Creating great content isn’t enough. Although getting lots of traffic and social shares is nice, it’s not the goal of content marketing.
Pop quiz: What is the real purpose of any marketing?
To make sales.
Now, you can’t typically do that straight from blog posts, at least not for most products. However, what you can do is collect your readers’ contact information—even if it’s just an email.
Ten years ago, you could get a decent sign-up rate just by having a box in your sidebar that said “Subscribe to the blog.” But now, brands are producing a lot of content, and 70% of marketers plan to create more content this year than last. I don’t see this trend slowing down anytime soon.
People are overwhelmed by the amount of content coming at them. And everyone creating that content wants their email addresses. That old opt-in form in the sidebar won’t collect much of anything other than dust these days.
As marketers, though, we evolve with the times, and our tactics evolve, too.
We began to offer free products such as e-books, courses, checklists, and videos for anyone who signed up to our lists. These are called lead magnets because, well,they attract leads.
And it worked.
You’re essentially trading value in the form of premium content for your reader’s email address. But now, almost everyone offers a free bonus.
If your lead magnet isn’t something special, one of two things can happen. Either you won’t get many sign-ups, or you will get sign-ups, but those readers will be unimpressed with the bonus and unsubscribe right away.
The most successful marketers today create lead magnets that are a step above.
Yes, it takes some time and effort, but raising your opt-in rate just 2% or 3% can produce tens of thousands of dollars in the upcoming year.
It also takes some skill and knowledge to create a good lead magnet, which is what I’m going to teach you in this post.
By the end of it, you will know how to:
- Find an idea for a lead magnet that your readers want
- Create a lead magnet that they love and use
- Specific tactics to skyrocket your opt-in rate
Step #1: Research Always Comes First
One of the hardest parts of being a good marketer is understanding your audience. Even when you think you understand them, you might realize you have different views on what is and isn’t valuable.
So, if you’ve created lead magnets (of any kind), but they’re only converting at 1% or less, you’re probably off the mark.
And I know that’s tough to hear, but I think it’s actually good news. It’s really easy to fix, and you can double or triple your opt-in rates just by fixing this one issue.
The point of this research is to discover what your audience finds most valuable. And there’s an easy way to see what that stuff is: look at what they buy.
A great lead magnet should be of such quality that people would actually pay for it. But since you’ll be giving it away, you’ll obviously get great conversion rates.
There are tons of places to look if you want to see what your readers value, but there are three in particular that work for almost any niche.
Amazon started out as a book seller and only later became the giant it is today. But it still sells books—a lot of them.
I would look primarily at the Kindle books, just because e-books are more like a typical lead magnet than physical books are. The people who like to buy things online (hopefully from you, eventually) are usually the same people who would feel comfortable buying a book online.
Start by heading to the Kindle marketplace.
On the left-hand sidebar, you’ll see a list of categories. When you click one, the new page will have a new list of categories. Keep clicking through until you get to your specific niche.
For the sake of an example, let’s say I run a yoga website. I clicked through three different levels to find the yoga section:
Obviously, you get a list of books as your results. In the top right, sort the results by the average customer review:
Now, you’ll have the top-rated results in your category:
Just from the top few results, you can already come up with two great ideas for lead magnets that people are willing to pay for:
- A guide to Yin Yoga (free e-book)
- A guide to Yoga Poses (could be an e-book, video series, or even an email course)
Reading the actual reviews will tell you what readers valued the most. Make sure you include those aspects in your lead magnet.
What Do Your Competitors Sell?
Your competitors have a large portion of your target audience.
Assuming they are more established than you, they probably have products of their own. If you go to their site, you’ll probably find a link to a shop or landing page in the top menu bar or in the sidebar:
There are a few things we can learn from their products that could help you come up with a great lead magnet that your audience will value.
The first option is to look at the “intro level” products. These cost under $20, which isn’t making anyone very much money. But since people buy them, you know they value them, which is all the evidence you need.
Now, you’ll create a similar product but offer it as a free lead magnet.
For example, on the example authority site pictured above, there’s a product in the shop that consists of a 20-minute guided yoga meditation session:
People pay $7.99 for it.
When it comes to products at this level, there are three types of people:
- Very willing to pay: They’re pretty sure that they’ll like the product and think the money is well worth it.
- Not sure: They think they might like it, but they’re not sure.
