The Value of Free

This post is by Mike Yasieniuk

Giving away something for free can be hard. You’ve worked hard to create what you have, so if you give it away for free, how are you supposed to make money?

This was exactly my mentality, until I learned the value of free.

In the blogging world, two of the most common goals people strive for are larger lists and more website traffic.  These two things, as well as conversion are what will help you generate more revenue with your website. Now, one of the best ways to build your lists as well as increase your website traffic is to give stuff away for free.

There are many ways you can give stuff away for free that can help you achieve your online goals and in this post I’ll show you exactly how to do it.

How to Use Free for Your Benefit

I run a blog called Giving away stuff for free is what we do. Most of the posts on our website contain a free resource for someone to download. But, there are a few different ways you can use freebies to grow your audience online. Let’s dive into each of them individually.

Posting Freebies on your Blog

The simplest way to give something away is to create the freebie, write a post about it and include a download link at the bottom. When doing this, it is important to outline the benefits this free item might have to someone if they download it.

Freebie posts can often be your most shared posts on your blog. When people get something for free, they tend to share the resource with their friends.

Sharing your freebie posts on your social media streams such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ will help your freebie posts gain more exposure. It also doesn’t hurt to ask your friends to share it with their lists as well.

One of the world’s best WordPress designers (in my opinion), Orman Clark, built his career by giving away free web design resources. Orman built a large following on his blog and used that audience to help him launch his WordPress career. He now sells thousands of themes a month on, but continues to release free design files on his blog.

Create Freebies to Release on Popular Blogs

Many large blogs accept guest posts. Design, write, or create a free product, then approach large blogs in your niche to give this free resource away on their blog.  This is a great tactic to help put yourself in front of an audience you might not have gotten a chance to otherwise.

Giving away free resources for others to share with their audience is an effective way to build relationships within your niche.

Make sure when you write the guest post it includes information about you and your blog. Most bloggers will allow you to at least have an “About the Author” section at the bottom of the blog post and give you credit in the article itself.

This type of guest post works well because top bloggers understand the value of free and will use this to improve their own site. If you are having trouble landing a guest post like this, make sure to read 17 Steps to Guarantee a Successful Guest Posting Campaign.

By being persistent, I was able to land “Freebie” guest posts on many of the top web design blogs including, Vandelay Design Blog, Six Revisions and Each one of these freebie guest posts brought in an additional 400-1000 visitors to our website within the first couple days of launching.  This new traffic also resulted in significant increases in our email and social media lists.

Free Version of a Premium Product

If you sell a product or service, have you ever considered creating a free version of it, or giving away part of it for free? You see this happen with mobile apps and in the book world.

Most successful iPhone and Android apps have a free version. Everyone downloads the free version first, and if it is what they were looking for or addictive enough, they buy the full version of the app.

When an author writes a new book, you can often visit their website and download a free chapter of the book to see if you will like it before you buy it. To be completely honest, I never heard of Gary Vaynerchuk until he released his book Crush It! When I landed on the website for the Crush It book, there was a link where I was able to read the first chapter. After I did, I was hooked and needed to buy the book immediately.

I have also used this approach with our WordPress themes. When we launch a new theme for sale, we often release the Photoshop design files as a freebie on our website. This helps us garner attention for our premium product.

Using this tactic is an excellent way to entice people to purchase what you have to sell. It lets them purchase or view a simplified version of your full product to make sure they like it first and often times if it is what they are looking for, they will make the purchase. You can also make people enter their email address before they get the free version.

You can use free stuff to entice people to join your email list, like your Facebook page, follow you on Twitter, etc.

If you like our Facebook page, we give you one of our premium design items for free. Sign up to our email list and we have another exclusive freebie for you. Both these methods have helped us grow our lists rapidly.

This method is a common one that many top bloggers practice. I’m sure almost everyone has seen an email opt-in form that says something like “Sign up now and get our free e-book”.  Even here on Think Traffic, they entice you to sign up to their email list to get a Free Traffic Toolkit. And according to the Behind the New Think Traffic Design post, their opt-in forms are working quite well.

One of the best articles I’ve read about this topic is by Peep Laja of ConversionXL called Lead Magnets: Email List Building on Steroids. This is a thorough manuscript on how to build your email list.

If what you are giving away is valuable to your audience, this method will work really well for you. Free reports, e-books or design files are all good ways to get people signed up to your list.

Download with a Tweet or a Like

Shortly after we launched our website, we had a design file we created that we were going to give away, but it was so good that we were having a hard time do so. Then we came across this website that let us create a button where someone would only get our download link if they sent out a tweet about the product or liked it on Facebook. This is a free service you can find at Pay With a Tweet.

That was the start of our Pay With a Tweet Friday series. Now, when we have something that seems too ridiculous to give away for free, we make someone tweet or like it before they download it. This helps spread the word about our give away.

Our most popular Pay with a Tweet Friday item has now generated almost 700 tweets and over 500 Facebook likes. You can check it out here.

Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing has recently released his Naked Marketing Manifesto, a 42 page guide to marketing, and you need to Tweet before you can download it. From reading other blog posts about him discussing this method, I know it is working out quite well for him.

