Your site visitors have been burned on other sites by signing up for an email newsletter that doesn’t provide any value. Most of us are getting sales pitches masquerading as thought leadership content. That’s a pretty poor definition of content marketing. So what’s a marketing professional to do to engage people and get subscribers? You need to create lead magnets that deliver real value.

That might sound like a tall order, but thought leadership marketing is all about setting yourself apart by doing excellent work while your competitors are looking for shortcuts. That said, a great lead magnet is possible and there are some efficiencies you can use.

What is a lead magnet?

One definition of a lead magnet is anything you give away for free in exchange for contact information from a potential client or customer. It’s something that the prospect values. It might be swag, an entry into a drawing, free tickets to an event or an hour of free service.

In B2B content marketing, a lead magnet is usually a downloadable piece of valuable information in the form of a white paper, ebook, guide, a case study, toolkit or report. A great B2B lead magnet should do at least one of two things: provide surprising and provocative insight or provide actionable advice that the reader can use.

The point of giving away something valuable is to get something valuable. At very least, your magnet should attract an email addresses, but that depends on what counts as a useful lead to you. You might have to capture phone numbers, mailing addresses, and demographic information to have a real lead. On the one hand, the more you ask, the fewer people who will fill it out.

On the other hand, the more valuable the lead magnet you are offering, the more you can ask in exchange.

“You need to provide to them something that would enhance that pleasure or reduce or eliminate that pain. But, for maximum effectiveness, it has to be something that is not dependent on them already caring about you.”

— Tim Paige, Leadpages

What is the purpose of a lead magnet?

Lead magnets help you build your email list, which is a powerful marketing tool. According to Venture Beat, email marketing generates $38 for every $1 spent. A well-executed lead magnet can also establish you as an authority in your industry and lead your audience to a buying decision.

In a sense, there should be two benefits of a lead magnet. First, it gets you the information on a lead, as we discussed above. Second, once people are engaging with the material, it should reinforce your company’s value proposition.

That doesn’t necessarily happen by selling. In fact, you should avoid that in content marketing. But it should leave the reader with the impression, “These are people I should stay in touch with. They know what they’re talking about.” A great lead magnet will want the reader to have more conversation with you or want to check out your demo page.

In a sense, once a lead magnet is released, it acts more like a boomerang, bringing the prospect back to you.

Take the white paper shown below about cognitive science and adaptive learning offered by Acrobatiq, a provider of adaptive learning software (and a McGuire Editorial client). Readers with an interest in this emerging technology used in higher education will share their contact details in exchange for an in-depth, informative white paper. The in-depth, original and authoritative information that it includes will itself then demonstrate Acrobatiq’s expertise in this area, reinforcing the company as a thought leader that produces valuable products and services.

Lead magnets example from Acrobatiq

What does a lead magnet look like?

Lead magnets can take many forms depending on your skill set, your audience, and the kind of resources or information you have to share. Here are some common examples:


  • ebook – longer form, in-depth document exploring a specific topic, generally about 4,000 words.
  • Resource list – printable and clickable list of useful information sources or tools to address a specific goal, at least one page.
  • Guide – longer form document that educates potential clients on how to get the results they want.
  • White paper – a data-driven exploration of a topic that presents a clear solution to readers, 6-12 pages.
  • Case study – report sharing the results of a particular course of action, 1-2 pages.


  • Checklist – a list of actions your audience should take to achieve a specific result, 1-2 pages.
  • Worksheet – downloadable PDF that prompts your audience to think through a problem and find solutions, 1-5 pages.
  • Template – a fillable document that helps your audience create something they need such as an email, blog post, or form, length variable.


  • Webinar – video-based class, live or recorded, length varies from short 1-minute segments to 2-hour lectures.
  • Educational video – recorded video that presents information, 3-30 min.
  • Sample clip – section of a video-based product offered as a preview to the audience, 1-5 min.


