One of my most popular blog posts is a 5,990 word behemoth on a very specific topic: how to create a freelance writer website that actually gets clients.

I got the SEO right on this post, and depending on the day, it ranks either #1 or #3 for the target keyword. As a result, the post gets a significant amount of organic traffic.

This particular post became the poster child of authoritative blog posts: going deep and long, giving away all my secrets and providing real value, providing the type of resource that I needed as a brand new freelance writer back in 2009.

But I noticed a problem.

I want to grow my email list, but my epic blog post wasn’t converting much of that free traffic.

Google Analytics tells me that visitors spend, on average, over six minutes reading the blog post.

Not bad!

I had used Beacon to convert the post into a PDF, and my lead magnet was that PDF: “Don’t have time to finish reading the post right now? Share your name and email address, and I’ll send you the download link for the PDF version.”

ConvertKit revealed just how unappealing that PDF was…

Visitors opted in at an abysmal rate of 0.3%. Ouch.

I listened to Episode 278 of Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income podcast, and his guest, Amy Porterfield, had some helpful thoughts on lead magnets and content upgrades. Here my paraphrased version of Amy’s rationale:

“Nowadays, because it’s so congested online, you’ve got to have really good content and add value at a higher level than ever before in order to stand out. In order to get people on your email list, you must offer incentive in the form of amazing content upgrades—cheat sheets, checklists, and other freebies that are downloadable in exchange for an email address.”

Then, Amy got to the kicker:

“You want to give them just a taste and inspire them: ‘I can do this.’ Give them that quick win. People make their freebie so meaty and it takes so long for somebody to get through it that they never come out of that rabbit hole and say, ‘Okay. Now, I’m ready to buy.’”

Oops.

My 6,000 word PDF definitely fell in the “meaty,” not the “quick & actionable,” category.

I made two changes.

  1. I condensed the post into a cheatsheet.
  2. I added this call-to-action at the very end of the introduction:

“Note: At 5,800 words this article is chock full of good advice. Be that as it may, some of you may want to skip the TL;DR version and use the cheatsheet instead. Put in your name and email address, and I’ll send you the download link.”

Those two changes tripled my conversions.

0.9% still isn’t very good. I plan to experiment with several other content upgrades.

But this whole experience has given me a crash course in list-building. Digital marketing is a school of hard knocks. The secret that no one wants to tell you is that you have to get out there and do a ton of experiments and make a ton of mistakes.

You will miss out on a ton of qualified leads because your marketing funnel has leaks in it. But you won’t identify the leaks if you try to perfect your funnel before pushing it out into the world.

A better approach is to launch the imperfect, leaky funnel (or blog post or product) and then use the data, analytics, and customers feedback (or lack thereof) to iterate quickly.

I usually have to learn my lessons the hard way, but I am learning them:

  • By all means produce long, deep, authoritative content.
  • Pay attention to your analytics.
  • Don’t expend all of your energy on that article and skimp in the content upgrade department
  • The best content upgrades are highly contextual. Your readers can implement these questions, templates, checklists, and cheatsheets in 15 minutes. They can implement what you just taught them quickly.
  • Not only will contextual content upgrades get your more subscribers, but they will also gain your readers’ trust.

If your lead magnets and content upgrades are so dense and meaty that people never get around to actually using them, then you haven’t given your readers a quick win.

That’s the irony: Substantial lead magnets don’t give people what they want—that is, quick results. We all have a “To Read” folder where we keep the stuff we download and plan to read on a slow, rainy day that never comes.

  • We don’t read and implement.
  • We never reap the benefits.
  • We don’t attribute that momentum to the expert.

The existence of all those unloved PDFs in that oft-neglected folder creates cognitive dissonance. The next time you start to download some comprehensive, 60-page knowledge bomb on how to supercharge your content marketing, you might second-guess yourself: “Am I ever going to read this?”

In my experience bite-sized (or rather, right-sized) content upgrades outperform big, impressive lead magnets every single time.

People use them quickly and like the results and come back for more. Bite-sized content upgrades are like Botox. (Yes, I did just make that comparison.)

So give your target audience what they want: quick results.

Check out the conversion rates on some of my content upgrades for recent Medium posts…

Simplicity Checklist

Simplicity Checklist

 

Fix Your Messaging Worksheet

Fix Your Messaging Worksheet

 

4 Email Templates for Asking for Referrals

4 Email Templates for Asking for Referrals

 

3 Tools I Use for Lead Tracking

3 Tools I Use for Lead Tracking

 

Most of my Medium articles get less traffic than that freelance writer website article I mentioned earlier.

Yet, my shorter Medium articles with their contextual content upgrades have grown my email list must faster.

Why do these contextual content upgrades work?

You can’t solve a problem people don’t think they have. You have to illuminate the problem first and explain the benefits, the better life, available if your readers will take action.

So you might say that the article delivers the diagnosis, and the content upgrade delivers the treatment.

In his book DotCom Secrets Russell Brunson describes the same concept as “pre-frame bridge.” A pre-frame bridge ensures that your readers or prospects are in the right mindset to take the next step. They believe that they have a problem, and they believe that you can deliver the treatment.

While people are reading your content, they’re at different stages in their businesses. They may also vary widely in what they believe about the same problem:

  • A new freelancer thinks, “My problem is my lack of experience.”
  • A part-time freelancer thinks, “My problem is low-paying clients.”
  • A full-time freelancer thinks, “My problem is marketing.”
  • A veteran freelancer thinks, “My problem is complexity.”

You cannot help every person at every stage in the journey with every article, so with every piece of content, you need clarity around who your audience is.

Then, you can learn about their frustrations, needs, and desires.

Then, you can figure out which content upgrades can move them forward in 15 minutes.

Now I’m experimenting with quizzes…

The need to help people recognize the real problem is why quizzes can work so well as lead-generation tools.

Asking good questions forces people to question their assumptions. Once you politely shove those assumptions aside, you can introduce a new idea or, to stick with the medical analogy, effective treatment.

Quizzes give quick results. People love quick results.

This month, I have begun experimenting with the Interact quiz platform (affiliate link). So far, I am really impressed.

Here is the first quiz I created…

Are your freelance rates too low?

Have you ever used a quiz for lead generation? I’d love to hear about your experience in a comment below.

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.

No-nonsense business advice for content writers and freelancers. Served warm with a side of dad jokes.

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