How To Successfully Sell Digital Downloads on Etsy
In this article, you'll learn how you can make a nice side-income successfully selling digital products on Etsy, what digital products are, and how to get started with your very own.
The benefits of selling Digital vs physical products on Etsy
Digital downloads can be a great form of passive income. Even though digital downloads aren't sold at the highest prices, you can create a full time income when you have hundreds of digital download listings all selling slowly and steadily. Read this article here to see how I made $45,000 in only my second year selling my digital products on Etsy. The concept is simple and easy to grasp, and everyone can find time in their schedules to create this kind of steady and passive income. Selling digital products requires an initial amount of time to create the item, but then you can sell it repeatedly as many times as it sells. When done properly, it will give you a great return on the time you decide to put into it.
Physical items are great to sell on Etsy as well, but you have to take into consideration that physical products take money to make and ship. With digital, you have few (if any) overhead costs and get to keep the majority of the money made from your sales (minus listing fees and commission fees).
This article includes the information you need to successfully sell your digital downloads on Etsy or other similar platforms. I hope my experience can help another designer dive into this amazingly fun and rewarding pastime!
1. Decide on a digital product to sell
What exactly is a digital download or product?
Digital products come in a vast array of sizes and shapes. For instance, here's a list of probable digital items you'll come across somewhere or other.
- Printable artwork for your home
- Printable party decor or invitations
- Invitation and stationery templates
- Resume and personal branding templates
- Web design packages
- Photography overlays
- Digital artwork/clipart
- Mockups that other digital artists purchase and use to make their own digital mockups
- Educational courses
There are so many routes one can take when deciding on a digital product to design and sell. Get creative with yours! This list is a sneak peak to my next blog post (coming out next Monday the 17th) that will include 100+ ideas on digital product ideas you can make and sell! So stay tuned for that.
How to decide on a product to sell
Given the list above that mentions just a few of the possible digital download routes, choose one that you are fairly knowledgeable in and have the skill set to dive into and potentially guide others in as well.
Are you a serious photographer? Consider creating mockups that non-photographers can buy to promote their own products.
Are you great at designing resumes and personal branding items? Consider selling resume templates and other items such as matching business cards, social media packages, or work related stationery templates.
Do you have an eye for colors and patterns with satisfactory artistic/technical skills? Maybe you could create digital artwork that others can purchase and use in their own capacity.
Whatever you decide on, it needs to be something you're passionate about and have an eye for already. Create a list of those things and narrow down your field, even combining one or two items for a very specific niche and product line.
Shops with a specific niche and product line are the most successful ones. I'm going to imply that repeatedly throughout this post in hopes that you take that away if not anything else.
How to set your product apart from others
While you're oohing and aahing over all the Etsy shops that successfully sell a specific kind of digital product, remember that while it's great to gather in inspiration for products and listings of your own, you can't necessarily be successful at one thing just because another shop is hitting it out of the park in that arena. Take a second to analyze just what it is about that shop that is wowing you so hard. It's most likely a combination of these things in some way:
- Creative digital items
- Ample listings and products to choose from
- Niche specific items
- Aesthetically pleasing and balanced shop front
- Open and friendly shop front with engaged audiences
- Branded social media and personal website
For example: There are hundreds of Etsy shops that create boho wedding invitations and stationery. And some of those shops are KILLING IT with their revenue and sales. You go to these shops and they have it all. You might even be inspired to create boho wedding invitations and stationery of your own, but hold the phone. How can you outsell and outshine a shop that has been successfully selling and marketing their specific products for much longer than you? Are you going to march in there with 3 amazing listings of your own and steal away their entire clientele? Probably not, but you've got spirit, Napoleon. That's when you've got to harness that energy, find a niche of your own, and market yourself to that specific niche.
This is what I mean.
When I started my digital download journey 2+ years ago, I didn't really have a solid direction of where I was going with it. The designs I was making were blown around in the wind and changed with whatever whim (or other amazing wedding invitation suite I saw) that came to my fancy. I didn't have much success at all until I narrowed down my niche.
Here's my niche NOW - and it's doing pretty well.
Now, I specifically create and sell wedding save the dates, invitations, and event signage to clients who want aesthetically dark and moody weddings/events. Meaning, the colors and designs I use are full of dark, bold colors and floral elements that capture the tragic beauty that some clients want to put forth at their events. I use a lot of deep, sultry florals and penetrating watercolor elements paired with modern fonts and colors to create a completely modern, yet traditional, yet dark look. Because of the nature of my aesthetic, the brides I typically attract have their weddings in the fall and winter, and specifically around halloween.
