This simple strategy can be used to increase leads and engagement for any business type in any industry…

It’s jaw dropping how few people are using this simple technique to get new leads and warm them up for a sale with very little effort other than the initial set up.

With around 1-2 hours’ work at the beginning you can create a completely hands-off lead generation tool that will work long into the future to get you more sales and more engagement with your audience.

The great thing is, this strategy works for any business type. Whether you’re an internet marketer, an accountant, a designer, a plumber, or a blogger, the principles are the same, and the opportunity to turn leads into customers via emails over time is just as potent.

Here’s a basic overview:

  • Someone gets to your website through the usual channels (organic search, referral, PPC campaign, etc)
  • Once they’re on your site a box pops up in their browser offering a “Free Report” on a topic they’re likely to be interested in (ideally a topic on how to solve the problem that brought them to your site)
  • They give their email address in exchange for the free report
  • Their email address is added to your mailing list automatically, and an auto responder is triggered that sends the person a series of emails over time

In this article I’ll talk about:

  • Why you should take the time to set up a free report opt in on your website
  • How to create your free report and what to put in it
  • How to add the popup box and/or sign up form to your website
  • How to set up the email auto responder series to engage your leads
  • What to put in the emails to get your site visitors buying from you and/or hiring you

Why you should take the time to set up a free report opt in

Research shows that people don’t make the decision to buy based on just one or two interactions.

Depending on the price, people will need somewhere between 5 and 15 interactions before developing enough trust to make the decision to buy from you. Obviously this will vary based on the nature of the industry, the cost, and how much the person needs whatever it is you’re offering.

It’s not realistic to expect someone to arrive at your website, see what you’re offering, and get in touch or buy on the spot. Especially if it’s a big ticket item.

Yet this is something many of us are doing – assuming someone will arrive on our site knowing nothing about us and be completely won over by our offer, signing up or buying on the spot.

We’re burning money by letting the 99%+ people who don’t buy on the spot leave our site with no follow up.

People are naturally skeptical. They need some warming up first. Think about the way you browse the web. How often have you arrived on a website and paid for something on the spot? I’m guessing the more expensive the item, the more interactions you needed before you made the final decision. You want to be wooed a little first. To hear more from the seller and see the results other people are getting from taking the same action you’re considering taking.

By letting someone come to our site, browse around, then leave, we’re letting the prospect slip through our fingers.

More often than not they’ll have a look around and move on, and forget they ever even visited your site (unless you’re using remarketing in Google Adwords or a similar re-engagement strategy).

But … if you can get that person’s email address, it’s a way to stay in contact with them and establish those trust-building interactions over time, eventually making them an offer they’re far more likely to act on.

How to create your free report and what to put in it

It’s no longer enough just to ask someone to join your mailing list to get updates. This may work if your content is amazing, but people have become accustomed to being offered free goodies to sign up. An incentive will have a big impact on signups.

Just to clarify – it doesn’t have to be a “free report,” it just has to be something of value that the person wants. Alternatives could be an email course (you can then tie this in with the autoresponders discussed below, killing two birds with one stone), an Excel spreadsheet with a list or process it’s taken you time to develop, or a collection of smaller resources such as snippets of code or lists of resources.

A free report is ideal though because it’s easy to generate interest thanks to the fact you can tailor-make the topic to suit your visitors.

It also gives you the chance to show you’re an expert by talking about a specialised topic in depth.

Your free report should be somewhere between 5 and 15 pages long, including some images.

The report should address the biggest need that your visitors have. Think about how they got to your site. What are they looking for? What questions are burning in their minds?

For example, if you’re a wedding celebrant and people are coming to your site via Google Adwords or organic search, it’s a safe bet they’re planning a wedding. Your free report in this case could be “10 Things a Great Celebrant Will Ask You Before You Tie The Knot”.

If you’re a plumber, the report could be titled “5 Warning Signs You’re About to Hire the Wrong Plumber.”

If you sell tennis racquets, it could be “A Racquet Buyers’ Guide: What They Won’t Tell You in the Store” … or, “5 Things You Must Check Before Buying Your Tennis Racquet.”

Get the idea? These topics are very likely to be of interest to your new visitors. They’re also compelling because they’re urgent. They give the impression that the person might make a big mistake if they don’t read this report before making a decision. They might throw money away, or look stupid, and most of us will do almost anything to avoid either of those things.

Putting a number in the title is not essential, but it signposts that it’s going to be a quantifiable list so they know what to expect and therefore won’t be worried about getting something too long or requiring too much effort. Just asking someone to type in their email address, download a small file, and evaluate it by scanning is quite a big ask, so we want to make the offer as frictionless (and compelling) as possible.

Writing the report

Hopefully you’ve chosen a topic you know a lot about. The better you understand something, the more fluently and coherently you’ll be able to write about it.

You can be a little self-promotional in the report, but you’ll establish more credibility if you’re balanced and fair, even if it means showing someone how to do something that they might have paid you to do. Many people are paranoid about giving too much information away for free, but you shouldn’t be too concerned because it’s usually not the lack of knowledge about how to do something that’s the obstacle for getting it done, it’s the skill and the time it takes.

