Zero to 600 in 30 days: How to grow your email list quickly with Content Upgrades

(Hey you! My new course, Your First 1K, is a step by step guide that shows you exactly how to get your first 1,000 email subscribers (which means you'll have the audience you need to successfully launch your first product!). This is just one of the many "foundation" and "blitz" strategies we cover in the course. It may be just what you're looking for! Learn more about Your First 1K.)

We all know email is important - it's how we connect with our readers, launch our products, and ultimately make sales! But growing your email list from scratch, when your blog is brand-new or just launched, can be a slow, slow process. But it doesn't have to be.

I went from <50 to 600 email subscribers in one month - and I want to share with you how you can do that too. 

It’s a really effective method for turning readers on your blog and other people’s blogs into email subscribers. 

When I first read about this concept, I wasn’t sure it would really work. It’s also a bit of extra work for the blogger - and I wasn’t sure if it would have a good enough ROI for the extra time it takes to implement. 

Well, one month later after doing this method I can tell you:
It works.

It works really well. 

I was getting 2-5 email sign-ups per day before implementing content upgrades, which is a fine conversion rate. Most people, even those with huge blogs and tons of traffic, report that 2% conversion rate to email subscribers is a fantastic target. This means that for every 100 people that visit your blog, about 2 or 3 sign up for your newsletter through your opt-in.

But now I’m averaging 25-45 subscribers per day. WHAT? That’s almost a 50% conversion rate. It varies from post to post, but overall it’s helped me go from about 60 email subscribers to more than 600 in the past month. 

I took this screen shot a few days ago. For some context, I technically set up this blog and email list in August, but didn't really promote it until I had plenty of good content up, so around November/December. Halfway through December is when I started implementing content upgrades. You can see the difference it made.


1. What’s a "content upgrade"?

A content upgrade is a bonus download that goes with your blog posts. It is more specific than your generic email opt-in offer, and that’s precisely why it’s so effective. It’s extra content that is directly related to the blog post your readers are immersed in at the moment. 

You can use content upgrades to grow your email list by requiring visitors to enter their email in order to access the bonus content.

Related: How to double your email list in 30 days or less.

You can also use content upgrades to make the MOST of the guest posts you do - by giving the audience a really good reason to click over to your site (to get the bonus content) besides the average byline link to your blog. In fact, I’d say this is the most important thing you can do when you guest post - it’s just a wasted opportunity if you don't. 

I have five content upgrades on my blog at the time of writing this, with more coming every week. Here they are:

Affiliate Strategy Workbook and Resources

Perfect Pricing Guide - How to Price Your Products for Success On Etsy

From Mariah’s Notebook: Business Book Notes

Printable 12-Month Editorial Calendar for Bloggers

plus the No-Bullshit Business Planner


What makes a good content upgrade?

It can seem daunting to think about creating extra bonus content ON TOP OF regular blog posts. 


Shhh, it’s okay - I’ll make it simple and painless.

It doesn’t have to be super difficult to find a great content upgrade that your readers will love. 

  • What are your customers’/readers’ needs RIGHT at that moment when they are reading that blog post?
  • What are they thinking, wanting WHILE they are reading your blog post?

That’s what you give them. BAM - perfect content upgrade.

2. Make it available AFTER opt-in 

The crux of this method relies on the content upgrade bonus content to be available AFTER someone signs up for your email list. This is how you turn readers, visitors, and the curious into subscribers. 

There are a few ways to technically implement the content upgrade. 

Leads from SumoMe:
I’ve been using SumoMe to help me grow my blogs for a few months, and I’m pretty happy with how easy it is to use and how it functions. You can see the “Share” app running on the left side of my blog - that’s part of the SumoMe suite.

"Leads" is another app you can enable on your blog that allows you to offer free downloads for readers behind an email sign up form. They click the button, enter their email, and get the download or file you’ve created. Leads is a little finicky on my site, (I’m using SquareSpace) but I’m sure if you use WordPress it’s even easier to implement. With Leads, the function is a button instead of a form. Buttons convert well. You can see how it looks on my site over here. It’s easy to use but customization is minimal so it took some finagling to get it to work on the page (spacing wise). 

