A Question About Free

I was having an interesting conversation with a friend of mine about the concept of free. He was saying that offering free items these days, which almost everyone recommends as a way to drive people to one’s blog, website, or newsletter, is passe and just doesn’t work anymore. He used as his example the free food given out at places like BJ’s Wholesale Club on a weekend and how he always passes all that stuff by.

by Derek Hatfield

Of course, his mentioning something like that to someone like me doesn’t quite work out. When I go to BJ’s on a Saturday, one of my pleasures is making sure I get to scarf up many of the free goodies, There’s no way I’d ever just up and buy anything I didn’t get to taste first, and I love sampling foods… at least foods I’ll eat.

However, his overall point seems to be one to consider. Let me ask you the question outright: how many of you really notice increases in visitors, increases in subscribers or increases in anything else when you offer something free? I have to say that my friend (okay, it’s Mitch) isn’t far off base.

For instance, how many of you have noticed the freebie there to the left, the book download of The Synergy of Business and Blogging? How many of you who saw the original post when I wrote it in January actually went ahead and downloaded it? Unfortunately for me, 1&1, my hosting company, has changed their start up page so I no longer have access to seeing how many times it was downloaded, and Google Analytics doesn’t tell me that either, but I’m betting it’s been a rare thing for me or the people who created it.

Eliminating myself from the mix, how do most of the rest of you feel about downloading free stuff? Are you wary that you’ll get viruses? Do you think you won’t get anything out of it? Have you just gone blind to the concept of free stuff posted on a blog or website? Or do you have other reasons if you don’t download, as well as reasons you do? Inquiring minds would like to know.

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34 thoughts on “A Question About Free”

    1. Rummuser, I wouldn’t have expected that would be an issue for you for some reason. lol

  1. Mitch,

    I think the whole freemium model around the internet has twisted our way of thinking.
    We expect everything for free, a blog platform, plugins, twitter, FB, Google, you name it.All free.
    Well in fact it isn’t because there ads everywhere but that’s another discussion.

    I think that content should be for a fee, unless of course you are using it for another goal (list building etc..) So one way or another it’s never really for free right?

    1. Well John, I’m not really sure. If I create something that I’m going to give away for free and I have an ulterior motive, it’s still free. If I don’t collect any email addresses and tell you that you can just download it, which I do, it’s free. If I allow you to download but you have to give me your email address, that might not be as free, but you can always unsubscribe as soon as you download, though very few people do.

      Still, it begs the question as to why, if it’s presented free with nothing attached, people still don’t do it as often as they used to, even as you said that people love everything free.

  2. Hi Mitch,

    My first time here and to be honest, I zeroed in on your content before looking around. The first thing I noticed after reading this post is your bright header, which far outshines your freebie. 🙂

    I think I am somewhat blind to “free” now, although I certainly wasn’t when I first started online. Now I tend to follow people I like and trust and want to learn from. Once I’ve determined that, I will download anything and everything they’re willing to give me, and buy some of their stuff too.

    I’m with you about the free sample food at the supermarket! I’ve bought many items I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t tried and liked the sample first. I am an article writer and I give out free samples of my writing so people know what to expect. I see 3 types: some just take the freebie and run away happily. Another thinks it’s good and comes back months later to buy. The third type came in intending to buy and when satisfied with the quality, buy immediately.

    Thanks for bringing this up. I’m curious as to what others think.


    1. Thanks Peggy, and welcome to the community! You know, every new blog I go to I take a look around after reading and/or commenting. I like to get a sense of what someone has, and I’ll often turn off my Adblocker software on the main page to see what types of things people have. I stopped subscribing to newsletters early on because these days I’d like to get to know someone first, which is why I hate being assaulted with that offer to subscribe to someone’s newsletter seconds after I start reading their post.

      At the same time, if there’s a true freebie, which I test by right-clicking to see if it’s a pdf file or a web link, I’ll often download it and check it out. After all, I just might learn or enjoy something, and I’m there at the moment. But at this juncture I also really need to clean out my computer of all that stuff, since I keep backing it up over and over. lol

  3. I’ve seen so many people having contests or giveaways when they reach certain numbers of followers or for some other reason. I don’t know how most of them do, but most of the ones I’ve kind of watched didn’t seem like they accomplished much.