- Will never pay: Some people either don’t have the money to spend on such products or always try to find a free alternative.
When you create a free version of a product they are looking for, you will attract the people in groups two and three. Obviously, the ones in group two are most valuable because they might actually buy from you in the future.
Here is what happens. When they discover this product on your competitor’s site, they might search for a “free 20 minute guided yoga meditation session.” They are looking for a free version to give it a try, and then they might purchase the other paid product based on that.
If you really impress them with your free lead magnet, they might feel like they don’t need the paid product. They figure if your free content is that good, your paid products are probably even better. If they’re going to buy something, it’ll be from you in most cases.
Most lead magnets are problem-based. They solve a small, specific problem that your audience has. Essentially, they’re mini-courses on a topic.
At the same time, online education is exploding in popularity.
Universities are putting up full high-quality courses, and private educators are creating their own courses. Some are big, and some are small.
The best place to look for these is Udemy. Anyone can post a course there, which has led to a huge variety of courses.
Start by finding courses about your niche. You can search for a keyword in the search bar, browse the course catalog, or pick categories on the left hand side.
In our example case, I searched for classes on “yoga.”
Always start by sorting the results by popularity. You want to see courses that people are actually interested in.
From the top results, you can already see three great ideas for a lead magnet:
- A 30-day yoga email course challenge
- A 14-day yoga detox email course
- A video or email course on yoga for busy professionals
People actually pay for these courses and obviously value them. If you offer a free version, your target audience will be interested as well.
Step #2: Ask Your Readers
One amazing source of lead magnet ideas are the people who are already on your email list. They already like your content and obviously feel that you have something valuable to offer them.
When you send them your next post, ask them if there’s any way you could improve it for them.
Don’t publish the post publicly yet, wait for any feedback. If you have a large list, you only need to send this to a few hundred subscribers at first. Send them a template like this:
I just wanted to share with you the latest (your brand) blog post, called:
(Post title and link)
(2 paragraph description of post)
Could you do me a quick favor?
After you read the post, I’d like you to tell me if there’s any way that I could make the post better. Is there anything you’re especially curious about?
Your best readers will reply with some great ideas for a lead magnet. You can create one quickly and then offer it within the post once you publish it publicly.
Step #3: Don’t be Afraid to Listen
Another great source of high value lead magnet ideas is your comments section—specifically from readers who haven’t yet signed up for your email list. They clearly read your content—and like it enough to comment—and probably even have your blog bookmarked.
So, what will it take to get their email addresses?
Readers will often tell you the things they are most curious about in the comments section. For example:
This comment was on a post about how to generate over $300,000 on Instagram, a blog post on my company’s blog, QuickSprout.
Yume and Kyle were both interested in how someone mentioned in the article created lists that helped her connect Instagram promoters with great products. This could easily be turned into a lead magnet. I could record a video or text interview with Jessica, asking her to spill her secrets, and then offer it as a bonus on the post.
Step #4: One Way to Skyrocket Your Opt-In Rate
In order to get someone to subscribe to your email list, you need to offer them something they want in exchange. And in order to generate interest in a lead magnet, your reader needs to be interested in the topic you’re writing about in your blog post.
So, what would happen if you focused on writing about topics on your blog that your audience was most interested in?
It would attract more shares, traffic, and eyeballs to your lead magnet. This will, of course, lead to more email subscribers.
How do you find out what they’re most interested in?
Simple. Go to Google Analytics (or whatever analytics software you’re using), and look at the data based on pages.
To do this, navigate to “Behavior > Site Content > All pages” using the left menu. The more posts you’ve written, the better.
Then, decide which category each of your top posts belongs to. I’d look at your top 10-30 posts, depending on the number of posts you have all together. You’ll notice that one or two categories get way more views on average than all the rest.
If you simply focus more attention on those categories, not only will you grow your email list but you’ll also grow your overall site traffic.
How to see what content your audience loves when you don’t have an audience: That simple strategy above assumes that you’ve already developed a healthy level of blog traffic.
Obviously, that isn’t the case for many people.
You have two options at this point. You could just write about a whole bunch of different topics in your niche and see which ones do well, which is totally okay. Or you could do a bit of research and find out which topics are the most popular for sure.
There are two ways to do this type of research.
First, you can try Reddit. Find a subreddit related to your niche. For example, if I was starting a new marketing blog from scratch and with no prior knowledge of what’s popular, I would go to the marketing subreddit.
