How to Give Away a Free Ebook (and Get More Subscribers)

If you like ebooks, you can get a boatload of them by signing up for newsletters. That’s because offering a free ebook download as an incentive for signing up for a mailing list is a time-tested strategy to (hopefully) boost mailing list opt-in rates.

There’s a good chance you either use this strategy or have thought about using it and would like to get started. However, if you’ve never used this technique before you may not be sure how to actually deliver that ebook incentive to new subscribers.

What you need to do is find a simple way to deliver the promised goods that won’t expose the file to visitors before they subscribe and also avoid having the ebook download page indexed by search engines. The good news is that you have some options.

In this post, we’ll look at five ways that you can deliver a free downloadable file. All five are easy to implement, convenient for your users, and will keep your list-building incentive hidden from website visitors and search engine web crawlers.

Option #1: Use Cloud Storage

Welcome email with link to download ebook from Google Drive
The link in this welcome email links directly to the ebook hosted at Google Drive.

This is the simplest solution and the right option for many types of websites. Just upload the free downloadable file to your favorite cloud storage service — Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, whatever. Then, generate a public file sharing URL and embed that link in your mailing list welcome email.

For most of us, this solution is perfectly adequate. However, there are reasons why you might not want to use cloud storage. For example, maybe you just don’t like the idea of using cloud storage. File permissions can be tricky and create a barrier for your users if you get them wrong. Also, by hosting the file using cloud storage you’re giving up a valuable opportunity to get visitors back on your own website.

Whatever your reasons, if using cloud storage isn’t for you, we have four more options you can consider.

Option #2: Use Your Mailing List Service Provider

In Mailchimp, select the option to link to a file.
Mailchimp will let you link to a file hosted on their servers.

Another simple option is to deliver the downloadable file using your mailing list service provider. Not all mailing list service providers will let you do this, but if you’re using one that will, such as MailChimp or ConvertKit, it’s as simple as uploading your file (subject to size limitations) and embedding it as a link in your signup confirmation email.

If your email service provider doesn’t offer this feature, there’s a good chance they do offer integration with a third-party vendor that will allow you to host and deliver downloadable files easily. However, there will be some additional costs that will apply if you do opt to use a third-party vendor.

While this solution is easy to implement and convenient for your subscribers, it won’t get your subscribers back on your website. If that’s important to you — and it probably should be — keep reading. The rest of the options we have in mind will do just that.

Option #3: Use a noindex Page

Screenshot of a webpage where an ebook can be downloaded

One of the main reasons marketers use mailing lists is to drive repeat traffic to a website. So why not use your free downloadable to do just that? Here’s how:

  • Create a page to host your downloadable file.
  • Upload your downloadable file and embed a link to the file in the page you just created.
  • In your newsletter welcome email, share the link to the page.

This will allow new subscribers to easily download your incentive and also get them back on your website where you can earn additional ad impressions and present them with your best content to keep them on your site for longer.

There are a few practical considerations to take into account when using this method. You will want to be careful not to make it too easy to find the page that hosts your free downloadable or visitors will just download it without signing up for your mailing list. In order to do that, follow these steps:

  • Don’t link to the page from anywhere other than your newsletter welcome email.
  • Use a plugin like Smartcrawl to add a noindex meta robots attribute to the page and remove it from your website sitemap so that search engines will ignore it if they do find it.
  • Watch the analytics. If the page is getting a lot more visitors than the number of new subscribers to your mailing list, then the page URL has probably been shared somewhere. Change the URL and use a redirection plugin to redirect the old URL to your website homepage or an appropriate landing page.
Select the noindex option for the meta robots tag.
Add a noindex meta robots tag with Smartcrawl and the page will be removed from the sitemap.

The obvious danger of this method is that the page URL can be readily shared on social media. If you’re watching the analytics data for your site, you’ll catch this pretty quickly and be able to change the URL, but it’s still a hassle to deal with.

This is a reasonable solution for most of us, but what if the free downloadable you’re delivering is valuable; too valuable to be left completely unprotected? In that case, you may want something a bit more secure.

