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eCommerce

Sell Digital Downloads: 6 Ideas to Start Making Money 💸

The appeal of selling digital products rather than physical ones is obvious. You don’t need to worry about warehousing products, shipping orders, or handling returns – everything is managed online.

While the proposition might sound simple and attractive, there are some unique challenges you’ll need to address if you plan to sell digital products yourself.

To give you a nudge in the right direction, we’ll explore some digital products you might sell online, and explain some of the key differences between selling physical products and selling digital products.

Then, we’ll advise on the best approach to selling digital goods and signpost you to the best places to sell digital downloads and products.

Which digital products can I sell online?

The key to success for any business is novelty and uniqueness, and setting yourself apart from the competition.

With the digital products you decide to sell, there’s no difference. You should try and find a product that meets a niche that is currently underserved.

That said, there are generally a number of categories under which your product or products are likely to fall. Understanding these categories and who the broad audience is will inform how to create effective marketing messaging and where you sell them.

eBooks

Sales of eBooks have almost doubled between 2015 and 2020, and online publishing remains one of the most profitable digital businesses online. Capitalizing on the decline of print and the rise in self-publishing, the industry is estimated to be worth around $18 billion annually.

There are plenty of ways to cash in on eBooks, from writing your own or acting as an editor for other authors, to starting a platform to publish eBooks or even producing audio versions.

If you’re interested in writing eBooks, top-selling genres you might consider include:

  • Fiction. Romance, thrillers, and young adult fiction sell particularly well online.
  • Fitness. Workout guides that follow the latest fitness trends are always popular.
  • Crafts and DIY. Ideas for things to do and make around the house are often in demand.
  • Personal finance. Since people are always hoping to grow their savings, this is a hot topic.
  • Self-help. Especially if you have some expertise in the area, this can be a real money maker.
Two People Sitting Working on Laptops

Online courses

Selling online courses as an online seminar or a digital download isn’t a quick cash option.

Since this type of digital product takes a long time to set up, requires real expertise to execute properly, and is relatively slow to produce income, it should only be undertaken if you’re passionate about what you want to teach.

That said, this is a sector that will be worth an estimated $325 billion by 2025, meaning that if you can put together a solid course and put in the time to make it work, there is real money to be made in the long run.

Profitable niches for online courses include:

  • Art and design. It’s especially useful for using tools like Sketch or Figma.
  • Coding. There’s a huge demand for development skills.
  • Marketing. Pay particular attention to SEO, social media, and online marketing.
  • Entrepreneurship and business. Teach them how to run a company.
  • Health and wellness. Be there to support them and encouraging healthier lifestyles.

Software as a service (SaaS)

If you have coding experience or the budget to hire developers and have spotted a gap in the market for a software solution to a problem lots of people face, then monetizing software can be a great basis for a company.

SaaS can either be sold as digital downloads or as an online subscription service. In most cases, your customers are more likely to be business owners than end consumers, so you must be sure to angle your marketing appropriately.

Great examples of exiting SaaS services include:

  • Project management tools. Platforms like Asana or Monday are crucial to the running of some of the world’s biggest companies.
  • Email marketing tools. The folks behind MailChimp were once just like you; they had an idea and weren’t sure whether it would be a success.
  • Online courses. These are just another way that online learning can be monetized. Creating a platform for lessons can be as lucrative as creating the lessons themselves.
  • File storage. Services like Dropbox make millions by simply offering effective ways to store and share files and content in the cloud.

Art or music

There are a number of different ways you might start selling your music, photography, art, and videos online. You could sell them to end-consumers who want them for their own use, or you could license them for commercial use instead.

You’ve no doubt heard of stock photography, but the fact is there’s a commercial demand for everything from photos and music to videos and sound effects.

While selling to individual users can be lucrative, selling commercial licenses could be your way of making real money.

If you’re interested in selling licenses to your work, your target audiences might include:

  • Marketers. These people are often on the lookout for stock photos to use in ads.
  • Filmmakers. Movie producers always need music and sound effects for their projects.
  • Podcasters. These people are in need of theme music, mood music, or sound effects.
  • Web developers. Simple content for a new website is often on-demand.

