Content Upgrades: Why & How to Use them on Your Blog

Shane Melaugh   49

Updated on June 20, 2022

Content upgrades are a way to build your list that suits blogging and content marketing perfectly - and they are all the rage right now.

Should you make use of this strategy as well? And how should you implement content upgrades on your site? Today's video is my answer to these questions. Plus: in the post below you'll find links to the best tutorials and resources you need, to make it happen.


Links & Resources

Here are the best tutorials on content upgrades I could find:

And here are three posts about the perfect, confirmed opt-in process:

Do you have any questions about content upgrades? Have you tried them yourself? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

If you appreciate content like this, please help us spread the word by sharing this post!


by Shane Melaugh  January 7, 2015


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  • Nice one Shane! Just curious…what tool are you using for your video transitions? They look different from the last one. Kinda like it and since I want to shoot some videos for my page as well I could use a tool like that!

  • Yes, this is the right way for using content marketing with a magazine Theme. Instead of grabbing Addresses with ugly pop ups or sidebars make the page as a real giver page. Before you grab everything, test what kind of content works and grab after targeted users for more interesting Stuff that they really want. Thanks Shane, you make it clear for a new Mind changing focus strategy!

  • If a reader has an interest in more than one post with a content upgrade it could be very annoying to enter their email address multiple times. How could we track their usage after their first opt-in and provide upgrades automatically?

    • Yes, that’s a very good point, Jim.

      I don’t know a current solution for this. But I’ll let you in on a secret: we’re working on a technical solution for exactly this problem. If all goes well, it shouldn’t be too long before we can release it.

  • Just discovered and purchased thrive themes. Great product and support. The latter missing from so many that sell “shiny objects”. Great story too Shane. Very humble beginnings. You deserve it mate.

  • Shane, there’s one critical, related issue that few are talking about (anywhere).

    1) You don’t need an email address to give away valuable content or make a post-confirmation offer. Just give it away. Just make the offer.

    2) Forcing someone to give their email (to gain access to something they want) makes little sense. Compare it to offering content that truly requires the lead to give their email address … because it’s the only way for the content to be correctly received and acted on by the lead (e.g. a 2 week series of step-by-step tutorials). This transforms the customized follow-up Shane speaks into an essential element of the offer! (not an after-thought that is often tolerated… giving you the illusion of a subscriber… because the email is not attended)

    3) Confirmed emails are rather worthless when the email is from a “regularly unattended” email address. We all (ALL) have email addresses we use to gain access to content. Is that the kind of relationship that the marketers I’m taking (usually crappy content) want? Nope.

    But it’s what their “email gate” earns them.

    I am committing to creating content that IMMEDIATELY gets me into THE inbox. The “best” one. The one that gets checked regularly — not only to pick-up the 5 days of goodies I want. And I earn that intimate relationship because it’s necessitated by the promise of the content.

    That promise reaches beyond the mere delivery of a single set of tips.

    Shane, I super-appreciate everything you do — and how you do it. EVERYTHING. I appreciate your take, reasoning and advice today. And I know Thrive’s themes support this tactic… and this tactic probably works for people. I’m here because I honestly think we all deserve to talk about these challenges.

    Perhaps comments, here, aren’t the best forum but your words, Shane, provoked me to share my challenges with the group.

    Thanks for considering, Shane, and everyone.

    • Great points Jeff but I have to say, I’m definitely from a different view to you….

      That’s great, if you don’t want to grow your list, but from most experience I’ve had with people who do it, they have two problems – 1. A small list and 2. Few sales.

      It’s easy to say your content is “EPIC” we all believe ours is right?

      But I would definitely go for content upgrades (from every case study I’ve seen)

      • Hi, Dean. We don’t differ on your point. I differ on how to address your 2 points. The essence of my point (if you care to address it) is building a list of email addresses that aren’t representative of actual relationships (actual convert-able leads) isn’t my game. It builds a list but doesn’t build my business. BTW, my POV is not based on theory or opinion — it’s based purely on my experience of building a large list of crappy leads.

