Whether you’re an independent creative looking to make a living selling your digital products or a business aiming to generate leads with a free eBook, determining how to successfully manage WordPress downloads is a common challenge faced by many a new website owner.
Sure, you could always just upload your files to your web hosting server and link to them, but doing so is often a messy, if not complicated process. Nor does that approach allow you to track and monitor downloads, meaning you’ll have very little idea how successful they are.
Fortunately, there are several plugins out there that simplify the whole process of tracking, managing, and even making a profit from your downloads.
Today, we’ll look at two of them:
- Download Manager, a single-purpose plugin that is by far the most accessible tool of its type that we’ve come across.
- WooCommerce, a comprehensive eCommerce plugin that comes with some advanced features and better reporting tools that some users may find helpful.
1. Using WordPress Download Manager
Though you may choose to manually download the WordPress Download Manager and upload it to your server, it’s generally more comfortable and less time-consuming to simply access the Plugins directory from your WordPress dashboard (Plugins – Add New) and search for it.
Type in ‘WordPress Download Manager’, and you’ll be presented with several different plugins, but it’s the number-one ranked plugin from W3 Eden that we’re concerned with today.
While the other options may do a decent job, there’s a reason why this plugin has over 100,000 active installations and the others have only a thousand or less:
It’s easier to use and does the job better than any of the alternatives.
With that in mind, then install and activate the plugin, and let’s explore how it works.
Add a New Download
Once the plugin is installed, you’ll find a new item labeled ‘Downloads’ in your main dashboard menu. Click that, followed by ‘Add New’ to add your first download to your website.
That will bring up a new page that looks exactly like the one you’d use to add a new page or write a blog post, albeit with a few extra features which we’ll discuss in a moment.
For now, give your download a title and description, then head to the ‘Attach File’ box on the right-hand side of the page and upload the file you want your visitors to download.
As with posts and pages, you can also add categories, tags, and a featured image in the usual way.
Before you publish your download, scroll down to the bottom of the page where you’ll find the ‘Package Settings’ options with three tabs.
On the main tab, you’ll be able to tweak your view and download counts, specify a file size so that your visitors know exactly how big of a file they’re downloading, and add other vital data about your file.
While this may not be especially important to you, the other two tabs are still worth your attention.
The most important tab of the three, ‘Lock Options’ allows you to add restrictions and conditions to your download.
For example, you may want to set terms stating that users must not redistribute, resell, or republish your content. You can add those Terms and Conditions here and include a checkbox so that your website visitors have to agree to them before they can download your file.
For added security, you can also use reCaptcha and password-protect your files.
When displaying your download with a text link on your website, adding an icon next to that link will help improve accessibility and usability, informing visitors of precisely the type of file that they’re about to download.
This is especially important if you’re offering your digital products in multiple formats. If, for example, you’re giving away a white paper in PDF, Word, and HTML formats, you can use a different icon for each to help visitors differentiate between each file type.
Adding Downloads To Your Web Pages
When you’re ready to display your downloads on your webpage, select ‘Downloads’ from your dashboard menu, followed by ‘All Files.’ This brings up a list of all your files, each one with its own shortcode.
To display a file, all you need to do is copy that shortcode and paste it into the required page.
Tracking Downloads with WordPress Download Manager
If there’s one main drawback to WordPress Download Manager, it’s that it doesn’t provide the same kind of comprehensive reporting that you get with a tool like WooCommerce. That said, if all you’re interested in is the number of times your files have been downloaded, it will be enough to suit your needs.
On the ‘All Files’ page, you’ll see a simple download count listed next to each file. You can also click ‘History’ from the left-hand menu to view a basic log of all download activity.
Selling Digital Products with WordPress Download Manager
If you’re planning to give away free downloads from your website, then the above steps contain everything you need to get started. If, however, you want to sell your products and generate revenue, there’s more work to be done.
By default, WordPress Download Manager isn’t set-up for digital product sales, but it does come with a free add-on that appears in your main plugin menu as “Premium Packages – Sell Digital Products Securely.”
To activate it, head back to the ‘Package Settings’ box on your product page and look for the ‘Activate Digital Store Option’ at the bottom of that box (illustrated in the image above).
This will give you a new tab called ‘Pricing and Discounts’ that allows you to set out the cost of your downloads and include licensing options. You can even set discounts based on different roles, for example, giving customers 10% off your products, subscribers 15% off, and those who work on your site (authors, editors, etc.) 20% off.
If you do decide to use this option, your visitors will be able to pay for your downloads using PayPal.
For most people, this should be more than enough to help them manage, sell, and track their downloads, yet if you wanted more advanced features, such as the option to take card payments via an integrated payment gateway, then you may be better served by a more advanced tool like WooCommerce.
