How to set up your freebie the right way

I was reading Sarah’s excellent blog post about finding your own way through mailing list freebies, and I got to thinking: This is something I help people with… a lot. 

For some reason, the mechanics of how everything flows together- from collecting an email address to sending the free giveaway- escapes most of us.

Today, I’m going to share the way that I recommend handling email freebies. I’ll be using Aweber as my example, but the technique is very similar for Mailchimp, Madmimi, etc.

Here’s how we want things to end up:

First, someone signs up for your list on your website through some kind of web form, like this one:

They should be directed to a custom thank-you page that explains what they need to do next, which is to check their email and click the confirmation link.

After they click the link, they should be directed to a page on your website where your freebie “lives”.

Easy, right? Let’s get to it.

What you’ll need

  • An Aweber account (you can try one for a month for under a buck)
  • Your freebie: Something to give away to your subscribers, like a PDF, video, etc.
  • A dedicated page on your site for the freebie that’s hidden from the navigation

Step 1: Set up your freebie page

Remember, this is the page that your new subscriber hits after they confirm their email address, so make sure to thank them for taking that extra step, and make it super easy for them to download the freebie!

I typically break the page up into three sections

Thank you for signing up

Review the freebie features/benefits

Present the freebie (download link, embedded video, etc)

I like to host this file on DropBox in my public folder, rather than with my hosting provider. Why? If I get a front page Lifehacker feature and 10,000 people hit my site at once for the freebie, my site is gonna go d-o-w-n. Hosting the file on DropBox helps keep things speedy. It never hurts to think big.

Okay, so you’ve got your page all written and published? Great, copy that URL and follow me…

Step 2: Configure your list

Here’s the tricky part- you need to tell Aweber where to send subscribers after they confirm their email address. This is called the “Success Page”, and you set it up in the overall settings for your list (not in the web form settings).

1. Sign into your Aweber account, and choose List Settings from the My Lists menu. Then, choose the list you want to set up in the drop-down menu (in my case, I’m working with the Email Ninja Kit list)

list settings

2. Click onto step 3 in the list setup wizard (called “Confirmed Opt-In”).

step 3

3. This is important: Write a custom message in the “Your Custom Message” field that explains what they need to do  and what they’re going to get in return. Nothing stinks more than getting a generic unpersonalized message after signing up for a list.

Custom message

4. Scroll down- this is even more important. Put the URL of your custom page (that contains the freebie) into the “Confirmation Success URL” field. This tells Aweber where to send your subscriber after they confirm (to your freebie page).


Don’t forget to click save.

If you want to see mine you’re just going to have to sign up for the Email Ninja Kit.

Step 3: Test it out

I’d highly recommend signing up for your own list to make sure everything works correctly before you put it out there. Nothing pisses people off more than not being able to get the free thing that they were promised.

Frequently Asked Questions

My email list provider allows me to attach files to messages. Why not just attach the freebie to the confirmation email?

Two reasons- First, spam filters are very sensitive to attachments from unknown senders. So including an attachment on your first message is a one way ticket to the bulk mail folder. Second, we want your subscribers to get used to clicking through. This is just a fancy way of saying that you want your subscribers to be familiar with (and willing to) visit your website when you send them an email. If they don’t, then what’s the point of having their email anyway?

What about [insert mailing list provider here]?

Here are some links to help articles that describe part of this process for Mailchimp, Madmimi, and iContact.

Why Aweber?

It just works. Aweber is geared directly towards online businesses- allowing you to continue sending subscribers messages (like a course) over the course of days or weeks. They also have myriad customizable opt-in forms (unlike mailchimp’s one option).  And, when you can’t figure something out, Aweber support is more then happy to speak with you on the phone if you so desire.  I’ve been with them for close to two years, and have no plans of changing.

Do you have your freebie in order?

The sooner you give people a reason to sign up for your mailing list, the sooner you’ll be building your email list.

photo by: Wonderlane

Ethan, thanks for showing the process! Brilliant on Dropbox! I've been thinking of switching from MailChimp to Aweber. Not really happy with it and I'll probably add Opt-In Skins when I do. Thanks for all the amazing tips!


I love the idea about hosting your giveaway on Dropbox. It's such a simple idea, but it could make such a huge difference.

I switched over to Mailchimp, and I've been disappointed with their sign-up form options. They do offer a solution where you can use a third-party service to create the form you want, but I haven't messed with it yet. I'll have to try it out.


