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Why No One Wants Your Free Download (And 5 Steps to Make It a Must-Have)

This guest post is by Sophie Lizard of Beafreelanceblogger.com.

You finally released your free download. It took a lot of work to prepare, but you believed it would all be worthwhile.

Because that’s what we’re supposed to do, right? Give something away to get something in return, like email addresses or questionnaire responses. Or the undying love of a vast tribe of readers.

So … why isn’t it working?

Hardly anyone’s downloading it. You’re not floating high on a tide of reader engagement. If anything, it’s the opposite: you’re getting kinda depressed with the whole situation.

It’s okay. Know why? Because hardly anyone’s downloaded it. And that means the problem isn’t necessarily with your content. All those people who chose not to download it haven’t seen the content yet. They’re doing the online equivalent of reading the box and then putting it back on the shelf.

People judge your free download on expectation and reputation, before they make the decision to either download it or leave. That means you can massively increase your download numbers just by improving the audience’s perception of your freebie. Here’s how to do that in just five steps.

Step 1: Angle your topic to make people care

Even if your business is something as mundane as cleaning mattresses, your download doesn’t have to be on that exact topic. You could offer mattress buying advice, interior decoration tips, or information about dust mites.

Research your audience’s most pressing needs and concerns, then choose a topic they’ll find immediately interesting. If you’ve already chosen a topic and created your download, don’t panic! You can re-angle what you’ve got.

Your topic may be something that many people would find dull. Like dust mites, for example. But your angle gives it the all-important connection to your audience’s real life needs. Here are three example angles you could take on the dust mite topic:

  • How dust mites in the home affect children’s health
  • How to reduce dust mites without using harmful chemicals
  • The biology of dust mites and why they live in soft furnishings.

Each of these angles appeals to a certain audience by giving them a specific expectation. Your download might cover all three of those pieces of information, plus more. But by focusing on one particular angle, you help your chosen audience understand the value of your download to them.

Step 2: Format your download to suit your audience

Has this ever happened to you? You find a free resource that sounds amazing, but it’s only available as an mp3 and you prefer to read. Or you can download it as a PDF, but then there are worksheets inside that you can’t fill in unless you print them out first.

Frustrating, isn’t it?

Your audience will be put off by a poor choice of format for your download, too. How did you decide what format to offer? If you asked your target audience what they’d prefer and then gave it to them, you officially aced this part already.

If you guessed, or gave them the format you like best, you’ve missed a trick. Let’s rethink.

Remember, some people are still bewildered by zip files. Some want to print hard copies; others work from a smartphone and don’t even own a printer anymore. You need to find out what format your target audience wants. If you don’t have an audience of your own to ask, go online and listen to what people on other sites similar to yours are saying about the free resources available.

And if they say there’s more than one popular format, consider offering more than one option. You can provide transcripts of your audio and video resources, create a slideshow presentation of your manifesto, or offer a Word copy of your PDF worksheet.

The easier you make it for people to consume your download, the more they’ll decide it’s worth downloading. If they ever notice it, that is. To make sure they do…

Step 3: Give it a name that grabs attention

The title is the only part of your download that most people read. I’m not being mean; I’m being practical.

Your download’s title can be read on your landing page, shared on social media, and displayed on search engine results pages. It’s one of the first things people will see about your download, before they make a decision about whether they want it. If the title doesn’t get more than a split-second glance, then your download sinks without a trace.

To create an attention-grabbing title for your download, check out the headlines competing for attention on magazine shelves or on Twitter, then try adapting them to your own topic.

You might see a headline like, “Warning: Single Women Think Your Man’s Available.” All you need to do is take that title and switch it to suit your download: “Warning: Dust Mites Think Your Bed is Their Playground.” For more headline templates to work with, check out Jon Morrow’s free Headline Hacks report.

Your title needs to create a hook of concern, pleasure or curiosity in your readers and keep them interested long enough to read further. You want visitors to your landing page to read beyond the title to the rest of the copy, and keep reading until they decide to download. So, on to the next step!

Step 4: Demonstrate high value with your copy

Your audience only needs to know one thing from your download’s landing page copy: how will this download make their lives better?

The features of your download—“30 pages with full-colour diagrams!”—are important, but your reader wants to know what it will do for them and how it will make them feel. So focus on the benefits of your download, like “Learn to reduce dust mites in your bedding so you can breathe easier at night.”

Once you’ve made the benefits clear, it’s time for a call to action. Keep it simple and clear, and only ask your reader for one thing: to download your free product. (We can tell them about all your other awesome stuff another time, I promise.)

After the call to action, feel free to add more information about the download format, those full-colour diagrams, and other details. Put another call to action after this extra info, so that anyone who reads this far can get your freebie without scrolling back up to find the download link.

Now, you just need to do one more thing to convince your audience:

Step 5: Prove yourself!

Everyone likes to try things risk-free. That’s part of the reason blogs and websites offer free downloadable products: sampling the free product makes your audience feel they’ve judged the quality of your products or services without the risk of losing money.