By writing a thorough guide on how to solve a particular problem, you’re proving that a) you really know all about it and so are probably the ideal person to take care of it, and b) that there is actually quite a lot involved in the process and they’d be best off hiring an expert (i.e. you).

It will work really well if you can include some images in the report too. Most people will just be scanning the report, so having some images in there will catch their eye and get them more involved – hopefully involved enough to go back and read every word. Images will also help give some length to your report so it feels a bit more substantial.

The easiest way to write your report is in a word processor like MS Word, and then saving it as a PDF file. If you’re really motivated, you could use a design program like InDesign to create the report, or hire a designer to design the layout for you. This is only necessary if you think the reader expects to see something fancy.

There are also a few templates around you can use, for example Hubspot have a free ebook template that uses Powerpoint to make a professional looking e-publication.

Make sure you put your contact info at the beginning and end of the document, and your logo and contact details on every page footer.


How to add the popup box and/or sign-up form to your website

The next step is actually giving people the report in exchange for their email address. There are a couple of ways you can go here.

Personally I’m a big fan of the pop up. That’s where a box pops up in the visitors face asking them to sign up and download your free report. Popups are controversial. A lot of people hate this when it happens to them and so refuse to put one on their site. But research on a few very popular blogs shows that popups work far better at getting people to sign up than a static form on the site. Matthew Woodward talks about an experiment where he tested before and after with a popup and experienced a 45% increase in conversions.

Adding a popup to your site is very easy if you’re using WordPress. There are a few premium plugins that do a great job on this. The one I use on client sites is called Ninja Popups for WordPress (no affiliation) – it’s only $18 and has a range of really beautiful designs to choose from. It also integrates with all the popular mailing services (discussed below) and can be used to encourage people to follow you on social media too (although personally I think that’s a waste of a popup!).


There are other plugins that do the same thing but I haven’t used them, so I can’t really give an opinion and don’t want to endorse them without having tried them.

If you’re not using WordPress (oh dear…) then take a look around for similar widgets that do the same thing on your platform.

If you’re completely opposed to the idea of a popup because it’s too tacky or aggressive, then you can instead settle for a static opt in form on your site. Again, in WordPress it’s easy to create a static opt in form to integrate with your mailing service of choice either by using a plugin or with the code supplied by the mailing service. Many of the default sign up boxes are quite plain but with a little hunting around you can find some help with styling to make the opt in box look attractive. For example, there are some very nice free styled forms put out by DIY Themes for Mailchimp and Aweber.

Conversion rates of your popup

Let’s look at an example…

I recently worked on a business called Pet Business Blueprint. This is a product aimed at people wanting to get into the pet industry as dog walkers, groomers, pet sitters, etc. It provides them with a ready-made website, guides, templates, and other resources to get their marketing cranking for a minimum of cost. People get to the site mainly via Adwords advertising as well as some referrals.

I have a popup on the site which offers the visitor a free report titled “10 Essential Ingredients of a Highly Successful Pet Business” (see how this ties in with what we were talking about earlier with choosing a topic for your report that will resonate with the reader?). At the time of writing, this popup is converting at 14.1% – out of 276 visitors to the site since it launched a week or two ago, 39 have joined the mailing list via the popup.

This is an extremely high conversion rate, which can be attributed to the fact that this business (and the report) solves a direct need for the visitor, which is how they got to the site in the first place. Matthew Woodward, mentioned earlier, reported opt in rates of less than 2% for his popup, but this is because he has a large blog with hundreds of pages, so people are getting to it mostly via long tail search queries. At best they want an answer to a specific question – not a solution to complete career change, so naturally they’ll be less inclined to opt in when compared to the pet business example. Also Matthew had no incentive on the sign up other than being privy to when he published new content in the future (I think not having an immediate payoff for subscribing is a missed opportunity…).

Keep these distinctions in mind when working out what your conversion rate should be.


What happens to the email addresses once they’re entered?

I nearly skipped over this point as many people take it for granted. But for beginners, it’s important to note that you will need to choose a professional emailing service to manage your database. Once the emails are entered into the forms on your site, they will automatically be added to your mailing list within the email service.

Using a mailing service ensures you avoid anti-spam laws and get the receiver’s permission to send them emails by getting a double opt in. It also allows you to manage large lists of people easily as your mailing list grows. And finally, it allows you to do things like schedule mailouts, track results such as how many people opened your email, and set up autoresponder sequences (an integral part of this strategy).

There are several options for a good mailing list service. I personally use Mailchimp, and I’ve heard a lot of great things about Campaign Monitor, a local Australian company. Alternatives are Aweber and Office Autopilot, but these are more suited to experienced email marketers with large lists, as they are a little more expensive (although feature rich) for smaller lists.

Whilst Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor both offer free plans for sending out “broadcast” (manually sent campaigns) email newsletters, in order to set up autoresponders you’ll need to pay for a premium account, which is about $10/month. I don’t know of any mailing services that offer an autoresponder feature with free plans, so if you know of one please get in touch and I’ll update this guide.


What is an auto-responder?

