How to monetize digital content

“If you build it, they will come.” The now eternal words that were ominously whispered in the popular 1988 movie Field of Dreams was great advice for the cornfields of Iowa. It even worked for companies like Google and Facebook, whose incredible appeal attracted thousands, then millions, and now billions. But if you’re selling digital content, you’ll likely learn the hard lesson that I learned: you can build it, but they won’t come. 

Why sell digital content?

Selling digital content is a fantastic way to make money online. You can provide immense value, you don’t have to manage an inventory, ship anything, and you product is never sold out. Plus, when you update your content, you can choose to send previous customers the new version - which would make them very happy. 

But it’s also hard to sell digital content - there’s no tangible object for customers to hold and own, so you’ll need to convince them of the value. That’s why you should market, before you even have a product. 

Marketing your digital product (before you have it)

When someone buys a digital product from you, it’s because they know, like, and trust you. That won’t happen if you put throw together a PDF and try to sell it for $97. 

ESTABLISH YOURSELF AS AN EXPERT

Instead, you should start a blog, podcast, or YouTube channel, and start talking about the topic for your digital product. Want to create an online course for building affiliate programs? Start a podcast on building one. Want to put out an eBook on podcasting? Start a podcast, and blog about the experience. Want to create your own cookbook? Start a YouTube Channel where you cook. 

The idea here is you want to show people you know what you’re talking about by delivering good content and quick wins. That will make them know, like, and trust you. 

BUILD YOUR MAILING LIST

As you write this fantastic content, make sure to build your mailing list. The people who opt-in to your list will be the ones who are most likely to buy when you’re ready to launch. 

Create quick wins

Again - this is about quick wins. At the end of your content, offer a content upgrade - an additional piece of content that they can only get by joining the mailing list. 

This content should be good - everything you do here should deliver value. If we look back at the cookbook example, your content upgrade can be your 5 favorite Christmas recipes. 

Nurture the list

Once they are on your list, nurture it! Send the 3 emails the week they sign up, all with some sort of value. Most email programs will let you automate this (using something called a Funnel). 

Then, email them regularly. You don’t want them to forget who you are or why they signed up. I’m sure you’ve been on mailing lists where you don’t hear from the person or company all year, and then all of a sudden you’re getting an email a day about their Black Friday deals. 

Don’t do that. Continue to deliver quick wins and the people who signed up will continue to see the value you have to offer. 

Selling your digital product

Now that you’ve got a content machine building your list and delivering value, it’s time to create and sell that product of yours. We’ve got the “who” you’re going to sell it down. Now we’re going to answer a couple of key questions in this section: What, Where, and How should you sell it? 

WHAT SHOULD YOU SELL? 

There are all kinds of digital products that you can create and sell: 

  • eBooks or PDFs
  • A video series or online course
  • An audio book or podcast series
  • A Membership

…or some combination of these. 

What you should sell should be informed by 2 pieces of data: 

  • What format works best for the information your selling?
  • What format has resonated most with your potential customers? 

If you have the same content on your blog, and on YouTube, and your blog gets way more sign ups and has more views, you should probably release a PDF. But if your YouTube channel gets thousands of likes while your articles get tens of views, a video course is the way to go. 

WHERE SHOULD YOU SELL?

I’ll tell you right off the bat: The fastest way to sell your digital product is Gumroad. It’s free to get started and they charge a nominal fee for transactions. They also have an infrastructure for digital downloads. 

If you want to roll your own digital shop, there are two fantastic options for WordPress: WooCommerce, which is free, and Easy Digital Downloads, which specializes in selling digital products. If you plan on building a digital business, EDD is a great way to go. 

Similarly, if you want to sell an online course, the fastest way is Teachable. But the more custom way is with WordPress and an LMS plugin, like LearnDash (my personal favorite) or LifterLMS. 

You’ll of-course need good hosting for a WordPress solution too. I can think of one I’d recommend 🙂 

HOW SHOULD YOU SELL IT?

Finally, we need to answer the question of how you should sell your digital product. There are a few ways we can interpret this, since “where” answered the question of what service we should use: 

  1. How should we price our product
  2. How should we make the product available to customers? 

Pricing our Product

I could write an entire article on how to do this, but the summary would still be the same as this statement: it depends. 

Is this something for a hobbyist or a professional? That will affect pricing. Is it a short eBook or an ongoing training program? That will affect pricing. How much value (or perceived value) is associated with your product?

The best thing you can do is experiment and remember that it’s easier to increase than decrease, price. So start a little lower, or price is where you want and offer a discount. Speaking of…

Creating availability for your product

One of the things that moves people to buy is scarcity. That’s why Amazon has the “only X left in stock” labels on products, and why there’s always limited time sales. 

But how does that work for digital goods that never get sold out? There are a few things you can do to create scarcity: 

Open and Close the doors for purchase. This is mostly done with courses - there’s a limited time enrollment, and when the doors close, people can’t enroll until they open again. 

Create a limited time discount. This is effective in the physical goods industry, and could work well for you too. Just remember that something that’s always on sale is never on sale. 

Offer purchase bonuses at launch. Plan a big launch day (or week) and put all of your promotion towards that - email your list, schedule social media, etc. Then offer sign up bonuses for people who buy during launch week. This could be a free webinar with you, extra PDFs, or anything else that will add value to their purchase. 

Go forth and create!

Now that you have a quick overview of how to sell digital goods, it’s time to get crackin’. Here’s a challenge for you: set up your new blog (or podcast) in time for the new year!

This was the sixth installment of our Black Friday series. Eager for more tips on optimizing your ecommerce performance? Stay tuned for more posts just like this one featuring industry experts and some of our technical partners. Learn how to improve your website design, conversions, online marketing, and more.  

 

Joe Casabona is a college-accredited course developer and professor. He also has his Master’s Degree in Software Engineering, is a Front End Developer, and hosts multiple podcasts. Joe started freelancing in 2002, and has been a teacher at the college level for over 10 years. His passion in both areas has driven him to build Creator Courses, a school for those who want to create online businesses. As a big proponent of learning by doing, he loves creating focused, task-driven courses to help students build something. When he’s not teaching, he’s interviewing people for his podcast, How I Built It.

One Comment

  1. Reply November 14, 2019 / 16:55 ErinSiteGround Team

    Great tips and ideas. Thanks for sharing ypur expertise,and wisdom in this article.

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