I noticed the clientele I was attracting and then marketed myself to that group. I've been successful with this niche, but that doesn't mean I would be successful creating boho wedding invitations and breaking into that arena with all eyes on me. In fact I would see a serious lack of engagement and sales because I just don't have the client base for it.
Create what you see a need for and sell it.
I'm not trying to discourage anyone from starting a boho wedding invitation shop, far from it. My only point is that it will pay to create a new niche and get into something that hasn't been done as much.
Set your product apart by not creating the same product that a thousand other sellers have created and are already selling successfully.
2. Set up your digital listing on Etsy
How to set up a Digital listing on Etsy
This article is specifically geared toward Etsy shops, so if you're selling somewhere like Zazzle or Shopify, the logistics may look very different.
Understanding that you have your digital download ready to sell, here is how to set the listing up to sell it.
Etsy listings can be two types of listing - physical and digital. The physical listing sells actual items that get delivered in the mail (crafts, jewelry, paintings, etc...) while digital listings sell digital downloads. You can create a digital listing by following these simple steps:
Go to your Etsy shop manager (when you set up an Etsy shop, this will be your home page).
On the lefthand sidebar, choose "Listings" from the menu.
Click "+ Add a Listing" in the top right-hand corner.
Scroll down to the description box and look directly above it. You'll see a category on the left called "Type". Make sure you check the "Digital" box and not the "Physical" box.
You have now created a digital listing ready to be filled in and sold!
Etsy recommends that you have at least 10 listings ready to sell before you launch your shop. This is because buyers will have a greater chance of seeing your products if you have a lot of them. Notice how shops with 1,000+ listings sell crazy amounts of listings while shops with only 10 to 20 listings sell relatively slowly and rarely. It's a simple matter to understand. The more you have the more you sell, but make sure that what you have up for sale are items that are relative to what customers want and attractive to buyers.
Etsy also requires that your listings are not exact copies of each other. You can actually have a shop shut down for this. You can have 20 listings selling resume templates as long as each of the listings is a different design or style of resume. You can't just create one resume template and make 20 identical listings for it. It's against Etsy policy as well as just plain boring.
How your digital products get delivered to your customers
A popular question burning in many peoples' minds is: "How do customers get their digital files after purchasing? Do I have to...(scary music commences here)...deliver the downloadable file to them myself?!?!?!" *long drawn out horror movie scream*
Good golly gracious, no! Heaven forbid. This is the 21st century. Etsy wouldn't do that to you. Don't work me up like that. But seriously, I had that question, too, when I first started. The attraction of the digital download is that once you put it up, Etsy puts it out.
When you download your digital product to your listing (using the instruction I am giving shortly) the download is immediately available to the buyer as soon as payment clears, and the buyer can access their file through their "purchases and reviews" page.
In fact, as soon as a buyer purchases a digital item from your shop, they will get sent to a page with their receipt and a large button labeled "Download Digital Files". Easy as pie. Etsy then transfers the product to the buyer's computer via download, just like anything else would be.
What to include in your title, description and tags
When choosing a title for your listing, it's imperative that you describe as accurately and acutely as possible the nature of your product - and when doing so that you use highly searched-for terms. So do your research on what terms people are looking up/typing in to get to products just like yours. Test it out in the Etsy search engine and see what top choices come up first. Do not use phrases that will take a potential buyer to the twilight zone. Use terms that will take them directly to the checkout aisle (ie: the much beloved "add to cart" button). Cha-Ching!
This is what a good searched-for and relative term looks like:
Excellent example: "Funny Dungeons and Dragons T-Shirt for Men"
Bad example: "weird man nerd shirt"
One will take you precisely to where you're wanting to go, the other will give you strange and unusual results you may not be able to unsee right away.
Your description (especially the beginning of it) is just as important as your title because it reiterates what your product is and lets the algorithm know whether or not to show your listing to a searching customer. That's a fancy thing to say when you want to sound like you know what you're talking about, "...it lets the algorithm know, daaaarling. Oh you know...the algorithm..."
Use the beginning of your description and describe what your product is ONCE AGAIN using the SAME LONG-TAIL TERMS you used in your title. So if you used "Funny Dungeons and Dragons T-Shirt for Men" in your title, start off your description with something like this:
"This funny dungeons and dragons t-shirt for men would make a perfect gift for the nerd in your life...".
