How to Tie a Download to Your Opt-In Form

One of the questions we get a lot is about how to offer a bonus or download to people who sign up to an email list.

So what’s the best way to do this?

Not protecting your downloads: a common mistake

A lot of people still put the download on their thank-you page, so that after visitors fill out the web form, they can get the file directly on that page.

One justification I hear for this technique is that it makes things easier on the subscriber, by immediately giving them the file, rather than having them go check their inbox. And that’s true, it is the fastest way to get it in their hands.

But here’s the catch: if all I have to do is fill something in the form to get to the download, what’s stopping me from putting a fake address, like

Nothing at all. And while it may not seem like something that people do, the truth of the matter is that we see thousands of such bogus web form submissions every day.

Secure your download

So, you need to make sure that the people who are getting that download are actually subscribers. Here’s how you can tie a download to your opt-in form:

1. On your thank you page, instruct them to check their email and confirm their address (by clicking on the link that appears in the confirmation message).

2. You may want to refer to our pointers on helping subscribers verify.

3. Put the download on another page of your site, and redirect people there after confirming.

4. Include a link to that download page in your autoresponder message also, for subscribers who may have accidentally closed the download page after confirming.

Start giving content to those who deserve it

Now, not only are you providing that download/bonus to subscribers, you’re ensuring that you collect a valid email address for each of them.

And you’re giving them two chances to get the download. Say bye, bye, bye to freeloaders and hello to loyal subscribers!

Need help writing those free download emails? Sign up for the free “What to Write” Guide and get access to these email content templates and more!

what to write


  1. adib

    1/25/2007 11:04 am

    Thanks for the new feature and tip. It is much easier for visitors to download immediately after confirming rather than have to check back message sent to their e-mail.

    Some of my subscribers ask where is the download even it has been sent to their inbox.

  2. Graham

    1/25/2007 1:06 pm

    I’m using this strategy on my site. Once the subscriber clicks the email link to double confirm they get taken straight to the download page. I then also include the download page as a link in the first message in my autoresponder series. So the user gets two bites at the cherry.

  3. Brian Dolezal

    1/25/2007 2:35 pm

    We have dozens of different attachments that we send to our newsletter subscribers, based on which page they sign up to our newsletter from.

    We have an autoresponder email that is sent out to the subscriber’s email address immediately upon registration. The free attachment is included in that email. We’re currently getting 30+ new subscribers a day to our website, and have never had any questions from subscribers asking where their attachment is – so it seems to be working well. Also, this ensures the subscriber gives a valid email address if they want the freebie. The Thank-You page directs them to check their inbox for the welcome message and attachment.

  4. Gary

    1/25/2007 6:31 pm


    We use verified opt-in for visitors to be able to download a trial version of our software.

    We clearly state below the submission button that email verification will be required as well as having a link to our "Privacy Policy".

    After filling in the opt-in they get re-directed to page explaining the verification process. This page also shows them a sample of the verification email that is being sent to them as well as who the email will be from and the subject of the email they should look out for.

    Once they verify they then get re-directed to another page that thanks them for confirming their details and explains that an email with their download instructions has been sent to their email address. Again we give the subject of the email and who it is from so that they can recognise it easily.

    We also follow up with an auto-responder 5 days later, just to check in that they are getting on ok with their trial.
    We use this auto-responder as a second chance for them to download the free trail again by including the link for them again, incase they either didn’t receive the first email, or just hadn’t got round to downloading it.

    We were a little worried about using verified opt-in to begin with, thinking that people may not bother to take such steps, but, so far, well over 95% have verified. Most of those that are not verified we can see our bogus details that people have put in any way, ie.

  5. Bob Tyndall

    1/25/2007 8:00 pm

    I’ve used this method and it works very well. Infact as soon as a subscriber uses the confiration link the download starts. It’s actually set up that way in the verified opt-in set up. There is a space there to put the download. If you use the pdf or .exe URL it will automatically start. Of course I suppose you could send them to a further advertising apage and put the link there. I like to put my ads in the thank you page.

    Good ideas here.


