Zero Design Sense? Here’s Your Solution for Designer-Worthy PDFs…

Almost every marketing blog on the internet will tell you this. It's internet marketing 101.

In order to get visitors to hand over their email addresses, you need to offer them something of value in return.

That value usually comes in the form of a downloadable guide.

What every marketing blog on the internet doesn’t cover however, is this little dilemma:

With a lack of design sense, low to no budget and even less time, how do you even begin to go about creating beautiful, value packed PDFs that will leave your new subscribers mind blown and eager for more?

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The Recipe

Great Content + Good Design = A Value-Packed Downloadable PDF

Unfortunately these two ingredients often the biggest roadblocks to getting your lead generation machine up and running.

Trying to figure out the perfect content and achieving a design you’re proud of can leave you stuck for months.

We’re going to tackle both of these roadblocks, and focus on the all important JUST SHIP IT principle, so you can grow your email list for all those months instead.

The First Ingredient - Mustering up Great Content

First let's work on what you should put in the PDF.

By the time a new subscriber is seeing the PDF you’ve already gotten their email address, so it may be tempting to deliver something of minimal value.

Or, if you’re on the other side of the spectrum, you want to prove so badly the value of the list they’re just signed up for that you want to give away everything. Nothing but a 20 page book (that takes you 6 months to create) will do.

The sweet spot is in the middle ground.

Offer some distinct value, but don’t give so much you completely overwhelm your new subscriber to the point of TLDR (too long, didn't read).

Key Takeaway

Strike a balance: creating your opt in offer doesn’t have to be difficult. It should be a quick read, not a novel, but what information you do offer should be filled with value.

There are three options when looking for content to put in your PDF:

Existing Content

Using content from an existing blog post or page on your site may seem lazy, but I can assure you it’s not. It can be a great way to get a PDF out quickly, and to get more eyeballs on a crucial piece of content.

Make sure you re-purpose the content to fit a PDF style rather than a blog post. Focus on turning it into a take home guide.

Pro Tip

Make sure not to show the opt-in offer on the post or page the content came from. You can do this with the display settings in Thrive Leads.

New Content

Say you’ve managed to tear yourself away from the computer for once and found yourself at a party.

When you tell people about your business, what are the common questions that always follow?

What is an idea, topic or problem within your niche that people always want to know more about?

That, my friend, is your opt-in material.

Just think of what would get your new drinking buddy at the party nodding along with a pleasant mixture of ‘I never knew this’ and ‘holy sh*t, this is gold’.

A few short jabs of valuable information, surrounded by more detailed explanations and a few action steps or bullet point summaries is all you need.

Content Upgrades

If you’re not familiar with Content Upgrades, check out this post. In short, they are downloads offered on specific posts, expanding on the topic of the post or offering the information in a different form, such as a checklist.

Content Upgrades are great for capturing email addresses on some of your most popular posts. It's a targeted offer for those you know are already interested in the topic (because they're reading the blog post in the first place).

Since it's offered on a single blog post, this type of PDF would include content that adds to, or expands on the original post, rather than just repeating the content.

Content Upgrades can include anything, from summaries or checklists, to quick reference guides or tool lists. The headline swipe file available on this post is the perfect example of a complimenting PDF.

The content for these types of PDF’s should not take you very long at all. You’ve already got the base (the blog post), you just need to think of a valuable addition to the points raised in the post.

Ingredient #2 - Good Design for Bad Designers

I know, I know. We all wish we could be one of those people. The ones that just seem know how to make stuff look good. The ones with that mysterious, seemingly unattainable trait called ‘design sense’.

Back in the day there weren’t many options. You either hired one of these unique annoyingly talented subspecies to spruce up your content (waiting days to weeks to get it back, and paying through the eyeballs), or you settled with a PDF that looked like your three year old used Microsoft Paint to create.

Enter: Modern technology (Whoo!).

Through the power of templates, and some very clever companies, good design is available to everyone. You no longer need ‘the eye’.

Don’t believe me? Think you’re the exception to the 'anyone can be a designer now' rule?

Created in less than 1 minute with Canva

You just need to know how to edit the templates these programs offer.