Themes, templates, plugins, or tools

Everyone online is looking for a quick-fix or readymade solution to a problem they have. You can cash in on being the person to provide it.

Themes and templates for documents, websites, or graphics can make their creators thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, the demand for patterns, logos, wallpapers, and brushes remains high too.

You can either create these products for yourself if you have the skills or buy the rights to others’ creations to sell them.

Here are some examples of digital products you might sell within this niche include:

  • Resume templates. These are helpful for job-seekers without design skills.
  • Website templates. Templates are perfect for those without web design skills.
  • UX kits. Package kits to help web designers grow their tools.
  • Fonts and icons. Why not create new looks for designers?
  • After Effects plugins. You. can also broaden video editors’ abilities.

Memberships

While not a product in itself, offering a membership program or keeping some premium content behind a paywall can be an effective way to monetize content, capitalize on an existing following, and improve your other digital marketing efforts.

As well as offering digital downloads, having a subscription model means that you are also able to stream content to paying users.

Types of content and digital products that work particularly well with this model include:

  • Online courses. Especially if there is a course of extended length, offering the first classes for free then requesting payment for further classes is highly effective.
  • Video content. With the wide availability of streaming services, your content has to be top-notch. However, if you can find the right niche and audience, this is a great market.
  • Podcasts. Lots of the most successful podcasters make some shows free, but keep others for premium users. Listeners of podcasts are particularly comfortable paying for premium content.
  • eBooks. Getting readers hooked on the first few chapters of a book, then asking them to pay to read more is a tried and tested way of turning eBooks into freemium content.
  • SaaS products. If you’re selling a software product, it’s totally acceptable to offer either a membership program for general use, or premium features that are only unlocked once a user decides to pay.
Photo of a Woman in Pink Bodysuit Posing Inside a Shopping Cart

How can I sell my digital products online?

So, you already have a digital product in mind what you wanted to sell, or have used the information above to start thinking about what to sell in your online store.

Next, your approach to marketing and selling your digital downloads will decide your success.

Here, we’ll lay out the things to consider when marketing and selling digital products for the first time.

Digital products vs physical products

First up, it’s worth reflecting on how selling digital downloads and products will differ from physical ones.

There are relative benefits and drawbacks to selling digital products or digital downloads over physical products. If you’re used to traditional retail, it might be a learning curve establishing yourself in the digital space.

Pros of digital products:

  • Unlimited stock. Since you’re dealing with an infinitely replicable digital product, you’ll never run out of inventory.
  • No warehousing. Other than the hosting space to store your files online, you don’t need to worry about storage space or costs.
  • No shipping costs or limitations. Neither you nor your customers need to pay for shipping, and your products can be available anywhere in the world.
  • Bigger profit margin. Except for the initial cost of developing your product, there’s virtually no unit cost for digital products, meaning almost everything is profit.

Cons of digital products:

  • Intangible. While consumers are more used to purchasing digital products, physical products have an obvious appeal and clearer ownership.
  • Value not obvious. Because there are no physical specifications to outline, it might be more challenging to communicate the innate value of digital products.
  • More difficult to market? Due to the points mentioned above, there are unique, but not insurmountable, challenges when it comes to messaging about digital products.
Window Open and Other window cemented closed Niche

How to sell digital products online

Each product has unique selling points which you should be center-stage in your messaging.

However, there are some general steps you should take if you’re hoping for success when selling digital goods.

1. Find your niche and market fit

It might sound like Retail-101, but as with physical products, you have to make sure there is a healthy demand and a willing audience for your digital products to sell.

Digital goods differ from physical ones in the eyes of consumers: the purchaser is looking forward to the outcome of using the product, rather than ownership of it.

That’s partly why it’s vital that your digital product meets a need in the market and solves a specific problem. If it is too similar to existing products or too novel and disconnected from consumer needs, there will be no demand.

When finding your niche, ask yourself:

  • What specific need or problem does your product solve?
  • Is the demand in your niche growing, shrinking, or staying the same?
  • What other products fill the same or similar niches?
  • How will you differentiate your product from other similar ones?

