lead magnets, lead magnets still work? How to lead magnets

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Business owners often ask me “do lead magnets work?“, as a way to grow their newsletter lists. If you’re considering using them, or you’re wondering why they’re not working for you, you should find the following useful.

Let’s go.

Lead magnets?

For those who don’t already know, the term lead magnets was made popular by internet marketing gurus / social media gurus (and pretty much every get-rich-quick guru). However, the concept has been around for decades.

It refers to a freebie, which is used to entice people to give you their contact details. The most common freebies include ‘special reports’, white papers, ‘exclusive’ audio / video content or some kind of information that’s only available via email. In return for the freebie, people are asked to provide their contact details.

Because of the negativity attached to lead magnets, many internet marketing gurus refer to them as ethical bribes. I’m not sure why they think a bribe sounds better.

Lead magnets and list building

Probably the most common use of lead magnets, is list building for newsletters. On the surface they seem like a no-brainer. You certainly can attract lots of contact details with them. That’s for sure.

However, there’s a major downside.

Lead magnets are notorious for attracting the lowest possible quality contact details. That’s because the use of free stuff as bait, is most attractive to so-called freebie hunters; who are attracted to freebies like moths to a flame.

Why does this result in such low quality?

Many / most freebie hunters use dedicated email addresses, just for getting their free offers. It’s used for nothing else. It’s only checked after they sign-up when they’re waiting for the freebie to arrive. As such, lists built from lead magnets can be really poor quality. Yes, you’ll probably attract some genuine contacts, too. But the overall quality will be massively lower than a normal list.

That said, there are some instances where lead magnets are worth considering.


Yes. Really.

Lead magnets can work

One example where lead magnets can work extremely well, is if you’re building a newsletter readership, where your business model is exclusively advertising.

Offering a freebie to people, who in return send you an email address, even a very low quality one, can be a pretty good fit. That’s because email advertising is still regularly sold, based on how big the advertising provider’s list is… which is absolutely nuts. The list size is close to worthless, without knowing all the relevant data.


Where lead magnets work least well

Without doubt, the area where lead magnets work least well is with service providers; lawyers, accountants, coaches, consultants, mentors and designers, etc., etc.

I regularly hear from service providers, who have built lists using lead magnets and seen terrible results. In fact, I was prompted to write about this after an email I received from a reader in Sydney, Australia. She’s a copywriter and has built a list of over 45,000 lead magnet contacts, which she’d mailed for 12-months. It didn’t generate one paying client. She showed me some of the emails she’d sent, and as you’d expect from a professional writer, they were superb. But the list itself just wasn’t worth mailing.

There are a couple of key reasons why lead magnets are so ineffective for service providers:

  1. The level of trust and interest required to download a freebie, is close to zero. The trust and commitment required to buy a low-cost information product is moderate. BUT the trust and commitment required to hire the services of an expert is absolutely HUGE.
  2. The service provider needs to somehow reposition themselves as a professional, who offers a high quality service. This, after showing they were fine offering ethical bribes / freebies, in an effort to get clients. At best, it looks a little needy. At worst it looks shoddy. Either way, that’s a considerable barrier to overcome.

Conclusion: So, do lead magnets work?

Yes. Yes, they absolutely have their uses.

My advice is to pause and think. Consider why you need lead magnets and what you hope to achieve. Unless you sell advertising based on list size, it’s usually a pretty poor strategy.

Tip: Here’s a massively better list building strategy: How to build a list that builds your business.

The most valuable lists, by far, are those that grow organically. No lead magnets required. Organic lists grow because people are genuinely interested in knowing more about what you do. These interested people are of enormous value to your business. They not only share your newsletter with their friends, they truly are prospective clients.

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