Using the Word “Free” in Marketing: When It Converts (and When It Doesn’t)

Do you have a free product or service that your prospects totally ignore?

Like a free consultation, a free ebook or a free audit you thought will get you leads but became a major disappointment?

Sure, “free” is a powerful word. Especially because humans are notoriously bad at withstanding the temptation of free stuff.

But—funny story—slapping “free” on something and hoping for your prospects clicking your call-to-action button like mad isn’t going to work.

What to learn how to use the word “free” in your marketing to get more prospects to opt-in for your freebie?

You’re about to discover:

  • 3 cases when the word “free” leaves your prospects indifferent
  • What to keep in mind when writing your “free offer” copy
  • 6 typical scenarios when the word “free” will work great
  • One framing trick to increase conversions of your freebie

3 cases when the word “free” does not work

#1: Your prospects expect your offer to be free

Sign up for my newsletter. It’s free.

Newsletter sign-up form - an example where "free" does not work

Wow, so unusual! Because I actually pay all those companies that flood my inbox with their emails.

#puuulease

#2: Your offer is perceived as not valuable enough

Download this free ebook.

Free ebooks. Another thing you won’t see on many website these days. Oh, wait…

#eyeroll

Nobody’s going to download your ebook only because it’s free. You also need to tell people how it’s going to solve their problems.

#3: People don’t understand your offer

I saw this free offer the other day on a photographer’s website:

an example of a free service where the word free does not work
An offer for a free portrait setting. If only their prospects knew what a “portrait setting” is 🤔

Do you get what’s offered here? ’cause I don’t.

Do they mean they’ll do a free portrait shoot? But this would be just doing work for free, which sounds too good to be true (not to mention a disastrous business idea).

What’s portrait / engagement setting anyway? Is this some term photographers use?

#meconfused

Here’s a (not so) shocking revelation…

You should treat the copy that surrounds your freebie the same way you should treat all the copy on your website.

At the very minimum, the copy that describes your free offer needs to be:

  • clear
  • valuable
  • relevant

+ counter objections and reservations of your prospects that may prevent them from taking you up on it.

What does it mean specifically?

5 things to keep in mind when using the word “free” in your marketing

☐ Will all your prospects understand every word of your copy?
☐ Do prospects expect your offer to be free?
  • Make sure that the “free” part of your offer ads value and isn’t taken for granted. If you’re offering something that’s expected to be free (for ex., newsletter), drop the word “free” altogether and concentrate on proving the value of your insights.
☐ Is it a common offer that your prospects have seen before?
  • If it’s not a common offer, make sure to explain the details so that your prospects understand what is it exactly they’ll be getting.
☐ Is “free” the only benefit of your offer?
  • Don’t make “free” the only good thing about your offer. Make sure to mention how it will benefit your prospects.
☐ Does your free offer look too good to be true?
  • If what you’re giving away is something other businesses charge for, your prospects may think there is a catch. Make sure to address their reservations and be open about why you’re being so generous.

6 typical scenarios when the word “free” will work great

Let’s assume your is copy clear, relevant, valuable etc. at all times. Here are several common scenarios where your prospects will appreciate your free offer.

  1. Free discovery call / free consultation
  2. Free but valuable bonus if a prospect buys today
  3. Free shipping
  4. Buy 2 get 1 free
  5. Free gift added to every order over a certain sum
  6. Free trial

Notice how in none of these scenarios “free” is taken for granted (not everyone does free discovery calls, offers free shipping, free trial, etc.).

Tip #1: Use “free” in your CTA

Don’t forget to repeat the word “free” on your call-to-action button. This will remind your prospects that this is a no-brainder commitment. For example:

  • Book your free discovery call
  • Start your free trial
  • Join for free

Tip #2: Try using “$0” instead of “free”

In 2019, Korean scientists ran 10 experiments where they tested “free” vs “$0” in field, lab and online setting. Funny story: “$0” always performed better.

“So, what should I do about my free ebook?”

The word “free” + resource works ONLY if the resource itself is valuable.

Why?

Because a phrase “free ebook / checklist / template” doesn’t automatically imply a benefit the same way as, “free shipping” does, for example.

You should definitely mention “free” to clarify, because not every resource out there is free, but you shouldn’t rely on the “free” part alone.

Basically, your resource should be so good and the copy explaining its benefits so on-point that your prospects will think, “Wow, and THIS is for free?!”

But do you really want to make it free?

Before you start worrying about whether or not to use the word “free”, it makes sense to think whether giving this thing away is a good marketing strategy.

Because chances are, you’re about to convert your book shop into a library—solving the problems your prospects would otherwise hire you to solve for free.

A real life example

A couple of months back, I was writing new copy for an IT consultancy. When I was doing competitor research, I noticed that many companies in their niche offered a free IT audit.

But my client wasn’t. So I asked him what he thinks about it.

He told me that his company decided not to offer a free audit because he thinks it makes them look desperate. Such audits take a lot of effort, and it doesn’t make any sense from a business perspective to give the expertise of his team away for free.

Think about it.

Does offering a free 20-minute consultation help you close enough clients to justify the time you spend on those calls? Or do most of your prospects thank you for your time and disappear forever?

Will shipping free samples of your product all over the country pay off at the end? Or will blow a hole in your small business budget you won’t be able to close?

Because getting your prospects to take you up on your free offer only makes sense if you manage to convert enough of them into paying customers.

Leave a Comment

3 thoughts on “Using the Word “Free” in Marketing: When It Converts (and When It Doesn’t)”

  1. Your posts always make me think, hard, about how I can apply the ideas to my tiny one-book author site. Thanks!

    Can’t wait to get closer to finishing the second book in the trilogy so I can plan marketing. So many more options exist when you have more than one product.

    Reply
  2. Another great article Gill, thank you!

    Offering free discovery call is opening the doors for new projects. Plus you get the chance to ask all the questions you need in order to put together a proposal that the client won’t be able to refuse.

    I still wonder what is a portrait setting…?

    Reply
    • Hi Timea. Sure, if those free discovery calls work for you, then you should keep doing them. They would be a total nightmare for me though.

      Stopping what I’m doing 30 min before the meeting to put proper clothes and make-up on, be there 10 minutes earlier to check if everything is working, then spend some time to regain focus and pick up my other tasks. Only to discover that you and the prospect aren’t a good fit after all 😱 That would be a huge time waste.

      I think in the past year, I had 3-4 prospect calls, but only after I knew what they want and that I can help, and that my fees are within their budget. I close the majority of my prospects via email, while answering their inquiries on my own time, without much overhead or hustle.

      Everyone has their own approach, I guess 🙂

      Reply
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