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!)

  • Jessica Freeman

    Love these ideas! Great solutions for those who don’t want to pay for or mess with LeadPages 🙂

    • Exactly! Even more so for people who don’t need *everything* LeadPages offers. Their 2-step optin and content upgrade features are hardly the main focus product-wise, and so easy to do in other tools, but I see bloggers paying $40/month for LP and that’s ALL they’re doing in the app. Not even touching the majority of the features. It’s silly to pay for them if you’re not using them. 🙂

  • Dope! I’ve been using a new list in Aweber + Magic Action Box to deliver them 🙂 Nooo need for Leadpages. Great post!

  • Emma-Louise Smith

    Oh this is music to my ears. I was wondering if I could set up new lists for content upgrades in Mailchimp. I don’t have that many subscribers at the moment to make duplicates a concern, but the Zapier tip for removing duplicates is great time-saving tip!

  • I am so glad that someone linked to this on Twitter. I was planning on investing in LeadPages soon and thanks to you I won’t be wasting my money. Thank Brittany!

    • You’re so welcome! Yep, don’t make the mistake I made for a single month. 😛

  • Oh man, I NEEDED to see this right now! I’ve spent so long debating whether I should jump in and get LeadPages, but it’s just too much money at the moment. I’ve started experimenting with creating new lists on MailChimp, but I’m definitely going to try out Zapier – seems like it’s the answer to everything!

    • Omg, Zapier is absolutely the answer to everything – that’s a great way to describe it! Glad I could help. 🙂

  • This is so great! I use the welcome email to deliver my content upgrades, but every time I send a newsletter out I go in and copy all the new subscribers from each list to a master list. Using Zapier would be So. Much. Better. Buffering and Pinning this post!

  • Kathryn

    So helpful! I am excited to share this with a few colleagues who are struggling with this very thing! Thank you!

    • Thank you so much! I get your colleagues’ struggle – I was frustrated enough to try all 4 of these myself at one point or another, after all. 🙂

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  • Emma-Louise Smith

    Thank you so much for this post Brittany. I just used it to create my first content upgrade post. It took a whole day to get it right, but I discovered my theme, Avada, has a modal popup, so I created Magic Action Box to go in that, set up a new list on Mailchimp and hey presto, I have a Leadpages style content upgrade opt-in! Now to set up Zapier to move the sign-ups to my main list when they start arriving – fingers crossed!

    • Awesome! Zapier is amazing and super easy to set up. And since you can duplicate zaps, once you’ve successfully set up one for content upgrades, future ones are just a matter of changing one or two of the fields. 🙂

  • THANK YOU!!! I have been wondering what the heck to do if I hold off on getting lead pages, so this is perfect. I really appreciate you taking the time to write such an uber helpful resource!

  • Hey Brittany, this is the most useful post ever, I was just about to buy LP – but I believe you saved me a whole lot of money. Thank you so much! But I would love to know how did you design your beautiful opt-in forms? Definitely sharing this one!!
    x Mona | sheaiminghigh.com

    • Thank you so much, Mona! For my own optin forms, I’m using the OptinMonster app and WordPress plugin. I love it!

      You can create 2-step optins just like LeadPages (for example, the link to download the video tutorials in this post), and I really love the targeting options. For example, you can change what opt-in shows in your sidebar depending on what page the reader is on or what category that blog post is in, etc. 🙂 Here’s more info (aff. link): https://www.brittanyberger.com/optinmonster

      • Could you be any more helpful?! Seriously I want to hug you (feeling the virtual cuddle already?! :))
        Thanks so much!!!
        x Mona

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  • Beth Napoli

    Thanks Brittany. This is great info. I realize I can’t invest in Leadpages until I make some money, so I’m going to use your methods to start.

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  • Miranda M. Nahmias

    HOLY CRAP, this is one of the most helpful blog posts I’ve ever read. I upgraded to MailChimp’s $10/month plan so that I could use the automation feature to deliver people content upgrades and now I feel so dumb for not figuring this out sooner! Thank you!!!!

