What Exactly Are Content Upgrades?
Content upgrades are page-specific downloadable assets that integrate with and expand on individual thought leadership articles. Like white papers and other gated assets, users can only access content upgrades by submitting a few personal or professional details on a form. Content upgrades are designed to integrate with and expand on blog content. Because each upgrade is so topically specific, the CTAs for these assets are usually only present on the parent article’s page (with some exceptions; more on that later).
The upgrades themselves can take a number of forms, including:
- Tip sheets
- Sample production or marketing schedules
- Spreadsheets or tables
- Charts or graphs
An example might be helpful. Let’s say you’re writing an article about the latest trends in email marketing open rates. A good content upgrade for this piece might be a list of tips for crafting subject lines that compel more recipients to open the email. The article would include a page-specific CTA advertising the upgrade — a CTA that boldly accents the blog content midstream rather than hanging out timidly in the sidebar.
(See what I did there?)
Once you start thinking of your blog content in terms of upgrades, you’ll start to see that any given article may trigger several content upgrade ideas. If you’re having trouble coming up with concepts, try and think about follow-up questions your readers might ask after finishing your article — especially questions about how to practically apply the article’s lessons. It may also help to think of upgrades as a way to drill down further into a topic than the scope of the article allows.
Why Do Content Upgrades Work So Well?
From the reader’s perspective, content upgrades represent an enticing opportunity to access an actionable tool or learn more about a topic of interest. And from the marketer’s perspective, content upgrades represent highly targeted and effective CTAs.
Think about it. Site visitors who navigate to an article on your website have already demonstrated interest in that article’s topic. You know that by virtue of the fact that they navigated to the content in the first place (whether via Google , email, or some other referral source). Content upgrades give those self-selected users the chance to further engage with your firm on a related topic. But this time it comes at the price of a form submission. Readers with a self-selected interest in a particular article are low-hanging fruit for gated content relating to the same topic. With content upgrades, all you are doing is shaking the tree a little and watching the fruit fall into the basket.
Readers with a self-selected interest in a particular article are low-hanging fruit for gated content relating to the same topic. With content upgrades, all you are doing is shaking the tree a little and watching the fruit fall into the basket.
How Effective are Content Upgrades?
Content upgrades require extra work, and each one only targets a small subset of site visitors. So just how effective are they?
After nearly two years of experimenting with content upgrades, we’ve seen some pretty compelling results with our own clients. During this time, we’ve seen clients experience a much higher volume of conversions across their websites. Yet in many cases it’s not possible to isolate an upgrade’s impact from other factors, such as an article’s topic and promotion plan.
Fortunately, there is one way to tease out the direct impact of content upgrades on an article’s performance. Over the past few years, we’ve worked with many of our clients to retroactively add content upgrades to existing articles that already received a relatively high volume of organic traffic. (In some cases, we also updated and optimized the article’s copy.)
These articles — the ones that have existed with and without content upgrades — give us the ability to isolate an upgrade’s influence on page-specific conversions. Remember, pre-upgrade, the only conversion opportunities associated with these articles would have been global sidebar CTAs. In addition, the pre-upgrade versions of these articles would have enjoyed the lion’s share of promotional attention. And yet the results are night and day.
Numbers Don’t Lie: Content Upgrades Drive Conversions
|Article||Published Date||Content Upgrade Added||Pre-Upgrade Conversions||Post-Upgrade Conversions|
The trend couldn’t be more clear. On average, these articles captured just 1.2 conversions in their pre-upgrade form — a figure that jumped up to an average of 39 conversions after we added an upgrade. That’s an increase of more than 3000%.
Those numbers are persuasive any way you dice them. But they become even more compelling when you consider the timing of our before-and-after experiments.
Take a closer look at the dates. Most of these articles were live on our clients’ sites for a year or more without an upgrade and still saw very little conversion activity. Take Example #2. This article inspired a single conversion over the course of two years. Three months ago, we worked with our client to add an upgrade. In that short window of time, it’s already delivered a whopping 27 form submissions.
Now that we’ve got your attention, let’s tell it like it is. Content upgrades don’t just exponentially increase conversions on individual blog articles. They put blog articles on the map as content that is capable of driving both organic traffic and high-value conversions. Which means you have a ton of untapped value languishing on your website. With an upgrade to “monetize” it, every article could be driving more value than it currently is.
You have a ton of untapped value languishing on your website. With an upgrade to “monetize” it, every article could be driving more value than it currently is.
How to Create Effective Content Upgrades
Content upgrades take time and effort to produce, so you’ll want to be strategic about how you design and implement them. Here are a few tips to get started in the right direction.
Plan upgrades around articles that hold broad appeal
Because content upgrades are typically presented on a single page, higher page views equal more opportunities for conversions. The upshot? Plan to create upgrades for content that touches on your most popular topics. Start by looking at how past blogs have performed in terms of organic traffic and time spent on the page. This will help with content ideation by giving you a sense of which topics tend to draw the most engagement among your target audience. Alternately, consider adding upgrades to your top-performing blog posts (as we recommended in the client examples above).
Make sure your content upgrade’s value proposition is high
Generally speaking, upgrades that promise to help readers solve a specific problem or achieve a particular outcome have a high enough value proposition to merit a form submission.
Leverage existing assets
Look at your existing bank of tools, documents, and assets that you already have in your arsenal. An internal or client-facing checklist, process document, or questionnaire could easily be transformed into a public-facing content upgrade.
Make sure content upgrades are part of your standard blog creation workflow
Your team likely won’t have the bandwidth to create a content upgrade for every blog article you produce. However, you’ll want to put a process in place for conceptualizing and producing upgrades as part of your content team’s workflow. Unlike a typical blog article, you may need to rope in a graphic designer to style your upgrade asset and the on-page CTA that goes with it.
Present the content upgrade CTA within the flow of the article (rather than in the sidebar)
While sitewide CTAs usually live in the sidebar, it makes the most sense to position content upgrades within the flow of the article’s text. Just make sure the styling makes it immediately clear that the CTA is a break in the text and not the end of the article.
Design your CTA so it stands out
When it comes to content upgrade CTAs, a simple text-based link won’t cut it. Make sure both your words and visuals pop.
Position the CTA near the beginning of the article
Remember that most readers tend to scan online content. Many might not make it to the end of your article (don’t worry, it’s nothing personal). Presenting your content upgrade CTA somewhere in the first half of your article ensures that as many visitors as possible see the CTA and have a chance to convert. Whenever possible, place the CTA in a location that makes sense topically (for example, in the section of the article that most clearly relates to the upgrade). You can also experiment with serving up the CTA twice: once near the beginning of the article and again at the very end.
Get more mileage with multi-use content upgrades
Content upgrades are meant to be specific. That means an individual upgrade will often only make sense with one article. And in most cases, that’s OK. However, as you conceive of upgrades, try to come up with a few that are broad enough to apply to multiple articles across your site. You can achieve that with an upgrade that relates to a broader discipline or a specific service rather than a particular article. For example, if you are a branding firm, you might create an upgrade that offers “10 Tips to Build a More Cohesive Brand.” You could then apply the same upgrade to any article that touches on branding, brand architecture, brand governance, and the like.
Content upgrades are an exciting opportunity for your firm to dramatically increase page-specific conversions and grow your list of contacts — all while providing more value to your target audience.
Thinking of giving it a try? We’d love to discuss how content upgrades could work for you.