The Truth About Content Upgrades


Guys, let's be real about this stuff. When I first started looking at this whole "blogging" thing, I couldn't help but compare myself to people like Mariah Coz and Maya Elious because they a) crush it on the regular, and b) offer amazing useful content for FREE all the time! How in the world am I supposed to compete with them?! (Turns out, I'm not. M&M are two my biggest supporters and now, they're my clients AND my friends).

One thing I've learned from them is that they've both committed to providing content upgrades with each of their blog posts. If you're a blogger and you post at least four times a month, that's a lot of content upgrades to come up with, create and distribute, am I right? Especially if your blog/biz is your side hustle, like mine is right now.

If you're beginning to feeling overwhelmed just reading that, don't! I'm going to tell you all about content upgrades and lead magnets and how to use them, plus I'm going to give you a behind-the-scenes look at my thought process when it comes to creating them.

Coming up with ideas for content upgrades

Trust me when I say you're probably over thinking it. I was, and it's something that took a while for me to get over. Mariah often preaches that it's always a great idea to give away your best stuff for free because it shows your audience that you know your stuff, and hopefully it makes them want to work with you and continue to learn from you.

My initial reaction to Mariah's advice? "True, you ARE a blogging superstar and who am I to doubt what you say? But even four blog posts a month is a lot, and while I'm great at what I do and I know that I know my stuff, what I don't know is if I have the energy to pull four content-upgrades-worth of 'best stuff' out of my hat."

Raise your hand if you've ever felt this way about blogging/content upgrades/lead magnets. My hand is waaaaay up!

Guess what? IT'S NOT THAT HARD. I promise.

A content upgrade doesn't have to be as in depth as a 10 page ebook. It can be as simple as a 1 page PDF, a free high resolution photo, or even something as simple as a list of things you think are awesome.

Yep, you heard right! Not every CU needs to be interactive or even actionable. The key is to provide value. That value can be anything. If you're a pro at consistently cranking out 1 blog post per week, a printable list of your weekly blog-writing schedule is extremely valuable for people who aren't at the same level. (Note: make sure you keep your CU aligned with your niche and the topic of your blog post to avoid confusing your readers).

Not every CU needs to be interactive or even actionable. The key is to provide value.

Your list might even be based on someone else's list that you found on Pinterest or someone else's content upgrade, but that doesn't mean yours isn't valuable. Your list is valuable because it has YOUR spin on it. Maybe you got the idea to write a blog post outline every Sunday from another blogger's writing schedule they shared, but it's your idiosyncrasies that makes your list different. That's where the value comes into play. What works for you isn't guaranteed to work for everyone, but it will work for someone, and they'll be grateful you shared it.

There's also extreme value in having information distributed in a convenient download. Making your content easy to download and save to a computer to fill out/use (or even print) is one less step that your readers have to take if they want to follow your lead or learn from you. You're making it super easy for your readers to implement what you're saying without having to do all the work. BAM. Value! (Side note: Have you ever been in class vigorously taking notes, only to reach the end of the class and have your teacher distribute a cheat sheet based on everything you just heard? The worst!)

Value comes in all shapes and sizes. Here are some of my favorite content upgrades that I've grabbed:

  • Free iPhone wallpaper

  • A free printable calendar

  • Free stock photos

  • A checklist of everything I need to do to launch my signature course (guess who that's from...)

  • A list of really great blogging tools to make life easier

They're all so different, but there's one thing they all have in common: VALUE! And the value each of them offers isn't the same. The value I get from a free iPhone wallpaper is that I get to have a super cute background (from a blogger whose style I love) for my iPhone, which I look at 500 times a day. The value I get from a free printable calendar is that it provides me with an at-a-glance overview of my month that I can hang anywhere without having to go and purchase a calendar. As a designer, stock photos are something I use literally every day, so free ones are always valuable. I know Mariah's 90-day launch checklist is valuable because she's amazing at what she does and frankly, everything she touches seems to turn to gold, PLUS it's the exact list she uses when she launches.

