The Folder of Download Doom—you know you have one. Perhaps you gave it a benign title like “Read Later,” “Resources,” or “Research.” But the purpose it serves is obvious: a final resting place for meaty guides, quasi-interesting reports from 2017, and odd scraps of downloaded stuff that had appeal, once upon a time, at the stroke of midnight.

Listen, this is a judgment free zone. I am the biggest culprit. The Internet compounded my information hoarding. I didn’t want to miss out on a tip, trick, or tactic that might have value down the road. So I developed a bad habit of popping in the old email address, grabbing the goods, and subsequently sending them to the boneyard.

Tins of Spams as Examples for Spam Emails

Do you want that to happen to your lead magnets? I know I don’t.

New subscribers who never use or actually benefit from your freebies won’t give you their trust. Trust is the key. Over the long haul, trust is more important than traffic or subscribers. Seeds of trust blossom into true fans.

Lead magnets can build trust, but the process of turning strangers into fans breaks down if your epic guide gathers digital dust on a forgotten hard drive.

Point taken? Good.

I will now walk you through the rationale and step-by-step process for creating lead magnets and content upgrades that 1) your audience will really want, and 2) they will actually use.

My Lead Magnets Used to Suck

You didn’t really think we’d skip the backstory, did you? For years, I produced long, dense, and dead-on-arrival lead magnets.

I didn’t know any better!

As long as my opt-in percentage fell inside of accepted industry norms, I assumed that everything was swell.

(And if I’m really honest, I checked my analytics about as often as I detailed my car. I wasn’t using my data to get 1% better every day. Lesson learned.)

I attributed sluggish list growth to my trickle of traffic. I thought I needed more traffic. So I wrote more blog posts. I assembled ornate collages of related keywords. I optimized the ever-living crap out of my long-form content.

And… drumroll… more traffic equated pouring water through a sieve at a faster rate. That is, until I stumbled bass-ackwards into several significant changes—might I even say lazy changes—and plugged up the holes in the sieve.

My email list doubled in a single month. Doubled! In a month!

Statistic Showing Email List Getting Doubled in a Month

My list was still pretty small, but marketing hope sprang eternal in my breast!

Now I know that my lead magnets, not my traffic volume, were the problem. Thankfully, the tweaks I made were so small I still can’t believe they work.

They will work for you too. However, before we dive into these lazy tactics, I will define basic terms for those of you who are newer to online marketing.

(Those of you who are old hats, please sit tight for a few short paragraphs.)

What are lead magnets anyway?

Depending on your industry and sales strategy, you may define a “lead” as a new person’s mailing address, phone number, email address, business problem, project info, budget range, or all of the above.

You may define a lead simply as a person who has agreed to hear from you.

Lead magnets are offers intended to attract new prospects. What you’re offering must be desirable enough to persuade the person to share his or her contact information.

Lead Magnets Attracting Prospects

Lead magnets, which are usually free, come in many shapes and sizes:

  • You can organize several popular blog posts on the same subject into a single PDF.
  • You can break down one of your go-to strategies or processes and turn it into a how-to or DIY guide. Illustrations, diagrams, and statistics will add value and punctuate important steps in the process.
  • You can give away a key client case study, industry white paper, or checklist of best practices distilled from years of hard-won experience.
  • You can put together an email training course, cheat sheet, template, guide, collection of email scripts, code samples, or .zip file full of photos—really anything that can help someone solve a problem.
  • You can offer a free product demo, trial, or consultation.

Most companies are sitting on dozens of lead magnets, and they don’t even know it. It’s simply a matter of packaging up your sawdust.

Only your creativity limits what you can offer as a lead magnet.

The 7 Biggest Mistakes People Make with Lead Magnets

Though I believe you should never give customers a reason to doubt your value after you make the sale, countless interactions have taught me that attempting to dazzle prospects often backfires. To prove our competence or expertise, we end up trying too hard.

Stuffing too much expertise into a lead magnet is just one of several pitfalls:

  1. Your lead magnet is too long. (Translate: It requires a significant time investment, commitment, and willpower to finish and poses an opportunity cost.)
  2. It takes too long to create (and thus has an opportunity cost for you).
  3. It’s too technical or meaty—that is, too difficult to understand.
  4. It is vanilla, too generic, which means that the person could easily get something similar in a dozen other places, without having to hand over an email address.
  5. It doesn’t address an obvious, felt, painful problem.
  6. It lacks immediacy and doesn’t pertain to a problem that the person wants to solve right now
  7. It offers a solution that would take too long to implement.

Instead of empowering strangers by giving them a quick win, your lead magnet leave them feeling overwhelmed.

Instead of making them feel confident and energized, your 75-page ebook leaves them confused and discouraged: “When am I going to find time to do all the crap this supposed expert is saying is so important? Arrrgh!”