  6. Scot McKay

    1/26/2007 10:57 am

    Interestingly enough, I find that my customer sat is higher when I offer the download immediately upon submitting the form. In my mind it all goes back to the concept of quality listbuilding vs. quantity. Those who want the information in my newsletter will be the ones who will enter a valid email.

    At the present, the percentage of unverifiable emails is actually quite low. That said, I am considering adding a mini-course to add value to the autoresponder messages. Improvement is always an excellent idea.


    Scot McKay

  7. Bob Tyndall

    1/26/2007 12:33 pm

    I suppose there is no hard and fast rule. I found that if I had the download link after the sign up I was getting about 60% unverified or bad emails. Always some one wanting something for nothing:)
    However, when I moved my download to after verification I have about 80% success.

    Maybe it depends on what you are offering.


  8. Dale Mercer

    1/26/2007 4:43 pm

    We have a couple of different sites. One being an online beauty magazine in which we put a dollar value of $87.00 per year. This adds value to what they are subscribing to. We also use free MP3 courses for download since they don’t really cost anything to produce and enable us to connect with the subscriber more than an email that they read.

    Thanks Aweber for the blog and everyones great ideas,

  9. Colin Joss

    1/27/2007 9:53 am

    It’s a great idea but is it acceptable to require people to give their email address after they’ve purchased your product? Do you need to make it clear before they buy that they’ll be required to provide their email address?

    How about CAN-SPAM? Once I have their email address, save for keeping them up to date on any news about the product – corrections, etc. can I market to them for other products, include them in my newsletter, etc?


  10. Gary

    1/27/2007 5:35 pm

    Hi Bob

    You put in your post:


  11. Bob Tyndall

    1/27/2007 6:16 pm

    Where it says confirmation success page(optional) You can put a URL there to any where you want.
    My pdf ebook starts to download automaticaly. They still receive the first message and the link could go in there also. In case of pop up blockers which can stop a download.


  12. Dave Franzwa

    1/29/2007 4:23 am

    Bob T –

    That tip comes under the "why didn’t I think of that" catagory for me too. Great tip!

    And I do agree, whatever you’re offering will assuredly have an affect on your verification rate.

    To all your successes,


  13. Justin Premick

    1/29/2007 10:08 am


    When selling an item and delivering it as a download, you may or may not want to employ this method. If you do employ it, I recommend explaining to the buyer what is going to happen ("in addition to this product, we’re giving you a free subscription to our newsletter!").

    I’d originally written this post thinking about free downloads, such as free reports/ebooks/whitepapers, but it has practical application for paid digital products as well. Thank you for reminding us.

    With respect to CAN-SPAM, I’m not an attorney. You should refer to your legal counsel regarding that.

  14. Hairstyles Watch

    2/13/2007 2:29 pm

    We simply put our promised article in the autoresponder itself, so that when someone signs up, the article is immediately sent to them.

  15. Tom Aulenbach

    6/13/2007 4:22 pm

    Now I have the opposite problem! When I asked the question, I had no idea what do do, much less how to do it. NOW, I have three or four. I don’t know which is worse. I guess I’m just going to have to do some testing. What do ya think? I appreciate the help. You guys are awesome.

  16. Alan Chatting

    7/28/2007 5:23 am

    I’m new to email marketing and learning every day.

    I’m starting to sell information products, eg reports, articles and ebooks, via an ebay shop and paypal. How can I use Aweber to deliver my goods automatically?

  17. Jeanette Szwec

    7/31/2007 8:40 am

    I am new to building a website. Everyone says "I have a link and the item starts downloading immediately."
    My question is HOW??
    I have a pdf file and a web page. What do I need to put on that webpage that would permit a download or start an automatic download?
    Thanks for any and all help.

  18. Mark

    11/13/2007 8:45 pm

    Hi, regarding the article, "How to Tie a Download to Your Opt-In Form", I want to be able to do this but I don’t know how to do that.

    I don’t know PHP or Javascript. But I know enough to create the files with some snippets of code and some instructions. I would also need to know where to place these files.

    Thank you!

  19. Justin Premick

    11/14/2007 9:46 am

    Hi Mark,

    You don’t need to know PHP or JavaScript to put a signup form on your site and offer a download by email.

