← Back to Blog

Are Lead Magnets Dead? A Peek Inside Our New Lead Generation Strategy (Case Study)

  • Conversion Rate Optimization
  • List Building

Lead generation is NOT what it used to be. Years ago, capturing and converting visitors was easy: offer a lead magnet like an eBook or a PDF resource and watch your on-page conversion rate go through the roof.

Today, it’s a VERY different story.

Fewer visitors are willing to part with their email addresses. And if they are? You better have something of immense value to offer.

We had to learn this for ourselves.

In fact, over the past year, we’ve completely overhauled our lead generation strategy.

What was working soon became uninspired and ineffective, and we needed to do something about it. Fast.

So, today, I want to pull back the curtain and show you everything we’re doing to increase our on-page conversion rate, including:

  • How we’re achieving higher on-page conversion rates by using “evergreen lead magnets.”
  • Why traditional lead magnets are no longer effective at converting site visitors into subscribers (and what to do instead).
  • How to create your own evergreen lead magnets so you can invite visitors to engage with your brand again and again.
  • My favorite lead magnet examples, best practices to follow, and more.

Let’s get started.

Free Downloadable Bonus

We’ve NEVER Done This Before

Look, I get it. A content upgrade for a post about content upgrades is pretty meta. But I don’t want to leave you empty-handed before reading this post…

So, to ensure I’m keeping my word with everything I write about below, I’m sharing ALL our processes for creating evergreen lead magnets. Our regularly updated checklists, our working procedures … everything.

In a Rush? Read This First

This post is quite in-depth. To make life easier, I’ve broken each section down into more detail. Click a link below to jump to a particular section of interest.

Let’s look at each section in more detail.

From “Ugh” To “Aha!”: The Results from Our Evergreen Lead Magnet Experiment

Before explaining what an evergreen lead magnet is and how you can create one for your site, I want to show you the results we’re achieving by using them.

Ideally, I would have like to have shown you a side-by-side comparison of a blog post i.e. the conversion rate of a blog post before we added an evergreen lead magnet and after.

But going back and adding evergreen lead magnets to our top-performing content wasn’t an option. Much of our best-performing articles, at the time, ranked by luck; we were a growing startup and hadn’t yet defined a goal for our content marketing.

Furthermore, the topics that were ranking well weren’t thorough enough to add lead magnets to (do you really need a PDF copy of a blog post about go-to social media tools?)

So, instead of showing you a before and after, I want to show you our conversion rates for content with evergreen lead magnets versus content without.

Take, for instance, our content relaunch blog post. As a lead magnet, we included the exact framework we used to increase our organic traffic by 290.67% in 3 weeks.

Here’s the conversion rate for that post:

Not bad.

Now compare this with a blog post with a similar number of sessions, but with a generic lead magnet (in other words, without an evergreen lead magnet):

Here’s a more interesting example…

Below are two posts with an almost identical number of sessions but very different lead magnets and conversion rates:

Blog Post A:

Blog Post B:

You can probably guess which post has the evergreen lead magnet.

Before moving on, it’s important to mention that there are always other factors influencing the conversion rate of a blog post (e.g. the topic itself, the introduction, the content upgrade copy, etc.). That said, it’s safe to assume the type of content upgrade we chose was a big influence on the conversion rate.

Of course, none of this would have been achievable had we not discovered what we were doing wrong, to begin with…

Editor’s Note: Since writing this post, we’ve made a lot of changes to our blog and our content. First, we performed a content audit where we removed any posts that hadn’t generated more than 100 sessions in the past three months. This removed the issue of having to add content upgrades to posts that lacked depth. Second, we added evergreen lead magnets to all our remaining content.

While our on-page conversion rate has increased since doing so, so has our domain rating, our organic footprint, and other key performance metrics. With that in mind, it’s hard to say evergreen lead magnets are the chief cause of the increase. But it is safe to assume that using them won’t decrease your conversion rate—if you follow the steps outlined in this post.

The #1 Mistake We Made with Our Lead Magnets (Avoid This Trap At All Costs)

You’ve probably read about them.

And if you’re anything like other B2B marketers who are investing in content, chances are you’ve made them an integral part of your marketing strategy.

I’m talking, of course, about content upgrades.

Coined by Brian Dean, a content upgrade is a freebie that’s specific to the blog post or page it features on. Unlike a site-wide free optin bonus like an eBook (lead magnet 1.0), content upgrades (lead magnet 2.0) offer further value by building on the content the reader is already engaging with.

When Brian wrote that he was able to Coined by Brian Dean by using a content upgrade, it became a staple of any good content marketing strategy.

But this introduced a problem for many marketers…

Everyone started using them.

It wasn’t long before every site you visited had a yellow callout box like Brian’s, offering a free content upgrade:

With many sites using content upgrades, the value of them began to diminish. Visitors developed “optin blindness” after seeing similar offers on multiple sites, and for reasons we’ll discuss shortly, felt underwhelmed with the freebies they were opting in for.