Do you get what I'm saying?

Now, clearly some of those things take longer to produce than others, but you do it because you love to provide value. Additionally, what's hard for me might be easy for you, and vice versa. Snapping some stock photos might only take Chaitra a couple hours, whereas it would take me ages to style some props, take the photos, and edit them. I can whip up an InDesign file in about 30 minutes, but that doesn't mean everyone else can. My point here? Do what works for you.

Using content upgrades for your benefit

So we've established that the point of content upgrades and lead magnets is to provide value for your audience, but what about you? What's the value that YOU get by providing awesome free stuff? Excellent question, my friend. Let's discuss!

Building your email list

The big "obvi" is that content upgrades and lead magnets are ideal for building your email list. Mariah speaks about this often. Every time I offer a CU in one of my blog posts, I set it up so that in order to download my offer, you have to give me your email address. That email address gets added to my email list. That email list is sent even better free stuff and exclusive offers that "outsiders" don't even get to hear about, unless I choose to post about it. I recently posted about how important it is to give more than you get when it comes to blogging. Your CU offer shows your readers that you value THEM. They get an immediate deliverable along with a promise to receive even more awesomeness in the future if they promise to stick around.

Your CU offer shows your readers that you value THEM. They get an immediate deliverable along with a promise to receive even more awesomeness in the future if they promise to stick around.

The easiest way to set this up is using LeadBoxes, from LeadPagesGuys, can you say game changer?! That's what LeadPages is! I have the most basic account and it's more than enough for me at this stage of my new business. A LeadBox turns a simple graphic into an email-list-building-machine. All you have to do is design your LeadBox in LP, upload your graphic to LeadPages, and copy and paste the code into the text editor you use to publish your blog posts. I use Wordpress, but I know Mariah uses Squarespace, and LP integrates beautifully with both.

Building trust and credibility

Content upgrades and lead magnets are great ways to show your audience that you a) are relatable and want to help, and b) know what you're talking about. Simply put, people like people who are nice, and people like people who are generous. No one wants to be the Regina George of the blogosphere. You want to be the person sending Glenn Coco all of those candy grams. That person rocks.

Providing your readers with useful information helps you establish credibility as a knowledgeable source of information on a particular subject. Providing them with something they can take away proves that not only can you talk the talk, but you can walk the walk AND lead others down the same path.

Additionally, creating free stuff that looks great tells your audience that you take yourself (and your business) seriously. It shows that you understand the value of what you're offering, and that you took the time to actually make something great.

Promoting your brand

My job as a design VA is built around helping you promote your brand using your social media, promo, and blog graphics. With so much of the same types of content kicking around the Internet, using graphics that aren't branded can actually do some serious damage to your business results.

Think about Pinterest. Do you know if an image someone Pins belongs to Mariah? How do you know? Because it's branded! You can easily pick out which pins are hers because they all have the same look and feel, not to mention her website's URL. And not only do they promote the awesome free content she's created and/or the blog post she's written, they also drill (gently, like a butterfly)  recognition of our brand into your brain. This makes it easier for your eye to pick out Pins linking to Mariah's blog posts, and eventually it just becomes an automatic response to click on them.

Creating branded promo graphics can be a bit intimidating if you've never done it before. Here's what branding your promo graphics isn't:

  • adding whatever "pretty" designs you feel like that day and then slapping your logo and URL on it

Here's what branding your promo graphics is:

  • having a clear call to action

  • using consistent fonts and type treatments

  • using consistent colors

  • using consistent illustrations and/or imagery

  • subtly referencing your blog with your URL or a small version of your logo

Makes sense, right? They keyword here is consistency, and the best way to ensure consistency is by using templates. Templates also help you get the job done faster.