Let take a look at three simple, free (or low cost) ways of putting your content together in a visually appealing, professional format.

Canva - The One Stop Shop for Good Design

Canva is a demigod of design resources, with tailored templates for everything from business cards, to Facebook event images, menus and magazines.

Most of the templates are free, unless you want to use their licenced pictures in your design (which average at a dollar a pop).

For a completely free option, you can swap their pictures with creative commons (free use) pictures from a websites like pixabay.

Good For:

  • Existing Content
  • New Content
  • Content Upgrades

Get Your Design On

Here's a quick tutorial on using Canva to create a PDF. We'll be turning this Thrive Themes blog post on Negative Feedback into a downloadable PDF.

Check out the finished Guide to Surviving Negative Feedback here!

Merge Existing Content Into a Value Bomb

Sometimes the content on your site is already in a format prime for a PDF. By combining separate bits of content into one guide, you can quickly and easily create a value packed downloadable for your visitor.

While his method is no where near as pretty as making the whole thing in Canva, it only takes about 10 minutes to create. So if you’re looking for a quick way to get your opt-in together without a lot of mess around, this method is for you.

Good For:

  • Existing Content
  • Content Upgrades

A perfect candidate for the merge technique is a recipe site. Putting your best vegan recipes together into one ‘complete vegan recipe collection’ download will give you the perfect Content Upgrade for your individual vegan recipe posts.

Another example is a business blog. If you have several posts on the different aspects of starting a business, you can collect those posts in order and create a complete guide.

Worried about your audience finding out you're using existing content?

Pat Flynn, the legend himself, also struggled with this problem.

Pat Flynn

In response to the question 'When are you launching an online course?'

“I don’t know. Probably not for a while because really all the same content I’d provide in a course is free online on SPI (Smart Passive Income). I don’t want to have my audience pay for something they could already have access to.”

Yet for some reason, people were still begging him to create one.

He didn’t realize the value his audience placed on having the content all together in an easily digestible format. When he did finally launch a course, his audience gratefully lapped it up, and it was a huge success

Get Your Merge On

To begin with you need to choose which posts you want to combine. Selecting all the posts under one post category or tag can be a quick way doing this.

For this example, we’re going to create an ‘Ultimate Guide to Testimonials’ using the existing Thrive Themes blog posts:

Step 1 - Convert Your Blog Posts Into PDF Format

PrintFriendly is a free tool allowing you to load and edit content from any URL, turning it into a printable format.

Enter the URL of the post you want to use and click print preview.

This will load the content in an editable window, where you can delete any sections that you don’t want to include in the PDF. You can also delete or change the size of the images used in the post.

The Post Editor tool on PrintFriendly

Once you’ve cleaned the post up, click the Print button. Avoid the PDF button for this technique, it adds page numbers to your download which will confuse the reader if you’re merging multiple PDF’s.

In the Print window, make sure you turn off headers to get rid of the 'PrintFriendly' text at the top of the page, then save as a PDF.

All links one the original blog post still be clickable when saving this way.

Step 2 - Create a Title Page, and a Table of Contents

You can use Canva for this. If you missed it, the tutorial video above will walk you through how.

Step 3 - Stick It All Together

Use a PDF merging program such as ilovepdf to save the PDFs together as one.

If you want to add page numbers, you can do that with ilovepdf's page numbering tool.

Check out the Ultimate Testimonial Guide we created using the PDF merge technique

Want Pretty and Convenient?

If you’re willing to throw down a few bucks, there are some pretty cool tools that are a mixture of Canva and the PDF merge method.

Unlike the PDF merge method, these tools allow you to change the formatting of the blog posts to integrate with a whole new design.

Screenshot from the Beacon demo video

Good For:

  • Existing Content
  • New Content
  • Content Upgrades

Get Your Customization On

Designrr is a web based app that changes blog posts into PDFs or 'ebooks' as they refer to them. You just need to paste the URLs you want into the program and choose one of the pre-made styles.

Beacon is a WordPress plugin that does much the same as Designrr. The difference is you can select the post you want to use from within your WordPress dashboard.

​Both allow you to create new content within the apps.

If you’re thinking of going down this route, I’d recommend watching the product tutorial videos on each homepage to decide which is right for you.

