How to set up easy digital downloads in WordPress websites

It is easy to provide your blog or website visitors with downloadable files, but to go beyond the basics and count downloads, password protect them and more, there are some great plugins.

You might want to provide resources for people doing projects or courses covered on your site, like images, templates, Word files, PDF documents and so on. Maybe even audio or video files. You could provide zip files containing resources, ebooks you have written or even long blog posts you have converted into small ebooks.

There are many things you could provide on your website and it is actually quite easy to provide them in a blog post or special Downloads page. All you need to do is to upload files to the WordPress media library. Drag them from the computer’s disk in Finder or Explorer and drop them on the media library to upload them.

When writing a post or page, click the plus to add a Gutenberg editor block, enter ‘file’ into the search box and click the File block. You can then select any file in the media library. A link is created to the file so visitors to your site can download it.

Why use a downloads plugin?

  • Count the number of downloads
  • Password protect a download
  • Download any type of file
  • Track who downloads files
  • Sell digital downloads
  • Limit downloads to logged in users
  • Block bots from downloading files
  • Provide downloads of any size

None of these is possible with standard WordPress. You can password protect a page, but that is not ideal and you might want to show the page and the download to everyone, but only allow people with the password to actually download the file. The password could be sent to email subscribers for example.

WordPress limits the types of files that can be uploaded to the media library. Nearly all the common types are supported like png, jpg, gif, Microsoft Office files, PDF documents, mp3 and m4a audio files, mpg and mp4 videos and so on.

There is support for over 20 file types, but there are some types of file that you might want to provide that are not on the list. If you provide ebooks for example, you cannot provide epub format downloads because you cannot upload it.

There is no tracking of downloads, no options to sell downloads and so on. However, there are several plugins that add some or all of these features and ones you never thought of.

Simple Download Monitor plugin

To find digital downloads plugins for WordPress, go to Plugins > Add New and enter ‘download’ into the search box. Several are listed and I chose Simple Download Monitor. It has a good range of features, so click Install Now and then Activate.

Simple Download Monitor WordPress plugin

The plugin adds a new Downloads menu to the sidebar in WordPress. Click it or mouse over it and select Downloads.

Simple Download Monitor plugin for WordPress

Your first task is to add some downloads to the media library. Drag and drop files into it just as you do with images. Add your Word docs, PDFs, and other files. After adding files for people to download, click Downloads > Add New.

Creating a download with Simple Download Monitor plugin for WordPress

What you get is an old-style WordPress post editor. When you add a download, you create a page for it – add a title, headings, text, images, links and so on. All the old post editing features are there.

Simple Download Monitor plugin for WordPress

Down below the post are many options and one of these requires you to specify the download. Click Select File and choose any file you uploaded to the media library. Here I added Newsletter.docx, a Microsoft Word file. (See Upload PDFs and other files to WordPress for download.)

WordPress only allows certain file types in the media library, so there is an option to enter the URL of a file instead. You could use FTP to access your web hosting space, create a folder, and then upload files to it. FTP works with any type of file.

You can also share a file on Google Drive, OneDrive or Dropbox, copy the link to the share and paste it into the URL box for the download. This allows for any type of file and any size.

More download options

Simple Download Monitor plugin for WordPress

There are many options and in the plugin’s settings is one to restrict downloads to people that are logged in. This is useful if you have a membership site or allow people to create accounts, such as Subscriber or Contributor.

This is not the best plugin for selling digital downloads, but you could restrict downloads to logged-in people and then charge for membership with a membership plugin or some other means.

A thumbnail image can be provided and this could be a small image of a photo, a PDF document icon, an ebook front cover, and so on. It is optional.

Password protect downloads

Simple Downloads Monitor plugin for WordPress

If you want to password protect a download, click the Visibility link on the right of the post editor, select Password protection and enter the password to use.

So what does a download actually look like?

Simple Download Monitor plugin for WordPress

This is the most basic download post, created in just a couple of minutes. If it were a real download page, I would make it much more visually attractive with text and images. The page can be accessed by anyone, but the download is protected with a password. You enter it and click the button to get it.

Posts vs pages

Simple Download Monitor creates a page for every download. One download per page. However, you don’t have to do this and one or multiple downloads can be added to posts using shortcodes.

Simple Download Monitor for WordPress

When creating or editing a download, right down at the bottom are these two shortcodes, one for showing the download button and another for showing a download counter.

WordPress shortcodes

Insert a Shortcode block when editing a post in the WordPress editor and then paste in the shortcode for the download. Try it with fancy=”0″ and fancy=”1″ for different styles of download button.

You can have any number of shortcodes on a page, so you could have a Downloads post or page with multiple downloads.

This isn’t all Simple Download Monitor can do and there are many more features and also add-ons that add extra features. It does quite a lot for a free plugin though.

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