You can safely set aside the ponderous tome stuffed with esoteric concepts and NOT OVERDELIVER IN THE VALUE DEPARTMENT.

Sorry for shouting in all caps, but this may be the most important takeaway: Dense lead magnets simply don’t get the job done.

The Secret to Creating the Best Lead Magnets

You wanted a buffet of the good stuff, so here goes: The best lead magnets are short, not long. Give your audience snacks.

This idea of snacks may be counterintuitive, but short lead magnets offer the following benefits:

  • Quick to make for you
  • Quick to consume and implement for your prospects
  • Quick to earn your prospects’ trust

If people have never heard of you, they do not want the kitchen sink from you. They want a quick win. They want momentum, thank you very much.

And it bears repeating: Your offer is only effective if it convinces people to fork over their contact information and actually consume your knowledge. Email addresses with no trust in tow are a vanity metric.

Good lead magnet snacks also check these three boxes:

  • Highly relevant to your prospect’s needs or pains
  • Highly actionable
  • Highly valuable

People consume snacks quickly, like the taste, and come back for more. Snacks kickstart a relationship founded on perceived value. Later, after you make prospects feel warm and energized, maybe you will have earned more of their attention. Maybe they will open your emails.

You can razzle-dazzle with your guides, case studies, white papers, and other beefy lead magnets some other time, but first, trust—earn it.

Find a place in your audience’s life where you can fit and make it better.

By the way, context is super important.

The perfect lead magnet is the one that the person wants right then. Out of the three traits—short, actionable, and relevant—relevance is perhaps the most important factor. Context determines relevance.

You may offer a single, catch-all lead magnet on your homepage, but other pages and posts deserve a much more contextual, tailored offer.

For example, one of my most popular posts covers 7 ways to follow up with past clients and silent prospects without annoying them. The post has always gotten healthy traffic because it ranks for a variety of long tail keywords, and the main attraction is the email templates I share.

You can probably detect the problem with my original call to action and offer:

Do you want to build a profitable business you love?

Duh. Pony up that email address, and you can learn from my failures. You can laugh at my mistakes. You can envy my success at croquet, slow running, and modest bank accounts. Let’s make good money and leave the world better than we found it.

My copywriting was cute, but my offer was generic. It lacked immediacy.

Here is the new call to action and offer:

Example of Call to Action and Offer

The second version, the more contextually relevant offer, has outperformed the first to the point where I’m kicking myself. That generic offer caused me to miss out on a ton of new subscribers!

Oh well. Lesson learned. Maybe you can benefit from my mistakes.

Should you rework your old lead magnets?

Those of you who already have rather dense and heady lead magnets may now be questioning your past choices.

Should you start from scratch or rejigger an offer you already have?

Well, it can’t hurt to take a closer look at your non-snack-like lead magnets.

Perhaps you can tweak the format, delivery, or design so that a stranger can get a quick win?

Person Staring Longingly at Food

Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Convert the first section of the robust guide into a checklist.
  • Turn the first page of the case study into a “cheat sheet” with 3 key before/after numbers, 4 key takeaways, and 11 mistakes to avoid
  • The very first page of the white paper might be a tearaway synopsis with a list of 12 questions that CEOs should ask before embracing blockchain

You get the picture. Look around at what you’ve already got. Then ask yourself these questions:

  • What problems do my customers/clients have?
  • Which problems do they not realize they have? And which of those problems are they most aware of?
  • How do they describe the problems they’re aware of?
  • What obstacles or bottlenecks prevent them from solving those problems?
  • What smaller problems or tasks are a part of the bigger puzzle?
  • Now that I’m aware of their big and small problems, what are the top five most painful ones, once I force-rank them?

Once you have your list of five problems, ask yourself three more questions:

  • What do we already have lying around that can help people solve those small but persistent problems? What sawdust or byproducts from our own work, systems, and process we could package up?
  • How can we make some of that stuff easier to consume—more like a snack than a full meal?
  • Finally, which popular pages and posts on our website need a better lead magnet in order to convert traffic more effectively?

I have found it really satisfying to revisit the blog posts that get good traffic, update the call to action and offer, and convert more web visitors into email subscribers and prospects.

One particular lead magnet tripled my conversion rates overnight. It is a cheat sheet that summarized a 5,990-word article about how to create a freelance writer website that actually gets clients.

People who wanted to skip the TL;DR version could “cheat” and read the Cliff Notes.

Student Taking a Peek at Her Classmate's Test Answers

Check your analytics, and then update a handful of pages and posts with new offers. Watch what happens. You’ll be delighted.

How to Create the Perfect Lead Magnet

If you do decide to create the perfect lead magnet from scratch, I highly recommend doing it the lazy way.