    • You’re so welcome! Have fun with that extra $10/month you’ll now have in your pocket 🙂

  • Alison

    Thank you for this! Just set up multiple lists in mailchimp with zapier. Easy peasy!

  • So smart, thank you! Another “hack” I’m using: create a library with all your content upgrades. Set up a password-protected page in WordPress (select that option near “publish” on the page) and add links to each content upgrade. When people subscribe to get a specific content upgrade, they get a password to access the whole library. The disadvantage is that if they unsubscribe, they still have the password… but it’s dead simple for me and really valuable for them, so I can deal with that for now.

    • Definitely! I don’t have mine set up the same way, but once you download one, you have access to them all through an autoresponder. In general, people definitely don’t get the full bang for their buck from content upgrades.

  • Phew. Went to comment section first to just thank YOU. I’ve been looking for a guide for ages. xxx

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  • Crystal Nichole

    This is so helpful! Leadpages is great but just not in my budget and plus it confused me when integrating with MailChimp as MC also offered the option to send out magnet emails… This provided clarity and assurance it was a way to do w/o leadpages! Awesome!

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  • Natascia Rioli

    This was sooooooo helpful, I was looking for a method for delivering content upgrades and not having to pay – the easy way. I set up Mautic, don’t know if you have ever heard of it, but it’s not exactly easy to do, not to mention that in the hosted version you cannot change the templates, and the basic ones are ugly. I am thinking to switch to SumoMe + one of your tricks: you can even create
    Do you know any magick to create automated mail campaign for free as well? I was thinking to upgrade my mailchimp account to be able to use this feature, or to use convertkit, that is very expensive…still,mautic is a solution, but I want an easy tool with a nice design!
    Thanks soooo much again for your great post 🙂


    • Hey! I did look at Mautic but decided that I wanted to go with something similar. I think the cheapest service for sending automations will be ActiveCampaign and MailChimp, depending on your list size. Hope that helps!

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  • I wish this post would have existed a year ago! I didn’t think about tapping into Zapier in order to round out MailChimp’s lead magnet delivery capabilities. I actually wound up switching to ActiveCampaign from MailChimp in order to get the job done.

    I too was leaning hard towards LeadPages but I REALLY wanted to believe there was a solution that didn’t cost $37/mo. I wrote a similar post about NOT using LP and instead found a work-around using ActiveCampaign and an opt-in plugin (I’m using Bloom from Elegant Themes) that costs $9/month (for the ActiveCampaign subscription on a small list). If anyone’s interested reading about my setup, please checkout my post on how to use ActiveCampaign to deliver multiple unique content upgrades: http://bit.ly/1Yo4ZsY

    I linked back to your post from my post because your solution is so helpful for MailChimp users! Thank you again!

  • Nicole from Colleke Creations

    Hello Brittany, thanks so much for this post. I used the MailChimp option to make my first content upgrade. I do have a question. Do I have to make a new list for every upgrade and with that a sign up form, a sign up thank you page, an opt-in confirmation email and then the final welcome email (with the content upgrade in that one)? Do you know if it is possible to use the same series of emails with different lists or do I have to make with a new list all new emails again? Because that is a lot of work, right? I hope I made myself clear 😉 Thanks in advance! Nicole

    • Hi Nicole, I’m not sure if there’s a way to copy them from one list to another, but you can also use the MailChimp templates and good ole copy/paste. 😉

  • Great info! Thank you so much! But for some reason I cannot upload your tutorial 🙁 The link doesn’t work…

  • Hey Britany,

    Thank you for the detailed insights. Never knew about Mailchimp’s custom field hack. I have tried OptinMonster as an alternative to Leadpages when it comes to content upgrades and popups. There’s an elegant theme plugin called Bloom, which is cheaper version of OptinMonster.

    Stay awesome 🙂

  • Lauren Bear

    Hi Brittany,

    I just used your article to help me setup my first content upgrade! My blog budget is very small right now, so I used MailChimp to embed a sign up form on a landing page I created. Thank you!!

    Lauren Hamilton

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  • Smita M

    Thank you very much Brittany Berger.It was so useful but,I have some doubt.