How I Doubled My Email Subscribers in 30 Days

The secret is right-sized, relevant content upgrades.

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.

This particular post goes deep and long. I give away all my secrets and provide the type of resource that I needed as a brand new freelance writer back in 2009.

My efforts have paid off (kind of). I got the SEO dialed in, and depending on the day, it ranks either #1 or #3 for the target keyword.

As a result, the post gets a good volume of organic traffic.

But I noticed a problem.

I wanted to grow my email list, but despite the organic traffic, that epic blog post wasn’t converting many visitors into email subscribers.

I had plenty of time to do that. Google Analytics tells me that visitors spend, on average, over six minutes reading the blog post.

The problem was my offer.

I 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 needed to go back to the drawing board.

Episode 278 of Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income podcast gave me some ideas. In that episode Amy Porterfield shared 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.’”

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


I decided to make two changes to the freelance writer website post.

  1. I condensed the post into a cheatsheet.
  2. I moved the call-to-action up to the beginning of the article, at the end of the introduction.

Here is the call-to-action:

“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 conversion rate.

0.9% is better, but still not very good.

Yet, this whole experience has taught me a lot about list-building.

Digital marketing is a school of hard knocks.

The first lesson that nobody wants to learn is that you have to get out there and do a ton of experiments and make a ton of mistakes.

By a ton of “mistakes” I mean that you will miss out on a ton of qualified leads. Your marketing funnel will have leaks in it, but you must push your funnel out into the world before you can identify them.

You must launch your 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.
  • But pay attention to your analytics.
  • And don’t expend all of your energy on that article and skimp in the content upgrade department
  • The best content upgrades are highly contextual and relevant. 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 relevant 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 the quick results they want. Do you have a “To Read” folder where you keep the meaty stuff you downloaded? Do you plan to read all that stuff on a slow, rainy day that never comes?

Big, impressive lead magnets backfire:

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

Furthermore, 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 catch yourself: “Wait. 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 right-sized 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 and relevant content upgrades have grown my email list must faster.

Clearly, I’m not getting hundreds or thousands of subscribers each day. And my list as a whole is still pretty small.

But doubling is doubling.

By spending less time on each blog post, writing more blog posts, and creating more right-sized, relevant content upgrades, I have doubled my list in 30 days.

Why do these right-sized, relevant 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. For each piece of content, you must be clear on who your audience is.

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

Then, you can write an article that diagnoses a specific problem.

Then, you can figure out which content upgrade can move those people 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.

People love quick results. Quizzes give quick results, and opt-in rates can be as high as 50%.

So 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 know your target audience well enough to offer them relevant content upgrades?

I’ve got a nifty worksheet that will enable you to ask the right questions and identify your target audience’s frustrations, needs, and desires.

Click on this link to share your name and email address, and I will send you the download link.




Husband & Father. Writer & Freelance Coach @ Brand Strategist @ Love Jesus, Megan, Salem, Theo, Ellis & you. You’re ready. Go!

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Austin L. Church

Austin L. Church

Husband & Father. Writer & Freelance Coach @ Brand Strategist @ Love Jesus, Megan, Salem, Theo, Ellis & you. You’re ready. Go!

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