Where to Begin

Now before you go off and start releasing freebies to the world, you need to understand there are different kinds of free.

First, there is free stuff that is crap and there is free stuff that is valuable. I’m sure you have guessed it already, but giving away free stuff that has more value will help you see better results. Raise your hand if you would rather win a notepad than a car?

I’m not saying you need to give a car away to see results, but I do want to stress that if what you are giving away isn’t going to excite anyone, or have value for them, they might not even take it. So spend some time figuring out what your target market would be interested in before you create your first freebie.

Why Does Free Work?

Giving something away can be a powerful tool for you to help grow your business. Gary Vaynerchuk, Danny Iny, Think Traffic and Orman Clark are all great examples of people who have grown their business by giving something away for free.

To wrap up, I want to highlight why free works for any niche and why I suggest you try it out for yourself.

Everyone in the world loves free stuff.  I don’t know anyone who would rather pay for something than get it for nothing.

When people get something for free, they tell their friends about it.

People write blog posts about free stuff. Many sites post list articles about free items. Our second best traffic referral source is from an article on another blog that contained a link to one of our freebies.

It makes you feel good inside to do give something away for nothing.

Now It’s Your Turn

If you are already giving stuff away for free to help build your business or your lists, let me know what is working for you. On the flip side, if you haven’t tried giving something away, pick one of the methods above that you think will work for your audience and then come back and post in the comments below about how it turned out for you.

Mike Yasieniuk is web designer in Canada who has a passion for blogging. Although running his web development shop YasTech Developments and blog keep him busy full time, his main priority is his wife and kids.

32 thoughts on “The Value of Free”

  1. At least 90% of my content is free, and I give away two free e-books when a person opts in to my list. I recently ran a 30-day course and made the first lesson free for people to check it out and see if they liked the format and content, and I know that led to a few purchases.

    However, I think it’s really important to always have at least ONE paid product available for sale on your site as you’re giving away the free stuff. That way, first-time visitors can see that your blog/site is indeed a business and you will be selling things in addition to offering giveaways. It helps avoid “training” your audience to only expect free things from you and then get surprised or annoyed when you try to sell something.

    1. Shayna, I don’t think you always have to have a paid product available on your site before giving away free stuff, as long as the paid product you introduce down the road is a product that suits your audience and is something they need. Sometimes people will want to build an audience using freebies and plan to introduce a product later on. It is very important to introduce your paid product properly in this case though.

    2. The problem with free though, Mike, is that those that take your free stuff often make up a small percentage of paying customers when you actually begin to sell things.

      Freeloaders are what they are because they are reluctant to pay.

      Now, I’m not against giving away free stuff. It can help with distributing your brand and getting exposure to build momentum, but it has to be finely balanced, where the free product can in no way substitute the paid offering.

    3. @Melanie makes a great point. But I still think it depends on the market that you’re in. But the more I look everywhere the Freemium model is becoming more and more a standard.

      I started thinking how giving away to much free could start driving the wrong traffic to a website. Then again I’m just a newbie so I could be wrong.

      Great article and I think I’m going to test it and see what kind of results we get.

    4. Melanie and Wilson, I think you are both right in that their needs to be a fine balance between your free and premium product and this balance will vary depending on your industry. If your premuim product doesn’t have enough value above your free product, no one will pay. If your free items on the other hand, are targeted to the right audience, they will help drive traffic tailored to your business. Then when you release a product, if you prove it has value beyond what they can achieve with a free product without being over priced, you will be able to sell it. There will always be freeloaders, but even this traffic can be utilized to gain income through ad space.

  2. Great Article- I think the metaphor of the free version of a paid service like we’re seeing with so many products in the App Store is a really good idea, and applying it to paid services on a blog is a really interesting idea. Generally I think in terms of “this is going to be my free product to build and audience that I can sell a paid product to down the road”

  3. Great article Mike !

    I’m always giving away stuff to the members of my list, but only recently have I discovered that I needed a plan. I now know exactly the purpose of each free piece of content and what the next step should be for my lead…

    Seems simple, but I’m getting a higher ROI.


  4. All super sound ideas. I visit often and actually just signed up the other day, strangely enough. I think freebies work really well, even if you don’t always get paying customers from them, you at least get traffic and referrals.

    Thanks for the list of tips, I am definitely bookmarking this one.

  5. Good job, Mike. And very detailed. Everyone like free stuff, but the point is that we need to give free stuff carefully so others don’t underestimate that and appreciate our effort. It’s not easy, since many people usually don’t appreciate the free and cheap ones.

    Any way, thank you for your post.

  6. One of my blogs (linked to from my name) is based entirely on free stuff. I don’t create any of the free ebooks myself, but I curate the best free Kindle books every day. The site has been around for less than a year and already makes up a significant chunk of my income.

    The great thing about free stuff is that people want to share it. The result is that it’s a lot easier to build up traffic for that kind of blog.

  7. It is definitely a tough mental hurdle to overcome, but once you make the mindset shift from “my business exists to make money” to “my business exists to help people, and because I help people, the money will come,” it’s not so hard to give something away.

