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You probably already know giving something away for free in exchange for an email address (also known as a “lead magnet”) is a very common and effective way to add subscribers to your email list. But did you know offering a freebie could actually be hurting your list-building and email marketing efforts?
Here are some reasons your freebie might actually be causing more harm than good (and what you can do about it).
Your freebie is better than your emails.
The first way your freebie might hurt you actually isn’t a problem with your freebie–it’s a problem with your emails.
If after downloading your freebie your subscribers start getting a lot of emails from you they aren’t interested in, your open rates and click-through rates (the percentage of people who open your emails and click the links in them) will start going down, which can hurt your email deliverability (meaning your emails could start going straight to people’s spam folders).
Also, if people are giving you their email address only because they want your freebie and not because they’re actually interested in your content, they may sign up for it using a secondary email address they only use for such purposes and never check (which you’ll be paying for if your email service provider charges per subscriber!).
Your freebie isn’t related to your content.
Your freebie may be really great, and your emails may be great as well, but if your freebie is completely unrelated to the topics you blog about and email about, the people who sign up for it won’t be as likely to be interested in future offers or emails, and again, you’ll end up paying for subscribers who are worth nothing to you and your open rates will suffer.
I learned this lesson with a few of my early freebies on my website RVinspiration.com. For example, one of my first free downloads was printable spice labels that were used as part of a blog post I wrote about how I made a magnetic spice wall. Anyone who downloaded free spice labels who wasn’t also interested in RVing probably got annoyed with my emails pretty quickly!
Now I always make sure that any freebies I offer will only appeal to people who are likely to also be interested in the rest of my content.
Also, you never want to make people feel like you’re tricking them or bribing them. Your email form should make it clear exactly what people are signing up for. If they’ll be getting additional emails from you in addition to the freebie, they need to know that when they sign up (this is actually required by the GDPR laws in the European Union, so if any of your site visitors come from the EU, you’ll want to do this anyway to be GDPR compliant).
What to do instead:
Create free downloads that will interest the kind of subscribers you actually want on your list, and make it clear that along with the free download, they’ll also receive emails from you about whatever topic you email about.
Your freebie isn’t useful to the person you’re offering it to.
Obviously any freebie you create should actually be useful and not something easily Googled. But that’s just part of it. Not only does your freebie need to provide actual value, it also needs to be useful to the people who see it.
For example, one of my popular freebies is a checklist for cold weather RVing. If I were to offer this freebie on a blog post about RV organization ideas, then an RVer who spends every winter in Florida would scroll right past it. That’s why I only display this freebie on my blog posts about preparing an RV for cold weather.
What to do instead:
Only offer freebies likely to interest people viewing the page the freebie is on. Additionally, make sure a generic sign-up form that doesn’t include a free download is available on every page in case people would like to sign up for your emails but aren’t interested in your freebie.
Your freebie requires a time commitment.
How many times have you signed up for a free e-book you never read? How many times have you not signed up for a free e-book because you knew you wouldn’t actually read it?
The more time your freebie requires to consume, the less likely people are to sign up for it. That’s why a “PDF guide” often converts at a higher rate than 150-page e-book about the same topic (which may seem crazy since the guide is probably actually LESS valuable) and why, if you have an e-book, you should be charging for it!
Here’s an example: One of my early RV Inspiration freebies was a 16-page PDF called “The Ultimate Guide to Painting Your RV Interior”. Later I created a one-page PDF called “The Quick-Start Guide to Painting Your RV Interior”, and I offered it for free instead, and it actually converted at a much higher rate. Not only that, but I created an automatic email that would send a day later to everyone who downloaded the Quick Start Guide offering them the chance to buy the Ultimate Guide, and I currently sell about ten of these guides per month with no ongoing marketing other than the freebie in my related blog posts.
Keep in mind that there might be times you would want fewer people to sign up for a freebie because it means the people who do sign up are more likely to be committed. For example, I offer a free mini-course on downsizing. A course of any kind requires some level of commitment, but if people can’t commit to and complete a mini-course, they certainly won’t be able to commit to and complete my full paid course on the same topic, and I would rather only offer that course to people I know are serious about wanting to downsize.
On a related note, the more personal information you request on the sign-up form, the less likely people will be to complete it. Again, that might be exactly what you want in order to make sure you only get qualified subscribers who you can know will be interested in your content and offers. Just be aware of this principle, and don’t ask for any information on an email signup form that you don’t actually need (like a last name, perhaps).
What to do instead:
If you have a freebie that takes too much time to consume, try breaking off just a small part of it to offer instead, and sell the complete version. For example, you could offer a free chapter of an e-book instead of the whole thing, or better yet, a checklist or 1-page guide that would be likely to interest the same people. Using my downsizing course as an example, I could offer a list of places people could recycle their belongings that would be relevant to people who might also be interested in my course without giving away too much of the course for free.
Your freebie is offered too soon.
Maybe there’s nothing wrong with your freebie–it’s valuable, relevant, quickly consumable–but you’re just offering it too soon. First-time visitors to your website can’t possibly know if they’re interested in your free report in the first 2 seconds they’re on your site, so if you greet them with a giant pop-up offering it, they’ll likely just exit and proceed to read the article they came there for.
What to do instead:
Offer your freebie at a time when the person reading your blog post would be able to take the time to understand its value and decide whether or not it’s relevant to them. Like this:
(Side note: Adding relevant freebies to blog posts and segmenting subscribers according to the freebie they opted in for is super easy with ConvertKit! Free email service providers are great when you’re first starting out, but if you’re ready to get serious about email marketing, it might be worth making the switch!)