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?


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.

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