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Marketing | Feb 24
Belynda Cianci on February 12, 2020 (last modified on February 13, 2020) • 25 minute read
If you sell a service or a software solution, you know that getting people to try before they buy is critical for improving your adoption rates and keeping your revenue healthy.
But in an ever-expanding landscape of free trials and offers, getting people to say “yes” to a trial offer is becoming far more difficult. There’s more pressure than ever on marketers to demonstrate their value proposition and get users excited about the features and functionality of the product.
To help you improve your reach and get more users into the top of your funnel, we reached out to over 30 experts to get their best tips for driving trial sign-ups. They had a lot to say about the process of turning lookie-Lous into users and even brand evangelists, and we’ve compiled the results in this report.
What is the value of offering a free trial?
Mostly everyone has used a trial service at some point, as a solution for some professional or personal challenge. A free trial allows you to take the features and functionality for a test-drive before committing to a monthly fee, a contract, or an annual charge. However, making sure the free trial hits the mark is important in getting testers to become users.
While there were many useful tips offered up by our respondents, there were a few clear frontrunners in terms of effective strategies.
The collective tips from all who contributed fell into the following categories:
If you’d like to know more about one of these tips, click the links above, or scroll on to learn everything our experts had to share.
Overwhelmingly, the most popular fix for low engagement on trial periods was to make the opt-in process as quick and painless as possible.
Danish Maniyar of SoGoSurvey put it simply. “Excellent onboarding is the solution to trial conversion success.” How simply? Lisa Zwikl of SmartAcre likes to apply “The 30-second test! Have a few people—bonus points if they are outside of your office and industry— look at your landing page for 30 seconds. Can they tell you what they are getting? Is the value clear? Do they know what to do next. If not, there is a clear opportunity to make some simple improvements to your page to increase free trial signups. Don’t overthink it, just clearly convey the ‘what’s in it for me’.”
Paul Gordon of myPresences agrees. “Keep the signup process simple, a single email address or social signup if possible. Look at your signup form, every extra field you are asking your potential user to enter will lower your signup rate. You can ask for extra information once they have signed up. At myPresences we removed asking for a business name and confirming a password and also added the ability to signup via social with Facebook, Google, Twitter and LinkedIn and our free trial signups increased by 26%. We are still asking for a password for people signing up via email, but are looking to remove this soon so it is simple to email-only signup via the homepage.
Says Gordon, “People coming to your homepage for the first time will probably give you a few seconds to grab their attention and your CTA must be obvious, trustworthy, quick and easy to execute. Making the signup process as frictionless as possible is a no brainer to increasing your free trial signups.”
Juan Perez of Instavast also relies on one-click signups to drive engagement. “Make the sign-up process as easy as possible (sign up with Google or FB accounts for example).” Then, says Perez, “Bold the benefits of the trial period (for example we say you can get 100 followers in the trial period for free, so we advertise like, get 100 new Instagram followers for free, instead of simply saying get a free 3-day trial).”
Don’t assume that your prospect is going to go digging for the information, says Jacqueline Phillips of amoCRM. “Minimize friction: create clear calls-to-action that make it easy to sign up. You’d be amazed at how many people jump ship simply because creating a trial is too hard! The very best thing you can do is to audit the process yourself — how many clicks did you have to make? How many fields did you have to fill in? Did you test the experience on other devices such as mobile? There’s no magic number of steps to strive for, but if you can make it easier to sign up, you’ll see a bump in conversions.”
There’s one key to streamlining that can increase engagement. “If you want people to sign up, you should ask for less information from them—that’s the mantra, “says Vartika Kashyap of ProofHub. “We’ve increased a large percentage of sign-ups by simply avoiding asking them for payment method upfront because we didn’t want to lose our potential customers. When a user signs up on ProofHub for a free trial, it doesn’t ask the user for payment information at the time of sign up. This is how it should be. It is a worthy step as people trust you more and signup. Let people fall in love with your features before you ask for any personal information.”