We experienced this, too.

Not as consumers, but as creators.

Like many marketers, we felt compelled to follow the crowd. We’d already invested in content marketing—why not invest in content upgrades, too?

We didn’t want to get left behind, so we jumped on the bandwagon. But in doing so, we never stopped to consider whether what we were doing was sustainable. Nor did we develop a strategy to ensure a high standard was upheld.

Over time, our lead magnets were rushed to meet looming deadlines…

And the results reflected such.

We realized we needed to revisit our content strategy. No longer could we do what everyone else was doing or create lead magnets for the sake of it: we needed to create something relevant for our audience, something that would work for us.

What You Need to Know About The 3 Most Common Types of Lead Magnet

Note from Sam: If you’re already familiar with the most common types of lead magnet, skip this section.

Today, many marketers turn to one of three common type of lead magnet when trying to convert visitors, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Let’s discuss each briefly.

Today, many marketers turn to one of three common type of lead magnet when trying to convert visitors, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Let’s discuss each briefly.

1. eBooks

Be honest:

How often have you opted in for an eBook only to let it collect digital dust in your inbox?

(I know I have. In fact, right now, I have several eBooks in Evernote I need to read. Chances are I won’t…)

Once a valuable asset for a site (especially when they were actual electronic books of considerable length), eBooks are now rarely anything more than a few blog posts put together (or worse, a single blog post).

There are exceptions, of course.

James Clear’s Transform Your Habits—now in its third edition—is so valuable it has more than 302 ratings on Goodreads:

Similarly, Digital Marketer offers a PDF copy of Ryan Deiss’ bestselling book, Invisible Selling Machine, as a bribe for sharing their content upgrades:

Yes, you read right: a content upgrade for sharing a content upgrade. Pretty meta, huh?

Takeaway: eBooks can and do work (depending on your industry, of course). But they need to be damn good if they’re to work long-term. With so many “eBooks” available online, you need to make sure what you’re offering is the very best it can be for what you’re trying to achieve.

2. PDF Resources

More varied than eBooks, PDF resources include printable checklists, a PDF version of a blog post, walkthroughs, and more.

When done right, PDF resources can complement the content they’re accompanying.

Brian Dean from Backlinko illustrates this well for his post on Google’s 200 Ranking Factors.

After getting questions from readers like Kristen…

…and Justin…

…Brian created a printable PDF for easy reference. With it, readers could have all the ranking factors in one place (with the most important prioritized).

But not all PDF resources are as helpful or practical as Brian’s.

Many are thrown together and although often come with a nice design, are underwhelming when received.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opted in for a nice-looking lead magnet only to be mislead by its copy or design.

Care to hazard a guess whether I returned to that site again?

Takeaway: Overpromising and under delivering with a PDF resource can damage new relationships. So, make sure you’re starting every new relationship off on the right foot. Or, to paraphrase Ramit Sethi, make what you’re offering so good, people feel like they’re stealing from you.

3. Email/Video Courses

Drip feeding an audience information is nothing new; direct response marketers favored this approach for years.

But that doesn’t mean it’s ineffective today.

The truth is, when done right, there’s enormous value in email/video courses.

No one knows this better than Brennan Dunn from Double Your Freelancing.

His free email course, “Charge What You’re Worth,” has had more than 20,000 enrollments:

And that’s not all…

It’s generated $138,205.20 in revenue in the last year alone.

Mind. Blown.

But results like this aren’t typical.

For one thing, it’s difficult to get noticed in the subscriber’s inbox AND expect high levels of engagement over a prolonged period of time (unless what you’re offering is outstanding).

Further, depending on the topic you’re teaching, much can change between the time you create it and publish it (let’s be honest, video/email courses require a LOT of upfront work).

Takeaway: Like good eBooks, email and video courses can perform well, but you need to revise them often before they deliver a profitable monetary return (if that’s your goal, of course).

So, the question remains:

How can you generate high-quality leads by using lead magnets—without compromising on quality or bankrupting your time, attention or resources?

Introducing: Evergreen Lead Magnets

I know what you’re thinking:

“What is an evergreen lead magnet?”

Here’s our definition,

An evergreen lead magnet is a content upgrade that (1) offers immediate value to the user, (2) invites repeated usage, and (3) is regularly updated to ensure it’s the most up-to-date resource it can be.

Evergreen lead magnets are highly-effective for three reasons:

1. They Offer Immediate Value to The User

Many lead magnets repeat what’s included in the blog post, offering little, if any, new information. Others, require hours of your time to get an actionable takeaway.

With an evergreen lead magnet, you get immediate value.

When you opt in on a site for a swipe file, you get redirected to a collection of high-converting emails that can help inspire the campaign you need to send by 5 p.m. that day.