    To do this, you would:

    * create a signup form using our web form tool
    * send subscribers to a page of your site with instructions on confirming their address
    * send them the download link automatically upon confirming

    As long as you can copy/paste the form HTML onto your page, and create a thank-you page with instructions for confirming, you can tie your downloads to your form.

  20. Mark

    11/14/2007 12:40 pm

    Justin, How would I do this if I have multiple files.

    my site has a external javascript file that creates a popup window that uses whateve plugin is on you computer to embed a player to play the mp3 sermon. Right now there is a link to right-click and download the mp3 for FREE.

    However, I want it to create a link that they click on that takes them to a form to fill out first, then a results page (as you were saying) that will instruct them to confirm their address by going to their email address they provided on the form and after confirming it the "appropriate" download link would be provided for the original mp3 file they clicked on. I would also create a separate page to download these files also that would run the same thing. See what I’m saying? I hope I’m being clear.

    My question would be since they could click on any number of files to download how does the form know which file they clicked on before sending them a confirmation email and a resulting download link??


  21. Mark

    11/14/2007 12:40 pm

    Justin, How would I do this if I have multiple files.

    my site has a external javascript file that creates a popup window that uses whateve plugin is on you computer to embed a player to play the mp3 sermon. Right now there is a link to right-click and download the mp3 for FREE.

    However, I want it to create a link that they click on that takes them to a form to fill out first, then a results page (as you were saying) that will instruct them to confirm their address by going to their email address they provided on the form and after confirming it the "appropriate" download link would be provided for the original mp3 file they clicked on. I would also create a separate page to download these files also that would run the same thing. See what I’m saying? I hope I’m being clear.

    My question would be since they could click on any number of files to download how does the form know which file they clicked on before sending them a confirmation email and a resulting download link??


  22. Mark

    11/14/2007 12:41 pm

    btw, the "send them the download link automatically upon confirming" link is not working.

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  24. Cenay Nailor

    4/24/2008 3:58 pm

    This might not be the place for this question but here goes…

    I would like to "attach" a PDF to the first autoresponder message I send for one of my lists, however, the size of the PDF exceeds 1 meg. Is there a way to increase the limit?

    To get around this now, I have setup the confirmation URL (optional) that sends them directly to the online version of the PDF, however, I would LIKE to use that page for a one time offer and send the PDF via email.

    Does anyone have any suggestions?

    Thanks to any who respond.

  25. Michelle

    8/20/2008 7:45 pm

    Not quite the answer to your question, but might be of use anyway.
    I also found my pdf files too large.
    So I open Acrobat (not the reader, though – the whole program) and then I go to file, batch processing and Fast Web View. Once you click that, the program does something pretty fast. Then, go check the size – there’s a 50-50 chance it dropped! I went from a 1.2 Mb file to a 70k file and was stunned – doesn’t seem to work all the time, however – sometimes it doesn’t change the size at all.
    Anyway, good luck with it

  26. Cenay

    8/21/2008 2:28 pm


    Thanks for the advise, I will give that a try. Never thought about trying to reduce the file size that way.

  27. Wasim

    1/19/2009 2:44 pm

    A friend of mine has another email address ONLY set up to confirm things like this. So he uses it sometimes purely for one thing : To get that download. So it’s like a dead email for anyone with a site anyway !

  28. Warren Hales

    2/11/2009 4:07 pm

    If you include a static link to the download in an email following the opt in, isn’t that download available to the general public? i.e. That link could be given to people who have not opted in to your list and they could download the content.

    Is there anyway to make the link unique to the person opting in?

  29. Justin Premick

    2/11/2009 4:32 pm


    It’s available to someone else if your subscriber shares the link you email them with that person, sure.

    Even if you made the link unique to each subscriber, they could share the link with others by forwarding it, instant messaging it, or sharing it in some other way. Someone really committed to sharing your download with others is probably going to be able to do so. (Just look at music piracy for an example.)

    While we’re on this topic…

    One question you have to ask is whether or not someone getting a copy of your download without subscribing represents something truly damaging to your business. Sure, it may not be optimal for someone to get your download without subscribing, but if that download helps sell that person (and anyone else they share it with) on your company, is it bad that more people get a copy of it?