Then, click the “top” button along the top menu to see the top posts of all time. All subreddits have thousands of posts submitted to them (some have millions), so you get a really good idea of what that particular audience likes.
Go through the top 100 results or so and categorize them like we did before.
You’ll see that certain categories pop up way more than others. Note there will be irrelevant submissions as well since Reddit submissions include much more than just blog posts.
The second option is to look at close competitors.
If they are more established and have the audience you want, you can look at their posts and see which topics are the hottest. The biggest limitation here is that you don’t have their traffic stats.
However, you can write down the title of each post along with the number of comments or social shares it has:
It’s not a perfect substitute for traffic numbers, but it’s a good approximation.
Step #5: What You Need for High Opt-In Rates
The biggest thing I’ve tried to emphasize is that you need high quality lead magnets.
Your new subscriber should be shocked you aren’t charging for it. After you give it away a few hundred times, you should get at least one or two emails telling you exactly that.
I can’t go over how to create every single type of lead magnet, but I can show you how to create the most common ones so they stand out from everyone else’s. They’ll look great, and your subscribers will actually use them, which will lead to them staying subscribed to your list for a long time.
How to Make a High Quality PDF Version of a Guide
If you post really lengthy guides and tutorials, it’s tough for readers to get through the whole thing at once.
If they don’t have a lot of free time, it’s hard for them to ever get through it.
Many bloggers offer a copy of the post in a PDF format in exchange for the reader’s email. It’s something I’ve seen Brian Dean do fairly often:
This is a solid option for a lead magnet for a few reasons.
First, anyone who subscribes because of it is probably going to use it. They’ll download it and read it at work, on their commute, or somewhere they have a bit of free time.
Secondly, it’s really easy for you to make. If you’re not creating lead magnets because you simply don’t have the time to make them, you can create a PDF version of a post in just a few minutes.
Something I strongly suggest doing is creating a custom cover for the post. It makes it look like a professional e-book, which readers will value more.
You can make one yourself, or you can buy one from Fiverr. Just search for “e-book cover,” and pick a gig with a high rating:
Note that most take at least a few days to get back to you with the cover, so plan as far ahead as possible.
Aside from that, you can convert your post into a PDF by just highlighting and copying all the content in the article:
And then pasting it inside a blank Word document:
There might be a few formatting errors, so go through the article, and fix any weird spacing. If you use Google Docs in particular, it does something neat.
The heading tags from WordPress are automatically recognized as headings in the document. This allows you to quickly create a table of contents for your PDF, which makes it even more useful. Just go to Insert > Table of contents:
You’ll get a very simple table of contents with links to each section:
Depending on the number of heading tags you use, this can be very useful. If you do have a cover made, just paste it on the first page before all the content.
Then, when everything looks good, go to “File > Download as,” and choose PDF:
Alternatively, use this simple tool: If you’re really pressed for time, you can use a tool called Print Friendly.
Paste your URL in the tool, and click the “print preview” button:
The tool will quickly generate a minimalistic version of your post, optimized for printing. If anything shows up weird, you can hover over it and delete it (“click to delete”).
If it looks good, click the “PDF” button at the top of the page, which will start downloading the file:
How to Make a High Quality Checklist
The second type of common lead magnet is a checklist.
Checklists are a great way of breaking down a process into concrete steps that your audience can follow with ease. They are best used when you’re outlining a particular strategy or technique to your readers.
But what do you think of when you hear the word “checklist”? Probably something like this.
Don’t get me wrong, it could still be useful, but it’s so plain.
But what if there was a way to make a checklist sexy? To really blow away your new subscribers? That’d be pretty cool.
It’s something that Bryan Harris at Video Fruit has done really well in the past. Take a look at this checklist:
That is not a typical checklist. It has a professional cover plus a custom layout that looks amazing.
People might actually print this out and use it—unlike what they do with most checklists, which might be used once and then thrown into the recycling.
And although that looks super fancy, there’s no reason you can’t create something similar.
Again, you can get a similar cover made by a designer on Fiverr. Or you can create the actual checklist yourself. You could use software like Illustrator, but you can make it easily in a standard Google Doc.
First, start with your headline. Make it big and bold, and pick a font you like:
Then, write a brief description in a normal size.
After, go to Insert > Horizontal Line to separate the header from the content.