    When I reached 200 followers I challenged readers to join me in Blogging from A to Z for one month and got an overwhelming response with 100 participants and added another 100 followers in that month. That was last year. This year I offered the challenge again and got over 1200 people signing on to participate.

    I think people might be more interested in being a part of something, enhancing their blogging skills, and networking to meet other bloggers and gain new followers than they are in getting free stuff.

    Tossing It Out

    1. That’s pretty amazing, Arlee. I saw your contest but knew that wasn’t my type of thing so I didn’t participate in it. But if you’re getting numbers like that you might be onto something.

      I actually held a contest at the beginning of 2010 and it failed miserably. I know a few other people who held contests and had the same thing happen. A couple of months ago I was in a writing contest myself, trying to win a free Kindle, and the surprising thing was that only 10 people signed up for it. I mean, if something that actually has some real worth was hard to draw people to, what does that really say about free?

      Course, that didn’t stop my greed. lol

  4. Ah, Lamar, where ARE you?

    There is NOTHING *FREE* in life! There’s ALWAYS an ulterior motive! It might be that you end up on a list somewhere (most likely), or that a cookie will be planted, subjecting you to keyboard tracking or….. you just get a virus, but one way or another, it’s not free!

    The exception is that you are valued and appreciated and your donor would like to offer you a ‘Thank You’ (it happens but not very often), but that is the exception, rather than the rule.

    My advice? If it’s free, give it a wide berth…. there’s a catch in there somewhere!

    Aw, shucks….. if it offers you a discount, it’s STILL suspect!


    1. That’s not quite fair, Althea. I mean, there to the left is a totally free download, no strings attached, no tracking, no nothing except blogging information. So, where’s my catch?

  5. It depends Mitch, sometimes freebies helps, but are not always the magic bullet. Depend on the business again and strategy to give something for free works with different approaches. For me this have work the best when I send newsletter and it increase number of sales with about 40%.

    1. Carl, I offer a little freebie to anyone that subscribes to my newsletter. I know that one is definitely a sales grab and don’t deny it. But the download to the left on blogging… no strings or anything else; I didn’t even create it, though I’m in it.

      1. Yeah, this is one of the basic strategies to get more subscribers to the newsletter. I see that more and more popular is becoming giving freebies through Facebook fan pages. This way traffic may get viral fairly easy.

      2. Carl, I’m not as sure as I once was about the “free” thing driving traffic, but I figure that maybe it works better than some other things people try.

  6. I actually am rarely attracted to a blog because of the “free stuff” it gives. I am all about the content and what I can find in a blog that can benefit you as a person or as a business. Of course free stuff is always good but I don’t see it as a driving motivation for me at least.

    1. Thanks Gabriele. I’m not drawn to “free”, and that’s not really the question per se. It just seems that not all that many people will download free stuff anymore, even if there are no strings attached. And if that’s the case, then why even offer it up anymore?

  7. Hi, Mitch. I don’t indiscriminately download freebies. But, I do download some free stuff if I know that it really offers something to me and I know the people offering it, like the free ebook Sherryl Perry was offering a while back. 😉 And lately, the posting guide given by Ingrid. If you would probably offer something for free, Mitch, I’d probably download it, too.

    1. I have offered some free stuff, Wes, and I think tomorrow’s post will offer a little freebie of sorts as well. And no strings attached either; just stuff for people to enjoy.

  8. I have to admit that I download something free only when it’s recommended by someone, or if I trust the person who makes available the freebie.

    1. That’s interesting Mia. I understand the trust factor for sure. I just haven’t come to grips yet with my own downloading of free stuff; I do know that I download way less free stuff now than I have in the past.

  9. Mitch,

    Arlee Bird NAILED it! It’s all about community and it’s all about great content. Period.

    I’ve been telling everyone who will listen, “invest your time wisely and read Thom Chambers offerings at InTreehouses.com. His whole premise is about reaching 1,000 true fans, which is the motivation behind “free stuff when you sign up!”