        All because I “gated” my content without good enough reason. Thanks for considering.

    • Hello Jeff,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Here’s my take on this:

      1) The same can be said of everything, it just depends on your business model. You can give away all your content, you can give away your service, you can give away your software… heck, you could try building a business with the basis of giving away luxury cars to anyone who wants one, it would just be tough to keep that business going.

      This is simply a question of where you want to place the “free line” in your business. Purely from a business perspective, there’s no right answer here. There are many successful businesses that don’t give anything away for free, there are many that give everything away for free (and turn their users into the product, see Facebook, Google and many wannabe companies) and there are many in between. There are also businesses that fail, all along that spectrum, although I’d say that those trying to be the next Facebook fail at a far higher rate than those that don’t have a free line.

      The way I’ve experienced user behavior, here’s how I see a content upgrade offer: there are plenty of visitors who will happily read the most amazing, epic, useful content of all times and then leave, never to return. If you add a content upgrade to that same piece of amazing content, a good portion of those same readers will sign up and some of them will pay attention to your follow-up, return many times and become fans and customers. There are also going to be a couple who complain about the opt-in gate because they feel entitled to your hard work.

      Bottom line: using a gate is far more effective for your business than not using one. In my businesses, I have thousands of customers who love everything we create, but would never have become customers had I not added opt-in and pay gates to my business.

      2) This would make for an interesting test: test an offer that “requires” the email address (multi-step course) vs. one that doesn’t. My guess is that it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Yes, people generally don’t want to sign up for something, just like they generally don’t want to pay for things. That’s why marketing exists. Your job is to make an offer that is enticing enough to overcome those obstacles.

      3) As for fake or unattended email addresses: that’s a phantom not worth chasing. It’s just another step in the funnel. You get a certain number of visitors. A certain percentage of them sign up. A certain percentage of those actually read your next email. A certain percentage of those click on the link, etc. What matters is that in practice, you do end up getting more email opens and more email clicks, even when you build your list with relatively generic opt-in offers.

      It’s up to the subscriber’s or customer’s decision whether they want to pay attention to your communications, dump you in a trash inbox or just unsubscribe immediately. This is where quality content and real relationship building comes in. This is a really important factor for the content upgrade as well: you provide really great content and attach the upgrade offer to the end. Your content sells you to the reader. By the time they reach the upgrade offer, they should already want to learn more from you. With good content, your subscribers should feel like they’d be missing out if they didn’t receive your emails.

      • Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Shane. Please understand, guys, I’m not arguing against gated content — AT ALL!

        To your point, Shane, I my prospects don’t invest time complaining about my gating content. Instead, they invest zero effort by submitting an email from something like Yahoo, Gmail (that they don’t monitor) or (worse) — to get what they want and be done with me.

        I’m arguing FOR quality of leads — via the concept of ONLY taking email addresses when you need them.

        Not for the sake of building a list.

        Is this an argument that needs to be made here on this post? Dunno. But you got me thinking in your video Shane. Content upgrades = relevancy. Got it. However, any time you gate content you’re encouraging people to subvert the gate.

        UNLESS the content cannot otherwise be attained. Hence, the lead submits their “most often checked” email address… the one you want!

        Here’s the rub. In my experience (not attributable to all, I know) the presumption is my gated content (no matter how well I “sell it”) is going to be C-R-A-P. I’m literally told this by my leads who end up converting. Why? Because my market is filled with crap 🙂

        If it’s not crap? THEN they’ll return.

        ** Via a call-to-action in the gated content that brings them back **

        I’m not arguing against gates. I’m arguing for gates that, by design, require the lead to submit an email address they’ll be checking regularly.

        Hmm. Is this a lot of work? Yes. But my content upgrades are working better when I design them this way… so I’m sharing here in this thread.

        I honestly don’t see many people in “our industry” talking about this problem. Why? Because (frankly, if I may) it probably doesn’t help sell software. I’m NOT suggesting you’re avoiding the discussion here, Shane. After all, it’s not the original point of this video!

