Growing a loyal community is the biggest challenge you face as an business owner.
And while large and medium businesses have a budget for huge billboards and promo events, solopreneurs and small businesses often feel like they are walking through a swamp – it’s moving forward reaaally slow.
Lead magnets are supposed to help you grow a loyal audience. But website visitors see them E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E. So they’ve learned to ignore them.
You must have noticed yourself that “download this post as PDF” doesn’t cut it anymore.
But what does?
What are the best and most effective lead magnets that will not only add numbers to your list but will help you grow a loyal audience, especially if you don’t have an established reputation yet?
Keep reading to find out. Feel free to jump to a section you are most interested in using the table of contents below.
- Most popular lead magnets: A study of 50 small business websites
- What makes a lead magnet effective?
- Lead magnet ideas for solopreneurs and small businesses
- Do you need more than one lead magnet?
- What’s the best way to present a lead magnet?
- What is a good conversion rate for a lead magnet?
- Expert insights on best performing lead magnets
- The strategy and numbers behind my most successful lead magnets
- To summarize: How to grow a loyal audience with a lead magnet
- Bonus: How to grow your list with a no-opt-in download
Most popular lead magnets: A study of 50 small business websites
To get an idea what lead magnets perform best for solopreneurs and small businesses, I analyzed 50 websites of business coaches, consultants, copywriters, designers, marketers and small agencies.
I wanted to make sure that the lead magnets those websites use also work helping them grow a loyal audience. That’s why I selected the websites using these two criteria:
a) Domain authority: 25-50.
This study didn’t include websites with DA lower 25, as often it’s not easy to tell whether the tactics a website owner uses to grow their website are working.
Yet, with the established websites with DA over 50, lead magnets don’t matter that much because of their reputation. Often, social proof as in “Join 50 000 of your peers” plus a simple sign up form is all it takes.
But if your website has a DA between 25 and 50, whatever you are doing is most probably working. Yet, you can’t allow yourself to slack and are doing your best, also with lead magnets.
b) Engaged community.
I checked with BuzzSumo to see whether the articles from a website receive enough social shares and looked at selected blog posts for the number of comments to make sure there is an engaged community.
The results of the study
It’s interesting to see that many websites (roughly 1/3) use more than one lead magnet. Only 13 of 50 websites used no lead magnets, 7 of them being agency websites.
The most popular lead magnets by far were PDFs that were technically ebooks but that didn’t contain the word “ebook” or an image of an ebook. Instead, these lead magnets were called:
- a guide,
- a collection of tips,
- X easy steps, X quick fixes, etc. – a title following a formula “X things that will get you this benefit”.
The reason behind not using the word or the image of an ebook is probably the poor reputation of free ebooks, which can be found everywhere these days.
Yet, this didn’t stop many website owners from using a traditional ebook as their lead magnet, which proudly made #2 of the most popular lead magnets, tightly followed by a free course.
The least popular lead magnets appeared to be a quiz and a swipe file.
The most popular location for a lead magnet was the homepage, although only half of the websites took this great opportunity to present their lead magnet to their audience.
Lead magnets were also often used within or after blog posts, as well as side widgets.
I also discovered landing pages dedicated to lead magnets (pages with no navigation or footer that have only one call to action) on 6 out of 50 websites.
Yet, this is probably not an accurate number, as a dedicated lead magnet landing page is often used to attract traffic from guest posts or share it on social media, and it’s not always clear how to access it from within the website.
The least popular ways to present a lead magnet happened to be welcome mats and immediate pop-ups. I guess the word that you lose more than you gain with opt-in interstitials is finally spreading.
In fact, only 22% of the websites used interstitials to present their lead magnets.
What lead magnets should you use?
Would you believe me if I told you it’s super easy to determine what kind of lead magnets would fit your business best?
But first, quick question:
What do you need a lead magnet for?
If you answered “to get more subscribers”, you are not seeing the big picture.
You need a lead magnet to:
…get more subscribers
…who are genuinely interested in what you have to say
…and who will amplify your message
…and either become your customers themselves
…or bring friends who will buy from you.
For a lead magnet to be able to accomplish that, it needs to be:
- Targeted: So that your new subscribers will also be interested in the rest of your content.
- Ultra-helpful: To demonstrate your expertise in solving the problems of your audience.
- Actionable: To make sure they implement it and see real results your free advice brought them.
- Easy to consume: So that your audience doesn’t feel overwhelmed.
- Impressive: To make sure your new subscribers will recognize your name next time it pops up in their inbox.
If your freebie fails to pass at least one of the checks of this 5-point lead magnet checklist you’ve got a problem. Either you’ll get “wrong” subscribers who won’t engage with your content in the future, or they will be unimpressed with your freebie, forget about you or unsubscribe after a couple of newsletters.
So much about theory.
But practically speaking, what are concrete examples of effective lead magnets for different niches?
Lead magnet ideas for solopreneurs and small businesses
Well, one thing for sure: Based on the checklist from above, “download this post as PDF” is not going to cut it.