When I first heard people talking about auto-responders I thought they were talking about the thing that gets sent when someone emails you while you’re on holiday… It’s a shame that the name is a little ambiguous in that regard, as I’m sure lots of people are in the dark about what auto responders can actually do because of that ambiguity.

In email marketing, an auto responder is an email (or series of emails) that get sent to someone automatically when a specific event has occurred. So, for example, you might set up an auto responder to email somebody a day after they’ve purchased something from you, asking for feedback or a review.

Setting up your auto responders for your free report readers

The mailing services discussed above have very powerful auto responder functionality, where you can set up as many auto responder emails as you like, to be sent at set times of the day after someone signs up to your mailing list.

You might set the first email to send the very next day, then one two days after that, then a couple more days after that, and so on.

What you need to do for this free report strategy is set up as many auto responder emails as you can manage.

It should be at least 4 or 5, and there is really no maximum on how many you can send over time. Some internet marketers have hundreds of emails in their auto responder sequence, so that when someone joins their mailing list the person could receive an email a week for a couple of years!

The beauty of this is that the content of these emails is already written. It’s sitting in the software, being sent to different people at different times, depending on when they signed up to your mailing list.


What to write about in the autoresponder emails

There’s a set strategy to how you can make this work for you when you have a product or service to sell. The easiest way to look at this is to think about the way you interact with a brand when you’re making decisions about buying something online.

What information will help you move towards the decision to buy?

For most people, this is going to focus on a few areas:

  • Engagement – form a relationship with the reader by encouraging some feedback – ask questions
  • Trust – show examples of how other people have used your products and the results they have achieved
  • Warmth – show a little bit of yourself in your correspondence – be human
  • The Offer – don’t forget to actually, you know, ask for the sale at some point – it’s amazing how many people are too scared to actually ask the prospect to buy at a certain point in the process. If you have something work offering, then you’re wasting the person’s time by not clearly asking for the sale!

These are just a few examples of the journey you want to take the reader on during your auto responder sequence. You can basically mix and match between these four elements for each email you send over time. Just make sure you don’t try to do too much in one email. Keep it clear and concise, or the reader will get confused and stop reading (or not open your future emails).

Use all of these techniques to establish rapport through frequency. As discussed earlier on – the person needs multiple points of contact over time. These emails are the way to achieve that.

The emails don’t need to be long. I’ve had some great response rates from emails that were three or four lines long. Then again, you can send the occasional meaty email for the people who are keen to find out more. Remember you’ll have people with very different personality types reading your emails. What appeals to one may not appeal to the other, so mix it up a bit from email to email.

Take a look at this fantastic article about crafting a great autoresponder sequence by copywriter Jeremy Reeves. Pat Flynn also has some very good ideas for autoresponder strategies.

How often to send the emails

The frequency you set the auto responders to send at is a bit tricky, and depends on how pushy you want to be, what the end result is, and the frame of mind of the person. It should be something between once per day and once per week, depending on the situation.

Going back to our earlier example of the pet business, I opted to send an email each day to these opt ins for a good reason: they had come to the site because they were searching about how to start a dog walking business or similar. They were keen to act, energised, and most likely ready to buy. Anything less than an email every day would risk the person finding another solution by the time the seven or eight emails I had planned had finished sending.

In this case the best strategy was to strike while the iron was hot. Yes, there’s a risk the person will get sick of daily emails and unsubscribe, but this is unavoidable (actually I’ve had very few unsubscribes using this strategy – much fewer than expected). The thing to keep in mind is that the people who unsubscribe were probably never going to become clients or customers in the first place, so having them opt out is really not a big loss.

Many email marketers swear by sending daily emails. Seth Godin has made this an art form, with a (usually) short email each day to a massive fan base. Email specialist Ben Settle is positively evangelical about sending daily emails.

But it’s really a matter of style, and how much content you have to store in your autoresponder sequence.

Once thing’s for sure though – you should never substitute quality for quantity. Don’t add emails to your sequence just to make up the numbers. Better to space out the good stuff than email daily with drivel.

If the people arriving on your site are not looking for anything in particular, say in the case of a blog where they came to find an answer to something, or they’ve just visited your site to check you out, then you’ll want to take a very different approach. In this case you might send an email or two per week. There’s no hurry, and you want to take your time so you don’t overload them and you can space out your content to engage over a longer period.

However often you decide to email, one rule is to remain consistent. People like a little certainty in their lives. You don’t want to have three emails per week and then nothing for a week or two. Once you have your sequence of emails sorted out, send them at set intervals somewhere between daily and weekly, and stick to that routine.

Taking it further

We’ve really only covered the basics here. Once you get this process down pat, you can take many of these ideas further. Here are some examples of more advanced things you can do with auto responders and sign-ups:

  • Send the people who didn’t open a certain email the same email with a different subject line
  • Split test subject lines by sending two versions to the first 10% of your list and seeing what gets the most opens (most mailing services will do this automatically)
  • Have different free reports offered on different pages on your website to appeal to a more specific audience
  • Don’t just offer a single incentive, offer a “toolkit” or resource kit for the person to download upon signing up

Have you used a free report or autoresponders in your own marketing? Share your experiences in the comments below.