Hey Ethan,

I have a ton of comments on this post. In no order of importance, here goes:

1) What about the "Check Your Email Now to Confirm Your Subscription (and Thanks!)" page (as I call it)? Don't you want to put some energy into the custom page on your website that a person lands *before* confirming their subscription? This is where I give people brief instructions on how to confirm, prompt them to take steps to not have the spam police throw me into a spam filter, and remind them that they need to take action *now* to confirm (strike while the iron is hot). Here's how I do it: How do other people do it?

2) Step 3 - actually testing it - is huge. It shouldn't need to be mentioned, but I'm glad you did. I've seen too many people skip this step and guess who skips out immediately on the new email list he just signed up for when that happens? Me.

3) The FAQ here rocks. 'Nuff said.

4) Why present the freebie on the "thank you" page? Why not present it in the first email that gets sent to a person when they confirm their subscription to your list? Could be six-of-one, half-a-dozen of another, but I'm wondering if there is a strategy to this.


Woot! Thanks for the inspiration to go back and update my sequence. It was sort of half custom, but it needed updating. :-) 

I, like Erin, had never thought of having a page for the freebies as a benefit, but I'm now glad mine is set up that way. Next step is moving the files to dropbox... Who woulda thunk?!

This is a great and really useful article - thanks Ethan! 


WHY do so many people skip Step 2, #3?? I get frustrated when all I get is the generic confirmation sequence. I'm glad you pointed this out.

I use a page on my site to house my newsletter freebies, but I'd never thought about asking people to click through as being a benefit. I do it so I can refer back to the freebie page whenever I need to, like in another subscriber freebie that's related or in an email. Now I have an extra reason :)


This is great, Ethan! I haven't seen any other posts out there explaining how to do this. I don't have a freebie to give out *yet* but, I'll save this for when I do, thanks :)

ethanwaldman moderator

@michaelwroberts Yeah, they integrate with Wooforms, which I find to be extremely expensive.  Your other option is to use something like OptInSkin (which I use on Cloud Coach and am pretty happy with). Mailchimp's lack of embeddable forms is definitely a huge deterrent for me.. also the fact that if you want to do an Autoresponder it's no longer free.. 

ethanwaldman moderator

@joeyjoejoe You're totally right about the first thank-you page that they see. It should be something that you put time into and customize, just like the ultimate freebie page destination. I'm a little torn on this now, because Aweber has a pretty nifty feature that automatically detects the person's OS and displays a custom set of instructions with mac mail images vs. Outlook images.  However, I think most people know how to check their email so I ultimately side with the customized route.  I love your page- it's a compelling reminder to confirm right away.

Regarding the freebie on clickthrough vs. email 1 in the autoresponder, I think you could do both, honestly. Having them click through to the freebie is some nice instant gratification. But I realized in my reply to Erin and Shanna (below), that I should also follow up and give people the permanent URL to the freebie, in case they don't bookmark it when they first click through. 

ethanwaldman moderator

@sarahemily You're welcome! Yeah, the dropbox is a wonderful thing. For your freebie, since you give away a 15 minute session your freebie page could be a page that describes the session and give the person instructions on booking your time.  How are you currently doing it?

Shanna Mann
Shanna Mann

@remadebyhand I always skip them because I find them to be white noise for the eyeballs-- I never notice them. In fact, sometimes if you have to click in the email AND on the page the email take you to, I don't do that second step, because I just close the page without looking at it. 

Great post, Ethan. Systems! #thatisall

ethanwaldman moderator

@deniseurena Awesome! Be sure to let me know if you need any help when you're doing it. :)


@ethanwaldman @sarahemily I currently just tacked on a paragraph about the session onto the download page for the audio class on overwhelm (which people still get also... double bonus!) I'm using ScheduleOnce for the meetings, so they just click a link and pick 3 times that work and then I can choose one and it sends them a confirmation email. :-) 


@Shanna Mann I can usually tell if they're worth reading at a glance. Either they look like every other sign up email out there, or the person had taken the time to add a header, some branded colors, some text that makes the page longer than the generic version. If the latter, I read it, because I appreciate that the person took a minute to add some personality.

Apparently I feel strongly about this :)

ethanwaldman moderator

@sarahemily @ethanwaldman I was wondering if you were using ScheduleOnce for the scheduling. Back in the Tungle days I tried directing people to it to schedule meetings, but I found it was a barrier and people just had to revert to email scheduling. Has this been your experience?

ethanwaldman moderator

@remadebyhand As you should! Giving away your email is a transaction of value. You give something away that's (potentially) valuable and you should get something good in return!

@Shanna Mann That's a good point. I should send a follow up email in my autoresponder that gives people the permanent URL of the freebie page, in case they loose the click-through email.  Go systems!