How I Increased My Email Conversion Rate By 300% Using Content Upgrades

conversion-Post_ImageDo you love case studies?

I bet you do!

You get the detailed instructions on executing a certain strategy and the exact numbers that you can expect from doing it.

What can be more valuable than that?

These days I never take any advice seriously unless it?s backed up with real data.

I?ve learned a ton of highly actionable tactics by reading case studies and I guess it?s time to share one of my own.

How Collecting Emails Helps Your Business

Imagine that you want to sell your car. It?s in a perfect condition and your price is a lot lower than it?s actual market value.

Do you think you can persuade a random stranger to buy it?


He doesn?t know you, and the fact that your deal looks so sweet would only make him more suspicious.

If someone you don't know offers you to buy a car of your dreams. Would you buy it?

Someone you don’t know offers you to buy a car of your dreams for cheap… Would you buy it right there?

But what if you try to sell it to one of your friends? Do you think you can persuade him to take it?


Your friend knows you well and when you offer him a good deal he knows that it?s exactly what you say it is.

Well, your email list is a magic wand that can turn a random stranger into a friend within just a few weeks.

You should not pitch your products and services to people on their very first visit to your blog. They don?t know you yet and they have no reason to trust you.

Take their email address instead and keep in touch by sending regular updates with something valuable.

Allow them to get to know you better. Prove them that you’re not the kind of person who will ruin his reputation for the sake of earning a few bucks. And once you decide to offer them something – they will go for it.

Your email list is a very powerful thing, and that’s why you have to spend all your efforts on converting your first time visitors into email subscribers.

My 300% Bump In Conversion Rate

2% – that was my sitewide conversion rate in January 2015. Which is pretty pathetic.

Let me show you how I counted it.

I had only 48 opt-ins in January:


…which came as a result of 2300 people visiting my blog:


Now let?s look at the month of February.

I managed to get 539 opt-ins (not bad, huh?):


…and I obvously had a lot more traffic:


It?s easy to calculate that my email conversion rate for the month of February was 6% ( 539 / 8892 * 100% = 6% ), which is 300% bigger than in my previous month.

And here goes my dirty secret?

Content Upgrades

In case you’re not already familiar with content upgrades strategy, take a look at the following article:

I?ve shared a screenshot of my outreach email to Rand Fishkin and mentioned that I?ve used a cocky email subject to get his attention.

But I didn’t share that subject in my article.

I told my readers that I can only share it with them if they give me their email address.

Like this:

Want to know which email subject I’ve used to get Rand’s attention? :) [content_upgrade id=5328]Click here to get it (along with my comments)![/content_upgrade]

If you click on a link in that yellow box, you’ll get a popup box asking for your email address:


Once you submit your email address to that box you will get a link to a PDF document, where I share that email subject and give you a few extra tips on writing catchy email subjects that get noticed.

If you’re my email subscriber already, clicking on that link will forward you directly to the PDF, without showing you popup email form and having you put your email there.

This tactic is known as ?content upgrades? or ?content-specific bonuses?.

Some bloggers get absolutely insane conversion rates by using content upgrades in their articles.

Here?s a quote from Bryan Harris:

[tweet_dis]Content upgrades turn your readers into subscribers better than any other single tactic out there.[/tweet_dis] I normally experience 20-30% opt-in rates on these bonuses and some have been as high as 62%!

These numbers are totally insane and honestly I haven?t had THIS kind of success yet.

My best converting article right now is the one I?ve just shared with you and it has a conversion rate of 8% (which is still quite solid actually):

This was my best conversion rate so far, but I'm sure I can easily do better!

This was my best conversion rate so far, but I’m sure I can easily do better!

I have created a cool content upgrade for this article as well.

But I won’t reveal it to you just yet…

How To ?Sell? Your Content Upgrade

So what can be used as a content upgrade?

Absolutely anything!

Here are just a few examples from my latest articles:

Article: 3 Easy Outreach Hacks To Make Influential People Notice You
Bonus: A very basic ebook with 2 words that you should never use in your outreach emails.

Article: Why 100 True Followers Is Really All You Need
Bonus: An ebook with 15 tools for Twitter Marketing.