These days people are more reluctant than ever to give away their email addresses, and they are savvy enough to click Print -> Save as PDF on your post.
As your lead magnet should be something that takes a lot of work and/or a lot of knowledge to put together, ideally, it should be a free sample of what you would usually charge for. Below are some concrete ideas of lead magnets for different niches.
- E-commerce: Discounts, free samples.
- Graphic designers:
- Social media post templates
- Printable calendars
- Printable posters, for ex., with inspirational quotes, etc.
- Web designers:
- Simple website theme
- Custom social media buttons design
- Guide about 10 mistakes you make in your web design, etc.
- Coaches / consultants of any kind: Nothing beats a free email course here. But as it takes time to put together an email course, you can use a guide with ultra-specific actionable advice in the meantime.
Here are some lead magnet ideas for coaches and consultants:
- SEO consultants:
- Email series over 7 days on how to improve your website’s SEO
- X advanced SEO fixes
- X minimum effort / maximum impact steps to take in the next 30 minutes to improve your website’s SEO, etc.
- Content marketing consultants:
- Email series on setting up a content marketing strategy for a particular segment of your target audience
- Downloadable fill-in-the-blanks templates for social media posts
- Before/after content creation checklists, etc.
- Email series over 7 days with ultra-specific steps to improve copy on their homepage, or sales pages, or About page (choose one topic a course)
- X mistakes the final version of your copy most probably still contains
- X edits that always improve your copy.
- Freelance bloggers: This is a tough one. The skill you are hoping to be hired for is blogging. But as you already run a blog, there is no point in having a lead magnet for your potential clients – they will see more than enough evidence of your skill right there on your website. But if your blog is focused on providing advice on a topic (for example, “How to start a profitable blog”) and your goal is to sell infoproducts in the future, then you need a lead magnet. The ideas here would depend on your niche.
- Agencies / small teams: You only need a lead magnet if you blog a lot and have a concrete content strategy. In this case, see examples above and make sure you feature your lead magnet only on the blog pages. Otherwise, you don’t need a lead magnet. Your portfolio and the client testimonials are enough for your prospects to assess your expertise and skills.
But why should anyone pay you if you give your expertise away for free?
This is exactly what my friend asked me when I launched my website checklist: “If you give this away for free, what should they hire you for?”
The idea behind giving amazing tools or insights for free is to make people wonder, “Wow, if this is free, I wonder how good the premium stuff must be!”
Don’t worry. Your qualifications and skills can’t be all put into a free PDF. There is much more in what you do.
And even if someone has the same info as you on a particular problem, they don’t have your experience. They won’t be able to connect the dots as well as you.
You need to prove your expertise and establish trust, and there is no better way to do it than to make people experience it firsthand.
As someone (I, unfortunately, forgot who) said:
“Knock their socks off and then sell them slippers.”
Do you need more than one lead magnet?
Having more than one good lead magnet will help you grow a loyal audience faster, simply because different lead magnets appeal to different segments of your target audience, and having more of those will help you “catch” more subscribers. Yet, one kick-ass lead magnet can be also very effective.
I found this to be a solid strategy:
- Have one super impressive lead magnet that will likely appeal to most of your target audience: A free email course, a unique guide, a toolkit, etc.
- Have simpler but ultra-specific lead magnets to feature within relevant blog posts: PDFs on similar topics, checklists, templates, etc.
What’s the best way to present a lead magnet?
Let’s start with the worst way to feature a lead magnet: Pop-ups and other intrusive interstitials (this data shows why).
Otherwise, it’s a great idea to create a dedicated page for your main lead magnet that will allow you to:
- link to your lead magnet internally from your own content
- link to it externally from guest posts
- share it on social media
- have it rank in search (the best that can happen to your lead magnet).
The must-have places to feature your main lead magnet are:
- Navigation (assuming you have a dedicated landing page for your lead magnet)
- Relevant content: Internal links or featured boxes within relevant blog posts.
But ok, let’s say you created the best lead magnet you could think of.
How can you make sure that it also resonates with your audience?
What is a good conversion rate for a lead magnet?
There is no one-number-fits-it-all answer. As Peep Laja from ConversionXL puts it, “A good conversion rate is a better one than what you had last month“.
A conversion rate of a lead magnet (or anything else on your website, really) depends on the quality of your traffic.
The idea is “not let vegetarians judge your steakhouse”.
To get a better understanding of how well your lead magnet resonates with your target audience, look at its conversion rate for the traffic sources that would usually bring you good quality traffic:
- Referral traffic from other websites: Articles of others, your own guest posts, SlideShare presentations or YouTube videos.
- Traffic from your own social shares.
- Organic traffic to posts featuring your lead magnets via keywords where the searcher’s intent matches the content of your post. (Because if your post with a lead magnet on SEO also ranks for “grumpy cat”, a conversion rate close to zero is normal.)
But let me guess: You still want to hear some numbers, right?
Expert insights on best-performing lead magnets
I talked to two solopreneurs with loyal communities about their lead magnets and asked them the following:
- What’s your most successful lead magnet?
- How well does it convert?
