List-Building: Give Real Value, Not Just Free Checklists



A plant manager, in desperation due to an unexpected shutdown, calls a consultant and has him rush to the plant. The consultant arrives, and asks to be taken to the boiler room.

He surveys the scene for a moment, then zeroes in on one specific gauge among dozens of options. After just a minute two, the consultant marks an X on the gauge: “Replace the valve associated with this gauge and your problem will be solved.”

The plant manager ecstatically thanks the consultant and asks him to forward an invoice. When the invoice arrives there are two line items:

  • For placing the X on the proper gauge: $1.00
  • For knowing which gauge on which to place the X: $9,999.00

There’s a lesson here on growing your email list.

Lead magnets are nice, but there is something better

While lead magnets and content upgrades are nice, there is an even more powerful way to help your target market out, while qualifying leads for yourself.

Interactive tools. Quizzes and calculators, especially.

I was intrigued a few years ago when I saw Neil Patel blog about this as I was researching ways to reduce my bounce rate. He talked about the value of interactive content: quizzes and polls in particular. It’s good introduction to this.

But what got me more interested in something I noticed about the Quick Sprout home page itself. On that home page Neil features a site analyzer which gives you feedback on any URL you enter. Here’s a screenshot:

Quick Sprout Home Page

It was already impressive as a way to give people very tangible feedback on one of either two things they’re likely to enter: their own home page or the page of their closest competitor. 100% free, just enter in your URL.

In Neil’s blog post about debuting this tool, he transparently shared these usage stats:

  • Day #1: 8,462 people ran 10,766 URLs
  • Day #2: 5,685 people ran 7,241 URLs
  • Day #3: 1,758 people ran 2,264 URLs
  • Day #4: 1,842 people ran 2,291 URLs

He saw a sweeping drop in his bounce rate, an increase in his pages per session, and a whopping 30% increase in time visitors spend on his site.

He didn’t report that he saw an increase in the number of visitors to the site as a result of the tool, but he did see serious engagement. He made some guesttimates on converting those users into paid customers and liked what he saw.

The tool evolves…

I did notice that the tool evolved though. While it was still free, as recently as a year or so ago in order to get the full results from the tool you had to sign-in with your Google account, giving Quick Sprout access to your Google Analytics. Seriously clever by Neil.

You’re still getting tremendous, free value, mind you. So it’s not like this was some questionable move. It was shrewd, yes, but not wild or aggressive.

Well, it’s evolved some more. No longer do you need to sign-in with your Google Analytics account. You get great feedback on your SEO right there, instantly. Lightning fast.

Neil must have seen negative numbers on peoples’ willingness to do complete the Google sign-in in order to see the results.

Now the way it works is…if you want to monitor the website you just entered—which sounds great, doesn’t it? and he doesn’t even define what ‘monitor’ means—you just enter your email address off to the side, amongst all the super feedback you’re reading.

Interactive tools are the real deal

I already wrote about interactive content or interactive blog posts, so I won’t cover that territory again. But let’s talk about the reason why interactive tools are going to be increasingly common.

It’s called the law of reciprocity.

When someone has delivered tangible value to us, we feel a greater sense of duty to reciprocate. Whether it’s because we don’t want to owe that person, or we’re grateful for their gesture, the result is the same.

Now, if you’re providing value that helps a person make a life or business decision, that’s one thing. Home loan calculators. Car payment calculators. These have been around on the web for awhile.

But there’s also entertainment value.

For instance, did you know that among BuzzFeed’s most-shared, most-popular content you’ll find its long lineup of quizzes?


Why is this interactive content so popular?

There’s no need to answer this. Does it really matter why this kind of interactive content is so popular?

The whole reason you spend time creating a whitepaper, checklist, workbook, ebook, lookbook, cookbook, or some other lead magnet tool, is to earn an email address in exchange for giving your reader value.

So…why would you not be open to delivering value in a far more engaging way, that provides other measurable benefits to you, while entertaining or educating your reader?

Textbook definition of win-win.

If you trust that it works, here’s what you have to do next

You have to think through how to make it work for you in a truly mutually beneficial way.

How can you provide instant gratification at your site in a way that doesn’t require a download? Is there an ROI calculator that others in your space don’t really offer? Could you make it easier for people to build their own estimates of your service? Is there a quiz you could have them take, to help them diagnose a business problem? Could you help them assess whether they’re truly ready for an entrance exam?

You can use some low-tech tools like Thrive Quiz Builder, Gravity Forms, or even outsourced services like Outgrow to build some of these.

Or, you can do what Neil Patel did and find a custom coder to bring your project to life, using a service like or

Just make sure you either leave out some small element (like seeing the results of the quiz, or having the results sent to the site visitor), so you have a reason to request their email address. There has to be a call to action of some kind.

Free, interactive content and tools that provide real value: Great engagement tools for your digital marketing and list-building efforts.

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