Another item to avoid asking for, says Emily Banks of Inseev Interactive: The payment. “If you want to increase your free trial sign up rate, along with build trust and credibility with potential customers, do not ask for credit card information on your sign-up form. If you are presenting a truly free trial, there is no need to collect any sort of payment information quite yet. Instead, allow your prospective customers the opportunity to experience the product and they will purchase it if they see the value. Preemptively requesting credit card details can turn-off customers by leading them to believe they are not actually being offered a free service. Mitigate such problems by simply asking for an email address or phone number upon trial sign-up.”
This approach also works for Laura Gonzalez of Audi South Orlando. “You should tailor your offering so that it is a truly free no-commitment trial and customers do not need to enter in any credit card information, sign up for emails, or jump through hoops to get the free trial. Your product/service offering should speak for itself and should be enough to get them to sign on after the trial expires.”
Hannah Butler of WriteMyPaper4Me had a wealth of valuable and relatable insights on the idea of information-harvesting. Says Butler of long forms with numerous requirements, “There’s nothing worse than having to find the obscure piece of linked text hidden away in the rest of the copy only to find you’re taken to another page with another link and before you know it you’ve turned your whole site into one giant Easter egg hunt.
Butler also cautions, “Be Careful What You’re Asking for. The number one reason people are put off filling out any onsite forms is those little stars that indicate a required field. Think about the information you really need, a name and email address will usually do. If they want you to contact them by phone they’ll leave their phone number, but don’t force them. “
“As a web developer at writemypaper4me.co, I know that customers do not want to leave a lot of personal information. Put yourself in their shoes, are you going to bother filling out a contact form that asks for a full name, business address, inside leg measurement, bank card pin number? After a while it just gets silly so leave it as simple as possible, make the first contact then you can worry about bombarding them with sales phone calls and junk mail.”
“Effectiveness in delivery is also important, say’s Butler. “If they’re filling out their details for you to contact them to give them the option of when they’d like you to contact them if you’re offering a free trial toolbox don’t make them wait all afternoon for it to appear in their inbox, let it be used instantly. Don’t forget some common courtesy, take them to a simple thank you message once their information has been sent, there’s nothing worse than hitting that submit button and nothing happens.”
And finally, “We’ve already talked about how internet savvy your traffic is becoming, they know leaving their contact details behind just means they’re opening themselves up to be spammed to death so reassure your traffic that’s not how you do things. Don’t hide away the opt-out option and don’t make it too complicated but stuffing it full of double negatives. Ask them if you can contact them with special offers and ask them if your network can contact them and if they say no you need to make it perfectly clear you’re not going to sell their details five minutes later. Once they know their details are safe they’ll feel more inclined to leave them behind.”
Not every expert agreed with the “less is more approach,” with an interesting rationale behind their decision. Dan Uyemura of PushPress says that, in addition to “positioning ourselves as a company that helps our clients solve THEIR CLIENTS pain points… via content,” they also ask a lot of their prospects at first blush.
“Something we have seen that has really helped our free trial ADOPTION is actually asking a lot of questions on sign up to get the client bought into the system. I think this might be semi-unique to us, as we offer a free version of our platform in a space no one does, so we have that competitive advantage. We use that data on free sign up to disqualify bad leads AND to get market data on who’s interested in our platform.”
Michael Lowe of Carpassionate, is also a proponent of more information over less. “You can increase free sign ups quite easily, however, you will suffer in quality of leads and your conversion rate % will drop significantly. You should make signups easy to access but demand a fair bit of info from them. Things such as name, company, tel no, email, why they want to sign up, etc. – not only will this defer the non-serious applicants it will also give you a lot of data to use in follow up marketing. Full information and what you offer will help with transparency – the more people know about the service you offer the most trust they place in you and more likely to hand over their details and sign up.”
The other major advice category we saw revisited was concerned with getting back to the basics with solid marketing practices.
For instance? Don’t just create a touchpoint. Actually get in touch, says Mark Fershteyn of Recapped.io who has seen “massive jumps in conversion by calling trials within 15 minutes of their account creation. It’s been a game-changer.”
If email is more your thing, several experts gave tips about marketing via this powerful medium. Doug Dennison of MailNinja says, “Email marketing can be a great tool to increase free trial signups, especially in the lead up to launching a new product. Using social media as a channel to drive pre-signups by offering early ‘sneak peak’ access or an early-bird discount can be a huge driver for attracting people to sign up in the early days. Everyone wants to get their hands on the latest new thing.”
