Free For All

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Free for All

by Jennifer Johnson

The Internet is great, isn’t it? There is such a vast wealth of information and services at your fingertips and, even better, most of it is FREE.

I would say that many of us are affected in one way or another as site owners by the fact that there is such a huge amount of “free stuff” online. After all, we probably wouldn’t get rich if we decided to charge admission to our sites, would we?

Much pressure exists to provide free information or, in some cases, free services in order to be competitive in the online arena. It’s sometimes difficult to strike a balance between providing enough at no charge and giving away the farm.

I’d like to explore how “free stuff” can help or hurt your online business.

FREE INFORMATION

In a time when practically anyone can create a web site, you are compelled to provide a certain amount of free content in order to justify your status as an “expert”, or at least someone knowledgeable, in any given area.

Joe Website down the block can just as easily put up a virtual storefront proclaiming to be a software expert as an *actual* software expert can. What distinguishes the two may come down to the free information provided on site.

You may be thinking, “Why should I give everything away”? That’s not what I’m suggesting. You do, however, need to provide enough free content to show your visitors that you know your subject matter. After all, do you expect them to “take your word for it” that you know of what you speak? If you are, you’re acting a tad naïve.

Unless you have a well known “brand name”-type business the average visitor doesn’t know you from a can of paint. Don’t give away all your secrets, but do provide enough information so your visitor can make a judgement on whether or not to hire you, for example.

FREE SERVICES/PRODUCTS

It’s useful if you can provide some type of free service for your visitors. Of course, you don’t want this to be the bread and butter service you are offering on your site or you’ll never make any money. But if you can offer some valuable service you can potentially encourage trust, improve your credibility, and develop return customers. It’s up to you after that to sell the visitors on services or products you charge for.

Another idea that may help your site is by utilizing free product giveaways. Only you can decide exactly what and how to incorporate this. One idea is to give a free item for purchases over X amount. This way, you’ve made the sale and the customer feels like they’ve got an additional reward for doing business with you.

CONTESTS AND GIVEAWAYS

Without question, running a contest can generate quite a bit of traffic for your site. The question you must answer as a site owner is are these quality clicks or merely quantity clicks?

I’ll use an example from my own experience:

At one time I ran a contest on my graphics site. The prize was my “Standard Image Pak” which I also sold on the site. Over the course of the next few months, I received hundreds and hundreds of click-throughs and contest entries. Anyone care to venture a guess as to how many *orders* I received? ZERO. What’s worse than that is the prize only cost $4.95 to buy, but I had a large group of people return faithfully every single month to try and win it!

As you can see from that example, just because your hit counter begins to spin you won’t necessarily be pulling down serious orders because of the increased traffic.

In retrospect, a better contest might have been to give away a much smaller graphics package and a discount off the larger one. I will not ever run a contest offering one of my main products as the prize again.

As you can see, there are many ways to incorporate “free stuff” into your site. Make sure that when you do so you’re actually helping your site and no t hurting it by giving away too much!


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