How to Create + Share Content Upgrades (for free!)

Want to offer content upgrades to grow your email list, but not sure how? Good news! I've got an entire post detailing how to do it, as well as a FREE worksheet to walk you through the process! Click through to find out more!

**this post contains affiliate links that I could make commission off of. all opinions are my own

By now, you’ve probably heard from 50 million places that you should be growing your blog’s email list. And it’s true. Email lists are amazing.

And one of the best ways to grow your email list is through content upgrades. It’s honestly the #1 way I’m growing my email list right now. So, what are they, how do you make them, and how do you share them, without spending a pretty penny? Stick around and I’ll tell you!

What are content upgrades?

Content upgrades are those amazing worksheets, ebooks, and other goodies you get to download at the end of a blog post. It’s got something to do with the content of the blog post, but it goes into more detail. You could say it’s “upgrading” the content you just read. Ergo, content upgrade.

There are a lot of different types of content upgrades. I’ve done worksheets in the past. Other bloggers do small ebooks and email-based courses. I’ve seen others do things like desktop backgrounds and printable quotes as well. So the sky really is the limit in terms of what you can give away as a content upgrade. But one thing really should remain consistent…

You should only be giving your content upgrades away in exchange for your reader’s email address.

Why? Well, in addition to giving out amazing content to your readers, your main goal for your content upgrades should be growing your email list. And it’s kinda hard to do that without actually getting your readers’ email addresses.

More on the tech side of that later. In the mean time, let’s make your content upgrades.

Want to offer content upgrades to grow your email list, but not sure how? Good news! I've got an entire post detailing how to do it, as well as a FREE worksheet to walk you through the process! Click through to find out more!

How do you make content upgrades?

There are lots of different ways to make content upgrades! Here are my typical steps:

  1. Fill out your editorial calendar. After all… you’ve got to know what your content will be before you can start upgrading it.
  2. Figure out how to upgrade your content and add it to your editorial calendar. It’s important to know ahead of time when you’ll be needing content upgrades. Because if you’re writing a post the night before you’ve got it scheduled, you might not have time to whip up a content upgrade. So plan ahead and give yourself plenty of time.
  3. Lay out your content upgrade. Is it going to be a worksheet? A desktop background? An ebook? Lay it out on a piece of paper so you can see what it’s going to look like.
  4. Create your content upgrade. I typically make mine in InDesign, but there are plenty of free options as well! A lot of people love Canva, so I recommend checking it out!
  5. Save your content upgrade and upload it to your website. Depending on the upgrade, you might want to save it as a JPEG, PDF, or ZIP file. Up to you! Then upload it to your website and keep track of the URL where it’s saved!
Related:  How I Make My Blog Graphics in 15 Minutes or Less

Bam! Content upgrade completed. Now write up your blog post and get back to me. I’ll wait here.

Jeopardy music

Done? Great! Now let’s get that content upgrade out to the masses.

How do you share these content upgrades… for free?

If you’ve been researching ways to grow your email list, there’s a chance you’ve heard of Leadpages. And for good reason. Leadpages is an awesome way to grow your email list through content upgrades, ecourse, webinars, and more.

But there are plenty of people out there who simply can’t afford Leadpages. Myself included.

Don’t get me wrong, I hope to be able to afford it one day. But today just isn’t that day, so I had to find a way around it. And I did!

First things first, you’ll need to get your email list set up. I recommend Mailchimp. Don’t have an account already? Kory has the hookup for you. Go set it up and come back. I’ll wait.

Want to offer content upgrades to grow your email list, but not sure how? Good news! I've got an entire post detailing how to do it, as well as a FREE worksheet to walk you through the process! Click through to find out more!

Cool, now that you’ve got your email list started, let’s get some subscribers with your content upgrade!

First, you’ll want to install the MailMunch plugin on your WordPress backend. You’re welcome to pay for the upgraded version, but you don’t have to. Remember, we’re talking zero budget here.

Once you’ve got MailMunch installed and activated, link it to your Mailchimp account. (You can also link it to a ton of different email list accounts, like Constant Contact or Aweber, if needed.)

Next, we’re going to create an opt-in box specific to this upgrade. Ready?