    This doesn’t mean you have to link the file from other places on your site, of course – so for most people, the only way to get it will be by subscribing. The few who do happen to get a copy from one of your subscribers will be a minority, and may be people who would otherwise never have heard of you.

  30. Mark S. Meritt

    3/10/2009 1:30 pm

    After a bunch of thinking and tinkering, I finally came up with a method of giving away downloads that I’m happy with.

    I got an Amazon Web Services account and signed up for the S3 storage service. I use the S3Fox Firefox extension to easily upload to my S3 account any MP3 files I want to give away to subscribers — too big to attach via AWeber messages.

    Using another tool previously but now using S3 itself as a result of a recent S3Fox update, I create pre-signed URLs that have an expiration date that I can set. This way the files can only be accessed with the special URLs, and even if you have it, it will only work for a while — I set them to expire after two weeks.

    Because it can sometimes be tricky downloading something like an MP3 file directly from a link inside an email (depending on your email client, for example), I actually don’t email links to the MP3s. I also have in the S3 account, for each MP3 file, a tiny HTML file, which includes just bit of linked text. The text says something like "right-click and save your download" and the link is to the MP3 file. Much easier to save MP3 files like this from within a browser. It’s pre-signed, to-expire-in-two-weeks link to the HTML file that I put in my autoresponder, and they get that message immediately upon verifying the subscription.

    Once a week, I go into S3Fox, get updated pre-signed URLs for the MP3s and the related HTML files, update the HTML files with the new MP3 links, update the autoresponders with the new HTML file links, and that’s that. It may sound cumbersome, but the whole think takes just a few minutes, and it ensures:

    –Security, through the pre-signed URLs and also the fact that they expire — nobody can just give away the links, at least not indefinitely.

    –No bandwidth issues, no crashing my web host, because I’m not using my hosting account bandwidth for these download giveaways — S3 has effectively no limits here, because the infrastructure is strong and you pay for what you use.

    –S3 is dirt cheap. Can’t give actual figures off the top of my head, but even a fairly significant volume of giveaways might cost less than $1.00 total per month.

    Short of running one’s own server and having some sophisticated stuff going on, this proved to be a really easy way for a "nobody" to end up with a fairly decent system for, in the end, once I knew what to do, not a whole of work or money.

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  32. Will

    4/11/2009 7:17 am


    I’m all for using Amazon S3 for videos and downloads – it kicks ass. However your system for protecting the download links/files doesn’t sound ideal to me.

    Let’s say I sign up to your site for a free ebook or whatever, and I get distracted and come back later that day, check my email, and there is an email from you with a download link in it.

    However this day also happens to be the day that you changed all your download links to new ones. I now go to try and download the files however I keep getting an error message because you changed the download links earlier that day.

    I get annoyed with you because you haven’t delivered what you promised.

    See what i mean. There must be a much better/simpler ways of doing it than this

  33. Mark S. Meritt

    4/13/2009 8:22 am

    I certainly never meant to suggest that my solution was ideal in any sense, but in any case, your particular complaint here is entirely a non-issue. Here’s why.

    Amazon S3 links are not like regular links. They don’t represent a change of physical location, where a previous link now becomes invalid and only the new link works. S3 links work for however long, based on the expiration time that was set when the link was created. It’s possible to have thousands of valid URLs at any given time, many still remaining valid even as some expire.

    As I mentioned above, I set my expirations to about two weeks, and I only change them once a week. That means that, each time I update the links, the prior links are still good for about another week.

    It’s true that if you wait too long, the links will expire and you’ll get annoyed. But depending on when during my link update cycle you sign up, the links you get from me will be good for at least 1 week and possibly as long as 2 weeks. Further, in my first autoresponse, I tell you this — I tell you that the links are good for 1-2 weeks. So unless you blow things off for a really long time, much more than the "later that day" you mentioned in your example, then you’re going to be fine, because as long as you read the email within 1 week, you’ll see the message that says that a clock is ticking on your link, and you’ll known to take action.

    And if you do blow it off until the links expire, and it’s probably fairly rare that this will happen and therefore rare that anyone would need to do anything to make up for it, you can always contact me and ask for new links or just unsubscribe and resubscribe. Unsubscribe/resubscribe is fully automated and almost as simple as it could possibly be — the simplest might be a "resend my links" option but that kind of thing would only be possible inside a far more advanced CRM system which may be beyond the capabilities of most of AWeber’s small business customers.