But here’s the thing: your average audience member isn’t only worried about money. They’re worried about losing time, too. You need to reassure them that your free download won’t waste their time, but will reward their investment.

One of the best ways to do this is with social proof.

Simply put, social proof is anything that suggests that other people have already tried something and liked it. That might include:

  • people sharing the link to your landing page via social media
  • testimonials from downloaders, customers, industry experts, or reputable celebrities
  • a case study explaining exactly how your freebie has benefited a particular user.

Most of the time, you can get social proof simply by asking for it. So, ask for social shares or testimonials when you deliver your free download, and ask again at the end of the freebie when people have finished checking it out.

Get to know some influential people, and ask them to share a link or testimonial if they think their followers will appreciate your freebie. Add a few of the best testimonials to your landing page, with another call to action at the end.

Send out copies of your free download to anyone whose opinion matters to your target audience, because…

You’re not alone

You’d be surprised how many successful blogs and online businesses have created a free downloadable product only to have it left on the digital shelf, friendless and unnoticed.

Many of the people you reach out to for social proof will have been through this experience at some point in their lives, and that makes them empathise with you. If your download’s relevant to them, they’ll want to help it find its audience!

So, don’t give up and watch your free download die—run through these five steps and give it the boost it deserves. After your download numbers increase, you’ll be in a position to judge how much people like the content. After you’re getting more downloads of your freebie, you’ll find that people start to offer their opinions on it before you’ve even asked.

For now, all you need to do is put your best foot forward, one step at a time.

Sophie Lizard is a blogger on a mission to help you increase your income and authority. To give your blogging career a boost, get free access to the “How to Make A Living Blogging” expert interview sessions and download your free copy of The Ultimate List of Better-Paid Blogging Gigs: 45 Blogs That Will Pay You $50 or More!

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Comments

  1. Good one Sophie,

    I wish that link was working to your offer:
    The Ultimate List of Better-Paid Blogging Gigs: 45 Blogs That Will Pay You $50 or More

    This sounds great.

    Biggest thing I learned from 2012 is to give people what they are already looking for it takes too long to convince them they need to try something completely new.

    • Interesting thought there, Darnell. If I only gave people what they were already looking for, I wonder if I would have written this post?

      The links are working now, by the way – thanks for spotting that!

  2. Sue Neal says:

    As I’m just in the process of producing my freebie, this is VERY timely advice – thank you very much for these practical tips – appreciated.

    Sue

  3. Sue Neal says:

    PS Your link to “title for your download” goes to ‘page not found’.

    Sue

  4. Very important topic! & Helpful to me time to time as of my job “Uploader” ,
    thank you very much for sharing . appreciated.

  5. Like Sue, this is very timely to me. I’m working on my free stuff for list building and I’m glad I found this article just on time.

    It’s real meat!

  6. John says:

    Thank you for you all free advice and I like them all. I will try to this for sure.
    Thank you

  7. Andy says:

    Until that link is fixed (there are a couple of rogue quotation marks in the code), here is the link:

    The Ultimate List of Better-Paid Blogging Gigs: 45 Blogs That Will Pay You $50 or More!

  8. Eric says:

    This was a great information maybe you could go over some of my offers and share your professional suggestions. Please look me up for this! Know I will be for sure checking out your information!!

    Great post!

  9. Free downloads could raise your blog’s traffic, but only if they deliver real value to site visitors. PDF books and other freebies that have relevant content should work well.

    • Exactly – relevant content is mandatory. And if you want people to find out how valuable it is to them, you need to present it in a way that makes them take that vital step of downloading it!

  10. Info Saja says:

    Usually we want to download an important file to be developed into a useful as an ebook on developing business in the internet world.
    And every day we definitely download activity to something important.

    • Yep, useful resources make great free downloads – though I have seen some very successful freebies that are purely for entertainment, too.

  11. Benefits based downloads rock Sophie super advice here.

    Thanks!

  12. Ravi says:

    Showing a Demonstration Videos and Money Back Guarantees can also increase the number of downloads as it earns Trust among buyers. Also Proper Social Networking Promotion is Needed for it. Thank You

    • At least 2 great points you’ve raised there, Ravi. Video can be a fantastic engagement tool, and everyone loves a good old-fashioned money back guarantee! Like you said, it’s all about earning trust.

  13. Sarah Park says:

    I am actually planning to launch my freebie for the first time and I am both excited and nervous if things will work out right. I’m glad to have read this post. This gives me more ideas on the preparations I should make before starting.

  14. Rahul says:

    very nice tips and good ideas to attract customers thanks for sharing its very helpful..

  15. I’ve been wanting to create a free download, and it sounds like your 5 step plan would really work. I’d been having trouble deciding what my download should be, but I feel like I’m getting closer to a solid idea. Then again, it’s better to start trying things sooner so that I can see what works. Thanks for the well laid advice!

