the best prospects for free downloads

who do free downloads work best for?

Last month we covered what makes a great free download, but their effectiveness varies by industry, and every market handles them a bit differently. Look closely at the top performers and you’ll see they’re essentially doing the same thing, but how you present and package your download matters:

high tech and manufacturing

White papers are the free downloads of choice for the tech and manufacturing industries. They’re typically “soft-sell” pieces that present a problem, propose a general solution, then show how a specific solution (i.e. yours) is the best way to go. Thanks to the Internet they’re far more common now than their paper ancestors, since digital formats have eliminated much of their production cost.


The stock-in-trade of the finance industry is the “free report,” which details the reasons why a particular stock or other investment — one the “other guy” doesn’t know about yet — is a great opportunity. Finance reports typically don’t have the long shelf life of other free downloads, but they also play for higher stakes: they want your credit card number, not just your email address. These reports are still “free,” but are used as teasers or giveaways to encourage a trial of a subscription service. Fund companies also produce downloads like guides to retirement planning to encourage long-term investing.


Hospitality downloads offer information on making the most of your travel experience. These run the gamut, from discount coupons, to guides for leveraging reward points, to videos about taking your kids (or grandkids) to popular vacation spots. They can also be used to promote membership in loyalty programs.

real estate

Free downloads offer a great way for real estate companies to differentiate themselves from competitors in a market that is highly commoditized. Common examples include guides for people transferring into a particular area, giving details of neighborhoods, school systems, shopping, nightlife, distance to highway access, and major business areas. Other guides seek to attract specific types of shoppers, like those interested in historic, family-oriented, or energy-efficient homes.


The care industry is ripe for free downloads, especially those that answer common questions about health conditions. You’ll find white paper-style reports, guides to different varieties of contact lenses, FAQs for medical procedures, and a host of guides with titles like “What You Need to Know About ________________.”

food and beverage

Downloads are less common in this industry, but that doesn’t mean opportunities are lacking, especially in specialized markets. A winery, for example, could offer a guide to wine tasting.

other great candidates:

  • Construction—That guy (or gal) swinging a hammer in the sun is an ideal candidate for “how-to” guides that feature your product.
  • Consultants and professional services—Offer a free report that demonstrates your expertise, similar to the real estate model.
  • Transportation—Paper guides to new vehicles were once on every automobile dealer’s counter. Today you’re more likely to find them on their website. You’ll also find digital schedules for buses, trains, ferries, and other ways to get from point A to point B.
  • Retail—Smart shoppers go looking for downloadable coupons so often that there are websites designed to point them in the right direction. Outlet malls have been quick to use this trend to their advantage, offering online certificates you can trade in for a “discount book” when you show up at their brick-and-mortar location. Tablet computers and e-readers are also keeping old-fashioned mail-order catalogs alive in digital editions that now replace or supplement print versions.

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