You really don’t need to spend more than 15-20 minutes creating the lead magnet. Any more than that and you run the risk of making it too dense, too difficult to consume. Stick to snacks, people.

Here’s my 7-step process for creating effective lead magnets:

  1. Notice the context. What mode are people in when they’re here? Research or buying? Casual learning or focused problem-solving? Knowing the “mode” will help you pick the right format. For example, the topic of the post I mentioned above, ways to follow up with clients and prospects, would appeal to people looking to solve their follow-up problem. What could I offer them to help them ready to take action? Email templates.
  2. Pick a single problem. Big problems like “get more customers” or “hire talented people” are jigsaw puzzles. Each piece of the puzzle is a smaller task (that is, a bite-sized problem). Focus your lead magnet on solving a single painful problem. For example, I could have hooked my readers up with a process for digging up relevant industry articles to share with clients or given them a GSheet template for logging their follow-up dates and spacing them out appropriately. However, the email templates had immediate value: “You can use these templates and potentially drum up new business RIGHT NOW.”
  3. Pick the format. Remember that you’re after snacks. Easy-to-consume checklists, cheat sheets, design templates, swipe files, code samples, and punchy step-by-step guides help people get a quick win. So pick a format that matches the problem you’re helping people solve. For the email templates, I used my design template to create an on-brand lead magnet. A beautiful layout makes the content easier to consume, and meanwhile, you position your brand as one that really gets it. Good design adds value. When in doubt, make it pretty. However, if you don’t have a team of world-class creatives like I do, don’t let the pursuit of excellent design draw you into diminishing return. You can definitely get away with a simple .txt file. After all, most people aren’t looking to be impressed by your aesthetic sensibility. My audience wants customizable email templates, which they can easily copy and paste. Keep your eyes on the prize, my friends.
  4. Create quickly. Once I have narrowed down the context, problem, and format, I use the questions below to zero in on good lead magnet ideas and then I usually spent 15-30 minutes creating the best one:

      • “What is the smallest incremental progress I can offer someone who wants to solve a problem completely?” Your lead magnet doesn’t need to deliver a complete solution. By shedding light on the bigger problem, you establish yourself as an expert and give the person who uses the lead magnet a clear next step: Getting in touch with you is an obvious way to keep making progress.
      • “What kind of small bridge can I build between where they are and where they want to be?
      • “How can I accelerate their progress here?”
      • “What will help people go deeper or apply what they have just learned?”
      • “What exactly do they need in order to take definitive action?”
  5. Craft killer titles. What is the desirable outcome or main result? Your web page or blog post needs a killer title and your lead magnet needs a catchy name. Don’t skimp on titles and names. Your grandiose lead magnet dreams will deflate if your boring titles and names leave people saying, “Meh.” How do you write killer titles and craft catchy names? Do yourself a favor and get this free guide from Copyblogger: “How to Write Magnetic Headlines.” After all, blog post titles and names share much in common with headlines.
  6. Finalize the design. If you’re planning on a simple .txt file or spreadsheet template, you can skip this step. But a little spit-and-polish never hurts.
  7. Add an enticing call to action. It’s okay if you’re not a professional copywriter. However, you will see higher opt-in rates if you put forth a little more effort on the persuasion machine. This call to action (CTA) has no sizzle: “Submit your name and email address below, and I will send you a cheat sheet.” Compare it to the call to action I used at the end of my post about following up. My CTA uses logic (“you do need to keep track of… the email templates”), offers convenience (“handy swipe file”), and promises more value (“plus 2 other templates that are really, really effective”). Pitch your lead magnet. Sell the sizzle! If you’re addressing a real, felt, painful problem and you’re offering a quick win, then lay on that steak sauce.

Pouring Sauce on Steaks

That’s pretty much it. Yes, you’ll need to wire up a new form and set up auto-delivery of the download link. You’ll also want to figure out your process for nurturing new relationships after people download your lead magnet.

When in doubt, take your new leads through an email sequence where you solve one or two more small problems for them.

Then, go ahead and decide in advance how and when you will contact your leads directly.

Putting the “net” back in “lead magnet.”

My experience and research have taught me that I will capture a lot more opt-ins if I give people a really tasty bite exactly when and where they want it.

Most people want snacks, not sit-down affairs. That’s not to say your prospects are lazy and superficial, but rather that when they stumble across your offers, they are in a specific frame of mind. The vast majority are sampling, not buying.

Guy sampling instead of buying food

Hopefully, you are now ready to embrace the irony: Substantial, impressive lead magnets backfire. They may have more long-term value, but they don’t give people a quick win.

Speaking of quick wins, I’ve got a final question for you: Isn’t it time you captured more leads?

I’ve got a fill-in-the-blank worksheet that you can use to zero in on your perfect lead magnets. I would be delighted to practice what I preach and share it to you. Put in your name and email address below, and I’ll send you the download link.