A digital download in simple words can be defined as copying data from an external source to a computer. Digital data could be anything ranging from eBooks to videos, music, WordPress plugins/themes, clipart and software. The term digital distribution refers to distributing audio/video media and software via the internet instead of physical stores. Digital downloads have become immensely popular over time as they remove physical barriers and provide everyone with easy access to digital products. This allows common users as well as businesses to share documents that anyone can conveniently download and store on their own computers and mobile devices.

Why Digital Downloads?

Not only digital downloads are a great way of sharing files with everyone, they also provide revenue-generating opportunities for people/companies that have digital assets to sell. There is no shortage of platforms that are dedicated to providing premium/paid content, while many others offer downloads for free by relying on revenue generated by advertisement. Many companies have shifted their focus on offering digital downloads such as Stream and Origin that allow purchasing games online. This helps people save time and money by avoiding costs related to visiting stores and buying ‘material’ copies.

Digital downloads are one of the smartest and probably the most rewarding methods of making money online. If you have a valuable digital product to offer, digital downloads can be the game changer. Unlike physical stores, there are no shipping and inventory costs involved, meaning higher profit margins and more efficient management of operations (mostly automatic).

Why WordPress and Easy Digital Downloads?

WordPress is one of the most popular Content Management Systems that offers great flexibility and extensibility. The robust platform makes adding digital downloads very simple, but you’ll need more power if you plan to sell and manage a lot of digital assets. That’s when WordPress plugins can prove to be very useful as they help transform vanilla WordPress installation into a full-featured online shop. You’ll come across many WordPress eCommerce plugins, but WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads are arguably the most popular options.

All-in-one Solution Available for Free

Although WooCommerce powers around 40% online stores, it’s not the perfect solution for all types of businesses as it mainly focuses on physical products. Easy Digital Downloads makes more sense as not only it’s available as a free plugin, it’s primarily focused on digital downloads. The plugin specializes in making it easier to sell digital products and offers a complete solution. Compared to WooCommerce that may require some tweaking before becoming fast and optimized, EDD works great right out-of-the-box. Pages created with EDD load faster, which is perfect for people who just have a couple of digital downloads to serve.

EDD

Ease-of-use is another factor that makes EDD a better choice as even beginners can quickly get started. There is also no shortage of payment integrations and extensions that allow users to process payments and recurring transactions, do affiliate marketing and track sales using EDD. The team behind the massively popular plugin strives to comply with WordPress coding standards, which ensures easier and simple codebase changes. A 5/5 star user rating clearly demonstrates how much over 60,000 users love the plugin and trust it to sell their digital products. Easy Digital Downloads has become so popular because:

  • It’s free and open-source
  • Easy to use
  • Supports a ton of integrations and extensions
  • Designed specifically for digital downloads
  • Offers faster page loading
  • Complies with WordPress coding standards
  • Is optimized right out-of-the-box
  • Simple initial setup
  • Built-in sales analysis and tracking
  • Comes with well-documented hooks
  • Translated into two dozen+ languages
  • Easy Digital Downloads Key Features

Easy to Use, Highly Compatible

EDD lives up to its name and makes it very easy for users to start selling digital products, whether in small or huge numbers. The plugin is designed to work well with all themes, but it works even better with themes designed keeping the plugin in mind. Being an open-source solution, the plugin is also well-supported and documented. This means in case you run into any issue, you’ll be able to easily find a solution and get online support. Experienced users can even create their own extensions or hire a professional to create one for addressing specific needs, which is not something you can easily do with other plugins.

Payment Gateways and Better Customer Experience

One major benefit of using EDD is that it supports a ton of payment gateways and additional features through external plugins (core plugin only supports PayPal and Amazon payments). Although not all additional plugins are available for free, the core plugin offers enough power and features to turn WP into a fully-featured digital store.

From a customer’s perspective, the plugin allows them to easily purchase and download multiple files bundled together. The customer access area helps them keep track of purchases and easily re-download a file they deleted or lost. Customers get access to a hassle-free interface, while the backend takes care of all the complicated work and make it easier for site-owners to setup, manage and grow their online stores. Here are some of the key features that help EDD stand out from the crowd:

  • Supports 15+ payment gateways through plugins
  • Powerful official extensions
  • Works well with a ton of 3rd-party extensions
  • Single/multiple variable price points
  • Multiple file selection
  • Responsive product grids
  • Discount and promotional codes
  • Shortcodes support
  • Built-in customer access area
  • Complete sales history and graphs
  • Projected sales reports
  • Best-seller tracking and monitoring
  • Works with almost any WP theme
  • Customer management system
  • Complete RESTful API
  • File access control
  • Refund tracking
  • External file storage
  • Actively developed and regularly updated
  • Developer-friendly

Installation and Configuration

Installing Easy Digital Downloads is easy as the plugin can be downloaded and installed from the WordPress plugin repository or directly installed from within the admin dashboard. All you need to do is to go to the Plugins section, click Add New Page and search for the plugin.

Install EDD

You may see various options using the same search query, but we are interested in the plugin by Easy Digital Downloads with Pippin Williamson listed in the contributors section. It’s not possible to cover here every plugin and extension the plugin supports, but even the core plugin offers a lot to turn WP into a capable platform for selling digital products.