Article: What An Email Response From Rand Fishkin Taught Me About Influencer Outreach
Bonus: Subject line of my email to Rand and a few tips on writing them.

Article: How To Write Content Strategically: The Guide To Getting Traffic, Subscribers & Sales With Your Articles
Bonus #1: The PDF version of my ?Strategic Writing? checklist.
Bonus #2: The contact information of my illustrator on Fiverr.
Bonus #3: My cheat sheet with headline formulas.

It doesn?t really matter what you use as your content upgrade as long as you know how to persuade your readers that they should take it.

The funny thing is that I?ve put a lot of effort into bonuses for my Strategic Writing Guide, but it has a lower conversion rate than the “outreach email to Rand” post, where I’ve spent no more than 20 minutes to create a bonus.

One of the reasons why that specific bonus converts so well is because it’s based on a proven psychological pricnicple called “the information gap“.

I shared the my outreach email with the readers but I didn’t share it’s last piece – the email subject. That created a fair amount of curiosity that was itching them.


So next time you’ll be writing your article think if you can create an information gap and hide that piece of extra knowledge behind the email form.

By the way, I promised you there will be a cool content upgrade in this article.

Well, remember that quote by Bryan Harris where he says that one of his articles has a 60% conversion rate?

I’ve reached out to him and asked to show me that article. He gave me the link and now I no longer have any doubts about his insane conversion rate.

So what I’m offering you is a link to this highly converting article along with my detailed breakdown of what makes it work so well.

Sounds good?

BONUS CONTENT: Get my breakdown of a simple article that has an insane 60% conversion rate. [content_upgrade id=5451]Click here to grab it![/content_upgrade]

How To Setup Content Upgrades On Your Blog

Here at BloggerJet I?m using my own plugin – Content Upgrades PRO.

Let me show you how I?ve used it to create a content upgrade for this article.

Step #1: Create a new ?upgrade?

Basically I need to create a popup email form that promotes my upgrade:

Click on that image if you want to view it full size

Click on that image if you want to view it full size

The plugin has live preview that instantly shows me how my popup will look like:


Step #2: Configure how it works

There are two types of people who will opt-in to get your content upgrade:

1. People who are in your email list already – the plugin can immediately forward them to a page containing the bonus.

2. People who are not in your email list yet – after they submit their email address, MailChimp will send them an email with a confirmation link that they have to click.

You should tell the plugin to forward these people to a page that will instruct them to open their inbox and confirm subscribtion (here’s mine).

click to see full size screenshot

Step #3: Put the content upgrade into the article

I simply grab the shortcode of that content upgrade and paste it in my article anywhere I want, like this:


But it looks like a simple text link, and many people won?t notice it.

Here, try it:

[content_upgrade id=5451]Click here to and you’ll get a popup email form![/content_upgrade]  
So I need to emphasize it with a ?fancy box?. My plugin has a shortcode for that too.

So the resulting code looks like this:


And it gives me this pretty thing:

[fancy_box id=”4″]BONUS: [content_upgrade id=5451]Click here to and you’ll get a popup email form![/content_upgrade][/fancy_box]

Step #4: Add my bonus to the ?thanks for subscribing? page

Ok, but how do people get their bonus after they subscribe to my email list?

All my new subscribers eventually land on my “Thanks For Subscribing” page that I have specified in MailChimp.

And this is where I put all my “subscriber-only” bonuses.

Speaking of this specific bonus – it’s a simple PDF file that you can download once you land on my “Thanks For Subscribing” page.

So this was my basic setup!

Actually the Content Upgrades PRO plugin is a lot more sophisticated than that, but I guess I’ll save all these extra tricks for my future articles.

Time To Pump Your Conversion Rate

So did the idea of content upgrades resonate with you?

If you ask me – this completely changed the way I approach blogging.

Right now I’m on a quest to add content upgrades to all of my most popular articles, which should improve my sitewide conversion rate even further.

Let’s see if I can push it from 6% to 10% till the end of the month.

What about you? Did you try content upgrades already? Do you like the results?

