10-Step Guide to Using Free PDF Downloads To Grow Your Mailing List

At the end of the day, your mission is to generate conversions with your WordPress site. But some visitors are not as easily swayed as others when it comes to pulling the trigger on making a purchase. They know they need the service or product to significantly improve their lives… and, yet, they want to take time to think about it (which is understandable). So, how do you make sure that they don’t lose sight of your business while taking this time to marinate on the purchase?

The best way to do this is to continue providing them with valuable insights and content. If you can stay top-of-mind with these on-the-fence visitors, yours is the brand they’ll think of first when they’re ready to commit.

The only problem now is figuring out how to get in front of them if they haven’t made a purchase. Because, without their email address, there’s no way to reasonably stay in touch without using something like remarketing pixels.

While you could hope that they’ll subscribe to your blog or follow you on social, the incentive there is low if you haven’t already established a long-standing relationship with them. Instead, you need to give them something that inspires them to take your relationship to the next level (i.e. they give you their email address), even if they’re not ready for a full-blown commitment (i.e. they make a purchase).

So, this WordPress tutorial is for those of you who want to learn how to use free PDF downloads to grow your mailing list from your WordPress site. But, first, let’s brainstorm some ideas for these free PDF giveaways…

Free PDF Download Ideas for Your WordPress Site

If you’re nervous about not having any type of digital content worth giving away and that visitors would find valuable enough to trade their email addresses for, think again. There are plenty of free PDF download ideas to play around with.

Idea #1
If your WordPress site is already equipped with a tool visitors can use (like WP Checkup), you have a fount of information just waiting to be exported into a PDF and shared with your visitors. It’s a great way to give them helpful information and actionable advice they actually want and need.

Idea #2
Does your WordPress site advise clients on how to run their businesses better? If so, then this may be an opportunity for turning white label reporting into a free downloadable PDF. With white label reporting, you create the base “template” that anyone could use. Your visitors then export, add their own branding, and use it for their own purposes.

Idea #3
You could also do something a little less formal and instead share a template file you use in your own processes.

For example, say you’re a WordPress developer that creates blog posts and tutorials for other developers. You have an Excel spreadsheet you use to calculate project costs and streamlines the project proposal part of your process. You could turn that into a downloadable piece of content for your fellow developers to use. This would also work well if you have any checklists.

Idea #4
When you have a special offer or video you want to share with visitors, you’re most likely going to create a special landing page for it. Rather than gamble and hope that most of them convert solely off of that page, you could sweeten the deal with a downloadable PDF that complements the video’s content.

Idea #5
Another way in which you can complement already existent content is by looking at your blog. See if there are any opportunities there to share bonus information with readers that they wouldn’t get from reading the post, but would’ve wondered about while they did. You can provide those answers, insights, and guidance in the PDF.

Idea #6
Have you conducted an exclusive webinar for your followers or were you a guest speaker at a recent event? While your visitors might not have had the opportunity to attend these events or didn’t want to ante up the money to do so at the time, you could create a downloadable slideshow of your presentation as a way to entice them to pay for access to the real deal.

Idea #7
Some websites make an entire business out of generating downloadable PDF reports that visitors can unlock access to by signing up with their email addresses. Of course, these reports need to contain data that they can’t get anywhere else.

So, you’ll either need to conduct your own research or aggregate data from a number of high-quality and trusted sources. Either way, be sure to present the data’s findings visually. This means charts, graphs, and maybe even infographics if you have the time and skill to create them.

Idea #8
If you like the idea of creating a lengthy guide or report your visitors can download but aren’t able to conduct a full research study, think about creating a white paper or ebook. Both are just as viable of an option and many people actively search for these expert-written reports online.

Within your digital book, you could offer up a professional tutorial with screenshots (think of it almost like a technical manual), a training guide for your users, or a paper on some little-known topic that would be of huge interest to your audience.

How to Create Free PDF Downloads and Add Them to Your WordPress Site

As you can see, these free PDF download ideas don’t require too much work, research, or even design skills. All it takes is a good understanding of what your audience would find valuable enough to give up their email address in exchange for.