When you subscribe to a newsletter to get instant access to a cost per lead calculator (like Workshop Digital offer), you get instant feedback on whether you’re meeting or exceeding your target cost per lead.

2. They Invite Repeated Usage

It’s no secret that the more a potential buyer interacts with your brand, the more likely they are to become a customer.

And the more likely they are to become a customer, the more likely they are to become a repeat customer.

Research from RJMetrics found that customers who are invited to make a third purchase are 53% more likely to buy again than someone who has only made a second purchase.

The problem for many brands, though, is at the top of their funnel. A user at the awareness stage will read a blog post and opt in for a lead magnet, interact with it once—and that’s it.

Sure, they will have other touch points with the brand through email marketing and Facebook retargeting, but those efforts are ignored if their first impression of you wasn’t memorable.

However, by offering an evergreen lead magnet (a swipe file, a template library, a lifetime subscription to free software, etc.), you invite the reader to return to your brand, again and again, indoctrinating them into your marketing further.

The best part? They work even if you’re in an industry like e-commerce.

Let’s say you have an online apparel store with hundreds of product pages. Does that mean you need to create a lead magnet for each page? Not at all.

For instance, if you sell running apparel, you could offer a free guide on how to run 10k in 30 days and have it one each parent page that’s relevant such as /running or /training. In fact, one of our customers created the below lead magnet for this very reason.

3. They Stay Evergreen

We all know the importance of updating old content.

Heck, we know this better than anyone. As mentioned, we did a content relaunch and we increased our organic reach threefold.

But no one ever talks about updating old content upgrades.

If you update a blog post, why would you not upgrade the content upgrade, too?

Part of having an evergreen lead magnet is returning to it often to ensure it’s still as valuable to the user as it was when you first created it.

If it’s that good, the reader will return to it—as should you (if not to improve it).

Now that we’ve covered why evergreen lead magnets work, let’s discuss how to create them.

How to Create a Lead Magnet That Stays Evergreen

Creating a lead magnet is one thing. Creating one that invites readers to return to it, again and again, is as another. Here are four steps to doing that.

Step 1: Define What Your Audience Wants—and Give It to Them

No two audiences are alike.

Some users prefer browsing swipe files. Others favor getting plug-and-play templates that make achieving a particular result quicker and easier. (If you’ve ever downloaded a pre-built Google Sheet, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.)

With that in mind, understanding the core goals and challenges of your buyer personas—as well as their media preferences—is an integral part of creating a good evergreen lead magnet.

Knowing their audience crave inspiration for Facebook Ads, AdEspresso went beyond writing a blog post and offering examples (like many sites do), and instead, created an academy with thousands of Facebook Ad examples—for free:

Like many evergreen lead magnets, this academy is regularly updated to ensure visitors make return visits (giving AdEspresso a lot of top-of-mind awareness in the process).

Similar to AdEspresso, we decided to focus on swipe files for many of our evergreen lead magnets (that said, the marketing toolkit we offered in our Harry’s marketing post converted better than anything we ever could have imagined).

As mentioned, our analytics showed that swipe files performed better than any other type of lead magnet (e.g. eBooks) so we decided to go all-in on them.

This wasn’t something we decided in one meeting; we knew committing to this decision would consume a LOT of our time, attention and resources. In fact, we even went as far as creating a new Gmail account so we could subscribe to and categorize dozens of e-commerce email campaigns for our evergreen email marketing lead magnet:

Once we had enough we were happy sharing, we added them to a shareable Google Drive folder and created a “master” doc with links to each email.

Here’s an example of what you’re redirected to after optin in for it (notice the recent update):

GetVero uses swipe files for their lead magnet, too, though opt for a different means of delivery (a .zip file):

My favorite example of going the extra mile for users is Bryan Harris from Videofruit.

Known as the go-to person for email list building, Bryan built a Google Chrome extension called “List Goal” to help users reach their lead generation goals:

Bryan’s software has undergone several iterations since its launch—proving the importance of regularly updating your lead magnets (even if they’re not making an immediate return).

Bottom line:

Determine what’s most important to your target buyer and go above and beyond with the value you deliver.

Step 2: Set Up a Way to Track Its Performance

Getting a visitor to opt in for a lead magnet is only the beginning for a potential buyer going through the buyer’s journey.

For instance, if you’re a SaaS company, it’s likely you want your subscribers to start a free trial of your product or service with the goal of turning them into customers.

With that in mind, it’s crucial you have a way of tracking the performance of each lead magnet (i.e. your number of goal completions) as well as how many users are converting at the bottom of the funnel (e.g. free trial conversions).

You can do this by (1) setting up goals in Google Analytics (GA) for blog conversions (ToFu) and (2) adding referral codes to the CTA at the end your evergreen lead magnets to start (BoFu).

