OK, so you’ve decided to add content upgrades to your content marketing strategy, but you want to do it right. You need to know how the best content upgrades work, and how to make them work for you.

Why and how do the best content upgrades work?

In the previous post, I talked about why content upgrades work in general. The tl;dr version: it’s because they provide additional value to the reader right when and where they need it.

But I also suggested that it needs to work for you and your business. If you are going to commit to creating content upgrades for your posts to drive opt ins (#dothedamnwork), how exactly are you going to make that work for your business, your life, your schedule?

How do you provide value without absolutely killing yourself every week and giving away the farm?

The best content upgrades work because they fall into one of four categories:

  1. Bucket Upgrades
  2. PDF Process Upgrades
  3. Cliffhanger Upgrades
  4. Content Blocker Upgrades

Let’s go over what each of them is.

Bucket upgrades

If you’ve taken the Content Intelligence Academy course, you’re familiar with the idea of content buckets: Basically, it’s my name for the categories on your blog. In my case, my main content buckets are content strategy, content that sells, and writing voice. For a fitness blogger, her buckets might be exercises, diet, and lifestyle. For a jewelry designer, her buckets might be outfit inspiration, style stories, and product updates.

Bucket upgrades, then, are when you create one valuable content upgrade for each of your buckets, and then use it repeatedly.

This is a good strategy to use if:

  • you have a LOT of old content, and don’t want to create tons of new upgrades
  • you post daily or multiple times per day and don’t have the resources to create an upgrade for every post
  • you have a news site (or similar) where the most popular post this month won’t be the most popular post next month
  • you already have several valuable topic-specific upgrades you can use
  • you are a one-person shop and don’t have time/resources to devote to creating an upgrade even every week.

For some sites (like those that post daily or multiple times per day) this is the ONLY strategy that makes sense, and it’s a way to take advantage of content upgrades when you otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

It’s also a good idea if you’re a beginning blogger or if your blog/business is your side hustle and you’re very limited on time.

And while the best content upgrades work in this scenario, you likely won’t see quite as good results as if you created a specific upgrade for each post. To make this technique work well, your upgrade has to go above and beyond — you might choose an ebook, a free mini-course, a challenge, or something else super juicy.

So it requires more work up front to create those killer bucket upgrades. Still, it’s a good place to start for many people.

Pros: Easy to use, least time consuming, easily add upgrades to every post in your back catalog.
Cons: Big upfront time investment, doesn’t convert quite as well.

PDF Process Upgrades

As I pointed out in last week’s article, a good content upgrade is one that doesn’t take you too much time to create. That’s where the PDF process upgrade comes in.

The simplest form of the PDF process upgrade is — literally — a PDF version of your post that the reader can download. Why on earth would anyone want to do that? Well, the short answer is people don’t read your posts.

Sorry to have to be the one to tell you that. You’re not alone.

Many of your readers have the best of intentions, but don’t have the time (or attention span) to read the entire post. Therefore, offering them a PDF that they can read later makes them feel good, and feel like they’re taking action.

(Whether they actually read it later is out of your hands and not your concern.)

Variations on this include the checklist, cheat sheet, resource list, transcript, quick-start guide, printable, template or worksheet — basically, anything that takes the content you’ve already given them in the blog post, and reformats it.

This is a good strategy to use if:

  • you want a quick, easily repeatable strategy for producing content upgrades regularly
  • your content lends itself to creating checklists, worksheets, etc. (usually educational content)
  • you tend to produce long-form content (1,000 words or more) that people might want to refer to later

The best content upgrades work well in this category because they allow the reader to take the content with them in an easily digestible format.

Pros: Easy to create, time efficient, repeatable strategy, unique upgrade for each post, rivals the content blocker for conversion rate.
Cons: Not many, except it may feel too easy!how and why the best content upgrades work

Cliffhanger Upgrades

I remember as a teenager, watching X-Files with my dad, and we would get SO UPSET when an episode ended with those three little words, “To be continued…” This, in the days before DVRs, Netflix, and binge watching was an almost unendurable pain.