If you're thinking "People really shouldn't judge my blog post by the graphics I threw together to promote it. I have some valuable content on the other side of that Canva graphic, and if they just click on it, they'll realize how great my blog is!", then let me tell you. Ethically, you're right. Realistically, you're totally wrong. People will judge your blog post by the visuals you use to promote it, and they do. If you're the one creating all of your own graphics, make sure you sharpen your design skills on a regular basis and stay true to your brand. And if you know don't want to deal with all of that stuff, hire someone to do it for you! I enjoy spending hours designing, but you might not.

(Disclaimer: Canva can be a great tool for newbies and aspiring designers, but let's be honest, none of the top bloggers and online entrepreneurs use Canva for their graphics.)

You will sell more, grow faster, and make more money by outsourcing these small design jobs to someone who excels at this type of work. Working with a great designer is an investment, not an expense. Any designer's job is to create something thatworks, not just something that looks pretty or meets brand requirements. Design becomes an expense when your designer's work stops producing results.

Having said that, hiring a designer isn't always a low-cost investment. That doesn't mean you should abandon ship, or dismiss the idea of branding and visual consistency altogether. One of the best things you can do for your business is to immerse yourself in your brand and continue full steam ahead. Remain true to your brand and make an extra effort to make your free content upgrades and lead magnets stunning visual representations of your brand and business.

So what have we learned today?

Well, we now know that there's more value than meet's the eye when it comes to creating and offering content upgrades. That value can be amplified using consistent branding and design, which means having a strategic plan in place to make sure everything you produce is pure gold, from the content upgrade itself to the branded promo graphics.

If you aren't sure where or how to start when it comes to creating and promoting content upgrades, or you don't have the financial resources at this time to hire a designer to work with on a regular basis, then I have some good news for you, dear friend.

The Ultimate Content Upgrade Creation Course

I've created The Ultimate Content Upgrade Creation Course to help guide you through my process of creating a content upgrade, as well as the graphics to promote it. 

In three modules, over the course of several step-by-step videos, you'll learn:

  • How to make the top 10 list using Adobe InDesign

    • Typesetting

    • Adding design elements

    • Adding branding

    • Saving for online distribution

  • How to make the realistic mockup of the top 10 list, using Adobe Photoshop

    • How to use smart objects

    • How to use layer styles

    • Saving for web

  • How to create 2 content-upgrade-focused promo graphics using the mockup

    • Pinterest

    • Twitter

    • Adding branding

    • Saving for web


    • How to create a realistic ebook mockup

Here's what you can do with what you learn:

  • Create awesome, professional looking content upgrades in InDesign using your brand elements.

  • Create realistic mockups of your content upgrades using Photoshop.

  • Create stunning promo graphics for your content upgrades using Photoshop.

  • Use what you build as templates! Once you're done the course, you'll have a set of awesome graphics that you can use and reuse over and over again.

The Ultimate Content Upgrade Creation Course is designed to be done over a weekend, but you can easily power through in a day, or stretch it out as long as you'd like. Plus, you can use the graphics you'll create as templates to make the process quick and easy for all of your upcoming content upgrades, and you get lifetime access to the material.

You can take advantage of the amazing $97 presale price (which is increasing to $129 on Saturday) using the promo code "MARIAH" until Friday, January 22!

So what are you waiting for?

PS: If you're worried that you might not be able to do the course because you don't have the Adobe programs, you can grab a free trial here. You can activate it today or wait to use until the 30th when the course launches.

For today's bonus, I've created a free Intro to Adobe video guide that walks you through the programs I use for the course including a quick overview of how I use them to create content upgrades. You'll find out why I love using Adobe, and why it's the best graphic design program on the market.

Lastly, some food for thought: what's your content upgrade strategy? If you don't have one, you really should. You will absolutely see a difference in your audience's level of engagement when you step up your CU game, and you'll likely see a burst of email list signups if you use LeadPages for distribution!

Guest post by Jillian Adriana