    • While you’re still in the planning phase, Sarah, is there a subgroup of your target audience that you have access to for research? If so, asking them for their input on what download you should create might help you to move forward faster.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  16. Amanda Dyer says:

    Very helpful! Also a good reminder that even a boring topic like dust mites can lead to must-have content. :)

    • Yeah, I once wrote a looong article about dust mites for a client – it became the most-visited page on their site! A seemingly dull topic can still matter a lot to people if it’s directly relevant to their hopes and worries.

  17. Ronal says:

    I just started working on this bogging things and one thing i feel is good to apply is to make youtube videos about your blog and products. It works like Charm. NB: make you your Videos are good. I will write an article about this later.

    • Thanks Ronal, I’m still kinda nervous making videos so it sounds like you’re way ahead of me in this! YouTube is the 2nd search engine now, so there’s a lot of potential there. Hope to see that article on the interwebs soon. :)

  18. Ronal says:

    Sorry for the typing errors

  19. Thanks Sophie for this amazing advice! I am working on eBook right now, and I had not even thought of offering it in other formats.

    Great piece!

    • Thanks Andrew, and yep – there will always be some people who’d love your ebook if only they could listen to it while jogging, or watch it as a video slideshow!

  20. Willi Morris says:

    Sophie’s download is how I got my first freelance blogging gig. Very useful links included. I have yet to determine what my freebie will include. I still have to narrow down my target market first and ask around. Every Tom, Dick and Harry blog offers one so it gets overwhelming at times!

    • Hey, Willi, is that for your PI services or your other business? Love to hear more about how your freebie project’s progressing.

  21. Laure says:

    Loved how you nailed down all the needs and worries your readers could have about writing a free download. For example, the time issue is one BIG one. Laughed at the mattress analogy and would’ve mentioned the infamous… bed bugs. They are scary :) almost as much as taking that first step of writing that freebee. Thanks Sophie!

  22. Laure says:

    Hey Sophie: Loved how you nailed down all the needs and worries your readers could have about writing a free download. For example, the time issue is one BIG one. Laughed at the mattress analogy and would’ve mentioned the infamous… bed bugs. They are scary :) almost as much as taking that first step of writing that freebee. Thanks Sophie!

    • Thanks, Laure – yeah, time is more important than money to a lot of people (including me). Nobody wants to regret wasting their time, so it’s important to get past that and prove it isn’t a waste!

  23. Sandra says:

    This is timely for me because I plan on creating two products this year. Thank you for posting these tips, Sophie. Looking forward to your launch :)

  24. Thank you for this! Everyone says to give free stuff away, which is great advice, but nobody tells you the logistics of HOW to do this so that people will want your free stuff. Now, if someone can write a “how to” on the logistics of doing this for us non-techies, that would be stupendous! Thanks for another great column!!!

    • Thanks Kimberley, that’s another thing to add to my list of what people need! Non-techies, bear with me and I’ll write you a how-to for beginners to produce and distribute their first freebie download… :)

  25. Beth Hewitt says:

    Hi Sophie,

    These are all killer points. I remember about 5 years ago doing my first giveaway and hardly anyone subscribing :( Only once I worked out my target audience and figured out their pains, challenges and fears was I able ti build a solid subscriber base.

    Thanks for sharing,

    Beth :)

    • Cheers Beth, it’s always good to hear from people who’ve done this already and seen the difference it makes. Thanks for taking the time to share your story!

  26. Glenda Pagan says:

    I had to laugh with the title! Great attention grabber! I’m still in the brainstorming ideas for a free download but this has definitely helped the ideas that had flourished for the moment!

    Thanks for sharing, will share forward ;)

    Glenda

  27. Great advice here, Sophie.

    It’s really a relief to know that even if we made some mistake the first time around – or that we could have done something smarter or stronger – that our work need not be lost. A few tweaks can put us on the right path again. Awesome!

    • Yep, there’s no need to throw out the whole thing if all it needs is a trim and polish! It’s amazing how much difference presentation makes, and you can only find out what people think of you content if you first get them to download it. Thanks for stopping by, Leanne :)

  28. Sophie…We are all guilty of not recognizing what our niche really wants. You have brought some very valuable points to light here. Each of us needs to go back and re-evaluate what we are doing, what will give our niche the best value and how we plan to implement our strategy.

    • Thank you, Martin. It’s easy to rush ahead, create a free product and then wonder why it isn’t going anywhere… I agree, the better you know your aims and your audience, the better your probability of success.

  29. Thanks Sophie! A timely reminder for me and some great tips about what to do! Sound as a pound! ~Robin~

  30. Read the post of 1000 true fans, shows us why quality is better than quantity.

  31. Brad says:

    Thank’s Sophie,
    I wish I had this article when I started my blog. I tried to give away a free ebook to build a list. I naturally thought if it was free, my visitors would just take it.
    It’s funny to realize that you have to do as much selling to give something away as you do to sell it.
    Thanks for the post!

    • That’s a good way to put it, Brad, thanks! Sometimes you have to overcome people’s natural suspicion of freebies, too…