And Kris Gunnars of Search Facts says “Getting people on an email list before trying to get them to sign up for a free trial can be helpful. People are more likely to sign up if they have already become familiar with you and your brand via repeat visits through an email list.
Adds Gunnars, “Many of the world’s most successful marketers prioritize free email sign-ups above all else. That’s because they know that it is easier to convert people into customers after they have become subscribers.”
Paying attention to your website usability and content is important for giving customers the confidence to get in the door. Colin Gray of The Podcast Host ltd. and Alitu reminds us that it all begins with a good search strategy, which gets people in the door to your free trial in the first place. “It’s old-school, but good keyword research is the road to the vast majority of our signups. Content marketing alone isn’t enough – it has to be highly targeted at the keywords your audience is searching for, which is entirely dependent on the biggest questions they’re asking.”
Says Gray, “So, use any way you can to find out – really – what questions your customers are asking. That means tools like answerthepublic.com, Quora, and Buzzsumo to browse through and get the bigger picture. It means participating in forums, getting to know newcomers to your niche, and asking them, what are you struggling with? Anything you need help with?”
“And it means engaging with your own audience, drawing them in, and asking them those questions directly. We do that through our email list. For everyone who signs up, the 3rd or 4th email they get is one simple question, ‘What are you struggling with?’ We get so many great questions back from that.”
“Those questions give you ideas for your keywords, and then it’s down to the stats. Research search volumes, synonyms, phrases vs words, and much more. Use free tools like Google Ads offer or paid tools like SEMRush. Once you have your list of properly research keywords, the ones you truly KNOW are being searched a lot, then you can start your content. And, when content is that targeted towards people’s questions, people’s problems, they can’t fail but find you, and sign up to try the product you’ve designed to solve them.”
Working good SEO and the right messaging into your site is key, says Kristie Holden of Marketcircle. “Assuming you have a product that adds value for customers and is a must-have that people recommend to others, one effective tip for increasing free trial signups is to focus on your promoters- the people that love your product and recommend it to others. Find out what they use your product to help them achieve – the problem they use it to solve – and what they love about it.”
Then, “Focus on optimizing your website to build a compelling messaging that focuses on those pain points and key benefits so you can optimize the traffic you’re getting and drive more visitors to sign up for a free trial. If you can do that effectively, then you can add fuel to the fire by accelerating traffic through Social Media, Content Marketing, SEO, PR, Ads, etc.”
The clincher though says Holden: “If the marketing message on your website isn’t compelling, it doesn’t matter how much you invest in other marketing strategies to drive traffic, your message won’t be compelling enough to convert that traffic into trial signups.”
Focusing your optimization has to start with knowing where your audience comes from, says Nick Hollinger of Visitor Queue. “To increase your free trial sign-ups, you must first ensure you know where your existing free trial sign-ups are coming from. Once you know where they are coming from, if you haven’t already, test every possible channel with a small but statistically significant budget. Then, measure the effectiveness of the channels on a Cost Per Free Trial Sign-up metric (also known as Cost Per Acquisition – CPA).
Says Hollinger, “The channels with the lowest cost per free trial sign-up should be scaled and tapped out of their potential first before you invest in the other channels. At Visitor Queue, we know that AdWords is our most cost-effective channel, so, we spend all that we can there each month before expanding into Facebook, Quora, LinkedIn, and other paid channels.”
Besides good web design, content is also an important part of the equation.
Teodora Gavrilut of Bannersnack says, “Use blog articles for awareness and optimize your landing pages’ structure for the middle and bottom-funnel stages in the buyer’s journey when the main CTA is subscribing for trial, taking into account the keywords with commercial investigation intent behind them. Match the intent of the user with the correct type of content on each marketing channel and make sure to use the tone of voice your target audience relates with. This is for organic traffic, which in our case is generating most of the trials.”