- What should a lead magnet have to perform well?
Here’s what they told me.
Henneke Duistermaat: Marketer, copywriter and writing coach
Henneke Duistermaat is an irreverent marketer and copywriter, an author, and a regular contributor to popular marketing blogs like KISSmetrics and Copyblogger.
I don’t know of any other community like the one that gathers around her every post.
To grow her audience, Henneke uses a free snackable course as a lead magnet. You can sign up for it directly from her homepage, or visit a dedicated landing page following a link in the navigation or a featured box within some of her blog posts.
My snackable course was assembled from emails I had written to my list. So while it took me several months to write all emails (writing one or two per week), picking my favorites and putting them in an autoresponder series was a relatively quick job.
A good lead magnet has to be actionable and solve a problem your target audience is struggling with. Your readers should be able to implement your advice instantly and notice a positive difference in their lives. This is the best way to show your authority and prove how useful your advice is. Each of my snackable course emails features one actionable tip in less than 200 words.
Different traffic sources have varying conversion rates. Visitors from SlideShare (and some guest post traffic) arriving on a dedicated landing page for my snackable course convert best. My best performing SlideShare presentation, for instance, has generated 548 subscribers at a conversion rate of 46.7%.
Organic search traffic converts best when landing on my home page which features a large sign-up form, or when landing on relevant blog posts with featured sign-up boxes.Henneke Duistermaat, EnchantingMarketing.com
Lizzie Davey: Marketer, copywriter and writing coach
Lizzie Davey is a freelance travel and lifestyle blogger who helps brands reach and connect with their target audience through the power of words.
On her website, she shares advice on how to make a living as a freelancer.
Lizzie is a lead magnet champion. You’ll see lead magnets featured on her home page, About page and blog posts, as well as links to them from navigation.
I counted 4 different lead magnets on her website. Then I stopped counting and simply reached out to ask about her best converting lead magnets. This is what she told me:
I have 10 lead magnets in total, but my best converting lead magnet is my Freelancer Starter Pack that converts at roughly 33%. I have a dedicated landing page for it, share it regularly on social media and link to it from my guest posts as well as within my own content.
I think for the lead magnet to perform well, it has to be relevant to your content and something that your audience need in their lives – something that is guaranteed to get their attention.
Usually, it means it needs to solve a specific problem, and solve it quickly. I’ve found my highest converting lead magnets are always short, to the point, and leave the reader having learnt something by the end of it.Lizzie Davey, Wanderful-World.com
The strategy and numbers behind my most successful lead magnets
I use two main lead magnets to grow my list.
It took me 2 months to create this website review checklist in a form of a mind map – something unique and ultra-helpful you won’t find anywhere else.
The effort was worth it, as it converts on 27% on average and makes sure that people who download it will recognize my name next time they see it in their inbox.
As mind maps are not everyone’s cup of tea and this one, in particular, can be overwhelming if you are relatively new at this, I created its “light” version – the same website checklist as PDF as a handy printable document making sure it’s still ultra-helpful and unique.
It converts at roughly 9% on average but has brought me 30% more subscribers than the mind map.
These lead magnets have a dedicated page each and are currently ranking #4 and #1 on Google for their targeted keywords. Both of them are adding new subscribers to my list who found me through search.
I feature my main lead magnets on my homepage, footer and side widget, linking to a free tools and resources page from the navigation.
I also use a couple of secondary magnets – PDFs for the long in-depth posts (like this one) that also offer bonus information that is not a part of the public version of the post. I’ve been using those just for a month, so I don’t have a statistically significant conversion rate to report.
To summarize: How to grow a loyal audience with a lead magnet
Growing a loyal audience is tough.
People are bombarded with free content and are very picky about whom they share their email address with and why. Make sure you give them a damn good reason to choose you.
1. At the beginning, create the best lead magnet you can think of that is:
- Targeting your ideal audience
- Ultra-helpful, solving a specific problem
- Easy to consume
- Impressive, not easy to put together or find on Google.
It may be not perfect at first, but the longer you are doing this, the better understanding you’ll get of what your audience truly needs. You can update it or create a better fitting lead magnet as you go.
2. Create a dedicated landing page for your main lead magnet and:
- Link to it from your navigation
- Share it on social
- Link to it from your guest posts
- Optimize it for search
- Make sure you have only as much text as necessary before you present your freebie.
3. Feature your main lead magnet:
- on your homepage
- in the footer
- within relevant blog posts
4. Create simpler but ultra-helpful lead magnets to feature within relevant blog posts
5. Analyze the performance of your lead magnets to be able to make improvements.
Bonus: How to grow your list with a no-opt-in download
What would be a post about lead magnets without a lead magnet?
For those who made it that far:
I created a PDF version of this post with a bonus section where I share an interesting idea I use to grow my email list… using no-opt-in downloads. Click the button below to download it.
2 thoughts on “The Best Lead Magnets for Small Businesses (Based on a Study and Expert Insights)”
Fantastic post! I love the research and unique insight.
Thanks, Ted. Glad you found it useful.