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Sam Thomas Davies

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

  • Growth Marketing
  • List Building

Lead generation is NOT what it used to be.

Years ago, capturing and converting visitors was easy: offer 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’ve had to learn this for ourselves.

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

What was working fast 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’ve learned about lead generation, 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.
  • How to create evergreen lead magnets of your own so you can invite visitors to return to your site again and again (and thereby expose them further to your brand).

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.

From “Ugh” to “Aha!”

Before explaining what an evergreen lead magnet is and how you can create one for your site, I want to show you briefly 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.

However, 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 sheerly by luck; we were a growing startup and hadn’t prioritized what we were trying to achieve with content marketing.

Further, the topics that were ranking well for 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 that exact framework we used to increase our organic traffic by 290.67% in 3 weeks.

Here’s the conversion rate for that post:

4.07_ Conversion Rate

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):

1.45_ Conversion Rate

Here’s a more interesting example…

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

Blog Post A:

0.37_ Conversion Rate

Blog Post B:

4.14_ Conversion Rate

You can probably guess which post has an evergreen lead magnet, can’t you?

Before moving on, I think it’s important to mention 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.). However, I think 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…

The problem with traditional lead magnets

You’ve probably read about them.

And if you’re anything like other B2B businesses 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 he was able to boost conversions by 785% 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.

In fact, it’s hard not to visit a site now without noticing the yellow call-out box that’s a common feature of the content upgrade:

Yellow Callout Box

With many sites implementing content upgrades, the value of them began to diminish. Visitors developed “optin blindness” after seeing similar offers or multiple sites and, for reasons we’ll discuss in a moment, 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 decided to invest 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 the high standard we set 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 to our audience, something that would work for us.

Sadly, few businesses have realized this.

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

Let’s discuss each briefly.

i. 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 waiting to be read. Chances are I won’t be reading them…)

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:

James Clear Transform Your Habits Goodreads

And he’s not the only one.

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

Digital Marketer Lead Magnet

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 going to work long-term. With so many “eBooks” available online (thus detracting from real eBooks), you need to make sure what you’re offering is the very best it can be for what you’re trying to achieve.

ii. PDF resources

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

When used correctly, PDF resources can perfectly complement the content they’re accompanying.

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

After getting questions from readers like Kristen…

Kirsten Backlinko

…and Justin…

Justin A Backlinko

…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).

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

Many are quickly thrown together and although often come with a nice design, at face value, are massively underwhelming when received.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opted in for a nicely dressed up lead magnet only to be let down but the use of copy or misleading design.

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

Takeaway: Overpromising and under delivering with a lead magnet 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 practically stealing from you.

iii. Email/video courses

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

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

The truth is, when done correctly, 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:

Brennan Dunn Charge What You_re Worth

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 truly 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 exceptionally well, but they require much testing and revision before they work effectively and deliver a profitable return.

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 energy?

Introducing: evergreen lead magnets (lead magnet 3.0)

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) most importantly, is regularly updated to ensure it’s the most up-to-date resource it can be.

I believe evergreen lead magnets are highly effective for three reasons:

i. 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 top-performing emails that can help inspire the promotional campaign you need to send by 5 o’clock 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.   

ii. 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 are easily ignored if their initial impression of you was unmemorable.

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, indoctrinate them into your marketing further.

iii. 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 once per quarter 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 continually return to it—and so should you (if not to improve on it).

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

How to create evergreen lead magnets that welcomes and wows users

i. Define what your audience wants and deliver it to them.

No two audiences are alike.

Some prefer browsing swipe files. Others favor plug-and-play templates without having to spend hours reinventing the wheel.

Understanding the core goals and challenges of your buyer persona(s)—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 would), and instead, created an academy with thousands of Facebook Ad examples—for free:

AdEspresso Facebook Academy

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

Similar to AdEspresso, we decided to focus on swipe files for our evergreen lead magnets. As mentioned, our analytics showed they 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 require a LOT of time, attention and energy. 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.

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 (notice the recent update, too):

Sleeknote Content Upgrade Example

GetVero, an email marketing analytics company, also opt for swipe files, although choose a different means of delivery (a .zip file):

GetVero Lead Magnet

My favorite example, though, is from Bryan Harris of 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 goal:

Bryan Harris List Goal

Harris’ software has undergone several redesigns since its launch—proving the importance of constantly 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.

ii. Have 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’ll want all subscribers to eventually start a free trial of your product or service (and eventually, become lifelong customers).

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

This can easily be achieved by having goals set up in Google Analytics (GA) for blog conversions (ToFu) and adding referral codes to the call-to-action at the end your evergreen lead magnets to start a free trial (BoFu).

For each of our swipe files, we have a call-to-action to start a free trial with a unique referral code that’s specific to that lead magnet and blog post:

Sleeknote Evergreen Lead Magnet Referral Code

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

Sleeknote Evergreen Lead Magnet Referral Code 2

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

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

iii. Schedule time to regularly update your best-performing lead magnets.  

As you grow as a company, 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 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.

Once a week, I update all our marketing KPIs and review how well our evergreen lead magnets are performing.

Here’s a brief overview:

Sleeknote Command Center Airtable

Once you have all your assets in one place, it’s easier to review once per week, month, quarter … and take any appropriate actions that are needed.

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 extremely valuable to a site and its users.

But visitors aren’t as susceptible as they once were. You can no longer 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 redefine 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 that’s okay; they’re not for everyone. But if they are, and your optin rates aren’t where you know they need to be, they might just be the unfair advantage you’ve been looking for.

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