But you bet it got us to tune in the next Sunday.

The same technique can work with your blog posts — and your content upgrades.

Maybe the absolute easiest way to use content upgrades is to tease your previous/next post.

Using the same principles and techniques you use to promote a content upgrade (which I’ll be going over in my workshop in a few weeks) you simply suggest that people opt-in to receive the entire series. You can put it in a nice PDF for them (instant ebook if you have four or more posts) or just send them the posts via email.

This strategy works best if:

  • you regularly write a series of more than one post on a topic
  • you want to break up one super long post into two (or more) posts
  • you just don’t have time/ideas to create any other kind of content upgrade.

The key to making this content upgrade work is a really stellar call to action. Just using a generic “click here to get updates of future posts,” isn’t probably going to cut it. Instead, you want to tease the fact that they’re missing out on the whole story if they don’t get the entire series.

FOMO. It works, man.

Finally, remember that you can do this backwards and forwards. So on post No. 1, you’ll tease what’s coming up next, but on post No. 4, you can set it up to send them the previous three posts so that they have the entire series.

From the numbers I’ve seen, this works OK, but not stellar. It’s a good option when you’ve got nothing better to offer. You can improve the efficacy by combining it with, say, the PDF process upgrade and turning all of the posts in the series into a PDF that people can have.

Pros: Simplest kind of content upgrade, good when you don’t have anything else.
Cons: Doesn’t convert as well as other types.

Content blocker upgrade

The fourth kind of content upgrade I’ve identified is the content blocker. In short, this is where you are holding back something valuable that they can only get by opting in — you’re blocking additional content behind an email opt-in.

The simplest version of this I’ve seen is where someone creates a list, but only shares half of it in the blog post; the other half is the content upgrade. Simple!

But the power of this strategy really shines when you’re offering something very valuable behind the blocker. Something additional that they can’t get anywhere else. Examples might include a guide, a report or white paper, an ebook, exclusive interviews, case studies, additional resources, a challenge, formulas, scripts or swipe files, etc.

My best example of this is my spreadsheet of 201 blog post ideas — it’s insanely valuable and additional (even though I list all the ideas in the post) because it’s in a different and more useable format.

If you’re good at not telling everything you know about everything in a blog post (which I am notoriously BAD at), you will find this an easy strategy. If you’re like me, you may need to figure out where the line should be between what is FREEEEE to the world, and what requires an opt-in.

My rule of thumb is to give away the how and “sell” (for the low, low price of one email address) the how. Or vice versa.

For example, you could explain the concept of content upgrades in the post, and offer a guide to creating them for the opt-in.

This is a great strategy to use if:

  • you’re creating and promoting a truly EPIC post — you want to give your best effort here
  • you have a post that gets a lot of organic search traffic
  • you have a post that goes viral and you want to take advantage of the traffic
  • you want to optimize your conversion rate for any particular post.

This is the most time consuming strategy, because you have to produce something additional to the content you’re already creating, but it also tends to convert the best because your readers can really see the value of opting in.

Pros: Best converting type, valuable, endears you to readers.
Cons: More time and resource intensive to create.

How to make the best content upgrades work for your blog?

You need to test.

(My daughter has a TMBG CD and I immediately started singing this song when I wrote that sentence.)

The only way to figure out the best content upgrades that will work for your blog and business is to test out different kinds.

Personally, I employ a mixture. Most of the time, I use the PDF process upgrade strategy, reformatting the content of a post into my upgrade offer. Sometimes I use content blockers. I do have a few old standbys I use kind of as bucket upgrades. And I very rarely, but occasionally, employ the cliffhanger upgrade technique (I find it really doesn’t work as well for me).

The only way to decide which technique or combination of techniques will work for you is to consider how much time, energy, and excess of ideas you have and then test how the results work with your audience.