    I’m experiencing this mindset shift myself, and I’m working on a massive giveaway of not only content, but websites that have taken me countless hours to build.

  8. Mike you said it perfectly freebies are a powerful tool for every marketer out there. Just look at the closest store. Probablly they have some sort of presentations of a new product and you can try it there. Classic mind games. :)

  9. Very insightful post. I’ve been working on an eBook myself recently and plan on giving it away for free on my blog.

    I hope it will generate more traffic and possibly subscribers as I have put a lot of work into it.

  10. I’m sure that giving away free stuff and helping your audience as much as possible will eventually help you in having success with your blog or website.

  11. Great post. Free always draws me in. However, I do think it’s a balancing act to not give away too much free stuff to the point where people don’t value it. If I pay for something I always appreciate it more.

  12. Your article just came at the right time and really supports what I just figured. I have a digital scrapbooking site (it was a hobby ;-)) and I was against free stuff all the time because actually I thought: I want to sell, NOT give everything away. But then I discovered that a blog post with some information together with a nice freebie it made a huge difference in sales. So yes, free is great – as long as it is set around a product maybe. At least free attracts visitors and makes them happy :-)

  13. Mike,
    Started this post.
    Got to your link.
    Went to several pages on your site.
    Feel stupid.
    No idea what PSD means.
    Really embarrassed to ask, but asking for your sake.
    Help those like me out, k?
    Now I’ll go read the post. It looks great.

    1. PhotoShopDesign? 😀
      I should have told you that I also googled PSD and the first page came up with Photoshop Disaster. I wondered for a minute if you were giving away bad product for free. ha.

      Okay, moving on. Thanks for the post. I really like the idea of creating a free product for a guest post. That has great possibilities.

      The one thing I DON’T like is Pay With a Tweet. Here’s why.

      First, it makes me promote something before I’ve experienced it. Nuh uh.
      Second, (and related to the first is that) it makes me use my social capital for something that I’m unsure of AT BEST.
      Third, what I want to read or experience as a consumer is not necessarily relevant to MY audience. If you read a scuba diving blog do you really want to see the owner post a tweet about how to get more traffic to their blog? It’s very constricting.
      The end result of all of this is that I usually pass on these offers. They are just too expensive for “free.”

      Thanks again. :)

    2. Hi Susan, the pay with a tweet marketing strategy is definitely a hotly contested one, but it does have value. My audience are web designers, not scuba divers so it doesn’t concern me that a scuba diver doesn’t tweet about my free product. But, it is not odd for a web designer to tweet about a free website template or element, so they are more than willing to Pay with a Tweet to get a product that they have had to pay for with cash elsewhere. Web designers will also have a twitter following that would probably also appreciate a free web design product so this is of value to me. The # of tweets don’t matter, it is the number of tweets to our target audience that counts.

      That being said, I do understand your point though that it can force you to promote something you have not yet checked out in detail. And that might not be worth doing. You can always delete a tweet though if it ends up not being a quality product.

  14. Here’s my experience, and I have a lot of it in terms of price experimentation including free, pay what you think it’s worth PWYTIW, pay with a Tweet, paid.

    Giving away one or two things is fine to build a list. Keep doing it and you get qualified leads. Leads who like free stuff. And then don’t buy anything.

    I learnt this the hard way. To the extent I don’t offer free stuff in exchange for an email address. The email address-giving is based on convenience (“Tim will be in my inbox, I don’t have to come to his site”) plus launch discounts and special offers (e.g. “win these Oakley sunglasses”).

    About 10% of my list buys.

    Now, I sell ebooks and like-products, occasionally giving away stuff that was easy to knock up (a 20 pg ebook).

    Don’t forget, writing awesome articles that are free (I’m up to 200 at the moment, to do with cycling travel) is also giving stuff away.

    My optimum strategy: set up as a business, to sell stuff and make it clear that’s what you do. Then SELL to your list in whatever ratio you’re comfortable with (Naomi at Ittybiz I think reckons a 30% sell/70% articles mix is about right). Write free articles and let them speak for your value. Or, write shortened articles with the promise of longer ones on the list. Also, using some content protection (Wishlist for example) or WPLiker is a good way of doing this.

    1. Tim I agree that having unqualified leads on your list has no value. But, I also believe that if your free product is tailored very specifically to a target audience, you won’t get as many freeloaders. Like you mention though, you can’t abuse your list and try to sell to them all the time or it is not going to work.

      You also make a great point that articles are free and can contain valueable information that can help you build a community of supporters that will buy your products.

      Lastly you mention you don’t give away free stuff for an email address anymore, but the first thing that happened when i went to your website was i was presented with a popup that promoted a free “e-course” if i signed up? Are you not trying to get my email in exchange for a free item?

  15. Free is a very powerful tool, but I’m still trying to figure out my deployment of free products.

    How do you manage a free campaign directed at getting facebook likes? Is there a service like pay with a tweet for Facebook?

  16. FREE is the most powerful four letter word in the world. Awesome article. You covered the subject in depth. You obviously practice what you preach when it comes to giving value for free.

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