Just remember that in giving this away on your website, your goal should be to start a relationship with these new users, which means adding value to their lives. Take some time before approaching this process to think about what kind of free downloadable content will truly help you build loyalty and trust with them.

When you’re ready, use the following WordPress tutorial to guide you on what to do:

Step 1: Create the Content

For some of you, there might not be much in the way of having to create content if you’re giving away a template or outputting a report that already exists. However, I would still suggest you spend time reviewing the content as an outsider. What might work well for your own purposes might not be as buttoned up and user-friendly for others.

Once you’ve finished creating your content, do the following checks:

  • Is the font easy to read in print as well as on the screen?
  • Have you styled the font in a way that makes it user-friendly?
  • Did you use subheaders, bullet points, and other content formatting to improve readability?
  • If there are visual elements like graphs and charts, are they easy to follow and clearly labeled?
  • If you’ve included any logos, images, or designs, are they high-resolution and professionally composed?
  • Have you made sure to link to your WordPress site throughout the content?

In general, just be sure you’ve brought your A-game here. If you give something away for free that’s not valuable, well written, or professional looking, this freebie could be seen exactly for what it is: a shallow attempt at amassing a bunch of emails without having to do any real work on your end.

Step 2: Generate the PDF

Once you’ve created your document, you now need to turn it into its final format.

For the most part, we’re looking at a PDF. It’s a user-friendly and professional format and works for many of the free PDF download suggestions made above. That said, if you have some other file type you want to share (like a PowerPoint presentation or an Excel template), that’s fine as well. Just be sure to save it in a file format that WordPress accepts.

If you want to generate a PDF, the process is easy.

Open your word processing document. You can do this with any of the Microsoft suite of products as well as Google Docs.

For Microsoft documents, go to File and click Save As:

Then locate the PDF file type in the bottom of the save screen:

Export your file as a PDF:

For Google Docs, it’s even easier. Go to File and hover over Download As. Then select PDF Document:

Your PDF file will then download to your computer.

Step 3: Design the Promotional Element in WordPress

Now that you have your free PDF ready for download, you have to decide how you want to promote it on your WordPress site. You have a few options to consider:

1. Use a Standard CTA
This option is pretty straightforward. You write a blog post or create a landing page. At the bottom of which you will place a Download button where visitors will be prompted to enter their email address in exchange for the downloadable freebie.

2. Use a Pop-up Form


The second option involves using a lead generation plugin like Hustle to design a pop-up and serve it to targeted visitors that would be interested in the free PDF download.

3. Use an In-line Banner
If you want to integrate the downloadable PDF giveaway within your content, look at areas of your design where this might work. It could be a dedicated banner located in the middle of the page, on a sidebar, or in other areas of high traffic.

4. Use at Checkout
You could also think about adding this free PDF download to the checkout process. For instance, if someone signed up for one of your services, paid for a membership, or purchased your software, you could display a special offer code in a hello bar notification that says “Free PDF Download with Your Next Purchase!”. They then enter the coupon code into checkout and receive the free PDF download by mail.

Step 4: Craft the Button with Care

While you might think a CTA labeled “Download” or “Free PDF” is enough to get visitors to click and enter their email address, it might not be. So, when designing the buttons for your free PDF download, abide by design best practices. Also, if you know that a lot of your traffic is coming from mobile, don’t forget to consider mobile button design practices, too.

Step 5: Design a Custom Thank You Page

Any engagement that happens within your WordPress site deserves a somewhat customized response. That means a “Thank you! We’ll be in touch soon.” just won’t cut it here.

Instead, craft a custom Thank You page that displays after visitors request the download. This page doesn’t need to have a lot of content on it. Just make sure it thanks them for signing up, lets them know what the next steps are (e.g. “We’ll email you a link!”), and then gives them the opportunity to share with friends on social.

If this page includes the downloadable link or file, make sure you set the page to “noindex”. The last thing you want is Google sharing this page in search and allowing random people from around the Internet to find it and get your content for free. Anyone who wants it should have to go through the initial gated element just like everyone else.