2. Understand your most effective marketing channels

Once you know what your product will be and which niche in the market you’ll be targeting, you should have a good idea of who your target audience is.

With this in mind, it’s time that you assess which will be the most effective marketing channels to reach your specific audience.

Conduct research to find out which platforms your audience gravitates to, and which messaging is likely to be most effective for them.

Search engine optimization

If you have your own website, then it’s a no-brainer that you should be incorporating SEO into your marketing strategy. Since a whopping 80% of web traffic comes from search engines, it’s a waste not to capitalize on this channel.

Be mindful, however, that SEO takes some time to start showing results. If you want a speedy product launch, you’ll likely need to rely on alternative marketing channels, at least initially.

Using a website builder and eCommerce platform like Zyro will not only provide you with a great looking place to sell digital products, but also give you a head start on SEO.

With optimized and responsive templates, speedy loading, and AI assistance in creating search-friendly content, you can create a profitable digital download eCommerce business in little time.

Social media advertising

Most demographics will have a favored social media platform, so finding out where your target market hangs out and serving tailored ads on that platform is an effective strategy for most businesses that want to sell online.

Using an eCommerce platform like Zyro, you can create, target, track, and optimize ads on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Influencers and bloggers

Depending on the market you’re targeting, you may find that influential online personalities can be leveraged to channel traffic to your products.

The key to finding the right influencers or bloggers to promote your goods is matching up with the right audience and finding partners who have previously published content related to the kind of product you offer.

This might not be the right approach for all businesses, especially if you sell B2B.

Online ads

As well as serving ads on social media, you should consider using ad networks to increase your reach and target your audience across the web.

The obvious choice is to work with Google Ads, which has the widest reach to consumers across the internet.

Certain website builders (Zyro included) let you create and target ads with Google quickly and easily.

On-platform promotion

Depending on the products you’re selling and where you’re selling them, you may have opportunities to market on the platform you’re using.

This might involve optimizing your profile to invite more visitors or spending time networking with other sellers to grow your exposure on the platform.

And you should definitely take every available opportunity to grow your reputation when you’re starting out.

Free smells red neon sign on black background

3. Consider a ‘freemium’ model

Sure, you’ve got products to sell and want to make a return on your investment by generating sales from paying customers.

However, when you sell digital products, offering free versions, free trials, or free samples of your product is an effective way to drive sales.

Most content providers who use this model will offer some free content as an enticement to sign up and play, and later pay.

There are plenty of ways in which the freemium model can be leveraged to help attract customers to your digital brand:

  • eBook sellers can offer either a book for free or sample chapters
  • SaaS companies could publish a free version of their software with limited features
  • Online courses can offer trial classes
  • Artists, musicians, podcasters, and other content creators can give out some of their work for free, and charge for the rest

The beauty of the freemium model is that users taking advantage of a ‘good deal’ can become invested in your content or product without making a purchase, making them more likely to pay for further access.

4. Offer a variety of payment levels

Similar to offering freemium content, creating a tiered payment system can be an effective method of expanding your customer base and fostering repeat custom.

Most companies will have a core product which accounts for the majority of their sales.

However, if your core product has a relatively high price point, you might consider releasing a stripped-down version at a cheaper rate, or auxiliary products which are more inexpensive.

This is effective in two key ways:

  • Customers who are unable or unwilling to invest in the core product can still make a purchase from your brand, making them more likely to purchase a bigger ticket item later.
  • Customers who have previously purchased your core product will have a reason to make further purchases from your company.
User Experience Screen Drawing Hand

5. Optimize your website or profile for conversions

Ensuring you’re using the right marketing channels and messaging is only half the battle in convincing users to purchase digital downloads. You need to optimize your user experience to encourage visitors to your site or profile to make a purchase.

If you’ve decided to sell on your own website and online store, you’ll have the most control. Language that encourages conversions, an easily navigable layout, and strategically placed call to action buttons will ensure your conversion rate is high.

eCommerce platforms like Zyro will help optimize your website by giving you traffic insights with tools such as Google Analytics, and offer page analysis with tools like Hotjar heatmaps to help you understand how visitors behave.

If you’re using a third-party platform to sell your goods, you’ll have fewer optimization options.