Pro Tip

If you want to use these programs on posts you've created with Thrive Architect, you just need to use this quick workaround:

Copy the HTML from the post using the edit HTML button (pictured) within Thrive Architect (under Page Setup > Settings).

Create a new post, and paste the HTML straight into the native WordPress text editor.

Publish the post, and import it into the PDF builder program. Once it's loaded onto the PDF Builder editor you can delete the duplicate post.

This will preserve all of the heading tags and images used in the post, making it customizable within the programs above.

No More Excuses

With all these tools available, it shouldn't take you more than a few hours to create your new downloadable PDF.

Jump on and try it.

Let us know how it went in the comments below!

Pro Tip

Downloadable PDFs can end up with some pretty monstrous file sizes. Since adding such big files to your site is a no-no, so make sure you use a tool like smallpdf to reduce the size of the PDF before uploading it anywhere.

Additional Resources

​So now you’ve got your shiny new PDF, the next step is convincing you visitors that it’s worth their email address.

To help you do that, here's something we prepared earlier...

How to Create Persuasive Opt-in Forms

Convince your visitors they NEED your new PDF. In this Thrive University course, you'll learn what words to use, which pain points to hit, and even how to design your opt-in form to maximize conversions.

Author: Stephanie Kelly

Stephanie is a slow traveler who loves anything that can be described as remote, country or outback. She dabbles in documentary making and seeks out unique experiences. With a passion for helping small business utilize the internet for growth, she enjoys demystifying the web for those who could benefit from it most.

57Comments

Kevin B Reply

Great article and lots of awesome tips. Thank you!
Just as a quick heads up, you mentioned Designrr. We have this tool and it is excellent however, it doesn’t play nicely with TCB built pages.
Despite that, you can copy and paste the content over and still get a great PDF.

Hi Stephanie,

Excellent, excellent training here. My clients will love it… I’ll share for sure :)

I use Designrr but always have issues with links. You can’t make them open in a new window so once a link is clicked, you will lose your readers unless they’re determined to find you again.

I’ve decided to just not put links on my pdf’s, but that of course kills the ability to send people to your offers and affiliate offers.

If you’re using the pdf with Thrive Leads like I do, then it’s a great way to build your list, and then you can put your offers in your emails of course, trusting that you’re getting a good open rate.

I don’t even add my pdf’s to my site b/c I’m not too good at that stuff, so I just add it to my media attachments in GetResponse, my autoresponder. If I ever left GR I’d have to rework everything, but I don’t plan to (never say never though, huh).

I’d love to hear your thoughts or maybe a follow-up article on best ways to deliver your pdf’s.

Once again, love the article and you’ve got some wheels spinning here.

-Donna

    Stephanie K Reply

    Hi Donna,

    I’m glad I’ve got your wheels spinning :)

    I would check with Designrr about the links, it’s a shame that you cant include links. It may be something they can help you with.

    As for the delivery of the PDF’s, have you heard of the Thrive Leads asset delivery feature? That might be a good option for you.

Hello @steph
Nice tips you’ve shared here.

Converting my existing blog posts into a downloadable pdf is not something i’ve given much thought on. But your tips seem to make it easier

Thanks once again.

I recently tried Canva for simple pdf building and it was horrible. Great for small images but really hard to get blocks of text to line up correctly and consistently from page to page. I think using a proper desktop publisher is much more effective, at least if the pdf is more than a page.

    Stephanie K Reply

    Hi Rebecca,

    How long ago did you try Canva? They recently made some major improvements to the interface that make it a lot easier to handle.

    That being said, there are a number of other online editing programs available, such as PicMonkey, or dedicated desktop programs like you mentioned. It’s just about finding one that fits best with your situation and preferences. For this blog post we wanted a tool that everyone could access.

    beachbum Reply

    Hey @rebecca r

    what desktop publisher do you use/recommend?

    are you on mac or pc?

Ian B Reply

How do you deal with fake emails?

Is this feature able to integrate with an email verify service?

I would hate to give away the goodies because of a fake email submission.

