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Lead Magnet Ideas to Build Email Lists (and How to Craft Them)

September 24, 2020
Luke Daugherty
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Your email list is one of the driving forces in your business marketing strategy. If you look at the numbers across all your different marketing channels, there's a good chance email is leading the pack in return on investment (ROI). If it is, then building that list is one of your most important investments. That's why you need lead magnets.

Lead magnets are the incentives you use to draw people in from simply being a visitor to being directly engaged with your brand. They are what push people over the hump and convince them your brand is worth watching or listening to. At a time when people are overloaded with marketing emails, you need something strong enough to persuade them to add one more to their inbox.

But the days of the simple "Sign up for our newsletter" box are long gone. Brands today need lead magnet ideas with a bit more pull.

What Is a Lead Magnet?

Lead magnets are tools — specials, promos or other incentives — you use to motivate a user to give you their email.  A good lead magnet shows that you don't assume visitors come to your site eager to join your email list. Instead, you expect them to arrive asking the obvious question: What's in it for me? If they're going to invite you to add to their weekly mountain of emails, what do they get in exchange?

Ultimately, they hope you will deliver great content and stellar deals on your amazing products and services. But that's probably not enough to convince them right off the bat. Those are long-range rewards. Lead magnets offer instant gratification.

Instead of "Sign up here," it's "Sign up now and get 50% off your next order!"

It isn’t "Join our newsletter," but "Join today and get a free PDF with our inside look at industry trends."

There are countless versions, but they all have the same idea: The best lead magnets offer to deliver real value right now.

The Power of Raising Your Opt-In Rate

The trade-off you make, whether it's a deep discount or giving something away for free, is worth it. That's because those lead magnets are driving up a powerful metric for your business: the opt-in rate.

To understand how potent this number is, let's consider a few other metrics. 

  • The average opt-in rate is 1.95%, according to email capture tool provider Sumo. That means for every 100 visitors to your site, just shy of 2 will join your email list.
  • According to OptinMonster, a lead-generation software company, the average email open rate is 22.86%, with a 3.71% click-through rate (CTR).

Say you have an email list of 10,000. For every email that goes out, roughly 2,300 people will open it and 371 will click through to your landing page. If you want to improve those numbers, there are several things you can do. 

You can focus on improving the open rate (personalizing emails, better subject lines, etc.) or increasing the CTR (more compelling email copy, better calls to action, stronger offers, etc.). Both of these are good strategies. You also can work on blowing up your list size.

Doubling your list size, for instance, would double your total click-throughs. At an opt-in rate of 1.95%, it would take you more than 510,000 site visits to get there. At 3%, though, you could get there with slightly more than 330,000 visits. At 4.77% — that's the rate for the top 10% of marketers, according to Sumo — you'd need less than 210,000 visits.

Every visitor who lands on your website isn't going to make a purchase. But each one can become a new follower. Presumably, you're already devoting a lot of marketing dollars to getting them to your site. Using lead magnets to grow your opt-in rate just increases the ROI on what you're already spending.

Before You Start, Learn What's Attracting Your Audience

As you know, magnets have a double-sided force. They attract, but they also repel. And, in some cases, they don't do anything. To attract, the magnet has to find the right object. When it comes to your customers, that means you have to know what they like before you can make them a magnetic offer.

The chances are good that visitors to your bicycle retailer's website aren't looking for your next video on cycling industry trends. For a big purchase like a bike, though, a 20% off coupon for signing up for your newsletter might be more appealing

You can find a lot of this data by examining what's working. Before you start coming up with lead magnet ideas, look at what's already grabbing the attention of your visitors. The specifics will depend on your brand and the type of content or products you offer on your site, but the basic methodology is the same.

Look at your back-end analytics to see which blog posts are the most popular and which products are selling. See what's attracting the most engagement on social media. Explore what your competitors are offering. These are hints about where magnetic attraction is already at work.

Sticking with the bicycle company, let's flesh out this example a bit more. Instead of just assuming the 20% off coupon is a good idea, you can do some more digging. Let's say you find that your blog posts on various training tips have been the most popular recently. One of your top competitors has been selling a cycling training ebook on their site. So, you could go a step further. For a newsletter sign-up, why not offer free access to a 5-part video "coaching series" with one of your owners, a long-time cycling coach?

Doing your research will give you stronger lead magnet ideas that you can build on.

Strong lead magnets solve a problem and are easy to digest, among other things.

The Key Features of a Strong Lead Magnet

That isn’t to say there aren't some attributes that the best lead magnets have in common. In general, powerful lead magnets attract because:

  • They solve a problem for your visitor. It's clear they aren’t getting something random, but unique content or free products that provide real value and address their actual concerns.
  • They're easy to digest. There are times for the free white paper or case study. But, more often than not, it's the quick video or the shareable infographic that's going to generate more interest.
  • You deliver them quickly. Don't make people take several more steps or wait for you to ship something to enjoy the rewards of joining your email list. Give them the instant lead magnet — something they can enjoy immediately.
  • The content is distinct, compelling and authoritative. This isn't something generic they could find with a simple Google search. Show them something they can't find anywhere else. Seek to elevate their perception of your brand's quality or raise their opinion of your authority on subjects they care about.