    In other words, my less-than-ideal system should nevertheless work out just fine in the vast majority of cases.

  34. Luca

    5/14/2009 7:51 pm

    Is there a easy way (better if automatic) to generate random unique links? so that each one of my subcribers will have acces to content only through that adress and set a time limit for that link to work? Just to avoid finding links of your product published on same criminal sites…
    please help

  35. Will

    5/15/2009 8:22 am


    It sounds like a bit of a nuisance way of doing things. As mentioned previously in this post, if people want to share you content they will find a way to do it – even if you have unique links that only last for a while. Think about it. If I signed up to a list and found a good download and wanted to share it with my friends, I would do it right away – so time limits on the links are only going to stop links that are posted on forums and other websites – not people sharing content with their friends, etc.

    Also remember that most content you provide on your pages, even video, can be downloaded by the user if they really want to and they could share it themselves through their own websites. At least if they are sharing the content through your link then you are getting some recognition and branding as a result.

    This is very much like the issue of refunds. There are those people who worry and stress over refunds, and spend all day and night trying to cut their refund rate down as low as possible. Then there are those people who just accept that refunds are a part of doing business, and so they get on with things and just focus on providing great content and getting more and more visitors to their site.

    And which person do you think will be more successful?

    Stop worrying about little things like this. If people want to share your stuff they will find a way to get around most things you come up with to try and prevent it. Besides, if they are trying to share your content then you should be flattered. Just concentrate on the important things like providing great value and attracting new customers to your business on a daily basis – and you’ll be fine.

  36. Luca

    5/15/2009 12:03 pm

    You are right,
    thank you for the reply Will.

  37. Sharath

    5/16/2009 1:38 pm

    I have just leaped into Internet Marketing. The way I do is after a visitor signs up, there is the usual confirmation page which he/she has to click. I have setup a follow up message immediately after confirmation in which I have attached the FREE GIFT (a pdf). This way I have a genuine and unique subscription.

    The problem with sending a subscriber to a download page is that, if the subscriber is intelligent enough, he/she can bookmark that download page and go back often to that page and download your e-book multiple times. This way you are losing.

  38. Will

    5/18/2009 9:29 am


    I tend to disagree with you on the idea of sending the pdf as an attachment. Unfortunately because of the way email has been abused over the last few years, my tests have shown that people are less likely to open emails with attachments, and even if they do open the email, less of them are game to click on the download link.

    At least if you send them to a download page, they can be a bit more confident with downloading your report – it’s definitely the smarter way to do things, thus why all the top Internet Marketers do it this way. I’ve never seen anyone send the free gifts as an attachment and would never risk it myself.

    Besides, you mention that if you have a download page, then a subscriber can bookmark that page and come back many time sand download the ebook. Firstly, why would they want to come back and download the same ebook over and over when they already have it. Secondly, the important part out of all this is that your subscribers actually download and read the ebook – what’s the problem if they download it a few times? Thirdly, when you send it as an attachment, that person still ends up with the file and can send it and share it with anyone they want anyway.

    As I said in a previous post, stop worrying about trivial things like people downloading your ebook more than once and concentrate on the important stuff – that’s the only way you will ever make money.

  39. adamtaha

    6/3/2009 8:37 am

    Michelle , great tip mate. I don’t have much knowledge on acrobat reader but I tried what you said. You’re right. It reduced my file quiet a bit to be able to email.

    Thanks for the great tip.

    I’m going to also see, after finishing the campaign layout, email and also put a link so they download as well, although I’ve given clear instruction.

    But since, I read that someone emails it to as well as giving a link after they confirm, going to try it.

    Good a lot of value from this debate and article. Cheers.

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  41. Noela

    12/28/2009 8:16 pm

    My website is a WordPress blog, and I can’t work out how to actually HIDE a page so it doesnt appear in the tool bar. I have found that you can put a ‘Thank you’ page below another page, but it still shows up when you hover the mouse over the parent page.

    Can anyone advise how I can completely HIDE my Thank you page until AFTER they complete the opt in form.