Now, how do you get the number, step name, and check box to look so nice and lined up? It’s pretty simple.
Again, go to Insert on the menu, but this time, insert a 1×3 table. Then, drag the vertical lines separating the cells to match the layout you want.
To re-create Brian’s checklist, make the left cell a square. Then, highlight that square cell and change the text to white, and the background to black. You’ll also have to increase the size of the font:
The middle cell is simple enough: It’s the name of the step on the checklist. Just type it in.
And then we come to the checkbox. There are a few ways to do this, but the easiest is probably to put your cursor in the third cell, and go to Insert > Drawing, which will bring up a new screen.
Pick a rectangle from the shapes drop down menu, and then draw a square by holding a shift key while you click and drag a box out:
Click “Save,” and close when you’re done. The box will show up in the third cell. If you click your new square, you can drag it to resize it.
So, now you have something that looks like this:
Doesn’t quite look the same, does it?
Now you need to highlight all three cells of the table, right–click, and select “Table properties”:
In this pop-up, change the border to “0 pt”, which means there is no border:
If any of your cell’s text isn’t centered, highlight that specific cell, right-click it again, and choose “Table Properties”. Then, change the vertical alignment to “center”. If you’ve done that, you have a good-looking table, and you’ve done the hardest part.
Now, just go to the lines below and type in a description, including any bullet points.
You can align the description with your step title by highlighting the words and then dragging that little blue marker on the top ruler over to the start of your title.
Feel free to copy and paste that whole section to save time on the rest of the steps.
Finally, if you’d like to give the page a background, go to File > Page Setup, and choose a color for Page Color:
You can enter a custom color if you’d like. In the end, we have a great looking checklist:
Pair that with a great cover, and you have a product people are thrilled to give you their email addresses for.
Step #6: Understand the Two Biggest Factors Behind Opt-In Rates
At this point, you understand most of the best practices when it comes to thinking of lead magnet ideas and creating them. But those are just tools you can use.
If you really want to achieve great opt-in rates (like bloggers who get 10-20% rates), you’ll need to truly understand why people opt in to your list. And it all comes down to two important factors:
If I’m reading a post about social media marketing and someone offers me a lead magnet on yoga poses, I’m probably not going to be interested in it.
That’s an extreme example. Let’s look at a more realistic one.
Maybe you’re reading a post about SEO, and there’s an e-book offer for a social media traffic generation strategy. You are interested in getting more traffic, but at this point, you’re likely most interested in getting it from SEO. So, some readers of that post will opt in for the lead magnet, but not a very high number.
But what if you were offered an e-book (or other lead magnet) about SEO while you were reading that post about SEO? Of course, you’d be interested!
This is called a post-specific lead magnet, which is also being called a content upgrade lately. By making lead magnets for each post (or each topic) you write about, you dial-up the relevance of the offer.
Bryan Harris has reported getting opt-in rates of 20-30%, and sometimes of up to 62%, using content upgrades. Here’s what it looks like:
That’s the post title, which is ironically about the ways to use lead magnets.
A bit further down, just after the intro, there’s a bright blue box that offers a free download in exchange for the reader’s email address:
The bonus contains 35 examples of lead magnets—the exact thing the reader is interested in learning about.
Just because you’re reading a post about SEO, and the bonus is about SEO, doesn’t mean you’ll get a ton of opt-ins.
Why? Because your offer might not be valuable.
If it’s a list of “SEO basics,” not very many readers will care enough to give you their email addresses for it. On the other hand, if you reveal a secret link source or tactic, readers will place a ton of value on it, and you’ll get an extremely high opt-in rate. The more valuable your reader thinks your bonus is (before they even see it), the higher your opt-in rate will be.
If you follow the first five steps in this post, your lead magnet will be highly valuable to your reader.
Lead magnets are a very powerful tool to collect information about your readers.
You can then use that information (mainly the email address) to build a relationship that will eventually turn some of readers into customers. But if you approach lead magnet creation half-heartedly, you won’t get high opt-in rates.
If you follow the six steps outlined in this post, you should be able to get an overall opt-in rate of 3%-5% (minimum). If you get really good at it, you might be able to raise that conversion rate to over 10%.
Let me know which types of lead magnets you’ve tried and which ones have worked best for you by leaving a comment below.
This post originally appeared on Quick Sprout, and is re-published with permission.
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