    The reason I say Arlee nailed it is that she integrates the free offer not only in the sidebar and the call to action post (presumably) but, if you look at her home page, it’s totally suffused with the A to Z Challenge! Anybody who signs up knows EXACTLY what they’re getting into. LOL

    My foodie example was off-base in comparison to blogs because stores like BJs (I wonder if they considered the ramifications of that moniker!) and Sams Club are not niche stores. Bloggers tend to have a limited number of free offerings and, in order to make an impact in these freebie jaded times, the offerings have to be outstanding, relevant and compelling.



    1. That’s an interesting though, Mitch. I’m thinking that most sites you go to you have an idea of exactly what you’re getting, based on the history of the writer. Maybe not this site so much, since I can be all over the place, but I think many sites fit that model.

      And yeah, the food comparison obviously didn’t work, especially for someone like me. lol

      1. That’s the thing, Mitch. Your question is from the content consumer’s perspective, so we have to continue searching for the WHY of people’s lack of reaction.

        1. If you are visiting a site you love, are you more likely to download the free content?
        2. If you arrive as a first-time visitor, perhaps from a search, how likely are you to download something offered?
        3. If a trusted source recommends a link, what do you do with the freebies you find there?

        In each of these cases, let’s not confuse the issue with opt-ins, since you’re going to do whatever you have to – within reason – to obtain the freebie. Besides, as you’ve said, there’s always throwaway emails and the unsubscribe link.

        In the first case, I would think the offering has a better chance of being downloaded IF it is done Arlee style :). The main reason for this qualifier is that I personally don’t even see the sidebars. I see the title and I’m into the post!

        The second case is probably the weakest of the three, regardless of the promotional style. There is no connection yet, no promise of good things to come. You MIGHT score a coup on the first post but, unless you write epic stuff each and every time, you’re going to lose the first-timers that visit on the day you decide to go off-topic 🙂

        The third case is sort of an extension of the first, in that you are reading a blog that you love and IT offers a recommended link as a freebie! By following that link, you are passing some “Trust Juice” to the linked blog. It’s a fancy way of saying social proof works. People want what other people have, if that possession confers some benefit. In the case of a link, the benefit is knowledge.



      2. You know, overall I’m just not sure that it’s about people visiting you and how often as much as what kind of experiences people have had online. For instance, if you’re relative new to the internet and you see free you’re probably downloading and subscribing to everything. But if you’ve been around the block some you’re probably more reticent in what you do, even with no strings attached.

        At the same time let’s talk about those trusted resources. Are people downloading stuff from both John chow and Problogger because they trust them more than us, or because they’re John Chow and Problogger? Do people trust them more because of what they’ve accomplished and seen versus what they’ve actually done? I ask that in the context that these days, at least on Problogger, there’s so much more guest posting than articles written by Darren himself.

        Having said that, there is still a benefit to writing about something and having people see it in a post and trust the writer because of everything else they see. Not many of us have conquered that one.

      3. Mitch,

        That an interesting dynamic. Since the user experience evolves over time, the decision to act or not act upon a free offering depends not only on that user experience, but also all the intangibles such as visitor motivation.

        For example, I may be interested in learning how to shoot and upload videos. My motivation at this time is research. If I land on a page geared toward purchase-motivation, I’m NOT downloading the freebie dangled because, in my personal EXPERIENCE, the freebie will hold back critical information until I purchase whatever the site owner wants me to buy, be it a course, video editing software or an instructional ebook. Also, my experience has been that I can find that critical information free of charge if I search properly.

        Another person may not have the time, ability or inclination to get that critical information, even knowing that the freebie tactic is a teaser. In that case, the person just might download the freebie, hoping that the value will justify an imminent purchase 🙂

        So yes, I believe the types of experience users have online definitely factor into the decision.



  10. Wow, how can I follow Mr Wonderful Wordsmith Mitch Allen’s comment??!! He sums it up in his usual amazing way.

    For me I tend to read a post and as I get to know the blog owner, then I would subscribe to things. I don’t tend to go to a post just for “free” stuff and all I have on my site is my newsletter which just gives updates on posts and lavender topics.

    Patricia Perth Australia

    1. Hi Pat,

      When I’m talking free, I’m talking about all things free. As I pointed out the free book in the left sidebar hasn’t had lots of downloads, though when I wrote the post about it there was a nice number. It’s not anything anyone has to subscribe to either, just right click & download. That’s what I mean; recommendations used to be to have free things on your site that people might like and if they see you’re treating them right they’ll continue to come back for more. These days that doesn’t seem to be quite true anymore.

