How to manage, track, and control file downloads in WordPress

Businesses that sell digital products often track their downloads using Google Analytics. They do so even when they use WordPress to build their eCommerce store. While Google Analytics can be used to keep an eye on product downloads, there’s a more straightforward method to make WordPress track downloads automatically.

When you use a plugin like Download Monitor, you don’t just bring all your file download analytics data right to your WordPress dashboard, but you can also use it as a lightweight file management system as it doubles up as one. It’s a minimalist file manager for WordPress that lets you efficiently manage, track, and control your file downloads. You can use it to sell your files or downloadable products too.

So let’s see how you can track downloads on WordPress and manage your files with Download Monitor. But first, let’s look at why tracking downloads is so essential and how tracking them on WordPress itself is better than tracking them via Google Analytics (or any other web analytics suite).

Why tracking downloads is essential for selling digital goods 

Download tracking helps you discover your best selling products. Using this data, you can develop and launch products that are more likely to succeed instead of investing in ones that may fail.

Additionally, you can enforce usage terms by tracking the number of downloads of your products. For instance, you can set limits and enable a patron to download only a certain number of files each month. 

Tracking downloads makes fighting abuse easier as well. By monitoring downloads, you can apply restrictions such as allowing customers to download their digital purchases just once a day.

From gaining business insights to ensuring fair use, download tracking is an integral part of the digital goods business. While web analytics solutions like Google Analytics do the work, they aren’t the best solution to track downloads on your WordPress website.

Why Google Analytics isn’t the best solution to track downloads on a WordPress website 

With Google Analytics, you can track your users’ actions on your website, including tracking file downloads. 

With goal tracking, you can make a ‘Click’ on the download button on your product page a goal so that each time someone clicks the button, the product download is recorded as a goal completion in your Google Analytics account. 

But this needs you to set up goals each time you add new products to your store. 

If you sell, let’s say, a hundred products, you’ll also need to create a hundred goals. Also, if your products have different versions, you’ll need to implement tracking independently for each version. This can make goal tracking more challenging.

In short, setting up goals is a little tech-savvy and incorrect implementation can leave your data useless.

Alternatively, you can use event tracking to track the number of downloads of your digital products in Google Analytics. In this case, you’ll need some basic coding skills to implement it, and you’ll encounter the same challenges as goal tracking.

So while you can use Google Analytics to learn where your customers are coming from, how much time they’re spending on your different product pages, or where they abandon your website, it is not the ideal tool for your file or product download tracking needs.

The ideal way to track your product downloads is to make your WordPress website track them. 

So that brings us to the question: Can WordPress track downloads by default?

Out-of-the-box, WordPress can’t track file downloads as it doesn’t come shipped with any file download tracking mechanism. But with a plugin like Download Monitor, you can easily extend it to include file management functionalities.

Making WordPress track downloads with Download Monitor

Download Monitor is a WordPress plugin that lets you sell digital products directly from your website. It’s a WooCommerce alternative in a sense. With it, you can start selling all kinds of digital offerings in a few easy steps and settings — but unlike WooCommerce, you don’t have to set up a full-blown store.

Download Monitor also doubles up as a file and download manager for WordPress. It lets you manage, track, and control file downloads right on your WordPress website. Below you can see how Download Monitor brings your product download statistics right to your WordPress dashboard:

How Download Monitor’s download tracking works

Once you add a digital file or product to your WordPress website via Download Monitor, the plugin starts tracking its downloads —  automatically.

You don’t have to do any coding or settings to track it. Download Monitor is easily the best WordPress plugin to make WordPress track downloads. It’s like adding a download counter to every single downloadable file and its different versions.

Below, you have a product that was just added via Download Monitor. As you can see, its download stats are already showing up inside Download Monitor’s Downloads tab. By default, Download Monitor considers your initial file uploads as version v1 for tracking, unless you specify another convention. 

This download tracking data is also available on the individual product pages:

With Download Monitor, you can use shortcodes to add Download Buttons for your different products anywhere on your WordPress website — inside your website’s pages, posts, and other widget areas. 

So if you’re blogging about a certain digital art you produce, you can add download buttons to your products right inside your post on the frontend via Download Monitor’s shortcodes. 

Since Download Monitor ties each product to its unique product ID, it knows all the download links that point to a particular product and can capture each of its downloads no matter which button or text link a user clicks. Each download is correctly tracked and reported.

Plus, Download Monitor comes with some excellent reporting. With it, you can:

  • View your downloads over any period.
  • See in an instant your top downloads, including your store’s MOST popular download.
  • Analyze your daily average download count.

If we were to add another version of this product — an updated one — Download Monitor would start registering its downloads also automatically. 

Tracking additional download data

Download Monitor doesn’t just track your WordPress site’s file downloads but also logs data like the users’ IP addresses and agents (browsers) in its Download Logs. It also timestamps the download event and notes the users’ statuses (Member/Non-member):

As you can see, Download Monitor doesn’t just help you make WordPress track downloads but also collects more data for you so you can know more about your users.

You can unlock all of this and more with Download Monitor’s free version

When you’re ready, you can go with Download Monitor’s core extension bundle to:

  • Set up a proper downloads page on your WordPress website (in addition to the product pages that the free version supports)
  • Host your downloadable files on Google Drive or Amazon S3
  • Add terms and conditions to govern the downloading and use of your digital products

Download Monitor’s Advanced Access Manager extension (part of the core bundle) is also very valuable when it comes to enforcing file download limits.

You can also do custom coding to make WordPress track downloads on your website natively, but it’s only an option for those who can code. 

The best option is to go with a plugin like Download Monitor that lets you set always-on download tracking on your WordPress digital products store without touching a line of code on the backend. 

Can you use WooCommerce to make WordPress track downloads of your digital products?

Yes, you can use WooCommerce to track your downloads. 

But if you’re only selling digital downloads, opening a WooCommerce store is like building an infrastructure of which you’ll only use 20% or less. 

In contrast to using such a heavyweight eCommerce plugin, you can use Download Monitor. You can start selling digital downloads in three simple steps and some configuration with it. 

We’ve covered a detailed WooCommerce vs. Download Monitor comparison before. So do check it out.

Wrapping it up… 

A lightweight plugin like Download Monitor doesn’t just help you make WordPress track downloads of your digital products but also serves as an excellent WordPress download manager.

Plus, it brings all your file download tracking right inside your WordPress admin area. So from selling to monitoring downloads and gaining business insights, all your core digital product business ops happen right on your WordPress site.

When you have WordPress track downloads of your products, you gather invaluable data to guide your product development. This validation helps you in building products that are more likely to sell more, irrespective of whether you sell ebooks, files, PDFs, games, templates, or videos.

Tracking downloads is helpful to you even if you offer free downloads (for building your email list or for lead generation purposes) because it helps you discover the content your users need the most.

So download Download Monitor and make WordPress track downloads automatically on your website. Also, explore our core extension bundle that unlocks more features to run your digital downloads business. As this extensions bundle subscriber, you get all the existing extensions plus all the new addons that we develop.

Raiber Cristian