Top 10 Lead Magnet Examples Guaranteed to Expand Your List

If you're looking for lead magnet templates to get your own creative ideas flowing, we've found some great ones of all kinds around the web. Here are our top 10.

1. Quizzes and Games

Quizzes and other gamified surveys are one of the most popular lead magnets and they offer a great incentive because everyone loves learning more about themselves. You can let someone take a free personality quiz, career survey or any other game that piques their curiosity. The only catch is that they have to give you their email to get the results. These are highly shareable and can gain traction quickly.

2. Infographics

If your business specializes in educating or empowering people in some way, infographics can be a great way to draw in visitors. Here's an example from SOAP Presentations, a brand that coaches people in public speaking and presentations:

Showing a preview of the infographic, but leaving them to wonder about the rest, serves as a perfect incentive to sign up.

Showing a preview of the infographic, but leaving them to wonder about the rest, serves as a perfect incentive to sign up. You could display this portion of the infographic with a "Sign up and get the rest for free" message. Visitors who are already interested in this topic (a.k.a., people who search for a site like this) would be eager to get exclusive, readily digestible tips.

3. Calendars and Planners

These make tantalizing giveaways not only if your brand specializes in productivity hacks but other interests, as well. Paper Trail Design offers this free printable meal planner template.

Paper Trail Design offers this free printable meal planner template.

Visitors to this website may come looking for recipes and meal ideas, but this type of freebie is a nice complement to those goals. It meets a need they may not have been thinking of directly, but will certainly encounter once they start trying to put your other advice to use. This type of lead magnet heads off frustration before it starts and leaves visitors feeling empowered to go deeper with your product or service.

4. Widgets or Useful Apps

If your product is a software or other service designed to improve someone else's business, one way to spark interest is to offer a tool that helps visitors see their need for what you have to offer. SEMrush, which helps users optimize their websites for search engine traffic, does this by offering a free webpage audit.

SEMrush, which helps users optimize their websites for search engine traffic, does this by offering a free webpage audit.

The best part? There's no pressure in this invitation. They're just offering to assess the current state of a user's website, leaving them to decide what to do with the results.

5. Online Conferences, Webinars or Events

Exclusive events are a great draw for nearly any service-oriented brand. If you're already drawing visitors with educational content, go a step further by offering them the chance to jump on a live conference or webinar with an expert to learn more. Here’s a great example from podcasting expert Pat Flynn:

Here’s a lead magnet example from podcasting expert Pat Flynn.

Note the extra incentive there for users who attend: They can immediately download the live recording so they can refer back to it. That bonus adds lasting value to your offer.

6. Free Trials and Special Offers

Special offers of all kinds are tried-and-true lead magnets that often capture new subscribers, and free trials are one of the best offers you can make. 

Streaming services aren’t the only way to use this type of lead magnet. Any product that takes some time to get familiar with is fair game for a free trial, whether it's a new app or a media subscription. If you remove the sense of risk — "Will I like this? Will it work for me?" — you are that much closer to winning over a new customer.

7. PDF Guides, Checklists, Templates and Toolkits

This is the readable version of a webinar. You're offering to share a little of your expertise with your visitors and give them a head start on using your product successfully.

Here’s an example, from, a U.K. company that specializes in printing scratch-off cards.

This example, from, a U.K. company that specializes in printing scratch-off cards, shows a great way to do this. What something like this communicates is that you aren’t just interested in selling someone your product or service, but ensuring they can make the most of it.

8. Email Course or Series

One way to get somebody interested is to offer an initial email series that might compel them to stick around. This worked for me recently when I signed up for a "7 Days to a Better Retirement" series with The New York Times. I was initially intrigued by the topic and the opportunity to learn a little each day, but I stayed on the Times' email list after I finished and, eventually, just became a paid digital subscriber.

An email from The New York Times promoting its "7 Days to a Better Retirement" series.

9. Educational Videos or Coaching Sessions

This is the personalized version of the webinar and a big incentive when visitors are looking for something truly unique. Especially for companies offering self-help services, financial advice or the development of skills and habits that take time to hone, offering a personalized coaching session will minimize the intimidation factor of trying something new. Educational videos can be effective as well, although they can't be personalized quite as much.

Grab Your Audience With Lead Magnets

If you're looking for ways to grow your business, email marketing is one of the best investments you can make. Its 3,800% ROI is tough to beat, according to HubSpot, and it offers so many ways to deliver content and offers to your customers. 

Until you have a sizable email list, though, it's difficult for your investment to pay off. Building your list isn’t just the critical first step in establishing your email marketing: It's a central part of your ongoing strategy. If you aren’t using lead magnets to grow your list, you're losing a significant chunk of your audience. 


Luke Daugherty

Luke Daugherty is a freelance writer, editor and former operations manager based in St. Louis. His work covers business, marketing and personal finance, as well as many of his personal passions, including coffee, music and social issues.

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