How to Host a File for Download the Right Way

How to Host a File for Download
Hey there! I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

If you’re running an online business or side-hustle selling digital products, you’ll need to host your downloadable files somewhere. For those in the Creative space, where file sizes can be large, this can be more problematic. In this post I’ll cover the best ways to host these files and what not to do…

There are a multitude of reasons why you may want to host a file for download. Chances are that your first encounter with the topic is offering a free ’lead magnet’ to build your email list. Alternatively, you may be selling digital downloads such as templates, ebooks or video courses.

If you find this post helpful then you might want to check out How to Make a Website for a Creative Side Hustle and Start an Email List for your Side Hustle: Quick Guide.

The best way to host a file for downloading is to use a third-party service for speed. For free files use cloud storage such as Dropbox or Google Drive.  Use an e-commerce platform like Gumroad or Kajabi for paid products. Do not use the WordPress media library as it will be slower, can exceed host’s bandwidth limits and needs a new link on updates.

The specific purpose of your file can dictate the best place to host it so let’s run through your options…

Best Way to Host a Free File for Download

If you want to host a free file for download such as a ‘Lead Magnet’ then, the best way is to use a file hosting service. Each file will get a link that can be sent to your customer. Alternatively, if you already sell paid digital products on an e-commerce platform then, it can be possible to set the price to zero or provide a coupon.

Consider the user experience when selecting your preferred method of delivery. Using an e-commerce platform where the customer is required to go through additional steps to use a coupon is just placing another barrier in the way of someone joining your email list. Consider hosting your file on a storage service instead unless the platform offers a low-friction method to deliver it.

Using a business-tier from one of the personal cloud storage providers such as Google Drive, DropBox or OneDrive is a great way to offer free downloads. However, I would not recommend this for paid digital products.

How to Host a Downloadable File for Sale

If using WooCommerce or selling on Etsy then, host your file using a dedicated hosting service. Send the provided url to your customer for download. Some marketplaces such as Creative Market will host large files themselves. For standalone e-commerce platforms such as Shopify or Gumroad simply upload your file directly to the platform.

For selling digital products directly from your website, the simplest way to host the downloadable file is to use a dedicated e-commerce platform. They will take care of the hosting, the payment processing and the customer support. There are also other benefits such as making it easy to offer ‘upsells‘.

In exchange, they will either take a percentage of each sale or a monthly fee but it does cut down the headache significantly. For more detail check out the e-commerce section of this post.

Keep in mind that not all marketplaces will allow hosting of large files

Selling on a marketplace that is willing to host your files has the benefit of having access to a larger audience. However, this is offset by the increased competition. Marketplaces will also take a significant cut of your profits so it’s worth moving away from these once you are able to. This can happen when you have enough traffic to your own website or have created an email list.

Keep in mind that not all marketplaces will allow hosting of large files. This can be a problem for Creatives where large file sizes can be the norm. Etsy is an example of a marketplace that does not allow hosting of large files. This means you will need to provide customers with a link to your file that is hosted elsewhere.

In contrast, Creative Market allows larger file sizes so you may be able to avoid organizing your own file hosting until you want to sell directly from your own website.

For those creators that are using WooCommerce on a WordPress website, don’t be tempted to upload to the WordPress media library. Instead, use a dedicated file hosting service that will have fast upload speeds and avoid hitting the limits of your website’s hosting package.

This method can be more profitable than using a dedicated e-commerce platform but does miss out on some of the additional benefits. You will also need to spend more time and effort maintaining all your links which can be a problem if you are selling a lot of products.

How to Host a File for Download Directly from Your Website

The easiest but worst way to host a file for download is to upload it to your WordPress media library. Let me be clear, for most applications you should not do this.

When you upload a file to your WordPress media library each file gets a handy url. You might think that all you need to do is send this link to your customer and it’s all taken care of.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of downsides to this method:

  • Customers can use the link as many times as they want and also share it. If your file is a paid offering then this is a disaster. Even if the file is free, it enables users to bypass your intended points of contact such as subscribing to your email list.
  • If you update the file it will generate a new link. This means you have to update everywhere this link was used.
  • Slower download speeds. Particularly when starting a new site, you probably won’t be on the fastest hosting package, especially when compared to a dedicated file hosting service.
  • Exceeding bandwidth limits of your host. Easy to do if your content goes viral or includes large files.

It is also possible to host files on your web server without WordPress in other ways but they also suffer from many of the downsides listed above and also need more technical knowledge to set up.