However, you should still try and ensure that your profile is keyword optimized, your branding is appealing, and your messaging encourages purchases.

6. Foster return customers

The holy grail for all retailers is the customers who come back again and again to make purchases.

It costs far less to convert past customers than new ones, so you should always keep an eye out for opportunities to develop reasons for customers to come back.

  • Regularly release new content or updates. By having new products to buy which offer new content/features or improvements to existing products will encourage further purchases.
  • Keep previous customers engaged. Collecting contact details, connecting on social media, and regularly feeding messaging to previous customers will pay off in the long run.
  • Upsell on core products. If you have more than just one product, be sure to promote your other products, make it easy to add extra products on checkout, and contact customers post-sale informing them about your catalog.
  • Sell subscriptions. We’ve already discussed why membership and subscription models are effective. These ensure repeat custom and a predictable income stream.

Where can I sell my digital downloads?

The answer to this question is going to depend on what kind of product you’re actually selling.

We’ll cover a few different channels and platforms which might be good options for selling digital downloads of different kinds.

1. Your own website

If you’re planning on selling SaaS products or online courses, a website is an absolute must as a destination for your customers.

However, pretty much anyone selling digital goods would be well-advised to create their own website for selling goods directly, and for branding and marketing purposes.

We highly recommend you use a website builder and eCommerce platform. It will make it easier to sell digital downloads by helping you create a website, launch an online store, and sell and market your products across a number of platforms.

When choosing an eCommerce and website building platform, make sure that your online store will have the following features:

  • The ability to list and a way to sell digital downloads
  • Tools to optimize your website for search
  • Marketing features to help reach potential customers on social media and across the web
  • Analytics tools to help optimize your sales
  • Central management of inventory, product listings, sales, and customer communication
Young man taking photo with camera

2. Stock photography and art websites

If you are a photographer, artist, musician, or anyone who creates images, videos, or music online, one of the easiest ways to get started selling downloads of your work is to upload them onto a stock image, video, or music website.

The benefits of using such websites include having a readymade audience, simple ways to manage your sales, and the opportunity to not worry too much about marketing and SEO.

However, using these websites to sell digital products is not without its drawbacks. You’ll likely have to pay a fair amount of commission to the platform, will be in competition with other creators on the platform, and will have less control over the user experience.

Great stock image and art websites include:

  • Dreamstime. Everything from decent smartphone images to high-end professional photos are accepted.
  • Alamy. A great platform for anyone with images, videos, or vector art to sell.
  • Shutterstock. Despite its low commission rates, everyone from photographers and videographers, to musicians and sound artists can sell on this platform.
  • Adobe Stock. Another great all-around stock art platform, which users of all Adobe products have access to.

3. eCommerce platforms

The halfway point between your own website and a stock image platform is using an eCommerce platform. While you’re able to pocket more from each sale, you’ll also need to work harder to get your work found by customers.

There are some eCommerce platforms out there that are specifically designed for digital products, while others allow you to sell things more generally.

Don’t forget, you can always use these platforms in conjunction with your own website. This can help with marketing, branding, optimization, and user experience.

  • Amazon. This is an eCommerce website everyone is familiar with, which can be used to sell pretty much anything.
  • E-junkie. Here’s an eCommerce platform specifically designed to make it easy to sell digital downloads.
  • Gumroad. A platform that sells itself as the simplest way for creators of all kinds to sell online, Gumroad is very versatile.

4. Specialized platforms

Some types of digital products have websites dedicated specifically to their sale and purchasing.

These are highly specialized platforms, where sellers and customers are visiting specifically for one kind of digital files.

  • Blurb and Aerio. These platforms cater specifically to eBook authors and readers, each with a community of creators and consumers.
  • Talentlms and LearnPress. These are great websites for hosting your online courses, allowing you to arrange and deliver lessons online.
  • ThemeForest and TemplateMonster. A couple of great platforms, they are designed to help with the selling and buying of website themes.

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If you’re ready to start selling your own digital products online, consider building your own website and online store with Zyro.

It’s the quickest and easiest way to sell on your own website, and gives you access to powerful marking tools and third-party eCommerce platforms.

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