For each of our evergreen lead magnets, we have a CTA to start a 7-day free Sleeknote trial with a unique referral code that’s specific to that lead magnet:

If you take a closer look, you’ll notice a specific referral code we can track in GA:

Using goals in GA and referral codes in our lead magnets, we can measure (1) which posts best converts visitors into subscribers and (2) which content upgrades best convert subscribers into free trials.

We can then take that data and make better decisions about what’s working and what isn’t, and ensure we’re serving our readers at the highest level possible.

Step 3. Schedule Time to Regularly Update Your Best Lead Magnets

As your company grows, so, too, will your number of content assets.

And when they do, you better hope you have a good organizational system in place.

Much like managing a financial portfolio, part of having a collection of evergreen lead magnets is knowing which are performing well—and which aren’t—so you can make any necessary changes. How will you know if you don’t have a good overview of all your content in one place?

At Sleeknote, we use Airtable to manage all our content assets including blog posts, guest posts, lead magnets and more.

Once a week, I update all our marketing KPIs, and once a month, I review how well our evergreen lead magnets are performing, pulling data from our analytics:

We can then take that data and make better decisions about what’s working and what isn’t, and ensure we’re serving our readers at the highest level possible.

Here’s an example of how it looks in Airtable:

Once you have all your assets in one place, it’s easier to review and take the appropriate actions needed to make improvements.

Step 4: Use Your Evergreen Lead Magnets in Your Facebook Advertising (Optional)

If you’re a content marketer, you probably know the power of repurposing content. Taking a blog post from one media, and using it in another. But few marketers leverage the power of repurposing lead magnets.

Take, for instance, our evergreen growth marketing lead magnet. It’s a toolkit of the best growth marketing strategies we’ve used to grow Sleeknote, organized by category for the users’ convenience.

Aside from using it on our blog to convert readers into subscribers, we also use it in our Facebook advertising.

Here’s how it works:

A potential customer sees the above push ad in their newsfeed. If the user clicks “Download,” they’re redirected to a landing page on our site where they can download the toolkit:

We ask users for their name and email address, as well as information about their company size and the industry they work in. If you want targeted leads, you need to segment as early as possible. We’ve tested inviting users to segment themselves before they sign up versus in a welcome email and the former is far more effective.

If the user opts in, they receive the lead magnet but they also enter our email onboarding flow and our Facebook retargeting flow, moving them further down our marketing funnel.

If they don’t opt in, they continue seeing our ads—on Facebook and elsewhere—until they complete the flows or preferably, become a customer.

Combining evergreen lead magnets with Facebook Advertising is effective for three reasons:

  1. Offering lead magnets in push ads helps reach new audiences (and reclaim lost optin opportunities when retargeting). This is especially true for the latter. Few readers, after all, have time to opt-in for a lead magnet when reading a blog post—especially if they’re on the move. When you use lead magnets in your retargeting flow, it makes it easier to win-back otherwise lost readers.
  2. Driving users to your site makes it easier to retarget them later. In today’s world, it’s unlikely a user will immediately become a customer after seeing an ad. But if you drive them to your site to download a lead magnet and then retarget them, it’s much easier to control the customer journey (especially if you have their email, too).
  3. Promoting a lead magnet on Facebook increases its perceived value. Which would you perceive to have higher value? A lead magnet on a site? Or, a lead magnet offered in a Facebook ad, with multiple likes, comments, and shares? While the lead magnet is the same in both examples, the latter has more engagement and social proof, thus making it far more appealing to the user.

Granted, using a lead magnet in your retargeting flows is a lot of work, but the numbers will reflect positively on your bottom line. That you can be sure of.

Free Downloadable Bonus

We’ve NEVER Done This Before

Look, I get it. A content upgrade for a post about content upgrades is pretty meta. But I don’t want to leave you empty-handed before reading this post…

So, to ensure I’m keeping my word with everything I write about below, I’m sharing ALL our processes for creating evergreen lead magnets. Our regularly updated checklists, our working procedures … everything.

Are Evergreen Lead Magnets for You?

Make no mistake about it—lead magnets are NOT going away.

And nor should they: when done right they’re an extremely valuable asset for marketers and users.

But visitors aren’t as susceptible as they once were. No longer can you get away with quickly throwing something together in the hope of acquiring an email address.

If you want to get noticed in today’s noisy online world, you need to go above and beyond what your competitors are doing.

It’s not enough to follow best practices anymore; you need to challenge them. As Shawn Achor says, “If we study merely what is average, we will remain merely average.”

Evergreen lead magnets might not be a good fit for your business. And if they’re not, that’s okay; they’re not for everyone. But if they are, and your optin rates aren’t where you know they could be, they might just be the unfair advantage you’ve been looking for.

Do you use lead magnets on your site? If so, what have your experiences been? Leave a comment below.

Like what you read? Leave a comment