The simple trick for growing your email list by 10,000 subscribers

Kyle’s note: Walter Chen is the founder of iDoneThis. He used the power of a strong email list and content marketing to grow his startup. In this post, he shares one of his most effective strategies for growing his email list, content upgrades. Over to Walter.

People love a freebie. Giving them a little extra sugar on top of your normal content can make readers more engaged, more likely to return and can be a great way for you to drive traffic to your blog.

Content upgrades offer this little something extra, and it’s how we grew our email list by over 10,000 subscribers.

Content upgrades can be something as sophisticated as an eBook of the content on your site, or as easy to produce as a checklist of your points in a post. Whatever it is, it’s powerful to give someone something that feels like a useful tool — a tangible book, packaged product, or extra information — not just a blog post.

In exchange for that little something extra, you’ll find that your readers will be willing to give you their email addresses when they otherwise wouldn’t.

So how do you go about making an eBook? And then how do you use that to get emails? It all starts with great content, but if you’ve got that you can follow these steps to creating, publishing, marketing, and using your unique content upgrade to build your email list and give your readers something extra.

4 types of content upgrades

People are looking for 4 main types of content upgrades: checklists, cheatsheets, templates, and eBooks. Click To Tweet

Readers will appreciate this extra information because it’s taking the minimum of what’s expected in a blog post even further.

Content upgrades will help them retain the information they just learned and provides something concrete that they can look back on. And in exchange for your content perk, you get something special as well — their email, which we all know might as well be gold.

All you’ll need is the content you want to deliver, a means to compile, create or publish it, and some extra pizzazz to help build the massive email list that you’ve been trying endlessly to get.

Use content upgrades to grow your email list to 10,000+ subscribers. Click To Tweet 

These are the 4 types of content upgrades you need to know, and how to use them:

1. Checklists

Checklists offer a breakdown of all the steps that people need to perform from your post.

Someone could read your article and love it, but still feel lost as to what the next steps are. Or, perhaps they don’t feel lost, but there were so many points to your post, that they need a checklist to make sure they don’t forget anything when taking action.

Checklists deconstruct all the ideas they just took in and transform them into simple and actionable steps. They are the most effective when supplementing posts that have several steps involved in getting to the finished product.

Buffer wrote a post titled For Social Media Beginners and Pros Alike. The title alone suggests that this article will give some actionable advice for people wishing to know how to build your social media presence, and because there are several social media sites out there, each with their own profile designs, they knew that a checklist would be tactically appropriate for their reader.

You can make a checklist using Microsoft Word and then share it as a zipped PDF file. Buffer makes their document available at the end of the article. (Although it should be noted that they neglect to ask for their reader’s email.)

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The file is then available in your downloads folder for you to access the PDF. In this case, Buffer shared a folder of multiple goodies. Their checklist is titled ‘How to Complete Your Social Media Profile.’

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They have broken it up into checklists for the different social media sites starting with Twitter. You can use this document to make sure you are taking every necessary step to having a successful social media profile.

2. Cheat sheets

A cheat sheet outlines a step by step process that your reader can easily follow. It should also answer any main questions people ask.

For cheat sheets you’ll want to extract and condense the main points of your article, which is easy because blog posts typically aren’t very long. They work best for “how to” posts.

Try and put yourself in the reader’s shoes. What information has the most important takeaway? These points should be actionable and concise and can take the form of a bullet or numbered list, an infographic or a step by step advice manual.

For example, an article on copyblogger that tells readers how to make their blog posts go viral includes a link for a free cheat sheet at the bottom asking for their email in exchange.

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This copyblogger cheat sheet gives you different templates for effective blog titles, and strategies around using these templates. One thing you’ll notice is that it is very organized.


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In this manual, the first section deals with “threat headlines.” It gives several template examples of common titles that you will see and then goes into more detail page by page.


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Cheat sheets are effective because they provide a road map of instructions. When you buy a drawer from Ikea, almost nobody will know how to put it together without constantly referring to the instructions.

Your reader will appreciate this road map because until they get really good at something, they will constantly be referring to your cheat sheet to make sure they are doing everything right.

3. Templates for data

Templates can include spreadsheets, calendars, and presentations. They should contain pre-filled formulas and examples for your reader to plug their own data into.

These upgrades work best for posts that are teaching your reader how to measure or monitor routine numbers that usually reflect growth.

Everyone loves data. We love the feeling of seeing raw evidence that reflect the work we do.

Numbers can also be intimidating to many people. The fact that you are providing your readers with easy already-made templates will save people a lot of time — especially those who see spreadsheets and want to run immediately.

There are a couple of tools that you can use to create a shareable data template. I find that Microsoft Excel to be the best tool to use when dealing with data.

The same Buffer example from the checklist section above also includes a spreadsheet content upgrade for their reader. When you open the file, it’s under ‘Social Media Analytics’.

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This spreadsheet allows you to input your own data to monitor how your Twitter posts are doing. You can see if you are getting more activity on your posts as time goes on.

Microsoft Excel is also good for tools like calendars. Taken from a post with 6 useful social media templates, this calendar allows you to keep track of your daily post activity, but it also represents a good example of an effective calendar template.

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Creating templates like these will save your reader a lot of time. They will be thankful and want to share their email with you in exchange for this valuable information.


Related: 23 Types of Lead Gen Content to Put Behind Your Landing Pages

4. Ebook

Ebooks are contained, quantifiable sources of information on one topic, usually taken from previous articles on your site.

