Giving away a free report, whitepaper or case study has long been a staple in the content marketing world. In an effort to build credibility, spread your message and build your email list, you create a free piece of content that is packed with value. Next, you add an opt-in form to your website to collect leads when someone wants to download your content.
I know I’ve taken my turn being on both ends of that equation. I’ve downloaded more special reports than I can count and I’ve also created more than my fair share of said reports. My guess is that you have too — has it made you more selective about which sites you will give your information to?
I know that I’ve become a lot pickier these days than I was five years ago. Unfortunately, not all free reports are created equally and not all companies have ethical email policies. As a result, my inbox filled with spam and I became much harder to impress.
Then I noticed a new breed of opt-in bait that I’m probably still a sucker for today: free tools.
Free Tools Make Value Interactive
What do I mean by free tools exactly? Basically, something interactive that you can use for free but that usually requires (or at least encourages) visitors to subscribe to a newsletter, email updates or blog notifications.
Why are they more likely to get my email address? Probably because they offer something useful that is specific to my situation and the reason why I’m on the site to begin with. Similar to adding bonus content for specific blog posts (which have been known to perform better than general offers), free tools are designed with your reader’s self-interest in mind.
In the marketing niche, a great example is NeilPatel.com. When you visit the site, you are asked to enter the URL of your website. From there, it begins to count the errors it finds and once it finishes loading, you are asked to enter your contact info in order to reserve a free consultation with Neil about improvements you can make to your site.
This is highly personalized and leaves plenty of room for curiosity. If the tool tells you that your website has 10 errors, but doesn’t say what they are, you are probably going to enter your contact info to find out. Besides, Neil is a well known marketer and a chance at a consultation with him is also enticing.
In a similar vein, Hubspot’s Marketing Grader asks for only two things: your website URL and email address. From there, the tool will run your site through their grading system and show you what you are doing well and specific steps you can take to improve your site in terms of SEO, social sharability and other useful metrics.
Beyond Marketing Examples
Outside the marketing niche, WebMD offers a symptom checker tool that collects email addresses and other information from visitors (most of which is optional) in order to suggest possible conditions based on the symptoms they identify.
BuiltWith.com offers a free tool that lets you enter any URL and tells you which technologies were used to create that website (i.e. WordPress, PHP, jQuery).
While both of these examples may seem like sophisticated resources they are blissfully simple when boiled down to their essence. In each case, the site owners were in possession of large amounts of data (list of symptoms and conditions, for example) and simply used the information to create a tool that allowed users to search and sort through it in different ways that they found useful.
Simple + Effective Always Wins
You’re probably wondering how you can use this in your own marketing strategy without having to spend thousands of dollars. While creating something like these tools does require some investment, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s out of your budget. Sites like eLance.com are a great place to find developers who can help you create your first interactive tool at reasonable rates.
The more basic the tool, the lower the cost. Start with something your audience will find useful and which takes some of the pain out of their lives by making things faster, more efficient or more convenient in some way. It doesn’t have to be a complicated tool with dozens of features. The examples referenced above were chosen for their simplicity.
They all ask for information from the user and then help with a single, specific task.
So what is your take on free tools as part of a marketing strategy? Are you more likely to give up your email address for free tools than free reports? Tell us why in the comments.