  • Discount code/free shipping – special offer or coupon that can only be obtained in exchange for an email address.
  • Live event access – tickets to a limited-seating presentation or event.
  • Access to private Facebook Group – allows the user to join a limited-access group.

These are just a few of the possibilities for lead magnets. Almost anything can be a lead magnet as long as it’s targeted to the interest of your readers, relevant to their needs and delivers real value.

Proof of lead magnet success

Lead magnets work. If thoughtfully targeted, they can create a great return on investment. One way they measure those  results is through conversion rates, that is, the percentage of people who opt-in by giving their email or contact information. Here are some real results from lead magnet campaigns:

LeadPages helped ZenMaid to create 60 landing pages, aimed at different channels and campaigns. They typically resulted in a 25 percent to 36 percent conversion rate. When ZenMaid introduced a webinar, it achieved a 50 percent sign-up rate.The takeaway: webinars work.

Brian Dean of used the strategy of a content upgrade, meaning that he created lead magnets specifically designed to appeal to readers of a particular blog post. For example, a checklist of YouTube Ranking Factors based on his post “YouTube SEO: The Ultimate Guide.”The idea was simple – readers of the blog post would almost certainly be interested in something that helped them understand it more quickly. It turned out that they were. Introducing content upgrades resulted in a 185 percent boost in site-wide conversion rates.The takeaway: Expand on content your audience has already shown interest in.

Lean-labs published a case study of their work with Stand Desk. Their first offering took a generalized approach. It was an eBook: “The Top 10 Best (and worst) Standing Desks,” which would theoretically appeal to anyone looking for a Standing Desk. It resulted in a 30 percent conversion rate, but Lean-labs thought their client could do better.They created lead magnets targeted to appeal to specific client personas. The result of the more targeted approach was a 400 percent increase in qualified leads and a 221 percent increase in customer acquisition.The takeaway: target a specific persona.

Keep in mind that conversion rates are not the only way to measure your content marketing, and may not even be the best way. The real goal of lead magnets is to introduce people into your sales funnel so you can make a sale. Tracking the number of people who actually buy from you after signing up for your email list gives you a more accurate indication of whether your lead magnets are working.

The process: How to create a lead magnet

Even if you’re convinced that your web site needs a lead magnet (or two or three), you may still be holding back due to the work involved. Real results take well-crafted, targeted content, which takes effort. But it might not be as hard as you think.

Related reading: Ready to Contract for Content Writing Services? How to Convince Your Boss

Identify your audience. The most effective lead magnets appeal to a specific, narrow audience. Decide who you’re trying to reach. For example: if you provide online courses, you may want to appeal to training leaders within companies who want to provide online training opportunities for their employees.

Pick your topic. Decide what you want to say to this specific audience. You might ask yourself: what does the client need to know in order to buy from me? What are their pain points? What common questions do clients ask me? You can also use website traffic statistics to help you decide what to focus on.

Select a format. Different messaging lends itself better to different formats. If you’re trying to familiarize your audience with a process, you might try a checklist. If you need to educate them on options you might choose a guide or ebook.

Write an outline. Whatever format you choose, you’ll need to write a list of ideas to cover in the lead magnet. Keep your focus as narrow as possible to address the topic at hand.

Prepare and research. This will look different for each type of lead magnet. If you’re writing an ebook, this is where you research and maybe even write a first draft. If you’re doing a webinar, this is when you write the first draft of your script. At McGuire Editorial, we’re strong believers in using interviewing to generate content marketing.

Write and produce. Finish the first draft, record the video, do a dry run of the webinar.

Edit. Your level of editing will depend largely on your time and resources. Take this step seriously. Good editing (which goes well beyond proofreading) is often the difference between whether something gets read or not. See The 10 Editing Stages a Content Marketing Manager Needs to Plan For if you need guidance. But at the very least: get fresh eyes on your lead magnet. Have someone review it who hasn’t been actively involved in creating it.