  11. Well… as I have two freebies on offer right this moment (well, one and two posts back, respectively) in my blog, this is sort of apposite. Do they increase traffic? My last one got more hits than most of my posts put together, but that may be because I had a sort of commenting frenzy after posting it and – unlike me – mentioned it in a few people’s blogs, lol!

    That said, my freebies aren’t really about marketing as what I like to do is offer some free stuff once in a while as a thank you to my readers for sticking with me. The ones who download it tend, in the main, to be people who don’t or can’t do the same stuff themselves.

    I have seen your free stuff, yes. But I’ll stick my neck out here and say this: bearing in mind that the majority of your readers seem to be in the same business as yourself, marketing, online businesses, helping others blog, etc, wouldn’t they be concentrating more on shifting their own stuff rather than downloading yours? I suppose the best way to get people to download it be to try and find readers from the periphery of your niche, in other words those who are just thinking of starting up and who know very little.

    As for whether I’ve downloaded freebies – yes, I have. But I tend to go for things that I badly need and can’t otherwise afford to buy. For instance, a while back I downloaded a free screencast program, because I sure as hell can’t afford to pay £200 for something that might not even work! This way, if it crashes, I can get rid of it and not have to feel bad about it.

    Another way to look at freebies, Mitch (and Mitch!), is that we’re offering them all the time: our blog posts are free, they don’t cost the reader anything at all.

    1. Val, I thought about the freebies via blog posting when I was writing the article but I saw that somewhat differently because many times we’re expressing opinions, which isn’t quite the same as offering helpful hints or detailed instructions on how to do something, which I do on occasion. Still, the free stuff… I’m not sure that it’s quite the same thing, though it might be. Months back I asked the readers what things I could write about that might help them. Only one person responded with an answer and he said that he’d like to see more on motivation towards blogging.

      The freebie to the left is exactly that, and maybe that’s something that no one else really cares about but I know at least one person, hopefully, found it insightful. And here and there I pop a free file of some sort into a post, wondering if anyone ever downloads them as they’re not on blogging but on line goals and the like, and I never know because no one ever ponies up a response to any of the questions or how they did with them. I think one of my posts this week had something like that.

      I at least will look at things like that to see what they’re about, and like going to the one store we’ve talked about her and testing the free foodstuffs on Saturdays, since it takes no further effort on my part I have no qualms about doing so. You might be proving my point that offering free stuff is an invalid panacea for helping to drive traffic to websites or blogs or subscriptions. That just means those of us who every once in awhile are hoping to attract people need to find another way. And hopefully I’m up to the challenge.

  12. I never download anything that is free or has a trial version added to it, software and scrips are a big no, but even the ebooks and graphical content seems to have something malicious in it. Personally, i even try to stay far from those freebie off line as well, no point having a stomach problem by eating something that comes as free, rather purchase something better and healthy.

    However, on the internet, i would say that many do download the free stuff, if presented properly. An easy download option, like submit your name and email id and get the stuff emailed in your inbox, actually works. Now if you give it directly, no one will bother to subscribe, however saying that you will be giving away something good in the next post might tempt a few to subscribe.

    It is all about presentation, giving something crap but making it look like it is something people would pay anything to get will work, compared to giving awesome stuff as crap.

    1. Thanks for your opinion, Uttoran. Things certainly have changed over the years, and overall I say being security conscious is important. Still, I find it odd since, as I’ve stated before, so many say that giving away free stuff is a great way to publicize oneself.

  13. I have been able to grow my knowledge on some internet topics by downloading free content in the form of newsletters, reports and reviews. In almost all cases a follow up offer comes along with a product or service. In some cases if the free content was useful, I would buy. In other cases I would continue to read more from the author. I have used free membership to a business posting site that allowed users to gain exposure for the website or blog. Then building quality relationships and sharing strategies would lead to customers. Usually 5% of the time. So as an entry point as long as there is good content and value I believe “free” is a good method. Pj

    1. Thanks for your comment, Polinas. I think you’re the first person who’s owned up to still downloading free stuff. 🙂

      1. Thanks Mitch 🙂

        Continuing to learn and grow. I appreciate your attention to your readers. Pj

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