MailChimp "Autoresponder":
Automation in MailChimp isn’t free, but you might find it worth it to pay for a subscription with Automation capabilities so that all of your content upgrades are delivered automatically from MailChimp. Basically someone would fill out the opt in form for your specific content bonus, then confirm subscription, then be sent the deliverable they’ve signed up for. It’s a little more cumbersome for the reader, but it does keep all of your stuff within MailChimp for simplicity on your end. 

SquareSpace Newsletter Block:
I use SquareSpace. I can create a custom Newsletter block with a custom post-opt-in message that delivers the file, hosted with Squarespace, after someone has signed up. I’ve been using this so far, it’s simple and easy to implement on my site since it’s baked in.

LeadBoxes from LeadPages:
Leadpages is a really popular platform for creating landing pages and collecting emails. They have a function called “LeadBoxes”, which is very similar to the SumoMe “Leads” app. LeadBoxes creates a button on your page (or just link text or an image, whichever you prefer) and then collects the opt-in email. Readers are then directed to a page, link , or file where they can download the content upgrade. LeadPages costs money and I have not used them personally, though I know many people like their platform. 

3. The Yellow Box Secret

I don’t actually know why, but multiple people have said that the “yellow box” is a big factor in creating successful content upgrades that convert. The Yellow Box is like a little beacon that attracts people to notice your bonus content. I sprinkle one or two yellow boxes throughout the post to remind people and build anticipation (you can see examples right in this post!). If yellow doesn’t go with your branding, you can use another color that works for you. 

It’s a good idea to announce your content upgrade half-way through the post or even at the beginning, that way people know that there’s something extra awesome right from the start. Otherwise some people might pass over the post or check out half-way through, and never know about your bonus content if you only mention it at the end of the post. 

Two things you need to do ASAP:

1. Upgrade-ify your top posts TODAY and watch your list grow

Go into your analytics and find your top 3-5 blog posts. These are the blog posts with the most traffic, views, and shares. These are primed and ready for a great content upgrade. These will make for hot landing pages  - and you’ve already done half the work. 

Brainstorm and create content upgrades for your top, most popular blog posts. Add them to the post. These 5 posts won’t necessarily be your most recent ones - sometimes older posts get tons of traffic months or even years later. This is great - you probably have an update to make anyway. You might have learned something new since posting it and can add your new thoughts to the post in an upgrade. 

Not sure what kind of content upgrade you should create for your most popular posts? It’s cool - just grab the free bonus at the end of this post. 

2. Get a guest-posting gig, and create an upgrade that needs to be downloaded at YOUR site

This is where content upgrades REALLY work their magic. 

Usually, when you write a guest post, you write something awesome, you get a short byline either at the top or bottom of the blog post, and you just hope that someone found your article interesting enough to come over and check out your blog all on their own. There’s no real strong call to action for them to do that, but you hope that if they like the article they’ll seek you out. 

Hmm, that’s okay. I did that for a long time. But it isn’t AWESOME. Creating a content upgrade bonus for those readers is AWESOME. 

Content upgrades give people a strong reason to come over to your blog and sign up for your email list. If they like the article you’ve written and need the extra bonus, they’ll have a good incentive to come to your site and actually sign up. 

This makes your guest posting efforts 1000x (super scientific studies numbers right there) more effective. Simple bylines and back links are fine, but they aren’t as awesome as this little method. If you’re not creating content upgrades for your guest posts, it really is a missed opportunity. 

Here are a few examples of how and where I used content upgrades in guest posts:

Getting Started on Etsy: The Crafty Entrepreneur’s Quick Guide to Building a Successful Shop

How To Craft an Editorial Calendar that Works For You

Is it more work? Yes, it is. But I’ve found it to be totally worth it. More high quality content means a better experience for you and your readers. It’s a win-win. 

So, what do you think? Will you be adding content upgrades to your popular blog posts and to future guest posts? 

If you want a ridiculously in-depth, step-by-step guide FULL of practical strategies for building your email list and making money from your own product son your blog, Your First 1K is your new best friend.

Content Upgrades is just ONE of the many strategies we implement in the course. In Your First 1K you will focus on both foundation and blitz strategies, so your website becomes a conversion machine AND you're having major windfall days (like 300 subscribers in 24 hours).