Tim Soulo is the Chief Marketing Officer and Product Advisor at Ahrefs, a leading tool trusted by hundreds of thousands of SEOs and marketers worldwide. His SEO-related data research studies have been cited by media giants, including Inc, TechCrunch, and VentureBeat. He's also a regular speaker at some of the largest industry conferences around the globe, such as PubCon (US), BrightonSEO (UK), and the Digital Marketers Australia Conference (AU).


Add comment
  1. Hi Tim !

    I LOVE content upgrades. I only have a 3 on my blog right now and they definitely have not failed me.

    I’m currently converting at 3-4% sitewide. Not the greatest and I am working on improving it. My traffic is nowhere near yours but I am definitely going to kick it up a notch with content upgrades.

    Really useful post ! Thank you for writing it.

    • Tim Soulo

      3-4% is already better than what I had in January! :)

      But I’m sure you can easily get to my 6% and even beat it! let me know once you achieve that ;)

  2. Hi Tim,

    Good stuff! It comes down to giving something worth signing up for. Upgrades are worth signing up for so people’ll sign up for these fab morsels of content. On the flip side some try to grow their list with sub standard stuff. I myself offer my 7,000 weekly blog post disguised as an eBook. It’s a resource, it’s thorough, and many readers bookmark it to come back later, to read it, which is the type of stuff/content Google likes too ;)

    Thanks Tim!

    • Tim Soulo

      “something worth signing up for” AND something super relevant to the content of the article a person is reading :)

      relevancy makes the conversion rate go through the roof! :)

      thanks for your comment, Ryan ;)

  3. Gabriele

    Great article, as usual. I have a question regarding Content Upgrades PRO. Does it only work with Mailchimp? Not with Get Response (yet)? ld love to buy the beta version, but I’m a GR user. Thanks.

    • Tim Soulo

      We just added GetResponse last week :)

      It also works with Aweber!

      And it has an option to email you every new optin and store them locally, so that you could export them and import into your email service.

      But yeah.. we’re adding some new email service to the list every week ;)

  4. Hi Tim,

    Another awesome post. Very practical. This is an approach that I am seriously going to include as I re-launch my blog and I will be referring to your article when it’s time.

    Thanks Tim.

    • Tim Soulo

      Hey Hannah!

      make sure to drop me an email once you get some results ;)

  5. I love content upgrades. I give away pdf versions on my blog posts as content upgrades. It works.

    • Tim Soulo

      hey George.. I’ve heard that “pdf” versions is not the best performing type of content upgrades.. so I’d suggest you to try something else too ;)

  6. Such a brilliant case study.

    I heard about “content upgrade” first time on Brian Dean’s blog and implemented the same as soon as possible.

    But the mistake I did was, I added the link to download my guide which I am giving away free to my readers. As per your suggestion I must add something relevant to the article which can help me to get more conversion rate.

    I have one question – how do you manage all the subscribers who are getting the goodies via different content upgrades.

    You must be adding them in different email lists, so how are you going to pitch them anything in the future?

    Let’s say you are sending any email to your subscribers.

    In this case will you send that to all lists or just some specific lists?

    Please answer my queries.

    And congrats for such a nice plugin. I loved the idea and name. :)

    • Tim Soulo

      right now I add everyone to the same email list..

      but I plan to add the “hidden fields” feature into my plugin.. so that I was able to TAG subscribers based on which upgrade they have downloaded and target only them

  7. Clive Roach

    Very nice article. I read your post Rand Fishkin, and was impressed. It all makes sense but you have proved the theory can be done in practice very easily #kudos

    • Tim Soulo

      thanks, Clive ;)

  8. Tim Soulo

    you’re very welcome, Michael! :)

  9. Have you ever tried delivering the content upgrade as a download link within a specific follow-up email rather than directing people to another page where they download it?
    Also, is there any psychology behind putting all the content upgrades on one page versus having separate download/thank you pages for each?

    • Tim Soulo

      hey Megan..