How to Host a File for Download from a File Hosting Service

To host a file for download, sign up to a file hosting service such as Google Drive. Once you upload your file it will be allocated a unique url. When a customer requests a download from your website, (paid or free), either redirect them to the url or email them the link. Good cloud storage providers will allow file updates without changing the url.

The advantages of outsourcing your file hosting to a cloud storage / file hosting services are numerous:

  • Fast downloads
  • Secure data and recovery features
  • Fewer unexpected outages
  • Can handle larger amounts of traffic
  • Better suited for larger files
  • Keep the same url after file updates

The only real downside is that these services can charge a monthly fee. It is possible to find free services with lower usage limits but for larger download numbers you’ll need to pay.

Should I Host Files for Download on a Personal or Business File Hosting Service?

You’ll already likely be familiar with personal cloud storage platforms. These offer free and paid storage for your personal files and allow easy sharing via a link. They are however, not intended to host files for business purposes where there could be a significant number of downloads.

If a particular link is used a lot of times then it’s possible that it will get blocked either due to hitting a usage cap or the platform’s efforts to prevent misuse. If you’re getting a lot of downloads then this is the last thing you want to happen. You may also have to change the link in an effort to get the file unblocked which then causes you a large admin headache.

Examples of personal cloud storage platforms are:

  • Google Drive
  • Dropbox
  • Onedrive

Some personal cloud storage platforms do offer tiers for business customers for an increased monthly fee. They come with added benefits such as:

  • Raised usage caps for number of downloads and bandwidth
  • More advanced file recovery
  • Download permissions
  • Expiry dates on links
  • Watermarking
  • Customer support

For hosting free downloads such as Lead Magnets I would suggest using a personal storage platform but opt for one of the packages aimed at businesses. This gets you the ease of use but without the usage caps that the lower tiers feature.

In contrast to personal storage platforms, there are file hosting services primarily aimed at businesses. These are better able to cope with larger volumes of downloads but can be complicated to set up and expensive. In addition, they offer better security features and allow you to scale more easily as your side-hustle or business grows. For a side-hustle it’s unlikely you’ll need to use a storage service aimed at businesses until it grows to a larger size.

Examples of business cloud storage services:

  • Amazon S3
  • Google Cloud
  • Microsoft Azure

How to Host a File on an E-Commerce Platform

When selling your digital products you’re going to need an e-commerce platform of some kind but there are two ways to host the file itself:

  1. Use a file storage service and provide the platform with the url
  2. Upload the file to the platform itself. This is recommended for the convenience and cost of maintaining a single system and better user experience

Examples of popular e-commerce platforms include:

To host a free file on an e-commerce platform, rather than selling it, can be a little messy. Typically you will either need to set the value to $0 or provide a coupon that the customer has to enter at the checkout.

Depending on the platform this may damage the user experience and risk them exiting your sales funnel. Sometimes it can be better to just host a free file using a file hosting service and just send them the link in a confirmation email. Make sure to keep the user experience in mind when deciding how to deliver free files.

How to Host Video Content

It is not recommended to host video content on your own website server due to file size and required connection speed. There are 3 better ways to do it:

  1. Use a platform such as YouTube or Vimeo
  2. Host independently and integrate videos onto your website with a plugin like JetPack
  3. Use a learning platform such as Teachable to host paid courses

If you’re offering free video content to enhance your brand then YouTube or Vimeo are a good start.

With regards to YouTube, if you’re making videos that viewers are searching for then the search algorithms on these platforms will serve it up to them and attract you new subscribers. Send them over to your website to monetize your brand with your digital products.

The downside with this will be that you will not own your audience and are at the mercy of YouTube. They could decide to shut your account down without warning losing your hard-earned subscriber base. There is also no way to directly contact them so you’ll need to work hard to get them over to your website and onto your email list.

If you want to charge for your video content then there is no easy way to do this with YouTube.

Hosting independently and using a WordPress plugin such as JetPack allows you to control your content yourself. This could be free or paid through a restricted member’s area.

For selling paid courses then, the best idea is to host the content on a learning platform for the best user experience. Platforms such as Teachable, Podia and Thinkific will do this for you and take care of the payments, customer service, hosting and even offer additional benefits such as quizzes. You will need to pay for these services so select the membership tier that meets your requirements or you could risk overpaying.


Hosting a file for download the right way is not an easy task. It depends on whether your content is free or paid and the size of the files. Often the best route is to use cloud storage for free files and an e-commerce platform to host paid digital products and video courses.

If you found this post helpful then check out How to Make a Website for a Creative Side Hustle and Start an Email List for your Side Hustle: Quick Guide.

Featured image: Andrew Derr /