Option #4: Use a Password-Protected Page

Screenshot of a password protected webpage

If you want to keep your downloadable file a little more secure. An easy solution is to password protect the page and deliver the link to the page and the password in your mailing list welcome email. That way the file is relatively secure and you get the benefit of having subscribers return to your site to get the downloadable file.

In order for your page to be shared publicly, a visitor would have to share the link and the password. That makes your downloadable more secure, but at the expense of adding an additional step that new subscribers will have to deal with to get to the promised goods. This method is also easy to re-secure if someone does share the password and link: just change the password, there’s no need to change the URL.

Option #5: Use a MarketPress Coupon Code

Screenshot showing the coupon code applied.

If you’re a MarketPress user, then you can use a downloadable product on your website as a newsletter incentive. Simply offer your customers a coupon code as an incentive to sign up for your newsletter. Then, deliver the coupon code in your mailing list welcome email and link back to the product that the discount applies to.

This is a flexible option because you could simply offer a coupon for a fixed percentage off of any sale or limit the coupon to specific products or product categories if you prefer. By offering a coupon for a percentage off, you could boost newsletter signups while simultaneously boosting sales.

If you’ve never used coupon codes with MarketPress, they’re easy to setup. You can get them set up in three steps:

  1. Log into the WordPress admin area.
  2. Go to Store Settings > Add Ons and make sure that the coupons add-on is enabled.
  3. Go to Store > Coupons and create a new coupon code.

That’s it! Now just deliver the coupon code you’ve created to your new subscribers and link them back to your store.

Wrapping Up

A free downloadable incentive is a tried-and-true strategy for boosting newsletter sign-ups. As you can see, it really isn’t very hard to architect a delivery method that keeps your incentive secure while keeping things simple for your subscribers. The key is to consider your goals before settling on a delivery method.

If your goal is simplicity, using cloud storage or your mailing list service provider to deliver the file is your best bet. If you want to get subscribers back on your own website, a noindex or password-protected page can be used to offer up the downloadable.

Finally, if you’re a MarketPress user, creating a coupon code lets you use MarketPress’ built-in support for downloadable products and get potential customers back on your site.

Jon Penland
How do you deliver free downloadable list-building incentives? Share your strategies with us in the comments below!

7 Responses

  • Site Builder, Child of Zeus

    Jon, thank you for this great post with lots of actionable ideas for a very common problem – how to deliver incentives to subscribers.
    I really like the MarketPress approach best as it is easy to set up, comes bundled in my WPMUDEV subscription and does not require me pay for an email provider like MailChimp or Convertkit.

    Here is another method that works really well for both lead generation and delivering material only to folks who filled out the lead form:

    Build a short quiz (which also helps you to segment your leads if you ask the right kind of questions), add a lead form before you display the quiz results and on the result page display the download link. Benefits of this method:
    a) people love quizzes – AdWeek says they are the most shared content on social media. So you might even get some extra viral traffic
    b) when answering quiz questions, filling out a lead form comes natural. I know from one of my clients (the Chicago Bulls), that their conversion rate for form completion in their quizzes is north of 27%
    c) you could show a different book/download link depending on the quiz result
    d) you can use the quiz result and add it as a tag to your leads. Segmenting your list with quizzes is an awesome way to improve sales (my favorite book on how to do this is “Ask, from Ryan Levesque”.
    Shameless self promotion: I started a company that lets you do all the above :). Check it out at http://www.riddle.com

  • New Recruit

    Hi, thanks for the nice post. It’s really helpful. I would prefer mailchimp as free option. But I have an issue. When someone enters their detail in the form then they get the confirmation/welcome email, where I can add the option to download the ebook. But when an existing subscriber wants to download it again and enter their detail, then they don’t get any email. In that case, what is the solution to give the option to re-download the ebook?

    • Amy
      Design Lord, Child of Thor

      Anjan,
      In Mailchimp, select Lists and go to the option to edit your signup forms. On that page, under the “Forms and response emails” drop down, select where you want to put the download link. It could be in the Opt-In email thank you or on the thank you page, or on both. I usually put something like this in both places.

      As for existing subscribers who need to download again, I usually include a link in my regular emails that say something like “Did you get your copy of ###?” that links to the download page.

      Amy

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