Notice how we hit multiple bases there. We hit the main phrase/term ("Funny Dungeons and Dragons T-Shirt for Men) as well as "nerd" and "gift" all in the same sentence. This will get your listing into search results! Fit those search terms in there.
I know that example is for a physical product, not a digital one, but the idea is exactly the same.
It's also very important when selling digital downloads to reiterate early on in your description that people are purchasing a digital and not physical item. Great grandma Nora might purchase a digital download thinking it's a physical item, go out and check her mailbox right away and then message you angrily asking where the pretty floral "love grows here" art print is that she just purchased - not knowing it's a digital download that doesn't physically get sent to her. And while that's a humorous scenario, it happens. You'd be surprised at how many people buy something without fully understanding what it is and how to use it.
That's why it's important to restate in your description what your product is and how to use/get it once purchased.
Just like the description, your tags needs to mirror your title terminology as closely as possible. Tags can only be 20 characters or less, so you may need to break up your terms a little bit. Nonetheless, you can still use all the good keywords in your tags you need. You have 13 tags you can use, and you'd better use all of them if you know what's good for you.
It's extremely important to make sure your title, description, and tags all have the same highly searched-for terms and phrases. That's SEO (search engine optimization) in a nutshell. It gets way more complicated than that, but that's how an SEO professional described it to me in a pinch. It's worked for me, but you've really got to do your own research on successful keywords vs. non-successful ones.
By all means, educate yourself on SEO! There are soooooo many articles and professionals out there willing to sell courses (another digital product!) that explain further the amazing realm of SEO. You will literally reap the benefits of knowing what they have to tell you.
Upload your digital product to your listing
Once you have followed the steps above to create a digital listing and you've created your title, description, and tags; you then upload your product to the section entitled "Digital files" toward the bottom of the listing. The digital file types that Etsy supports are
I don't even know what all those are, but suffice it to say you have plenty of options. The files I use the most are .pdf, .jpg, .zip, and .png.
Etsy allows up to 5 files to be added per listing, and each of those files needs to be under 20MB in size. If you have 6 or more files you need to upload (or would just like to make it fast for the customer when downloading), then consider condensing your files into one or more .zip files and upload from there. Instead of using a .zip file, you can also include a single PDF that customers download and open that includes a link for them to click on that will take then to where they can download their purchase (like drop box for example).
A lot of the time, uploading your simple .pdf or .jpg products directly to one of the 5 available file spots is just as good as any other way. It depends on what you, as the shop owner, want to do.
And again, you only need to upload the files you're selling. Etsy takes care of the rest of it. You may have a customer reach out asking where their digital product is, and you just need to direct them to the "purchases and reviews" page. Most digital download purchases, when purchased by a reasonable human being who can read and actually does the slightest bit of sleuthing, go off without a hitch. So naturally, 5% of the population (not being sane or reasonable human beings who don't do the slightest bit of sleuthing at all and then complain that you're the problem) will get it wrong and come cry to you about what the heck did you just tried to pull on them (sore subject). But honestly, as long as you explain in the description what to do and what they're buying, you won't have to deal with customers like that very often at all. People like that pop up with anything you're selling, it's not just digital products.
3. Create display images for your product
You have two options when creating bombshell listing photos that will grab your buyers' attention! Photographed images and mockup images.
This method is just what it sounds like. You print or physically render your digital product into the finished item, set the stage for the photo, snap it, edit it, and upload it. Make sure to use amazing lighting and a good camera. It might even be worth it to you to hire a photographer to photograph your listings for you. Just make sure to supply them with the aesthetic and backgrounds you're going for so they know what you want the finished product to look like. I typically take all my own photos, but in the beginning it would have been useful to just hire someone as I had no clue what a good picture even looked like.
Mockup images are not as well known unless you've been in the digital download industry for a minute. These "mockups" are images you purchase and then add your own products to digitally. Example: Say I designed a menu template that I need a listing photo for. Instead of my printing out that menu and setting up my own layout to photograph, I simply buy a menu mockup (another popular digital product!), open it in a design software, add my menu image file to it directly, save, and upload to Etsy as the listing photo cover. It cuts out the photography aspect entirely. The image is completely made digitally and you don't need anything but a design platform and the .jpg or .png (or other format) file of your product to do it.
Personally, I use a combination of the Procreate app, my iPad, and Templett.com to create all my digital listing photos. With a little skill, you can make these images look like the real deal. It saves a lot of money for me on printing costs, and I throughly enjoy doing it this way. I also use real photography, but not quite as often as I don't love taking pictures.