Thanks,

Ian

    Stephanie K Reply

    Hi Ian,

    My stance on that sort of thing is the more the merrier. If someone wants your opt-in offer badly enough to scrounge up a fake email, let them. They’re the type of subscriber would have most likely unsubscribed to your email list immediately anyway, if they were forced to use a real address. At least this way you have a chance to win them over with the content of your PDF.

    If your worried about paying for ‘subscribers’ that are just fake email accounts, a number of email service providers already have in built systems for handling spam addresses. I’d also suggest purging your list every few months. It’s something we do regularly here at Thrive Themes, and it’s good practice to keep your list healthy. To do this you just need to unsubscribe inactive subscribers (after giving them a few ‘last chance’ re-engagement emails).

Thanks for the tools and ideas. I offer an ebook in my blog as an incentive ( a guide to smart travel planning) …perhaps a PDF would be better?

    Stephanie K Reply

    Hi Federico, the terms are interchangeable. Ebooks are generally in a PDF format, so everything mentioned in the article applies to ebooks as well.

    beachbum Reply

    @federico a

    what’s you site?

    I’m working on a site with a travel theme

Randy Cavanaugh Reply

Nice work Steph! Now just need to sit down and create the bait… thanks!

It’s funny that you are posting this now as there is a new WP plugin (Post Gopher) which can convert all your site content (posts, pages etc.) into downloadable pdf’s in a few clicks and integrates with all major auto-responders.

    Stephanie K Reply

    Thanks for the heads up Jason, I’ll take a look. I might have to add it to the article ;)

Len R Reply

Man, you guys (and girls) at Thrive really provide a ton of value. These are some awesome tips. My membership to Thrive Themes is one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. Keep it coming.

    Stephanie K Reply

    Thanks Len! Glad to hear you’re enjoying the membership :)

Magnificent. Thank you Stephanie. By the way, I already use designer and it’s great.

    Stephanie K Reply

    Thanks Luis, it’s good to hear a positive review for them.

Thanks so much for this information. I have sometimes spent hours getting my downloads to look cool and ‘professional’. I even use Canva but didn’t know about the Magazine feature. This is the best tip I’ve had this year. I currently have 5 articles (steps) that are drip fed to new opt-ins but I think putting them together in this way will give even better value.

    Stephanie K Reply

    Hi Joan,

    I agree, the magazine templates save a ton of time carefully formatting in Canva. Otherwise it does take a bit of messing around to format everything nicely. Glad to hear this helped!

Melodye Y Reply

Great article (as usual) with great resources!

I bought Post Gopher and had to return it. The concept is great, but it did not work well with TCB posts. I opted to instead use Thrive asset delivery. With PG there is no tagging capabilities for segmentation based on the post they downloaded which is really important to me.

I use Active Campaign and I’m used to tools that integrate with AC so that I can easily add and tag subscribers (PG has no AC integration).

I’m grateful for the resources for quickly grabbing content and creating a pdf.

Thanks.

    beachbum Reply

    @Melodye Y

    I’m using ac too.

    any tips on getting it to work with Thrive asset delivery?

    do you sell pdf’s?

    if so, what system do you use to take payment and then deliver through Thrive asset delivery and AC?

    I’m trying to put this all together and would love any feedback you can give.

    Thanks

    Stephanie K Reply

    Hi Melodye,

    I would suggest using Thrive Leads for everything lead generation related, and just use programs like Post Gopher and Beacon for designing the PDF. Thrive Leads has far greater customization, tracking and (as you mentioned) integrations.

    You’re right about Content Builder posts not playing well with these blog>PDF programs. I’ve added a workaround to this post on how to get past this. You can get the details here.

    Hope this helps!

beachbum Reply

I think you missed the most important part…

how to set up delivery of the pdf!

there are many ways and tools to do this.

What if you want to sell a pdf (ebook) how do you take payment and then deliver?

These i think are the most important aspects of creating pdf’s for others.

You can have a great pdf but if getting the product to the customer is cumbersome most will never see it.

mamasiga Reply

Hello,
I am seeking for an expert advice :)

I am struggling now with converting TCB content into PDFs. We have some great designed content using Thrive Content Builder, and am now searching for a solution to convert it into PDFs.