Once the installation and activation is complete, the plugin should take you to the ‘getting started’ page. If that does not happen, you can use the following link to load the page:

http://yourstore.com/wp-admin/index.php?page=edd-getting-started

The page provides details about key features of the plugin and how to use them, but you can go directly to the Add New Download page and start creating downloads. Another way to reach the same page is through the WP admin sidebar menu where you can click Downloads -> Add New. Although the installation and activation part is fairly easy and the plugin works great right out-of-the-box, you might want to check some configuration options before adding downloads.

Easy Digital Downloads Basic Configuration

EDD creates pages for purchase, checkout, confirmation etc. automatically, which works well for most sites and normally does not require any user intervention. However, it’s always a good idea to check out the configuration options as that’s where you can change settings like country, zip code, state etc. Click “Downloads” -> Settings to access these options. Here you can also find tabs for configuring payment gateways, emails, styles, taxes and other settings.

Main Settings

Setting Up Payment Gateways

The ‘Payment Gateways’ tab allows configuring the payment settings and the default options are PayPal and Amazon payments. You also have a checkbox for ‘Test Payments’ that allows putting the store into test mode, which means you can purchase items without involving real money.

If PayPal and Amazon don’t work for you and you want more payment gateways, you can install other payment gateway plugins that include:

  • Stripe
  • Authorize.net
  • PayPal Pro
  • PayPal Express
  • PayPal Adaptive Payments
  • Braintree
  • PayPal Payments Advanced
  • 2Checkout
  • Coinbase
  • Payza
  • Recurly
  • SOFORT Banking
  • PagSeguro
  • BitPay
  • NETbilling
  • Skrill
  • MercadoPago

By default, the plugin uses PayPal Standard, which means customers are directed to PayPal for payment processing and then redirected back. You can consider PayPal Pro or another provider if you don’t want customers to leave the store during payment processing. But most site owners have nothing to worry about as even PayPal Standard provides branding options and allows customizing the customer experience.

The plugin takes you to the PayPal settings page after you click the sub-header PayPal Standard. Here you can enter the PayPal email and select PayPal page style, which allows you to customize customer experience during payment processing.

Payment Gateways

Emails, Taxes and Misc. Settings

Most users should be fine with the default Styles, Taxes and Misc. settings, but it’s better to have a look at these options too and change things a bit to make the customer experience even better. You need to at least upload your brand, store or product logo for branding purposes. Emails and purchase receipts are generated automatically to customers and admins, but the Email settings tab allows you to choose the email template. If you are selling a product such as software licenses, you can use another plugin like EDD Software Licensing to insert unique license numbers in the emails.

Misc Settings

The Misc. settings tab provides options for settings like immediate checkout after adding a product to the cart, forced secure checkout page redirects (SSL certificate required), mandatory login, multiple discounts, download restrictions and more. Most of the options work great right out-of-the-box, but it does not hurt to check them out to ensure everything works as intended.

Adding Downloads

Just like the initial setup and configuration, adding downloads it also easy and you can get started by clicking ‘Add New’ under the Downloads section. Give the file a name, add a description and choose an appropriate category. Name a price and upload the file (you can also use variable pricing). However, this does not secure your files from being downloaded directly as someone having the link can just download them for free (only on NGINX as a rule is automatically applied on Apache to the .htaccess file). Just add the following code to NGINX config, but don’t forget to change the file extension according to the type of files you are uploading.

rewrite ^/wp-content/uploads/edd/(.*).mp3$ / permanent;

Each download gets its own page by default with a purchase button, but many would want to have a single page with multiple options. In this scenario, you can consider using a plugin such as Easy Pricing Tables for a better shopping experience.

Discount Codes, Reporting and Payment History

Creating discount codes is quite straightforward and is a must for better customer engagement. The Discount Codes option under Downloads allows creating virtually unlimited discount codes and coupons with their own expiry dates and usage restrictions. Once a customer makes a payment via PayPal, the information also gets updated automatically in EDD and same is true in case of refunds. The reporting data provides a wealth of information about how your store is performing and where to focus your energies.

Extensions and Affiliate Programs

You can supercharge the already-capable plugin through powerful extensions if you need more functionality. Extensions such as Software Licensing, Zapier, Reviews, MailChimp, Amazon S3 and Drop Box help you accomplish more and are definitely worth a look. You can also take advantage of the free extensions and move to paid solutions as your store grows.

Created by the same team that’s behind EDD, AffiliateWP is another great extension that seamlessly integrates with the core plugin and allows easily launching an affiliate program. Such programs encourage customers to promote and sell your product for a commission, future discounts etc. The extension also does all the hard work it takes to calculate monthly commissions and discount codes.

Conclusion

Selecting the right eCommerce plugin to use with WordPress is critical to success of any online store. Easy Digital Downloads turns out to be the definitive plugin to sell digital downloads, primarily because it’s free and stacks up well against other major platforms such as WooCommerce. It specializes in selling digital downloads and even works for physical products. You may be tempted to use easier options and other shopping platforms such as Etsy, but having your own online store is better in the long run. You get complete control over everything and can generate more revenue.

EDD offers great performance, excellent support, powerful extensions and support for hundreds of 3rd-party plugins. It’s also very easy to use and is backed by an active team of developers. Whether you have a single digital product to offer or are selling multiple downloads, EDD has got you all covered!

About The Author

Oliver Dale is the founder of Kooc Media, an online company which has been working with WordPress since 2009. He has written hundreds of posts about WordPress in that time and founded two theme companies which provide free and paid themes to millions of users.

Google + / Twitter / Pinterest / Facebook

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, We will receive an affiliate commission