Do You Need a Lead Magnet on your Website?

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I recently got an interesting question from a client:

Do I have to have a lead magnet when I launch my website?

I was a bit surprised by this until I started digging and see a lot of self-described online marketing experts position this as a must-have to launch a business.

First of all, what's a "lead magnet"?

This has a few different names, such as an "opt-in," "freebie," "content upgrade," etc, but they're all meant to build an email list by offering a valuable download in exchange for signing up for a mailing list, eventually leading to that person being "funneled" into buying a product or service. Now, in full disclosure I am not a fan of the funnel model of marketing AT ALL. It doesn't work with my marketing philosophy. I prefer the flywheel model, which you can read about here. There is a place for lead magnets in this model too, but they work a bit differently and I feel that lead magnets in this model should be even more well-done than those in the funnel model. (I'm stepping off my high horse now.)

A lead magnet can take the form of a checklist download, a workbook, an ebook, an email course, even a mini online course. I recommend that if this is something you're considering, you sign up for a whole lot of them and look for models that feel comfortable to you—you'll see there's a lot of not awesome stuff out there, but you'll also notice that the really good stuff is what sticks.

This is all connected to your email marketing tool (I use ConvertKit, which is pricey but effective) so you can organize those subscribers and (hopefully) engage them with what you have to offer.

What are the benefits of a lead magnet on your website?

Well, simply, it's first of all a way to grow your email list. As you know, I strongly encourage everyone to build an email list, regardless of where they're at in their business. By providing a small document, email course or other educational freebie that immediately solves your ideal audience's problem, you build your list and therefore your audience for your mission.

If your lead magnet is tied to consistent (whatever that means to you—I'm of the belief that there isn't a hard and fast rule here), engaging use of your email list, you can build a sort of community around it. It's interesting, once you get into people's inboxes, if you're not sleazy and salesy all the time, people start to talk back to you, creating a sort of intimacy that's different than, say, blogging. I've literally had people work with me after reading my emails (which used to be very inconsistent) for years.

A lead magnet can also give folks an easy taste of what it's like working with you. This can help potential clients, customers or supporters self-select in or out of your services. People who really dig your lead magnet will be even more excited to work with you in the future! Sounds good, right?

But, there are some definitely downsides, too.

What are the downsides of a lead magnet on your website ?

Well, even a crummy lead magnet is a lot of work to put together well. You've got to:

  • Create the content

  • Design or produce the lead magnet

  • Potentially write an accompanying email sequence

  • Write at least one supporting blog post

  • Integrate your forms on your website

That's a fair investment of time! So, unless it's something you feel is really valuable and will help your business, it may not be worth the effort for you.

Then, there's another interesting thing, about 50% of folks who subscribe to my list via a lead magnet don't stick around long enough to even get one email from me. That means, they get the download and immediately unsubscribe. And that's fine! I'm glad that someone was able to get something useful from me and hopefully they're use the knowledge I provided to improve their Squarespace search optimization. But, I would have loved that person to stick around, maybe learn something, and get engaged.

However, I don't blame them—most lead magnets are followed by a hard sell "nurture sequence" that pushes people to buy something, share something, make a donation (in the case of nonprofits). They dive right into that conversion via the aforementioned funnel. If you download a lot of these, you'll start to see a pattern, on day 3 of the nurture sequence you'll get a pitch. On day 5, you'll get a last ditch appeal (look and see how many have the subject like "Was it something I said?" — that's actually, to get very meta, from a very popular lead magnet of an email sequence for lead magnets). So, people don't feel like it's worth their while to stick around.

And, listen, we all know we're not giving this away for free, I have a mild services pitch in my lead magnet sequence too (I hope it doesn't come across as sketchy—the info is supposed to be useful and the tone is intended to be friendly and inviting).

Are lead magnets on your website an effective tool for growing your brand? 

But, the reality is, that in order to really make that lead magnet do work for you, you need to think about it in terms of how can you use the actual lead magnet and THEN your sequence and continued email engagement to guide people toward understanding your brand, or as I like to say, "your big mission." So, that speaks to creating something uniquely useful to your ideal audience, making sure your authentic voice is carried through in the lead magnet and even the intro email. That means making sure folks know what to expect: Are you going to email them weekly, daily, when there's a sale?

Engineer that lead magnet into your overall marketing strategy and don't fuss over the numbers.

If your gut is telling you that a lead magnet makes sense for your brand and will serve your mission well, then think about how you can use your lead magnet to best serve you. Take the time to plan it out, sketch out the experience you want your audience to have with it, and even test it on a few trusted people before releasing it into the wild. Don't be afraid to tinker and get it right.

And, worry less about how it looks and more about the quality of the information you're providing. People tend to stress about that, when the real value is in the content. You can even buy lead magnet templates for Canva on Creative Market, if you want to test the waters.

Think about how your lead magnet will help move the customer experience along smoothly (the flywheel concept I referenced above) and don't be afraid of infusing it with personality and point of view—the entire world isn't your audience, so why sound like you're talking to the entire world?

Finally, while it's important to know how your email list is growing and how your lead magnet is performing, don't get too obsessed with these numbers! They will fluctuate, people will unsubscribe (fun fact: the happier I am with one of my newsletters, the higher my unsubscribe rate is—this is usually due to my being a bit too opinionated, whoops!), people will report you as spam even though they requested your lead magnet three minutes prior. Don't let that bother you, keep your eyes up and looking forward and you'll be fine.


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