is flexible enough to power both your content upgrades and your entire email list building efforts.
Price: $67 for a single site license or part of the Thrive Themes Membership.
Sumo* is a whole suite of tools that operates on a freemium pricing model. Part of that suite focuses on helping you to build an email list.
In Sumo’s List Builder tool, you can easily create content upgrades for your WordPress site. Sumo gives you three different ways to serve up content upgrades:
- Click Actions – Trigger your content upgrade when a user clicks a button. E.g. you could have them enter their email and then click “Download eBook” to subscribe
- Automatic Email Responder – Automatically send your content upgrade as part of an autoresponder
- Subscribe Success Redirect – Redirect your subscribers to a page that lets them download the content upgrade after they subscribe to your list
All three have the same end result (your subscriber gets their content upgrade!), but it’s nice to have some flexibility in how you implement your content upgrade.
Another nice thing is that Sumo lets you upload any type of file to use as your content upgrade. The only restriction is that the size of the file cannot exceed 100 MB.
Creating a Content Upgrade in Sumo
Creating content upgrades in Sumo List Builder depends on the exact delivery method that you choose. Generally, content upgrades are a feature that you “add” to a regular opt-in form, rather than a standalone feature.
For example, if you want to redirect users to your content upgrade after they submit their email, you can choose the Download Content Upgrade option under Subscribe Success Redirect. Then, you’ll be able to actually choose your specific content upgrade that’s hosted by Sumo.
Having Sumo handle content upgrades from within the app is definitely a plus, as it’s not a feature that all of these content upgrade plugins and tools offer.
Other Helpful Features in Sumo List Builder
Of course, you can also take advantage of all the other cool features of Sumo’s List Builder. That means you can:
- Employ multiple form types – Popups, welcome mats, notification bars, in-content forms…they’re all fair game
- Use exit intent targeting – Not the “official” exit-intent targeting because OptinMonster owns that trademark – but something similar
And what’s extra neat is that Sumo now allows A/B testing even in the free plan, though the free plan still requires that you display Sumo branding.
All in all, if you’re on a limited budget, Sumo gives you a flexible tool to create content upgrades for free, though serious bloggers may want to consider upgrading to Pro to remove the Sumo branding and get some other neat features.
Price: Branded free plan. Pro plans start at $29 per month.
OptinMonster* is a standalone lead generation SaaS with a ton of helpful list building features. While OptinMonster is a cloud-based tool, it comes from Syed Balkhi of WP Beginner, so you better believe that OptinMonster has a dedicated plugin that makes it easy to sync OptinMonster with WordPress.
OptinMonster lets you add content upgrades to any of the forms that you create in a few different ways.
Like Sumo, you can choose to:
- Show a success message that gives the user a download link
- Redirect users to a download page after they subscribe
- Send the content upgrade as an email (though you’ll need to configure this in your email marketing software – OptinMonster can’t send the email for you).
The only downside of all of these methods is that you’re the one who’s responsible for managing your content upgrades. That is, you’ll need to host your content upgrade yourself and have your visitors download it directly from you.
Creating a content upgrade in OptinMonster
As I mentioned, you’ll need to host your content upgrade yourself when you go with OptinMonster. Once you have it hosted somewhere, you can create your content upgrade by choosing what happens after a reader submits their email.
This is known as the Success Action. For example, you could choose to Display a success theme to show a download page after a user submits their email. Or, you could always just redirect them directly to the content upgrade.
Other helpful features of OptinMonster
Other features of OptinMonster include:
- Drag and drop form builder
- Huge variety of form types, including 2-step opt-ins
- Detailed page-level targeting so you can laser focus your various content upgrades
- A/B testing to see which forms and content upgrades perform the best
- Exit intent targeting to target visitors before they leave
- A neat feature to show a different offer to people who have already opted in to your email list (similar to the Thrive Leads feature)
Also, because OptinMonster is a standalone SaaS tool, you can manage multiple sites from one dashboard, which isn’t the case when you use a dedicated WordPress plugin.
If you are managing multiple sites, this convenience might be a good reason to choose OptinMonster over the other solutions.
Price: OptinMonster starts at $9 per month (billed annually) for use on one website.
Like OptinMonster, Leadpages* is a standalone SaaS tool, rather than a WordPress plugin. It’s also dedicated to creating landing pages, which might leave you questioning just exactly where content upgrades fit into the picture.
The answer is something called Leadboxes. Leadboxes are email opt-in forms that you can create either as standalone features or as part of a full landing page that you build with Leadpages.
You’ve probably encountered them at some point in your digital life because they have a fairly distinctive design:
The nice thing about Leadboxes is that content upgrades are built right into the form builder. That is, you can upload your content upgrade inside Leadpages, select it during the form creation process, and Leadpages will handle delivering the content upgrade to your readers.