Your suggested services are nice, but I do not want to re-create the content. I just want to re-use already created content designed by TCB. The best start would be exact copy of TCB content converted to PDF, and then to edit it a bit (add/delete/tweak this or there).

Please, can you suggest any TCB compatible solution that is able to export TCB content into PDF without the need to re-create/re-design it? But it also must allow for edits too…

Thank you,
Tomas

    Stephanie K Reply

    Hi Tomas,

    Great question.

    After the comments, I found a workaround to TCB not playing well with programs like Designrr and Beacon. Details on how to fix this are here.

    If you want the PDF to look exactly how it looks on the page, just in PDF form, try a screenshot program. Awesome Screenshot is a Chrome extension that allows you to capture an entire webpage or post. Unfortunately this captures everything, so it’s a bit difficult to edit, and does not keep the links.

    If you have access to Photoshop, you could just erase the link text and add new functioning links in, but that’s a bit of a hassle.

    The best bet would be using the workaround and one of the blog to PDF programs.

Wow that was great. Being geeks heavily into technical typesetting, we tend to have to prepare the PDFs using LaTeX (a markup language for mathematical typesetting). Still dabbling a bit with the nitty-gritty of Thrive Asset Delivery, but hopefully this will go as planned. The use of Canva as PDF creator is awesome too.

    Stephanie K Reply

    Yep, I’ll leave the LaTeX to you Thomas ;) If you take a look at my reply to the comment two above, there are a few links to asset delivery tutorials (in the reply to beachbum). That may help!

Antoine M Reply

Really great, I was allways asking myself, how are people creating so nice PDF files… Will definitely use it!! Thanks!

    Stephanie K Reply

    I felt the exact same way when I first discovered Canva Antoine, and like I’d discovered their secret ;)

Quite simply… “Bloomin’ awesome”… thanks so much for this!

Last time I checked we can’t track clicks on landing pages other than signups. So that I can split test or see actual results of different landing pages for PDFs or downloads of any kind. Is there any plan to upgrade this?

    Stephanie K Reply

    Hi Hank,

    You can A/B test the message and elements on the call to action section of your landing page using a Thrive Leads shortcode. Anything within the shortcode section can be tested. You just need to create variations within the Leads shortcode, start the A/B test and place the shortcode on your landing page.

    If you want to test whole Landing Pages against each other, you can using Google Analytics, which is a free tool. Here’s a tutorial on how to set this up.

    Just make sure you’re testing big levers. More information on landing page testing can be found here.

      Hank R Reply

      Thanks the Thrive Leads short code is for signups as it says “Build Your Mailing List Faster”. I was wondering about clicks that don’t lead to a sign up but to PDF download or say another site.

      I guess I can’t A/B split test Pop overs because there is not a sign up is what I’m getting at. However I can track with GA without the split test function in Thrive?

      The landing page link talks about signups.

      What about not signups but just links to other sites or pdf downloads without a signup. You can’t split test without a signup right?

      Stephanie K Reply

      Hi Hank, sorry for the delay in response! (your comment got lost in the replies).

      At this point there’s no link tracker in Thrive Leads, so no you cant test clicks unfortunately.

Great post always from you guys at Thrive Themes!

David C Reply

Really enjoyed the content and thanks for the tips. I will be implementing a few of them in future posts.

Have a good and be safe in your travels.

adegoke.ajadi Reply

Straight to the point. Thank you!

Martha G Reply

Fabulous information. Using Thrive themes is one of the BEST decisions I ever made for my business and website! I’ve learned more here than I have in a lot of online classes I’ve paid a ton of money for.

Thank you, Stephanie, for this awesome post !! Great tips you shared. Never thought of using Canva for creating covers for eBooks. But definitely, something to check out.

    Stephanie K Reply

    Hi Johan,

    Yeah Canva is a great tool for a lot of different design tasks. It’s hard to believe it’s a free tool!

Great tips, I needed something like this because my visitors never leave their contacts for me, now yes I will get as many as I can. Great!! thank you

bart3 Reply

Great read! Love all the resources you put in.

Lauren F Reply

Has anyone used Lucidpress for pdf’s? Thoughts?

    Stephanie K Reply

    I hadn’t heard of Lucidpress, I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for the tip :)