Go live. Post your lead magnet on your website with an appropriate call box, landing page or squeeze page.

Monitor results. Track your conversion rates and keep an eye on where your leads are coming from.

Planning tools you can use

Why Every Content Plan Needs a Strategy Brief (And This Template!)

Want a Successful Inbound Marketing Strategy? This Assignment Brief Can Help You Focus

Best practices for creating lead magnets

Offer Results. Some people are in such a hurry to create lead magnet, any lead magnet, that they don’t work to create something unique and useful. If your ebook covers the same tired information they’ve seen a thousand times before, your audience is going to feel like they made a bad deal. (We call it the clickbait-and-switch.) They’ll unsubscribe from your email list before you have a chance to market to them.

On the other hand, if you offer something useful or solve a problem for them, they’ll stick around to see what else you have to offer.

Stay focused. When you create a lead magnet you’re probably writing or talking about a subject in which you have a lot of experience. In your rush to share that expertise, you can get too in-depth or go off on tangents. Remember that a lead magnet should always be easily digestible and actionable.

If your audience can’t use this information right now, today, you probably shouldn’t include it. Present the problem, present a solution for the problem, and leave deeper discussions for other venues.

Look Professional. Your audience will perceive your lead magnet as valuable if it looks professional. Use eye-catching, professional graphics. Avoid clip-art and obvious stock photos. Check for grammar and spelling.

If you’re creating a video or audio recording pay attention to quality. With modern technology, you may need nothing more complex than your smart phone to create a professional looking video.

Include a call to action. Always tell your audience what you want them to do next. You’ve got their attention, so take advantage of it. At the end of your list, paper, or video ask them to buy your product, schedule a consult or contact your sales team for more information.

Tools to create lead magnets

Many lead magnets can be created with nothing more than word processing software and the ability to save in PDF format, but others might require these tools:

  • Canva – free graphic design software with paid content upgrades
  • LeadPages – landing page builder
  • Optimize Press – landing page builder designed for WordPress
  • Google Analytics – track traffic and conversions
  • – Free flowchart and diagram builder
  • – Free infographic designer with paid upgrades
  • Raw Shorts – Drag and drop explainer video software

“If your lead magnet isn’t something special, two things can happen. Either you won’t get many sign-ups, or you will get sign-ups, but those readers will be unimpressed with the bonus and unsubscribe right away.”

— Neil Patel,

Examples of great lead magnets

For several great examples of lead magnets, see this list of 11 B2B Brands Putting Out Real Thought Leadership Content. Some of our favorite recent examples from McGuire Editorial clients are below.

White Papers, Guides and Case Studies from Acrobatiq. This adaptive learning technology company has steadily built up a library of white papers in different formats, including explainers on complex technical subjects, trend reports on emerging issues and actionable/how-to guides.



Onboarding eBook from SchoolKeep. Among the numerous lead magnets from SchoolKeep, an enterprise LMS, is a very practical workbook on employe onboarding that was assembled from several blog posts in a how-to series.

SchoolKeep ebook example of lead magnets


Comprehensive guide from College for America. One of our favorite approaches to creating lead magnets for thought leadership marketing is the “package” that assembles several articles on a theme. Collectively, the add up to a comprehensive look at that subject, but it is also presented in a manageable chunks. College for America at Southern New Hampshire University does that effectively with this ebook looking at the role of foundational liberal arts skills in the workplace.

CFA Lead magnets


What you absolutely must know about lead magnets

Lead magnets work best when they:

  • Target a narrow audience
  • Focus on a specific problem or question
  • Offer real value
  • Include a call to action

The other thing you absolutely must know is that there are few other absolutes with lead magnets. With countless approaches to take, the content and angle are distinct to you. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your unique expertise and unique solutions to the issues affecting your potential customers. So consider what value you have to offer and how your lead magnet will convey that, and then take the time to do it well.

Updated 6/7/17 from an earlier version by Emma Gallimore.