I've found it incredibly sale-boosting to use some of my photo listing spaces as a way to describe to the customer what they're buying and how to download and use it once purchased. You can call me a five-year-old, but I absolutely prefer to scroll through the listing photos to learn about something than to dive into the description. Most people make up their mind on whether or not to buy something within the first 10-15 seconds of viewing anyway, so if you can sell and describe your product just in the photos, then you're doing really well.
If you have matching or similar items to the item the customer is currently viewing, then it's an amazing idea to have a listing photo describing that the item they're viewing is part of a larger set. Using a listing photo space is a great way to promote other items in your shop. While they can't click on that photo and be directed to those other items directly, it does guide and encourage them to visit your actual shop front and gets them perusing your shop inventory. I've made more sales this way than I'd care to count.
Here's an image explaining a successful image strategy to use in your Etsy listing photos. You can upload up to 10 photos, and don't be shy of using all 10 spaces. The more people know about the product, the more likely they'll buy.
When people love an item and find out it's part of a set, it does something to them and they want to see the rest of the set as well. Call it instinctual human behavior to want to know the whole of something. #GUILTY.
4. Promote your product
SEO (search engine optimization)
I've already touched on SEO in your titles, description, and tags. But there are other ways to make sure your products get out there and seen. SEO is the most important way to promote your products, that's why it's listed first here. So get to searching the most popular keywords and terms and use them in your own products. Search for products very similar to yours and see what keywords and terms are working for others.
A useful tool that Etsy provides is the ability to advertise your digital download listings directly on Etsy. It takes your listings and brings them to the top of the search results for the searcher to see first! And if a potential buyer likes the look of your listing and clicks on it, you get charged a small amount for that click. You can set your daily budget anywhere from $1 to $25. Those funds will be pulled from your account balance, and if you don't have enough racked up in your account balance to cover the cost of ads, it will be charged to the card you prefer. But most of the time, a smooth running business will have plenty of funds to cover the cost of advertising should they wish to do so. Be sure to balance your ad costs with revenue/income. It wouldn't do to set your budget at $25 a day when your daily revenue is on average $20. I would up the daily budget as you gain more and more listings.
Personally, I have nearly 800 listings so far and my daily budget is only $1. But that's just because I don't really feel the need to up it at all since my SEO is doing most of the work itself. Honestly, I don't even advertise all the time. Just sometimes.
I've had a lot of success with Etsy Ads, but you don't necessarily need to advertise on Etsy to have success. Good SEO, a large shop inventory, and time will do that for you. BUT if you're wanting the extra boost, it may very well be worth your money.
I would suggest viewing the Etsy forums and read about what is successful for other shop owners selling items similar to yours and see if it's worth it for them. In some cases it may be, in others it may not.
Promote your products on instagram! You can create a whole new instagram account solely for business use, and it's one of the most successful ways to advertise since you can reach so many people with various tags.
An additional way to promote your product through instagram is to let your buyer know they can use your instagram tag in their insta pics if uploading to the app. This is a great way to get your shop name out there and sell things to their friends and family.
I also highly recommend making a Pinterest account for your business and using it to promote your products. You'll need to make sure to convert your photos into the pin size people are used to seeing so they'll blend in really well on peoples' feeds.
I recommend buying a Pinterest quick-course that will put you on the fast track to getting thousands of views through Pinterest alone. The course I've purchased and had success with is called "Pin it Perfect" by the Taylor Stanford blog. It's very reasonably priced and even comes with a nifty printable workbook that I absolutely obsessed over! You can find that Pinterest course on her blog. I'm not being sponsored by that blog to promote the product or anything, I just genuinely want you to benefit by what benefitted me.
5. Answer any questions your buyers have
It 's always very important to have the best customer service you can have when it comes to any product, and especially digital downloads since some people might be a little unfamiliar with the type of product.
Be sure to respond to any inquiries promptly, with enthusiasm to assist, and even by promoting your other items should the opportunity present itself. Many people who feel welcomed and kindly treated by the shopowner's response will want to give that shop their business and tell others about it. It's all about making repeat buyers (it's all about a lot of things, but repeat buyers are where the real money is).
I hope you have enjoyed and benefitted from this article on how to sell your very own digital download products on Etsy, and I'd love to hear from you if you have any questions!
Selling on Etsy is something I could talk about for a while, and I'm eager to share my knowledge so you can have a success story of your very own.