        Agree, Shane, “It’s up to the subscriber’s or customer’s decision whether they want to pay attention to your communications, dump you in a trash inbox or just unsubscribe immediately.”

        … BUT …

        My market has wised-up to the practice of offering a (probably crappy) single “PDF Cheat Sheet” and dripping knowledge (they probably already know). What I’m suggesting here doesn’t contradict anything you’re saying. That said, many of us don’t get any of the 3 chances you just referred to… because we have a huge % of invalid email addresses in our list.

        The phantom isn’t worth chasing. In fact, it’s one we’ve unwittingly created!

        Otherwise I’m in violent agreement with you. “With good content, your subscribers should feel like they’d be missing out if they didn’t receive your emails.”

        Thanks for humoring me a bit and letting me take a tangent here!

      • What market are you in, if you don’t mind sharing?

        I’ve never had this problem and I’m at least tangential to a market that is a complete cesspool of rubbish content and horribly run mailing lists (internet marketing and “make money online”). I’ve had maybe two or three people assume that I was trying to trick them with crappy content just because they saw a gate – and that’s out of probably 25K+ people who signed up to something at some point. Lead quality isn’t fantastic for me, but I’ve never perceived it to be a big problem.

        Like I said: I think testing an offer that requires an email address vs. one that doesn’t would be interesting. If you run a test like this and produce some interesting data, I’d be interested in publishing it.

      • First (if you’ll permit) I think you and Thrive are the best thing to happen to me, personally (for my business) in … well … I don’t know how long.

        Re: your market… my take (as a customer/outsider) is this: You lead with your product (not a promise). The first experience with your products is breath-taking. I’m not telling you this to kiss your fanny. I’m telling you this because it’s been my experience. Thrive then proceeds to over-deliver on free content, customer service and overall value.

        Thrive, today, IMO (could be wrong!) has a serious word-of-mouth reputation. The free and paid experiences you provide are well above par. Also, you serve a different “core” market than I do… probably yours skews younger, more technical and marketing-minded.

        We are in closely related markets. My promise is to help “make social media sell” for you. I teach an effective communications system. Essentially, copywriting. Not Copyblogger’s (“content marketing”) market — sales reps, teams and small biz owners.

        After a lot of fighting w/ myself, I’ve decided to keep courting the small biz people and individual sales reps — despite their reluctance to be courted. When I “connect” and help them it’s terrifically satisfying. I’m sure you know how that feels 🙂

        So my market/experience is what colors my comments here.

        When you say, “I’ve had maybe two or three people assume that I was trying to trick them with crappy content.” My reaction is, “Shane you probably have a lot more than that hiding in your database.”

        But it doesn’t cost you anything and it is, indeed, a phantom (un-detectable). I suppose Open Rate (I don’t use HTML, I’m text only) helps you detect?

        Anyway, I don’t know enough about your lead gen offers and such. I became a customer too long ago 🙂 Hybrid-Connect got me hooked.

        I suspect your market has more “offer tolerance” and different experiences with content marketing/email lists. My market is totally skeptical, guards are up and they’ve experienced too much “guru magic” for their liking.

        It’s just their gurus are of an older generation — riding the social media wave.

        I don’t have any data that is truly good enough, no. But I do know many people (myself included) who would like some research done on this subject. I’m at a critical point w/ my business next few months so cannot invest time in diving in (other priorities).

        That said, I’m a big believer in my experiences — and conversations I’m having w/ people I’ve managed to lasso as leads.

        Did you know people have 2-3 kinds of “crap lists?” Many of my clients tell me, “Your last Webinar/blog is causing me to move you … out of my ‘guru catch-all’ email account into my REAL inbox.”

        Can’t argue with experiences like that!

      • I agree that leading with the product is something that works in my favor.

        Just to clarify: I don’t disagree that many people use disposable mail or have trash mail boxes for the purpose of signing up to stuff. Heck, I personally recommend that people create a “guru-bucket” and unsubscribe a lot, to increase focus and productivity.