2. Manage Downloads in WordPress Using WooCommerce
If you’re a writer looking to sell your books without relying on third-party platforms like Amazon KDP or an independent musician looking to avoid the usual distribution channels like Bandcamp while still generating revenue, WooCommerce is definitely worth your attention.
With over five million active downloads, there’s no denying its status as the undisputed king of WordPress eCommerce plugins. Yet while WooCommerce is more commonly used for traditional online stores with physical products, it also proves highly useful for anyone selling digital goods.
Configured correctly, this powerful plugin will help you to track, manage your downloads, and view statistics while also delivering a whole heap of added functionality to help you run the eCommerce element of your website.
Here’s how it works.
Install the Plugin
As with the last plugin, head to Plugins – Add New, then search for WooCommerce before installing and activating it.
Once the plugin is installed, you’ll have two new options in your left-hand menu, one labeled ‘WooCommerce’ and the other labeled ‘Products.’
Run the Setup Wizard
First up, hit the ‘Products’ menu and then choose ‘Run the Setup Wizard.’ As part of this wizard, you’ll be asked to install Jetpack, which provides some essential security and performance tools that you’ll need to run your digital download store.
Fortunately, this is all laid out for you, so all you have to do is follow the on-screen instructions.
Add New Download
With that done, click ‘Add New’ and give your first downloadable asset a title and product description. As with the Download Manager plugin, this is no more complicated than writing a blog post or adding a page to your website.
Add Product Data
Next, scroll down the page until you reach the ‘Product Data’ box. Here’s where you’ll upload your downloadable file and set the price. If you’re giving away free downloads, then you can simply set this price as zero.
You’ll also have options to set a sale price, a download limit, or an expiry date if you’re only making your downloadable available for a short period of time.
The most important thing here is that you first check the ‘Virtual’ and ‘Downloadable’ boxes. The first lets WooCommerce know you’re not selling a physical product, and the second gives you all the aforementioned options for uploading your file and setting the download terms.
Elsewhere on your product page, you’ll be able to add product images, short descriptions, and categories, as well as linking your download to other products to create an upsell and cross-sell promotions. When you’re happy, you can publish your new downloadable product on your website.
Tracking WordPress Downloads with WooCommerce
So, you’ve added all of your files to your WordPress website, and you’ve been actively encouraging people to download them, but how do you know if your efforts have paid off?
You use the wealth of sales data reports that are included with WooCommerce.
As soon as you click on the main WooCommerce tab, you’ll be presented with an easy-to-understand dashboard that provides a basic overview of how many items you’ve sold and how much revenue those sales have generated. Even if you’re giving your downloads away for free, you’ll still be able to use this dashboard to get a general idea of how many times your products have been downloaded.
If you need more in-depth information than this, no problem; just click the ‘Reports’ option from the main WooCommerce sub-menu.
Here, you’ll be able to see how many times your products have been downloaded within a specific time period or track your sales by product or category.
Alternatively, you can click the ‘Customers’ tab for a breakdown of which customers have been downloading which products.
You’ll note that there’s also the option to monitor stock levels here, but this is unlikely to be relevant to you unless you’ve decided to only give away a limited number of downloads.
Download Manager vs. WooCommerce – A Summary
By now, you may have already made your mind up about which plugin you’re doing to use for dealing with downloads, but if not, here’s our take to help you make that decision.
If you’re looking for a simple, no-frills solution that will let you add digital products to your website and give them away for free, WordPress Download Manager is the way to go.
Its intuitive interface is easy to get to grips with, while the plugin itself manages to avoid adding lots of advanced features while still ensuring all the essentials are in place.
While this makes it a good option for many website owners, this lack of additional is also the plugin’s biggest weakness.
As we’ve seen, the reporting options are pretty limited, giving you only necessary information about the number of downloads and a log of your site’s download history.
Then there’s the eCommerce side of things. While WordPress Download Manager does a decent job of enabling you to sell your digital products, it’s still relatively basic and only allows you to accept payments via PayPal.
Though that may be good enough for some users, you might prefer to use WooCommerce if you want to accept card payments and take advantage of other advanced features that help you make your downloads a part of a larger online store.
It’s also fair to say that WooCommerce does a far better job on reporting, with searchable dashboards that allow you to drill-down into specific data sets and fine-tune your reporting.
If you’re running a campaign and want to see how many people downloaded a particular product on a specific day, for example, then you’ll find that much easier to do with WooCommerce than Download Manager.
That being said, both plugins are free to use, so if you’re still undecided, why not give each one a trial run to determine which one best suits your needs?