People generally give more weight to books because they are thought of as being carefully crafted as opposed to blogs. Books are longer so the assumption is that they take a lot of tender, love and care to get just right. Whereas blogs don’t require much skill or time because they are shorter and being produced in copious amounts every day.

eBooks are a great tool because they open the reader up to the broader topic at hand. If your blog post is specifically about customer retention through email, it might turn out that your reader is also interested in customer retention or email tactics as a broader strategy. If you have that material, an eBook is a great way to get them to read even more of your content.

iDoneThis used this strategy and was able to grow their email list upwards of 10,000 subscribers.

While you might think, “I don’t have time to write an eBook! Who am I, Rockefeller?” They are actually much easier to produce than one would think.

This is because they can be a compilation of past blog posts.

If you have been posting for a while, chances are that you definitely have enough material for an eBook. Click To Tweet

Think about it this way: a typical length of an eBook is only 10k or more words long. Say your average blog length is 1,000 words. That means you only need 10 blogs on one topic to compile into a successful eBook.

To make an eBook, you’ll want to go through your past content and change your posts from articles into chapters and place them on a single page with different chapter headings and subsections. Depending on how much curating you want to do, this process could only take one hour.

Once you finish with this, all that is left is to publish. There is an easy way to do this and an even easier way to do this.

First the easy way. You can use Print Friendly & PDF, which is a great Chrome extension or bookmarklet that allows you to publish your web pages as PDFs.

This tool allows you to format your web page without all the unnecessary web elements that often get in the way when trying to print a document. It also allows you to edit and remove images, change text size, and it keeps all the links so that someone can access them from the eBook.

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If you really don’t have the time, the easier way is to use SketchDeck. They are a wonderful online design team that produce amazing content for a number of things, one of them being eBooks. They also work for a reasonable price.

Building your email list through content upgrades

You might be wondering how these 4 tools can help you build your email list.

Noah Kagan, founder of AppSumo, SumoMe, and one of the original employees of Facebook has built email lists that have over 1,000,000 subscribers. Needless to say he is a mastermind when it comes to building email lists.

He is a huge proponent of offering bonus goodies at the end of his blog posts, and on his site and he usually does this by asking for your email in exchange for the goods.

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Here, his content upgrade is a cheat sheet, but any of the four types in this post would work.

Like Noah, insert these content upgrades on your site as individual incentives or as packages of goodies, for people to enjoy. In exchange you get their email and the potential to have a lifetime subscriber.

This tactic worked for companies like Backlinko. Founder Brian Dean noticed that with every post, there would follow comments asking for more information. One day he attached a content upgrade in the form of a checklist at the bottom of an article and saw a 785% increase in conversions.

SumoMe’s List Builder, a pop up that asks for your email in exchange for a content upgrade has also shown to increase conversions by 10x.

Other channels to market your content upgrade to get 10,000 subscribers

1. Use Twitter to get subscribers

Twitter has become a great marketing tool specifically with their lead generation cards. These allow you to plug leads directly to your twitter feed.

This feature is available through Twitter Ads. From there, Twitter can help you with exactly how to create a Twitter leads campaign.

Use these cards to highlight your offer (your eBook, check list etc.), pick a compelling image, and a call to action such as getting folks to subscribe. You can ask for emails in exchange for content upgrades in a simple and clear template.


Scroll down on this page and you can also do things like adjust your target audience, as well as set your budget for how much you want to pay. It’s surprisingly cheap (you can set your own budget), and triggers massive engagement rates.

Twitter will direct them straight to your content and save their information to pass onto you for your email list.

2. Guest post

Guest posts are one of the easiest ways to market your content to other audiences. This will get you more subscribers as well as contribute to the distribution of interesting content out into the world.

Next time you write a guest post, include a template you have prepared or a checklist as bonus material. Click To Tweet

This action is as easy as contacting other folks that are producing content that is relevant to yours. Most often they will be ecstatic to feature guest posts because it’s less work for them, and they will want to share the good content with their own subscribers.

You can even use an already existing post from your own blog. All you have to do is tweak it a little to fit their audience. Repurposing content allows you to go through a high volume of posts rather than coming up with new material from scratch each time.

Search marketer Paul Shapiro wrote a guest post on Noah Kagan’s blog, OkDork, and included his call to action at the bottom of the post.

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Make sure to add a link back to your site as well as your featured content upgrade, and badda bing: profit.

3. SEO keywords

The power of strategic search terms should never be underestimated. It’s the best way to get new people on board who happen to be searching for content on your topic.

Your prepared content upgrades are now great tools for new users to come upon in a search. They’ll be relieved that this material already exists in the world of the vast wide web, and you’ll be relieved to get a plethora of new subscribers.

Choose an SEO-optimized keyword for your content upgrades so that it will come up easier whenever someone is searching for your topic.

Make sure of three things:

·      you have an HTML copy of your content upgrade on your site

·      you also have a PDF copy or zip file of it on your site

·      everywhere on your site that you mention the keyword, link it to the HTML copy

You can use to help you find the best keyword.

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Once people arrive at your site from their search, get them to sign up for your email list in exchange for the PDF or zip file.

4. Use your eBook to have a press exclusive

If it’s an eBook, you can offer the launch as an exclusive offer particularly to a niche site in your area.

Think of your eBook as a news story. Media and journalists are always looking for new exclusive stories to cover. Take the iDoneThis eBook for example. They pitched their eBook to specifically because they knew that their target audience would be interested in iDoneThis and the content of their eBook. then sent out the launch to their 8,000 person email list.

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Use these tips and before you know it, you will have your first 10,000 email subscribers.

Kyle’s note: Content upgrades are something that we have been using for a long time on the WP Curve blog. Our top converting posts always have a content upgrade tied to them. If you are looking for more inspiration and strategy on content upgrades check out The ultimate guide to creating content that converts.


Walter Chen is the founder and CEO of iDoneThis, the easiest way to share and celebrate what you get done at work, every day. He blogs about management, entrepreneurship, and happiness on the iDoneThis Blog.

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