        The reason I’m not as worried about these things is because I can measure the business effectiveness of generating leads using content upgrades or good old opt-in incentives, even if those incentives aren’t very strong: put more leads of this type in one end of the funnel and sales come out the other end. As long as the funnel is profitable, it’s all good.

        Having said that, I agree with most of your points and I think keeping the junk-box vs. real inbox thing in mind should be part of every good email marketing strategy.

      • Shane, thanks for the thoughts. I’ve had a difficult time understanding your POV. But after giving it a lot of consideration I think I understand. The cesspool you refer to is very real and, in my opinion, is a cesspool because of one, core idea they rely on:

        Selling hope.

        Now, we all sell hope. I do, Thrive does. But what we MARKET (generate leads with) is:

        – A different POV (eg. conversion-optimized sites should be EASIER)
        – bit of hope (you CAN do it), a dash of curiosity (but not the usual way)
        – lots of guidance on how people can make their dream business real.

        This leads us to what Thrive sells: A tool set that meshes perfectly with all the “how to” advice you hand out… and fulfills on the very empowering POV (“this should be a LOT easier than it has been!)

        If 95% of what we market is hope — and all we sell is a tool set that won’t be used (tons of great information that smothers customers who invest in it) content doesn’t need to perform — beyond the superficial generation of hope.

        We are in the cesspool. Not competing with it, but in it.

        Just my POV coming from my “doing battle” with customers who feel “burned by gurus” who sold them hope and a mountain of knowledge they did not ACT on.

        Q: What does this have to do with content upgrades?
        A: The context of the content — and upgrades — is everything.

        Then again, I don’t know enough about the content upgrades and your lead gen strategy… since I’ve been a customer for a while now. But I sense your POV is founded in (what I consider to be) an A++ content strategy PLUS a sales strategy that makes it impossible for people who have a very real pain (eg. me) to resist testing your claim (via a small investment that “hooks” me on Thrive and up-sells me in about 10 seconds).

      • You make some very good points here, Jeff. I’ve always disliked the selling of hopes and dreams and although I never thought of it in these terms, you may be right that this determines where I draw the line between the cesspool and the real market.

      • Yeah, this guy doesn’t win me over at all, I have to say. It’s just a rant by someone who personally doesn’t like email gates and it’s made from the assumption that the content behind the gate is bad and the copy in front of the gate is bad.

        All he’s saying is “you haven’t convinced me”. This is what 20-80% of people who see your email gate will be thinking and it’s what 90%+ of people who see your sales page are thinking. By the same logic he’s presenting, you could argue that all products should be given away for free, with a donate button at the end. Hey, if my product really is good, you’ll pay for it, right? Why am I too scared to give my product away? It must be because it sucks and I have to “trap” people into buying. Such is his line of argumentation.

        The whole thing falls apart for one simple reason: I don’t run my business for the 95% of people who don’t make a purchase, I run it for the 5% who do. And I don’t have a mailing list and email gated content for the 60% of people who don’t opt in. I have it for the 40% who do.

  • Hey Shane,

    What’s your view on offering the upgrade for the email vs the share?

    I noticed you went for the share lately and I was wondering what your plan and thoughts were behind that?

    Thanks man – Loved this video

    • Hi Dean,

      The main reason I went for the share is that at this point, the majority of readers on the Thrive Themes blog are Thrive Themes customers. So, it makes less sense to ask for emails (I already have them) and more sense to ask for a share, in an attempt to attract more outside traffic.

  • will allow you to generate a URL that when clicked, switches a user from list A to list B, without entering their email address again. This is purely for Aweber lists.

    It is not perfect for this purose but it would work. It is designed for email sequences and the URL to be in the email, but it should work or be adapatble.

    Hope that helps

  • I think that the question of people using a disposable email address and therefore mail accounts being unattended is largely dependent on the target market.

    It’s reasonable to assume that anyone reading this blog is quite tech/web-savvy and may well have multiple email accounts – including ones just for ‘signing up to stuff’.

