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by Michael P. Hill May 16, 2017

Once you’ve completed writing and designing your centerpiece content on the topic of your choice, it’s time to put it to work for you — helping you build your business by generating leads and building your email marketing list.

One of the best ways to do this is to provide a “gateway” to your guide and require users to provide an email address to access and download it.

Creating a signup form

The easiest way to do this is to create a signup landing page that offers a preview of the content, previews what it contains and encourages users to download it.

You can then embed an email signup form from your favorite email marketing platform that users must complete to get access to the file.

Email marketing landing page

Another option would be to link to the hosted email signup form provided by your email marketing system.

For example, MailChimp lets you create simple landing pages quickly and easily using these steps.

After completing this form, users will be added to a list or, depending on the system you’re using, are identified as having complete this specific form.

For example, in MailChimp, you can use a hidden form field in the signup box code to “tag” the user as having signed up via your guide request.

This allows you to have the subscriber be on both your “master” list but still track and send emails based on the customer requesting your guide. In MailChimp, the automation features let you filter recipients of an automation campaign based on the field values you embedded in your form.

If creating custom fields, filtering and segmenting is too complex for you, check with your email marketing service’s support team or, alternatively, simply create a standalone list that only includes people requesting your guide (note, however, that most email providers will count these subscribers separately for billing purposes, so you could end up needing a higher plan).

One final note: It's a good idea to make a note somewhere on your landing page that lets customers know that, by signing up to download your guide, they will subscribed to your mail list as well as any other privacy notes.

This can be key in preventing your emails from being marked as spam as well as reassuring them that you won't share their email address and that they can unsubscribe at any time.

Sending the email

Content marketing email

Next, create an email marketing campaign with automation that is triggered immediately after an eligible subscriber is added to your list. Within the email, create a large and obvious call to action button that links to the file URL from your file manager.

You can then trigger your email marketing system to automatically send an email to those who sign up to the list and that provides a large, clear button that links directly to the file. Consider including some of the colors and/or graphics in the email that you developed for your guide and centerpiece content, so that the recipient recognizes the ‘branding’ in the email and recalls what it is that they signed up for.

Storing the file

The simplest way to store your PDF file is to use your Shopify account to host the file.

To do this, upload the PDF file to your file manager in Shopify and make note of the FULL URL to the file (it should look something like this: https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/1234/5678/files/file.pdf?12345678901234567890). Paste this URL as the destination address for the call to action button in your email.

One of the key advantages to distributing your guide via email is that it makes it more likely that potential customers will use a real, functional email address instead of entering something like test@test.test just to get access to your guide.

You also will obviously now have the requester’s email address and know that they have expressed interest and engagement in your site, which can then fuel additional email marketing efforts:

  • While you certainly can send these subscribers all of your general marketing campaigns, such as sales announcements and the like, also consider if that might be overkill for a customer at that stage in the buying cycle. Some customers might find it off-putting to start receiving sales pitches right away.
  • Instead, you could consider setting up an automated campaign that, over the next few days or weeks, follows up with the user. Each email could spotlight a specific part of your guide, make product suggestions or even just encourage them to contact you with any questions.
  • Remember, too, that most email marketing providers let you build more complex automation based on if the user clicks a link in your email, so you can create separate automation flows that remind users to download the guide and, once they have, push content and information that’s targeted at an even more engaged potential customer.

One caveat

It is important to note that your PDF file will technically be accessible to anyone who has the link — there’s no way to verify they have signed up for the guide or otherwise protect it. It also could appear in search results.

While this may sound like a big issue, there’s a hidden advantage to it — users can easily share the guide with friends. Even though you won’t get the friends’ email addresses directly, if you’ve created good quality content that’s subtly marked with your store name, you could still benefit from the share.

Protecting pages

If you’re opting to use pages on your website instead of a PDF to house your content, you’ll want to decide whether this content should be accessible only to users with accounts or simply make them purposefully harder to locate:

  • While you can hide content from non-customers similar to how you create a members only store, keep in mind that this requires your customer to have an account on your site, which is distinct from simply signing up for your email list (and requires more effort on the customer’s part)
  • There are also numerous other advanced ways to protect your content, but in general the easiest thing to do is simply have them available as publicly accessible pages on your site but simply not link to them in any navigation menus.
  • You can then link directly to your guide from the email marketing campaign or, if you use an advanced form app that supports custom confirmation messages or redirection after submission, link directly to the main page.
  • Keep in mind that your content pages will still technically be accessible to anyone who has the link and, since Shopify automatically generates sitemap.xml files that major search engines use, it’s possible these pages would become accessible without registering.
  • One workaround to this is to use some custom code to instruct search engines to not index the pages in question. While this will prevent them from appearing in search results, it will not prevent users who already know the URL rom sharing it with friends via social media, for example.

However, it’s important to consider whether blocking your guides from search engines or non-members is really worth it.

Not only does this add some code issues, in many cases, having these pages indexed and shown in search results will bring in additional traffic.

While visitors finding your content are not forced to sign up for your email list, in most cases getting that traffic may bring in someone who might be learning about your company for the first time — so why would you turn down those eyeballs?

Another good compromise for this approach is to include an email signup form on each content page. Users who are already registered will simply be ignored by most email providers, while it’s still a good way to try to “catch” the visitors that search engines bring in.

It’s worth noting that, in most cases, protecting your page-based centerpiece will likely be more work than it’s worth — especially given the potential SEO and sharing opportunities.

In addition, given the significant additional issues of using pages for your centerpiece content over a PDF download, as discussed in the previous installment of this series, the file download format is often a preferred method.

In the next in this series of posts, we’ll explore how your main content piece can fuel your blogging, SEO and social media efforts over time.

Read the whole series

Be sure to explore this entire series:

Michael P. Hill
Michael P. Hill

Michael P. Hill is a Shopify, Shopify theme, content marketing, digital marketing and product management expert based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelphill or connect on LinkedIn.

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