Says Gavrilut, “For paid campaigns, create a drive toward your trial campaign by building a funnel outside the website. Make sure the post-click landing pages you use in the funnel don’t have the typical header and footer with lots of links, and many other links that will drive the user’s attention away from our main goal: increasing the number of trials. Include testimonials in your trial landing page and few main points (even a video) about your product or service. The CTA has to be prominent and self-explanatory. Try personalizing the CTA as studies show it increases CTR, like ‘Unlock Your Free Trial,’ or ‘Start Your Free Trial.’”
Maksym Babych of SpdLoad gives this advice on improving the ease of use in sign-up: “To increase the number of subscriptions, you need to improve the user experience of a product. Let’s consider User Experience Improvement Techniques:
If you want to sell the value of your product, don’t do it yourself. Relying on the power of testimonial and social proof with a well-designed website can greatly improve your results. Nadine De Asis of SEO Agency Melbourne TopRankings puts it, “Providing testimonials will increase the free trial signups. Most customers take into consideration what others have to say about a specific product or service.”
Says Izabela Harbarczyk of Bouncer. “We’ve noticed that the credibility of the website and building trust was the main reason why our signups finally increased. People did hesitate to leave their email addresses with us until we had some information about our team and some social proof. Super helpful! Go to your website now, try to look at it from a different perspective, and ask yourself a question – can I trust this website? If there is even a slight uncertainty, fix it! Trust is gold!
Venkatesh C.R. of Dot Com Infoway confirms it with some statistics. “Add Success Proof: 70% of online consumers look at a product review before making a decision. So marketers are using social proof to encourage visitors to complete their sign up forms. Social proof is the reason for visitors to trust you and your business. Some of them are mentioned below:
“These successful social proofs,” says Venkatesh, “give prospects one last push of encouragement before signing up. This also reminds prospects that they made the right decision.”
Kurt Uhlir of Showcase IDX agrees with the power of this strategy. “Collecting and telling superhero stories are the key to increasing free trial signups. Wise marketers know that their customers are the superheroes and that our job is to position our company as the sidekick that enables that superhero to accomplish their mission.”
“Everyone wants to be Batman but no one wants to wash and polish the Batmobile. When a potential customer sees that your goal is to make them the superhero within their organization and to their own customers, they’ll sign up faster and be more open to investing the time to properly trial your product.”
Editor’s Note: Do you need to keep an eye on revenue flows once you’ve wowed during your trial period and converted your testers to paying customers? Check out the ProfitWell Revenue Trends dashboard to see all the numbers at a glance.
Making your unique value proposition stand out is another way to give trial-users confidence.
Matt Edstrom of GoodLife Home Loans, which offers reverse mortgages, has a unique perspective on this process “While GoodLife doesn’t have the prototypical free trial program that many companies offer, we do offer trial services such as educating potential customers about whether the service is right for them or not, as well as free tools such as a reverse mortgage calculator to give those on the fence about taking the reverse mortgage route some peace of mind.”
Says Edstrom, “The key to increasing free trial signups is making sure to highlight your most useful, unique tools and features in order to increase word-of-mouth recommendations, the appeal of signing up, etc. Highlighting these tools will attract people initially, and if the quality of these tools and features is proven to be good, then that should increase the number of long-term trial signups you do get.”
And Malte Scholz of Airfocus says, “The key for increasing free trial signups is to showcase how your app helps people through your content. For example, Ahrefs has some of the best content in the SaaS business and every article lists at least 3-4 ways to use their own app. If you want to achieve the results they show in their content, you have to use their app. So, base your content on helping your customers, but absolutely make sure to plug your product in a natural way like Ahrefs does.”
To do that, says Melanie Musson of QuoteInspector.com, “Become an expert on what your target audience wants. If you find something that resonates and meets that desire it will be easier to land a customer. Don’t just randomly guess what they want, though. Before narrowing down your free trial ideas, request that your audience fill out surveys. Offer incentives for the surveys, like a drawing for a gift card. Once you see what your audience needs, meet it, and offer it as a free trial.”
Give the people what they want, and give it to them long enough to get them hooked. That’s the advice of several of our experts.
