Lead Magnet Options

Following on to the Minimum Viable Funnel article, I’d like to drill into each component of the funnel.

Today, let’s look at lead magnets.

As a refresher, remember that my Minimum Viable Funnel looks like this:

Promotional activity (like teaching) –> Lead magnet –> 3 months of “lead nurture” emails that are constantly reminding subscribers about your services via the –> 1-page service description page

Apologies if the name “lead magnet” sounds sleazy in some way. The other common name for this type of content marketing asset is worse: “opt-in bribe”.  (Astute reader Will pointed out that the term “Demand Gen Asset” is more common in enterprise marketing circles. Thanks for writing in with that tip, Will!)

Let’s just go with “lead magnet” for this article.


Sidebar: a lot of what you must do to be effective in online marketing may feel a tiny bit sleazy at first. When I first started emailing hundreds (now over a thousand) people I don’t personally know on a regular basis, it felt flat out weird.

To keep myself sane, I constantly check in with myself to make sure I’m not doing anything that’s actually sleazy. Is it easy for people to opt out if they don’t want to hear from me? Check. Selling or promoting only things I believe have value? Check.

Just know that marketing your services or products at scale takes a little bit of getting used to at first. Using terms like “lead magnet” may also take a little bit of getting used to.

A lead magnet is a chunk of value that you provide to the general public in exchange for their opt-in to your email list.

There are several common ways to package up that value as a lead magnet. In no particular order:

  • A free white paper
  • A free “report”
  • A checklist for some common process
  • A job aid
  • An email course
  • An infographic
  • An e-book
  • A useful slide deck

Those are what I’ve seen most commonly, but really your imagination is the limit. Want to put the three best episodes of your podcast onto a private feed and email people the URL in exchange for their email address? That could be a great lead magnet if it’s interesting to the kind of person you want on your email list.

Here’s the first mistake many people make with respect to lead magnets.

They equate increased value with an increased willingness of people to trade their email address for the lead magnet.

Using this logic, you would think the bigger, more loaded with information, or more in-depth your lead magnet, the more people will say “hell yes!” and type in their email address to your opt-in form.

It almost never works that way. 🙂

It’s easy to forget that people are very freaking busy. And when they see a lead magnet, they do a quick mental calculation that goes like this:

Potential Value of Lead Magnet / Time Required to Unlock Potential Value = Actual Value of Lead Magnet

It’s easy to forget that the “Time Required to Unlock Potential Value” factor is a big deal. You may be grinning from ear to ear as you finish writing the free 100-page e-book on “How to Get the Best ROI From Your Next Rails Project” you’re going to use as a lead magnet, but the chances that any busy potential client wants to read 100 pages of amateur e-book content (remember, pros usually don’t do free e-books) for any reason at all is very, very low.

Takeaway #1: Find short, easy-to-digest ways to deliver as much value as you can within the constraints of the format.

There are several types of lead magnets that do well on the Potential Value / Time to Unlock equation:

  1. Email courses: daily drips of content over a discrete amount of time is a format that helps people lower their guard. Also…. with email courses there’s no question why you’re asking for an email address rather than just giving away the damn PDF for free. You have to have an email address to deliver an email course. 🙂
  2. Tools lists: Hat tip to the smart folks at Lead Pages for this one. A short list of useful tools causes the lizard-brain to pipe up and say “WANT!” because it promises a shortcut to success.
  3. Short 1 or 2-page PDFs with high information density: This can be something like a workflow description, quick-reference, or other infographic-ey thing. Again, they promise a high ROI on the time invested in reading or using them, so they make good lead magnets.

The next big question I hear a lot is about the best way to invite people to opt in for your lead magnet.

For example, should you use a site-wide opt-in form of some kind? Or maybe a landing page?

First, to be clear about terminology…

  • Opt-in form: An email list subscription form that appears somewhere on your site inside a styled DIV. Often uses Javascript to animate into/out of view with varying levels of interruption and annoyance to your site visitor. For examples, see the end of this document.
  • Landing page: A single-purpose page that contains an opt-in form and is designed to encourage opt-ins and discourage any other action. For this reason, landing pages will almost never contain a navigation menu or any content that interferes with the desired action.
  • Site-wide opt-in: An opt-in that appears on most or all pages of your site.

My Minimum Viable Funnel design works so well because you are sending very warm traffic to a landing page that contains your lead magnet opt-in.

I definitely think you should create a landing page for your lead magnet. Tools like LeadPages, Unbounce, and Thrive Leads/Thrive Themes make it easy to do this without going down a very, very deep rabbit hole of custom coding (better to save your custom coding mojo for your clients).

Landing pages do not have to be beautiful to perform well. In fact, usually the less content they have on them the better!

The other thing I like doing is buying a domain name that is easy to remember and setting up a 301 redirect to the lead magnet landing page. This makes it easier to verbally tell someone (or an audience at scale) about your lead magnet. I use names like http://positioningcrashcourse.com and http://devshopleads.com which, much to my surprise, are often readily available as dot coms. Take that you wascally domain squatters!

I find that well-designed landing pages can easily convert 30 to 40% of page visitors to opted-in list members. These numbers make people drool when I share them. Why?

Because most site-wide opt-ins are doing well if they convert 3% of site visitors to list members. The smartest marketers I know use conditional site-wide opt-ins and get around 10% opt-in rates. A conditional opt-in looks at previous site visitor behavior and/or list membership status and shows them a opt-in that is more useful to where they are in a multi-step marketing funnel or an opt-in form personalized with name or email address.

Landing pages have the potential advantage of only getting visitors who are already interested in your offer, which drives up the conversion rate. Site-wide opt-ins are being shown to visitors who have not already indicated interest in your lead magnet, which is primarily why they perform worse.

I think you should use both a landing page for your lead magnet (and the domain name that 301s to it) and a site-wide opt-in. On my site, I just have a simple ribbon with a button that sends people who click the button to my primary lead magnet landing page.

Another common question is whether you should use single or double opt-in for your lead magnet.

There are reasonable arguments for both approaches. I use a single opt-in because I want to reduce the work required to join my list and I haven’t suffered any of the ill effects the double opt-in advocates warn against. But just use whichever works best for you.

I’m not sure that asking for a new list subscriber’s first name on the opt-in form so that you can later personalize emails is worth it. But again, reasonable people have reasonable arguments both for and against.

Takeaway #2: Default to a landing page for your lead magnet, a site-wide ribbon opt-in, and single opt-in unless you have a compelling reason otherwise.

The last thing I’d like to tell you about lead magnets is that you can have more than one.

A very good way to do this is to create what are called content upgrades.

A content upgrade is basically a lead magnet attached to a complementary, larger piece of content marketing. For example, you’ll often see a blog post that ends with a lead magnet that you have to opt in to get.

My friend Brain Casel and his content marketing service Audience Ops is doing a lot to make it easier to deploy content upgrades.

You can see an example content upgrade at the bottom of the Minimum Viable Funnel article on my site.

Takeaway #3: Look for opportunities to add more lead magnets as content upgrades.

So there you have it… a deep dive on the basics of lead magnets!

I wish you much success with your lead generation efforts!

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