      1) the plugin has an option of sending an email with a bonus, instead of redirecting a person to it

      but I don’t see the difference.. people opt to get the bonus.. most of the time they don’t even realise how it’s going to be delivered to them..

      what’s the purpose of your question? let’s talk more about it :)

      2) one page VS individual pages

      Why one page is good – your subscriber gets all your bonuses, which makes him feel that giving out his email was actually a good deal and he doesn’t have to opt a dozen more times to get other bonuses

      Why individual pages are good – you can actually track who downloaded what.. create segments and email people who downloaded specific stuff.. but I guess that thing is for super advanced marketers.. :)

      what do you think?

  10. Hi TIM , i really thank you for this great post , much looking on the internet how to increase my conversions by email and i don`t found so well detalied

    Thanks , Alex Smith

    • Tim Soulo

      you’re welcome, Alex ;)

  11. Hey Tim,

    Ok, you just gave us a great idea of increasing our conversion rate. I still get comments from my old posts that I’ve done this year, so now I need to take advantage of this opportunity now and set up content upgrades! This was definitely a valuable post that none of us should overlook! Thanks for sharing!

    • Tim Soulo

      hey Sherman! Let me know your results once you implement this strategy ;)

  12. Hello,

    From a long time I was searching how I increase my conversions rate, finally got your post and my all doubt is clear to read this post.It’s totally helpful for me.

    Thanks so much for sharing great post.

  13. Hi Tim,

    Great article. I just gave my email address to know the subject of the mail you had sent to Rand. Content upgrade is a nice way to get more subscribers. Thanks for the share.

    • Tim Soulo

      thanks, Dina :)

  14. Hi Tim
    Very nice article for someone like me who is struggling to increase conversion rate….I want to purchase Content Upgrades PRO but is it compatible with blogger blog?

    • Tim Soulo

      Nope, I’m afraid it only works with WordPress

  15. Hi, i read your guest post on the shoutmeloud blog
    and that article was perfect, I’m glad to found your blog
    That this article is also awsome.

    keep Sharing


  16. Well, at this moment I can say that my blog needs more traffic to get a nice email subscribers.
    I already tried to created a list of subscribers, but after a month of trying I realized that I need to improve my blogs visibility first.

  17. Hi Tim,

    this is very motivational article, and your email subscriber rate is amazing.. Now these day I am working on my email subscriber list, hope I will get good response..

    Mohd Arif

    • Tim Soulo

      Good luck with your email list, Mohd ;)

  18. Hi Tim,

    Excellent post! I absolutely agree with you. Everybody love the post that backup with real data as you have done in this post. I didn’t use still content upgrades but I think I should give a try to increase my subscribers and traffic result in boost sales.

    Thanks Tim to share this helpful article.


  19. This is exactly what I’m looking for. Do you have any plan to add the color control for fancy blocks? 5 styles are not enough, we need to have unlimited colors or a custom background image. And how about the powered text? Can I remove it?

    • Tim Soulo

      Hey Toan!

      We’ll add some more cool styles in future, but I don’t think there will ever be an editor for fancy boxes to pick colors and use custom backgrounds.

      Here’s why:

      You can actually open Photoshop.. design your Fancy Box the way you want it to look.. then save it as a picture and add that picture into your article.. and use the Content Upgrades shortcode on that picture.. so that by clicking on it your visitors will see a popup email form.

      That’s it.. if you want to go custom you can create your fancy-boxes as images… that’s it!

  20. nice article. I read your post Rand Fishkin, and was impressed. It all makes sense but you have proved the theory can be done in practice very easily #kudos

  21. Hey Tim,

    Excellent post here. Content Upgrades are a big thing now and the times I’ve used them, they’ve really worked out well. I think my issue that I need to work on, is coming up with suitable upgrades that would add to the content and make people want to pick it up.

    I like the upgrades that you provided in the example. Gives me a better idea of different things to create for each upgrade.

    Thanks for this.

    – Andrew

    • Tim Soulo

      Hey Andrew!

      Did you download the bonus to this article? :) It teaches you exactly that – how to create high converting content upgrades!

      make sure to check it out! ;)

  22. Elise Smith

    Fantastic post! We are always looking to improve our email conversion rates and this article gave me some great ideas about future projects.

