Using a lead magnet is widely recognized as one of the best way to improve your email subscriber conversion rate.

In this post, we will discuss:

Note: Hey marketing experts, you probably can skip the next two sections and head down to “why lead magnets fail.

why lead magnets fail: what is a lead magnet

What is a lead magnet?

A lead magnet is essentially a bribe to tempt users into giving you their contact information.

The website owner offers the user something (the lead magnet) in return for the user subscribing to an email list, becoming a registered user of the site, joining a webinar, or filling out a contact form.

Some popular lead magnets include:

  1. Free ebooks
  2. Content upgrades
  3. PDF versions of posts
  4. Free trials of software or services
  5. Discounts, free shipping, or coupon codes

Why are email subscribers so important?

Getting email subscribers and building your email list is perhaps the most important thing you can do to grow your web presence. You need to build an email list!

You cannot count on users finding your site on a regular basis through search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.

While you can build a social media following, that has drawbacks. You wouldn’t really own your following as it would be subject to the terms of the site.

The site could close, like MySpace did, or they could drastically change how they do things, like when Facebook made it so that posts would reach under 10% of a page’s followers rather than 100%.

Even if everything goes right, it is very easy for your followers to ignore you on social media. Your followers have feeds full of posts or tweets to click on, and they may just not click on yours. You are competing with everyone else they have followed.

With email, you are reaching your subscribers one-on-one. Getting into someone’s inbox is just more personal than being part of a social media feed. They are guaranteed to see your email, even if they do decide to delete it without opening.

With an email list, you also truly own your list. You can export it to a different email service if you want. There also are various ways you can segment your list and label your subscribers. You can even add advanced fields and tracking.

Why lead magnets fail.

Okay, you should now know what a lead magnet is and why you need to build an email list.

Now on to the point of this article: “why lead magnets fail.”

Lead magnets fail for a variety of reasons, including:

why lead magnets fail: failure to target your desired audience

For SaaS companies like SumoMe, giving away free trials is an easy way to reach their desired audience: people that will eventually pay for the service.

1. Failure to target your desired audience

If you want to build an email list, you don’t just want any email on that list. You want people that are interested in your content. Those people will return again and again. They might even help spread the word about your site and could even become clients if you offer some sort of service or sell something.

To get the right kind of people, you want your lead magnet to be something that only those people would want.

As my site is about building, managing, and promoting online brands, it wouldn’t make much sense if my lead magnet was something about cooking or the outdoors or something. I don’t want people interested in that topic.

You’d think this would be obvious, but it seems that some people make the mistake of using a lead magnet that proves their expertise rather than something to tempt the user.

Maybe you are an expert chef running a food blog where you mainly post recipes and pictures. You really are targeting anyone interested in recipes and food pics. Perhaps you have compiled a 100 page statistical analysis regarding the efficiency of different kitchen knife types. While that piece of research is no doubt amazing and proves your expertise, it probably isn’t going to attract your general audience (people that want recipes and food pics) to join your mailing list. You’d likely be better off with a simple free recipe book.

why lead magnets fail: failure to relay a sense of urgency to the user

HostGator is great at always relaying urgency to their users by routinely running sales and changing their homepage banner and offer.

2. Failure to relay a sense of urgency to the end user

I’ve found that conversion rates are higher when there is a sense of urgency relayed to the end user.

You’ll want to A/B or split test your subscribe form popups based on the copy, especially the button label.

Typically, a button that sharply contrasts with the design and really calls for the user to take action will perform better than something boring. For instance, if you have a site that is mainly white and blue, I’d test buttons that are every color that isn’t blue, white, or black/gray and then go with the one that did the best.

For button labels, avoid the boring ones like “Join” or “Subscribe.” Instead, try for “Get my copy now!” “Book my spot!” or something similar. Really, ending the button with “now!” seems to work well.

For copy, if your lead magnet says something like “available for a limited time,” you might see your conversion rate get a slight bump up from where it was before. Of course, you don’t want to lie to your users, so I would suggest swapping out lead magnets every so often so that your copy is actually true.

Varying your lead magnets actually seems to help your site maintain higher conversion rates. I’m not really sure why this is and it could be unrelated to the fact that the site is changing lead magnets every so often. Perhaps sites that change lead magnets also create better content or tend to work on their sites more.

why lead magnets fail: lack of exposure

3. Lack of exposure

To get the highest conversion rate for your subscribe form, you need to force the user to see the form and the offer.

Yes, popups are annoying and all users hate them. However, they also are very effective, thus their wide usage.

By using software like SumoMe or HelloBar to force the user to see your lead magnet and make a decision as to whether they will signup or not, you will get much higher conversion rates.

I should know. For a long time I just had a sidebar widget where users could join my mailing list. I was stupid and didn’t realize the importance of building an email list. I also thought that I would build up traffic to my site and then focus on the email list. As you can imagine, the sidebar widget email subscribe form didn’t convert that well. I then switched to using popups and did infinitely better. Next, I started using lead magnets, and got about four times the subscribers as without a lead magnet.

Basically, if you force the user to at least consider joining your mailing list, in return for the lead magnet, you will get a much, much higher conversion rate than if you just hide a subscribe box somewhere.

I would actually recommend having multiple places where the user can subscribe and also using multiple offers to really boost your email subscribers.

4. Your content is boring or not actionable

Based on my experience, it seems that users prefer a lead magnet that is uniquely interesting or actionable, or both.

Long articles covering some topic in depth don’t seem to do as well as a quick list of tips to help a user achieve something.

This could go back to my first point, about targeting your desired audience. Maybe not as many people are interested in hearing an in depth article about some topic, but they’d all be willing to check out a quick list of things they can do to achieve some goal related to that same topic.

While those long reports or ebooks that some people use as lead magnets must be working for them, and they often are extremely well done, I would suggest also trying (and testing) shorter, exciting, interesting posts like lists of actionable things to see if they outperform the other content.

I actually wonder if I am incorrect in regards to this point about why lead magnets fail. Perhaps for big blogs that already have hundreds of thousands of monthly users and have established their authority, a long article or ebook type lead magnet might work best. For the small businesses and blogs that I work with, I have found that the shorter, exciting, actionable lead magnets work best.

why lead magnets fail: failure to build a relationship

5. Failure to begin establishing a positive long term relationship

Your goal with your lead magnet should not simply be to get email subscribers.

The goal is to get the right email subscribers.

These are the subscribers that:

  1. Are interested in your subject
  2. Will return again and again
  3. Will help promote and spread awareness of your brand
  4. Might becomes clients or customers in the future

For these users, you don’t want to simply tempt them to signup, get their email, and then send them your new post every week or whatever. The goal isn’t just to have that email and then spam the person.

It is all about the relationship and you need to take that into consideration. You want to interact with that user and develop that relationship to the point where they trust you, love your stuff, and want to work with you or promote you.

So how to do that?

A lot of people send subscribers to a success page that includes a friendly welcome message.

Many people customize their email blasts to use the subscriber’s name.

Some people personalize their emails to really make themselves come across as real people having a conversation rather than just being impersonal or corporate.

I’ve heard that some marketers even send a unique email to every new email subscriber.


I hope this post is helpful to my readers when considering their own lead magnets and why lead magnets fail. All points in this article are based on my experience, not deep statistical analysis. I think the most important thing in regards to lead magnets is to do lots of testing and find out what works best for you!

Image Attributions

Audience by Rico Trevisan

Businessmen shaking hands by Reyner Media

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