  1. Go to Settings -> Mailchimp to open up the Mailmunch settings. This is where you’ll find all of your opt-in forms, so if you ever need to change them, you’ll find them here.
  2. Connect Mailmunch to Mailchimp. There should be a big button to do so as soon as you get to the page. Simply follow their directions to connect.
  3. At the top, click on “New Form” and choose “Embedded.” It might also give you the option to “Create Your First Opt-in Form.” That button works, too. If you wanted to do an upgrade like a resource library (like mine!) that isn’t specific to a particular post, you could do a pop-up. But I prefer to stick to embedded opt-in forms.
  4. Choose your theme and give it a name. Again, we’re talking free, so I choose Simple. Postman is too flashy for me and clashes with my brand, and I don’t want to pay for a different theme. You can change the colors, so it doesn’t have to look exactly like the example. Name it something obvious like “Pin It Button Content Upgrade” so you know which one is which. These names are just for you, so your readers won’t see it. Choose “General” from the drop-down and hit Next.
  5. Fill in the opt-in box. I typically try to make the headline catchy, like “Get your free pin-it buttons!” Make it look how you want!
  6. Add in the fields for your subscriber to fill out. I typically go for first name and email address. Too many fields = less likely to fill out the form. But I like having the first name in case I want to do something personal in the emails.
  7. Change the button text to a catchy call-to-action. For the love of god, don’t leave it as “Subscribe.” No one is going to click on that. I prefer something like “Hellz yeah!” or “Gimme the goods!” Make sure it fits with your brand, though.
  8. Change the opt-in box’s Form Placement Behavior. You don’t want it auto-appearing before, after, or in the middle of your post, because then it applies to all of your blog posts. Remember, this upgrade is specific to one blog post, so you only want it to appear in that one blog post. In a later step, we’ll get the code to place in your blog post, but for now, uncheck all of the behavior boxes.
  9. Add your content upgrade URL under “After User Subscribes.” Still on the Behavior page, click on the After User Subscribes tab. There’s a box for a Redirect After Subscribe URL. Go back and find your content upgrade’s URL (not your blog post URL–the link that ends in .jpg, .pdf, .zip, or whatever extension your document has) and paste the URL in that box. That way, after the user subscribes, they’re redirected to the upgrade that they can then download!
  10. Integrate with Mailchimp (or other subscription service). Next, you’ll want to integrate with Mailchimp (or whatever email software you’re using). Simply click on your service and choose your account. The only thing I really change is the Match Fields. because I added the First Name field, I need to make sure Mailchimp knows what to do with that. I go to the First Name (FNAME) row under the Mailchimp Field and select “First Name,” which is the matching field from my opt-in form.
  11. Publish the opt-in form and add the code to your blog post. Hit Publish Form (it’s a big green button, hard to miss) and you’ll get the code for your opt-in form. There will be two versions, and you can use either one. Important to note, though: the WordPress Shortcode should go in the Visual editor of your blog post, and the HTML Code should go in the Text editor of your blog post. It will get screwy if you mix those two up.
  12. Hit publish and start collecting those email addresses! Easy enough, right? And it was free!
Related:  How to Install Google Analytics on Your Blog

This method definitely isn’t for everyone, but it’s great for those of us who want to grow our email list and turn our blog into a business, but don’t have the moola to do it right away.

Any questions about the process? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to help you out!

And what would a blog post about content upgrades be without a content upgrade? Sign up below for a free worksheet that walks you through the whole process!

Want to offer content upgrades to grow your email list, but not sure how? Good news! I've got an entire post detailing how to do it, as well as a FREE worksheet to walk you through the process! Click through to find out more!

P.S. Have a small budget (we’re talking $9/mo here) and want to send your content upgrades out via email instead? Check out my tutorial here!

  • I don’t know if I should hug you or offer you my firstborn son. I have legit been looking for a way to do this all. bloody. night. The thing is, I never would have thought to use Mailmunch to offer content upgrades. NEVER. I use Mailmunch for just about everything else, but this? Never crossed my mind! I’m so excited I could do a JIG.
    You, my friend (cuz we’re friends now obv) are awesome!
    Now excuse me while I share this far and wide.

    • Yay!! I’m so glad you found it helpful!! πŸ˜€

  • OH. MY. GOODNESS. I have been looking for a way to do this for 2 days now! I was about to give up and just pay for Leadpages! So glad I waited 5 more minutes and found this. I knew there was a cheaper way. There always is! So thank you πŸ˜€

    • Yay!! I’m so glad you found me! There’s ALWAYS a cheaper way, even if it isn’t the most obvious πŸ™‚

      • I actually do have one question. What happens when a current subscriber tries to enter their email to receive a content upgrade? Will it give them an error because they are already subscribed?

        • Nope, they’ll actually get signed up again. So I recommend doing regular checks of your list to make sure you aren’t getting duplicates. I believe Mailchimp does this for you, though.

          • Perfect! Thank you! Seriously, such a help. I almost spent close to 100$ just to do this. I’ll take checking for duplicates over that!

  • Carl MacDonald

    Hey Caitlin, thanks SO MUCH for this article. I’ve been trying to suss a free way to offer content upgrades for what feels like ages until I found this. I’ve been halfway there for some time – your post has helped me today and I’ve followed your tips and finally got it working as it should! Thanks again, amazing post.

    I’ve added this to my Buffer as well so it’ll be going out on my Twitter soon.

    Keep up the awesome work! πŸ™‚ Carl

    • I’m so glad I could help, Carl! πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing!

  • Marga

    Hi Caitlin. This post is of great help for me πŸ™‚
    I have a question: I am trying to install Mailmunch and I don’t manage to do it right. I see that this plugin is in, so I am wondering if it also works for a blog, which is what I have at the moment.
    If I follow the instructions on to install the plugin I just canΒ΄t find how to upload folder to the ‘/wp-content/plugins/’ directory. I am not sure if I know exactly what that means.

    • Hi Marga! Unfortunately, most plugins only work on, not blogs. If you can’t find it under Plugins when you log into your site, it isn’t available. Sorry!

  • I can’t thank you enough for your posts about this! I just don’t have the money to spend yet on Leadpages or Convert Kit and I had been searching for so long to find a way!! Very thorough tutorital! πŸ™‚

    • Yaaaaay! I’m SO so so glad to hear that, Sarah! πŸ™‚ That’s exactly what I want to help with. πŸ™‚

  • Adrienne Bradley

    I don’t think I ever thanked you for this post. I have used it several times and referred members of my mastermind group to this post. You make creating content upgrades so super simple and understandable in this post. Really, almost foolproof. So thank you! I pinned this and use it whenever I need to create another content upgrade.

    • That means so much, Adrienne! Thank you! I really appreciate it. πŸ™‚

  • You… are awesome! Thank you for this!

    • Yay! So glad I could help! πŸ™‚