    It can be done on an ‘ordinary’ website, can it be done on a WordPress site?

  42. Dave

    12/29/2009 5:08 pm

    Noela – Much depends upon the theme you are using. If you are using wordpress’ static front page feature, you should find a statement in your header or main page template that is the key to hiding that page.

    You’ll be looking for a php statement that contains the term wp_list_pages

    Backup the code on that page and replace the statement that’s in you theme with
    < .?php wp_list_pages('exclude=xxx,xxxx&title_li=&depth=1'); ?>

    (I’ve placed a period right after the beginning < just in case the code wouldn't show up here. You'll need to remove it before placing it in your code.) The xxx parts are the page numbers you want to exclude from showing up anywhere. Because themes are different, yours could also be different. There is a ton of info out there on this specific subject, but I'd be willing to bet that if you have access to a forum where you got your theme, that someone has already found the answer for your particular theme. You might try googling theme-name+exclude+page+in+navigation Good luck, and happy new year.

  43. Dave

    12/29/2009 5:26 pm

    Noela – I downloaded that theme and took a look at the header file. It does indeed look like the author built that feature into the theme. I would look in your dashboard under theme settings and see if there’s not an explanation of how to exclude pages from your navigation.

    Seek and ye shall find 😉

  44. Sharon Higbee

    3/19/2010 8:17 pm

    I am in the process of creating a membership site, offering a free pre-launch Pro membership plus their choice of a gift. I also use the customized video after they sign up, which show them visually what their confirmation email will look like.

    When the member has confirmed their opt-in from Aweber, they are directed to a thank you page that includes a drop-down list of gift choices. When they select their gift, I receive the notification and send them a password protected link to their download. Of course I provide them with the username and password. However, I limit the time they can download their gift to 48 hours.

    This is working very well for me. I have had a few people who signed up for the free pro membership, but did not follow through on the confirmation. No confirmation – no gift.

  45. Ry

    4/8/2010 9:13 pm


    There is a great plugin I use for this purpose.. is called "Exclude Pages" and can be found easy by searching with "exclude pages wordpress plugin" in google.


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  47. Blair

    7/7/2010 8:42 am


    The reason it DOES matter is because if you provide a static download page in your autoresponder, then the link will be on dozens of sites as a free download in no time.

    You are now hosting the download for the entire internet freely, and people have no reason to even visit your sales/squeeze page. Which is the reason you have the free gift in the first place. Right? Right.

    There has to be a solution out there that provides some kind of protection for your download links and pages.

  48. Darcy Dullum

    7/31/2010 3:41 pm

    I know that others have asked this question by I just didn’t get the answers. I would appreciate it if someone could answer my question–might have to dumb it down, since I am a newbie.

    I have an opt in form for an ebook that is a .pdf currently on my hard drive, with a thank you page that requests confirmation. How do I get the pdf to download when they confirm? Currently, I have a 2nd follow up that comes immediately after confirmation, this follow up has the .pdf attached but it is not down loadable. It comes about 35 to 40 minutes after they confirm – via email. Since this is not what they are expecting,I want them to be able to download it so they are not frustrated before they even get it.

    Thank you so much in advance for your help!

  49. Justin Premick

    8/2/2010 8:10 am


    The best way to do what you’re referring to is to redirect subscribers to a page of your website as they confirm (we call this your Confirmation Success Page), and add a download link for your PDF there.

    More on the Confirmation Success Page in our Knowledge Base:

  50. Zizo

    9/4/2010 5:31 pm

    Justin, How would I do this if I have multiple files?

    My site has a external javascript file that creates a popup window that uses whateve plugin is on you computer to embed a player to play the mp3 sermon. Right now there is a link to right-click and download the mp3 for FREE.

    However, I want it to create a link that they click on that takes them to a form to fill out first, then a results page (as you were saying) that will instruct them to confirm their address by going to their email address they provided on the form and after confirming it the “appropriate” download link would be provided for the original mp3 file they clicked on. I would also create a separate page to download these files also that would run the same thing. See what I?m saying? I hope I?m being clear.

    My question would be since they could click on any number of files to download how does the form know which file they clicked on before sending them a confirmation email and a resulting download link??