Paul Katzoff of WhiteCanyon Software focuses on sessions over expiration in their approach to this tip, giving this advice: “Provide 20 free uses of the software tool,” while Raj Dosanjh of Rent Round prefers the exploding approach. “Always set an expiry date on free trial codes, it encourages quick sign up as opposed to customers putting it on a to-do list.”
Dan Madden of citrusHR explains further. “The purpose of a free trial is to give your prospective customers a first taste of how you can change their life. The quicker you can do that, the greater the impact. The ‘oh my god how did I ever live without this?!’ moment we’re all looking to create shouldn’t be happening on day 13 of your 14-day trial!”
“With that in mind,” says Madden, “it’s crazy to see so many long, convoluted free trial sign-up processes (and we’ve been guilty of this in the past here at citrusHR!). These lengthy forms don’t suit the prospect; no-one wants to have to work to get into your product. The argument that I often hear is that the information you get from those additional fields means you can customize the onboarding experience and deliver a greater conversion rate to subscription. I think that’s nonsense. You can get that information later.”
“Strip away anything from your free-trial form that isn’t absolutely necessary and reduce the barrier to entry for the user,” advises Madden. Your customer success team or an automated variation of it can then engage them, get that additional information and start curating their experience to their needs.”
Rahul Setia of ProProfs.com says, “In my experience, human decision-making is powered largely by comparison of features and customer support on offer. People (including me) like the idea of test-run, be it a car purchase or a software tool. They test a few and then pick the one that offers the most lucrative features and benefits. And yes, what you charge doesn’t matter. People don’t give a hoot to money anymore given they like the product. (Apple products are a great example – there are smartphones and laptops, and then there are Apples. It bags the largest market share despite being pricier.)”
“So, in my view, the ONE effective technique to bag more trial-runners is to let them taste the blood – let the user try full features of your product for half a month. Great product offering coupled with delightful customer support turns leads into customers for sure.”
Setia backs this up with some stats: “16% of companies get more than half of their new business from free trials, says Totango. How well-crafted is your pricing page determines if the buyer moves IN or OUT. As a marketing professional, I practice and recommend offering Full Features of a product at $0 for a significant amount of time for the user to be able to make up their mind. For example, we A/B tested this at ProProfs and the result was amazing. All our packages are now FREE for 15 days.”
Maksym Babych of SpdLoad also shared info on another topic important to increasing adoption: Feedback. “Yes, it’s very simple,” Says Babych. “You could use a minimum of 20 tactics for increasing your rate in 1-2-3%, or you can ask users directly, what stopped them before free trial? Make a survey immediately before the user leaves the site, and ask them why people do not want to take a free trial.
“If the user signed up,” says Babych,” you have even more options. You can email a free trial registration and find out what they would like to receive from the free trial.”
Editor’s Note: Do you use Drift to stay in touch with your audience? Track all the relevant stats for your conversations in order to improve your outreach with the Drift dashboard.
Don’t forget to be helpful. If your customers feel like they’re on their own during the trial process, it doesn’t make for a great long-term relationship.
Trey Damdinsuren of Erxes Inc. believes that how you treat people, especially before the sale, can have a deep impact on the outcomes. “Besides SEO, social media promotion, email marketing, ProductHunt launch that could increase traffic and signups, don’t forget to provide very good support service for everyone including trial users. A happy customer would refer your product & service to many other potential customers. Word of mouth strategy has a much higher rate of conversion.”
One tip we received works on the principle that people will value those things they pay for. Says Ethan Taub of Goalry, “Charge people. It may go against the grain of free, but believe me, it works so much better. Oftentimes people will sign for a free trial and be lax in using it as they are not paying anything. No recriminations encourage laziness and apathy. If you charge a nominal fee, not only do it show confidence and value in your brand but it will encourage signups to actually use and trial the software. The key here is to offer them a refund of the cost if they use the system and decide not to continue. However, if they don’t use the software or similar then they don’t get a refund. This works if your service is great, as they will use it and if they like it, much more likely to sign up.”
By employing the above host of tips and tricks, you should see great improvements in your adoption rates, understand the motivations and pain points that drive your customers, and be able to better meet those needs in product and messaging. Using even one of these strategies can have a positive impact, and incorporating all as best practices can really move the needle for your adoptions and later your retention rates.
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