Free memberships: More than just lead generation

It’s no secret that people are attracted to free stuff, and bringing in more traffic means more leads – and more opportunities to convert sales!

But, when it comes to membership sites, having a free option provides benefits beyond the obvious.

Sure, lead generation is part of the picture, but when you create a membership site, you’re doing more than making sales; you’re building a community and an entire ecosystem around your business. Whether your site offers products, services, or access to gated content, free memberships can help to create customer confidence, foster brand reach, and can do wonders for engagement and your overall business growth.

In this post we’ll discuss some reasons why, but first – let’s make a distinction between the two most common types of free memberships:

The free membership tier

This can be an introductory level of membership that gives customers only the most limited access to basic content and functionality, or even just access to a “member’s area”. This can include sample portions of content or free introductory content – things like the first video in a course or series, a collection of beginner-level how-to guides, free sample downloads, or access to your web app with limited functionality.

With a free membership tier, your premium content stays restricted to paid members, consistently enticing free members and giving you options for upselling and marketing your paid membership(s), as well as any other products you offer. Whatever you decide to give your free members access to, the goal is to expand your user base and get your content (including your marketing messages) in front of more people.

The free trial period

A free trial is typically a time-sensitive offer, giving customers full access to your membership site for a certain period of time. This allows them to experience everything, not just select content, and can be particularly good for conversions, as people often don’t want to lose access to the tools and resources they’ve become accustomed to. Depending on the type of content and products you’re offering, you might decide to make your free trial periods anywhere from a few days to a week, or 30 days.

The benefits of free memberships

You might be thinking, “Why should I give away my hard work for free?” That is a valid question! It can make some people uneasy knowing how much time and effort they’ve put into creating content, only to make nothing immediately or directly from it; however, free memberships can actually bring in a lot of money over time! How does this work? Well, It all depends on the quality of your content, your marketing strategies, and how you price your memberships – but, with all of these things in place, giving people the chance to test drive your membership site in one way or another comes with some positive side effects!

Customers get to try before they buy

If there’s one thing that helps people make purchase decisions, it’s customer confidence – and giving people the ability to experience your membership site first-hand is one of the best ways to create it! A free membership (or a free trial period) removes the element of risk for customers, allowing people to see your legitimacy, everything you have to offer, your quality standards, your rate of replenishing content, and your reliability with things like support and feedback.

Personally browsing, consuming, and downloading also shows your customers any additional elements you’ve included, such as a built-in community. They’re able to essentially screen your site from top to bottom before buying anything. In short, it gives people the information and experience they need to make a confident purchase decision down the line, and helps them understand what they’re missing out on if they don’t subscribe.

Free memberships pre-qualify customers for paid memberships

Once your free members get a taste of the benefits and features of your site, it’s a natural progression toward paid memberships from there. Restricting your content allows you to control what you give away for free, and entices your free members with gated, premium contentthe top-shelf, mind-blowing, life-changing stuff that only paying members get access to. The best part? The people who have decided that your free content is valuable enough to consume on a regular basis are already predisposed to wanting (and in many cases being willing to pay for) your premium content.

Free members give you useful data

Want to know which types of content are getting the most attention? Need to figure out which demographics to target in your marketing efforts? Free members give you plenty of data that you can use to your advantage; this data can play into your decisions about what kinds of products you make, what content you produce, where you spend your ad money, and who you focus on when it comes to upselling your paid memberships. You can learn the differences between your free and paid members, and leverage polls, surveys, and user feedback from your free members to improve your content and experience for paid members!

You might decide to poll or survey all of your members – free ones included. Even if they haven’t given you money yet, they can still give you information that helps you manage and improve your site and content. Your website analytics can tell you if free members are regularly consuming certain posts, videos, or other content, and you might conclude that those items are more likely to convert membership sales than your less frequented content. This can be a great opportunity for upselling, as you can position calls to action, special offers, or upgrades that appeal to specific interests (for example, “If you loved this video, subscribe now to access the rest of the series”).

This kind of data can also be useful for segmenting your audience, building corresponding landing pages, and directing your marketing efforts to the appropriate customers. Ultimately, you can gain a lot of knowledge that can help you understand how to best market your paid memberships – and bring in more revenue!

Your paid members actually benefit

Forums, discussion groups, and communities associated with, or within your membership site have a lot to gain from the participation of your free members. Even if these members aren’t buying, they still may contribute to discussions, engaging with paid members and enriching their overall experience – and the happier you keep your members, the more security you feel as the site owner!

Your brand reach can grow significantly

In addition to lead generation, free memberships can put your content in front of a lot of people – and if your site is particularly “sticky” (keeping people engaged and coming back for more on a regular basis) you may see your brand reach extend far beyond levels you’d reach without any free content. If there are no financial barriers to the basic use of your site, more people are likely to engage, increasing your traffic, search engine rankings, and overall exposure.

Think about the big picture

In addition to providing good marketing avenues and a built-in audience for your content, free memberships can really help you to grow and improve your business, meaning more revenue for you in the long run. While certainly not required, having a free membership option (whether it’s a tier or a free trial) gives you a certain set of opportunities that you can use to your advantage – and the overall effect can be largely positive!

Do you run a membership site? What has been your experience with free memberships? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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