The only downside of this system is that it’s not as flexible as some of the other content upgrade plugins and tools. The only way to deliver content upgrades is to have Leadpages send it to your subscribers’ emails – you can’t offer a direct download link on a thank you page when Leadpages hosts your content upgrade.
Creating a content upgrade with Leadpages
With Leadpages, you’ll upload your content upgrade and select your opt-in form all within the Leadpages interface.
Once you finish your form, you have two ways to add it to WordPress:
- Paste a small HTML snippet into the text tab of the WordPress Editor
- Use the free Leadpages plugin to get access to shortcodes and a shortcode builder
The latter option is nice because all you need to do is select your opt-in form from a drop-down and Leadpages automatically generates the shortcode for you.
Any changes that you make to your forms at a later date will automatically push to your WordPress site no matter which method you use.
Other helpful features of Leadpages
As I mentioned, Leadpages is actually a powerful landing page tool. So if you need to create landing pages in addition to your content upgrades, Leadpages can do double duty for you.
Depending on which pricing plan that you choose, you can also A/B test your opt-in forms with Leadpages.
Price: Leadpages starts at $25 per month (paid annually). The cheapest plan with A/B testing starts at $48 per month (paid annually).
BONUS: Alternative methods to create content upgrades on WordPress
While the four content upgrade plugins and tools listed above make it easy to add content upgrades to your WordPress site, they’re not your only option.
There are two other methods you can use that are still fairly user-friendly, though a bit more niche:
- Use a content-upgrade focused email marketing provider
- Choose a WordPress theme with built-in support for content upgrades
- With MailChimp…if you tweak it.
- Through Zapier
Content upgrade-focused email marketing providers
For example, ConvertKit lets you actually redirect new subscribers to a thank you page for each individual form that you create with it, which allows you to send them straight to a content upgrade.
Use a WordPress theme that lets you implement content upgrades
Some WordPress themes are so focused on list building that they actually give you an easy way to create content upgrades baked right into the theme.
For example, GrowTheme makes it easy to create 2-step content upgrade opt-ins. You can see GrowTheme in action on Adam’s personal blog, and I also wrote a detailed review of GrowTheme if you’re interested in more information.
It’s pricey – but if you’re focused on building your email list, having things already built in to your theme is about as simple as it gets.
Tweak your way through other email marketing services
While some email marketing services, like those featured above, make it easy to create and deliver content upgrades, you can still often use other email marketing services…with the right tweaks.
For example, if you’re using MailChimp, you can use it to deliver content upgrades, though it’s not as efficient as a dedicated tool.
Basically, you’ll need to create separate List Groups for every single content upgrade. Then, you can create a form to add users to that specific List Group and add an automation rule to send a welcome email with your content upgrade to anyone who signs up.
It’s a bit more time-consuming than other methods, but it does allow you to take advantage of the free MailChimp plan while still being able to offer content upgrades.
Additionally, for MailChimp, and many other email marketing services, it’s easier to deliver content upgrades if you go with single opt-in over double opt-in.
Of course, single opt-ins have some other downsides when it comes to list quality, so make sure you weigh the trade-off between single and double opt-ins.
Use Zapier to deliver content upgrades
One neat solution that gives you a ton of flexibility is to use Zapier to deliver your content upgrades.
Zapier is basically a tool that connects two different services together. You can connect it to most email marketing services so that whenever you add a new subscriber to a list, Zapier fires off your content upgrade to that person.
This may not be necessary if your email marketing service already has an easy way to deliver content upgrades. But if not – or if you want to deliver content upgrades based on some other action – Zapier is a flexible way to do it.
Which content upgrade plugin or tool should you choose?
As is normally the case with these lists, you really only need one of these tools to start successfully delivering content upgrades. So…which content upgrade tool is right for you?
Well, let’s try to find out…
If you’re comfortable working entirely inside WordPress and want something that has built-in tools to not only help you get people to sign up for your content upgrade – but also to help you deliver your content upgrade – then your best bet is probably Thrive Leads.
In addition to having tons of cool list building features, you can also get it for a one-time payment, which is nice in comparison to some of the tools that operate on recurring billing.
On the other hand, if you want the flexibility of being able to work in a cloud interface from which you can manage multiple sites, then OptinMonster might be a better fit for you. Just remember that you’ll have to handle hosting your content upgrades on your own.
If you think you’ll take advantage of Leadpages landing page functionality, then it’s a good option because you’re getting double-duty for your money. That is, you can use it for both your landing pages and your content upgrades.
And finally, if you want a solid free option, Sumo is pretty powerful for a free tool. Just remember that you can’t remove the Sumo branding or get other advanced features unless you upgrade to one of the paid plans.
Now over to you – have you tried any of these plugins or tools to offer content upgrades? Which one was your favorite and why?
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