Step 6: Upload the PDF to WordPress

With your file prepared and saved in the right format, you can now upload it to WordPress. The process is the same as any other type of media upload.

Go to your Media folder in WordPress and click on Add New.

Do a search for the file on your computer and then upload it into WordPress.

You’ll see it appear within your other media files. The only difference is that it will have a title slapped over the cover of the “image”.

Note that if the file is large or if you’re nervous about the number of HTTPS requests your WordPress site will have to handle with each new download request, you may want to store this file off-site.

Assess the current amount of traffic your site gets to calculate how many people you think might reasonably request the PDF. Then, take into account any other source of traffic (like social) that might contribute to it. If you feel this could hurt your site’s performance, think about using a cloud storage service instead.

Step 7: Link Your Button to the PDF

With all the required elements in place, all you have to do now is link your free downloadable content to the promotional button.

If you’re using Hustle to create your promotional pop-up, slide-in, or promotional widget for this download, it’s super easy to set this up.

If you haven’t done so already, create and name your pop-up:

Next, create the content for the pop-up. This includes any message you want to share, a featured image, as well as a call-to-action button (which you probably won’t need).

Then you’ll need to decide how you want to collect emails (since that’s the whole purpose of doing this):

In the next section, you can customize which form fields you want to include. The default should be fine, but feel free to simplify if you’d only like to ask for their email.

Before you finish up, don’t forget to link your newly created Thank You page in the Page Re-direct option.

When you’re done with that, take some time to customize the design of your pop-up element, animation settings, trigger rules, and so on.

With your free PDF pop-up, slide-in, or embedded content looking all snazzy, you have one more thing to do: automate how visitors receive the actual content. Realistically, you have two choices:

  • When they’re redirected to the Thank You page, you can include a direct link to the PDF that they can download on the spot.
  • When they’re redirected to the Thank You page, your automated email trigger rules (which I’m about to cover) will send them a confirmation message with a link to the PDF.

Again, how you want to deliver this PDF should be dependent on your server’s bandwidth and what you think it can realistically handle.

Step 8: Automate the Follow-up Emails

Okay, so your promotional element is designed and the PDF is linked. You’ve also activated your email marketing service to instantly connect to it. Next, you’ll need to create a series of follow-up messages to send to subscribers.

Here are some suggestions on what you should send:

  • An initial Thank You/confirmation-type email. If you’re delivering the PDF via email, it will be included in this message. Otherwise, you can just thank them for signing up and provide a quick summary again of what they received in the PDF.
  • It’s also a good idea to email them two to three days after they signed up to confirm they received the download and were content with what they got. This check-in is a nice touch in case the first email didn’t come through or they forgot to download or read the PDF.
  • Then set up a series of follow-up emails–maybe once a month to start with weekly or bi-weekly messages after that. You don’t want to overwhelm them (especially if they didn’t formally subscribe to your newsletter), so take it slow and always remember to share relevant and valuable information.

Step 9: Get Your Site Ready

Before you officially launch this free download on your site, make sure it’s ready to handle it. This means:

  • Reviewing the current performance as well as possibly stress-testing it in the case of HTTPS request overload.
  • Reinforcing security at all levels: your computer and network, WordPress, as well as your web server.
  • Reading through the messaging that surrounds the free PDF download to confirm there are no errors.
  • Testing all links and form submissions along the way to ensure there’s nothing broken in the process.

Step 10: Implement and Promote

When you have verified that everything is good to go, it’s time to launch.

While you’ll be able to let your lead generation tool do most of the targeting work on-site for you, you should actively promote the offer wherever it makes sense. Include mention of it in related blog posts. Talk about it during your Facebook Live video sessions or in an upcoming webinar. And maybe even give current email subscribers a link to it as a special “thank you” for being loyal customers.

Wrapping Up

You probably hate the idea of having to sell your business and wish it were easier… but you know it needs to be done. With a free PDF download, you can bridge the gap between the two. While you might not make any direct sales at the time of giving a PDF away for free on your site, you can establish a relationship with these users now that will make it easier to convert them down the road.

Brenda Barron
Over to you: Is there anything else you’d ask your visitors in exchange for a free PDF besides their email?