4 Cheap & Easy Ways to Deliver Content Upgrades

Posted on 18 November, 2015 in Email Marketing / 56 Comments

I see it all the time.

Someone posts in Slack. In a Facebook group. On Twitter.

“I want to start growing my email list with content upgrades. How do I deliver them?” one blogger asks.

And every other blogger currently online shouts, “LeadPages!”

But why?

I mean, yeah. LeadPages can deliver content upgrades. But is that what it’s for? Hell to the no!

LeadPages and its direct competitors? They’re full landing page suites. You can use them to create landing pages, opt-ins, gated pages, etc. Heavy duty shit, with a heavy duty price tag to go along with them.

So if you’re looking for a landing page suite, yes, LeadPages is an amazing choice.

But if you’re just looking to create some post-specific opt-in forms and send a doc to the readers who fill them out? LeadPages would be a huge waste of money. You would be paying for tons of features that you’d never use.

If you’re looking for a simple way to deliver content upgrades to new subscribers, there are much better ways.

Better for your wallet, better for your precious time, and better for your brain. Because they’re just as easy as LeadPages.

You may be using 2 or 3 tools instead of one, but it’s the same process as heading to 3 completely separate areas of your fancier tool.

Even though you may think it’ll take longer, I swear it actually takes me less time than when I was trying out the fancy stuff. Because I’m working with simpler tools that are easier to use.

Thank you, integrations.

Depending on what tools you use, you might have even more free options. I’ve tested and tried a bunch of different ways, to varying levels of success. I won’t go into all of them, but here are a few to get you started.

Cheap & Easy Ways to Deliver Content Upgrades

Want more help? Download video tutorials for delivering content upgrades with MailChimp fields (method #4)!

1. Create a separate list with a welcome email (pin this)

Almost every email service provider offers the option to send a welcome email after your new subscriber confirms. Even with a free account.

It’s the perfect option for delivering freebies, because it’s already built into the subscription process. This is one thing I do for my book blog (I’m personally testing all of these methods, so everything’s spread out until I decide which one I like best):

content upgrade welcome email


If you have one freebie you’re using as a lead magnet, things here are pretty self-explanatory. But once you create more than one, most bloggers think it’s not an option.

Easy fix: create a new list for each upgrade. Then use each list’s welcome email to deliver your document.

If your ESP is list-based instead of contact-based, and doing this would create duplicate listings you’d have to pay for, there’s an easy solution.

Zapier integrates with all of the popular email marketing systems. With automation like that, you’re good to go for almost anything.

For my book blog, I use Zapier zaps to take all of the subscribers from content upgrade lists, and add them to the blog’s main list:

zapier content upgrade hack

And then I just unsubscribe everyone from the content upgrade lists when I go in to do all of my other MailChimp maintenance twice a month. This ensures there’s never more than a few duplicates at a time, which is fine and dandy for my subscriber count.

Alternatively, you could create a copy of your original zap, but reverse it so that once the subscriber is transferred over to your main list, it’s unsubscribed from your upgrade’s list. I just don’t have enough room in my Zapier account because I like to zap all the things. 😛

2. Send document emails through Zapier (pin this)

Speaking of Zapier, you can use a zap for the whole content upgrade process, including sending an email. They’ve even written their own tutorial on how to build your own drip campaigns with zaps.

You don’t even need an email marketing tool! So this is great for those of you who are starting at the very beginning. Or if you’re collecting emails pre-launch and don’t want to wait until your email software’s set up to get started creating content upgrades.

I’ve also seen several bloggers talk about how they’re currently using Feedburner to deliver blog posts, but they want to create content upgrades and build their list before switching over to a real ESP. (Which is awesome initiative, btw!)

Zapier can send email either by connecting to an email marketing tool, or a regular email account like Gmail. So to deliver freebies and lead magnets, you can pick pretty much any tool that can send an email address to Zapier, and then send it from your personal email.

To make it easier to import into your future email marketing software, you can also use Zapier to back these emails up into a Google Sheet.

3. Use contact form confirmations (pin this)

Another stupidly simple option is to use a simple contact form!

A lot of form builders let you send a confirmation email to new form submissions. Upload your content upgrade to Dropbox, your CMS, or Google Drive and add the public link to your confirmation email. Here’s the setup in Ninja forms:

ninja forms content upgrade

If your form builder doesn’t offer confirmation emails, you can combine it with – say it with me kids! – Zapier! Wow, I really hadn’t realized that so many of these options involved Zapier until now.

Anyway, you could also embed or link to a Typeform or  Google Form that triggers a Zapier zap to send the content upgrade link.

But if that’s too many steps for you, you can also consider redirects or a form submission confirmation. Most forms will either let you customize what message a user sees after they submit their form, or redirect them to the page of your choice.

In either case, you can either link directly to the content upgrade or to a landing page with instructions or info that grants your subscribers access.

4. Create MailChimp custom fields (pin this)

Finally, let’s talk about MailChimp specifically.

One of the biggest complaints about MailChimp is that there’s no tagging, which makes content upgrades impossible, even with their automation. Not true.

Creating your own tags is actually really easy. For each content upgrade, just create a custom hidden field and then embed your main form in the post. When someone downloads it, you can fill out this field on the back end (even if you’re dumb with code like me).

Since content upgrades only appear in one post, you can treat the embed code exactly as if you were determining opt-in location.

Here’s what this whole process looks like for me:

  1. When I create a content upgrade, I add a new field for it on my main blogging tips list.
  2. In the embed code for the list’s main form, I submit “yes” into that hidden form by adding this one line to the embed code.
  3. An automation delivering the content upgrade is triggered by the content upgrade field being updated.


Seriously – so easy! This is definitely the fastest method on here. For the line I need to add to the embed code, I have it pasted in a sticky note on my desktop to easily copy and paste. And handling the subscribes, contact info, and delivery in one place is convenient.

The downside to this is that it gets complicated when a current subscriber tries to download a content upgrade. Since they’re already a subscriber, they won’t be able to submit the form. They’ll be taken to an error page where they have the option of requesting to update their subscription preferences.

Overall, that’s not a great experience for the reader. But it’s only an issue if you have a lot of current subscribers. That’s when it becomes likely they’ll try to subscribe to the list twice. If you’re just starting out, this is an excellent option.

Want more help? Download video tutorials for delivering content upgrades with MailChimp fields (method #4)!

Get scrappy

I’ve written before about the importance of being able to DIY with your website. This is another great reason. Most of the tools that have dedicated content upgrade features are advanced suites. To the new or bootstrapped blogger, not only is it expensive, it’s unnecessary.

While MailChimp and Zapier may not have a delivery feature you can toggle on and off, it’s the same number of steps. You’re just completing them differently. And this is a scenario where it’s about the destination, not the journey.

Become a MailChimp Master


Time for a tip of the hat. (Specifically, my MailChimp hat – that’s me, Cousin It, circa 2011.)

I want to give credit where it’s due. I thought I was pretty well-versed in MailChimp. But I’ve been going through Paul Jarvis’s Chimp Essentials course and mind. blown. I feel like an idiot.

The course is available for $147 until March 31, so get on that sucka and turn your MailChimp account from a basic setup to a powerful marketing channel.

Pin this post:

How to Use Welcome Emails to Deliver Content Upgrades How to Use Zapier to Deliver Content Upgrades How to Use Contact Forms to Deliver Content Upgrades How to Use MailChimp Custom Fields to Deliver Content Upgrades

Cheap & Easy Content Upgrades (without LeadPages!)