    My clients/prospects are hard-working business people who are great at what they do, but are not necessarily tech-savvy at all. In fact many struggle to find their Gmail password regularly.

    Note for Jeff – in this part of the world, a ‘fanny’ is something else altogether 😉

    So in different markets, the effectiveness of list building will vary.

  • Hi Shane,
    Thanks for digging into this topic and sharing the links above too. I think you have summarised the situation very well.
    Looking forward to your ‘technical solution’ mentioned below…
    – David

  • Shane,
    From a technical POV, what is the best way to integrate all of the content upgrade emails into your email list? Do you use one list that emails our your blog updates and somehow funnel all of your content upgrade emails to that list? Or do you have a separate list for each content upgrade? Just curious on your strategy for that? Btw, I use mailchimp in case that is somehow relevant to your answer…

    • I recommend having a separate list with a short, tailored follow-up for each content upgrade. Purely from a conversion perspective, that’s what will give you the best results. But of course, it’s also quite time consuming, so the alternative is to put everyone on the same sequence and the same list.

  • One “legal” question: Is it permissible to use this tactic in a country where an “opt in”-process is required (in this case Switzerland) in order to send someone emails? Giving your email address to gain access to content does not constitute consent to receive emails – or does it? Thanks for your input!

    • Hello Gabriele,

      The following is just my opinion and you shouldn’t listen to me because I’m not a lawyer etc. etc.

      Having said that: you can mention the subscription in the signup form for your content upgrade (“Get the bonus tips plus our free newsletter!”). You can also restate the subscription on the confirmation page, assuming you’re using a confirmed opt-in process. Or you can create a multi-part content upgrade, so that getting several emails is part of the offer (“Get the 4-part video series with bonus tips”).

      The way I see it, it’s not too difficult to combine the content upgrade offer (or any opt-in incentive) with a statement about the subscription that comes along with it.

  • Hi Shane,
    I use the same content upgrade path that Brian uses with Leadpages. I like it because once you click the upgrade in a post, go through email the confirmation process, you do not have to go through the same confirmation process ever again the next time you click on a content upgrade. The PDF will automatically pop up immediately because I have done it before on an earlier post. Would this be the same with how it works with your method? Mine was a bit cumbersome to set up, but now it runs itself.

    • Hi Chris,

      You can use our “already subscribed” state to offer download links directly to people who’ve previously opted in.

  • Hi Shane, and the Thrive Team.
    Are you likely to be building some sort of functionality into your plugin’s in the near future to be able to easily deliver Content Upgrades without having to use something like LeadPages or create multiple lists in your autoresponder service? (I currently use Aweber).

    • Hello Richard,

      It’s possible that we’ll create a feature like this, yes. However, we don’t have specific plans for it yet, as there are higher priority projects we want to get done first.

  • Great video Shane, you are spot on. You should absolutely segment your audience in your marketing automation system (like ActiveCampaign), based on the topic preferences your readers have expressed an interest in.
    It would be FANTASTIC if you could build into your Thrive Leads API the ability to pass tags as the reader gets added to your List. Optin Monster has this functionality (see the linked image) and I would love to be able to do it with Thrive Leads as it is much better plugin.

  • I’m just wondering about the process after they submit their email and how they actually get the download. Do you offer the follow up landing pages like you mentioned in the video with the confirmation page and the link to download ,etc… or do I have to figure that out with say Mail Chimp or some other email program I use? And is there a step by step tutorial that shows this process rather than just creating only the lead boxes ?

    • Hello Jill,

      After someone signs up, they will inevitably be sent through some process in your email marketing system. Sometimes, that’s a confirmation process like I describe here, or sometimes the new lead is just added to a follow-up sequence right away. Depending on what you want the signup experience to be like for your new subscribers, you can either set everything up in your email marketing system and redirect them to a download page after they confirm, or you can use our Asset Delivery feature to send them a download link immediately, without extra setup needed in the email marketing system.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}