  23. Hi Tim,

    Great article, I’m researching content upgrades for an upcoming blog post and this will help a lot. I just wanted to point out you have made a spelling error here:

    “But I did?t share that subject in my article.”

    Thanks, and great job!

    • Tim Soulo

      Oh! thanks a lot, Mr. Benjamin “Eagle Eye” Brandall :) It took me almost a minute to find a typo in that short sentence LOL

  24. Hi Tim, great idea for a plugin!
    Let me know once you integrate iContact, I’ll get then.


  25. Hey Tim, nice post. I this will definitely help me for my blog and content problems. Keep posting and have nice day.

    • Tim Soulo

      Thanks a lot, Swapnil! ;)

  26. Excellent case study – thanks for sharing.

    I came over here from your post on Matthew’s blog and this one takes it to another level. I’ve struggled a lot with generic free gifts to encourage email opt-in and now I understand why. More importantly, I’ve found out what I can do about it.

    • Tim Soulo

      hey Keiran! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed both reads :)

      let me know if my tips actually improved your signup rates!

  27. Hi Tim,

    I’m the founder of a small marketing agency in Montreal, Canada. We’ve been in business for a couple of years but after discovering digital and content marketing 7 months ago, my team and I were instantly converted!

    I first heard of content upgrades a few months ago and I thought the idea was brilliant. Unfortunately, when it comes to small businesses, unless it’s e-commerce, our clients want to see local traffic conversions (obviously). Do you have any suggestions in attracting local clientele to a small business website?

    This is a great read by the way, gives content upgrades a great definition.

    Thanks for sharing,

    • Tim Soulo

      Hey Konstantin, to be honest I never dealt with local websites.. but I’m sure there are lots of great articles about it ;)

  28. Hello Tim,
    This is really very awesome. I’ve been hearing a lot about Content Upgrade recently and the idea is really very interesting.

    Holding back a part of your articles for people to give you your email before gaining access is really a no brainier.

    Its better than when it was “Pay with a tweet” I think it will be better for me to have their email than for them to just tweet my post even though having more tweets will serve as social proof but on the long run, email marketing is the best.

    Thanks for sharing.

    My question though is, i will like to know if your product is only used for Content Upgrade? Can it also be used for Adding sidebar and after posts optin form?

    • Tim Soulo

      nope.. It can only be used for content upgrades :)

      Sidebars & after posts would be too much for a price of $30 :)

  29. Hi Tim,

    I am hearing a lot about content upgrades conversion rate recently I am following Kim Roach’s 30-day challenge for her paleo blog, she also used content upgrades to collect the emails with Facebook ads, recently I bought Thrive landing pages which has Thrive lightbox feature which do the same work as Content upgrade pro.

    Till now I have not tried content upgrades but this time I going to use it, thanks for sharing the valuable information, see you soon with another article.

  30. Thank you so very much! This is the only article that has really helped me, with all of the visuals and such when it comes to content upgrades! I had your plugin but wasn’t sure what I was doing. Thanks again!

  31. Hi,
    First of all I want to tell you one thing: I have saw many of your SEO video tutorials for Ahrefs, and the way you speak sounds quite funny (in a good way :P) to me. Coming to this post, you are as good with your words here as in your videos at Ahrefs. I still believe email marketing can help blogs/businesses touch newer heights in very short span of time. I am gonna follow all the steps that you have mentioned here, and share the details with you in case I need any support. Thanks for this post. Way To Go :)

  32. Hi! Love this plugin- quick question…do I need to make a new subscribing page on wordpress for each different content upgrade- or is there a way in Mailchimp to send out specific automated emails with each content added to it linked to that specific content upgrade?

  33. Hello Tim,

    Love this post. I tried this ‘hiding the piece’ thing and it really worked.

    You got a follower :)

    Vikas Singh

  34. Hi Tim. You said your conversion rate was 2% and that was pathetic… well mine is less than 1% but my organic traffic is increasing month after month. However I’m reaching first page not with those posts that sell products but with the ones that give free info about my niche. Anyway I’ll read your article step by step and try to put into practice. Thanks a lot!