When it comes to content marketing, there are a lot of different opinions on whether you should give away free content or not. So, which is it? Should you be giving away free content or not? We’ll discuss the pros and cons of giving away free content below so that you can make the best decision for your business.
Some people believe that you should never give anything away for free, while others think that it’s the best way to attract new customers and increase brand awareness. I believe that there is a happy medium between the two extremes.
- Why should you give away free content?
- 3 benefits of giving away valuable content for free
- So what content should you actually be giving away?
- What content you should be giving away for free and what you should charge people for?
- Give your audience quick wins
- How to give away free content without giving away the farm
- The new way of marketing (2022): Zero-Click content
- 5 Examples of valuable free content
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Why should you give away free content?
To answer this, let’s consider a situation that you may be familiar with…
Say you search for an answer to a problem on Google. You land on a blog post or video, and then you’re only given half the solution and then told to pay for the rest of the answer.
Or you’re given a blog post or video that you feel isn’t useful or practical!
How does that make you feel about the person who’s given you that experience? Not too good, right?
Well, I recently had this very experience when I was searching for tips on “how to do market research for your small business“.
I came across a video titled “how to do market research for your startup” from someone whose name I’ve come across before, so I knew they had credibility in their industry. Furthermore, the video had 52K views (social proof – check!).
So I thought, “ok, this should be good.”
I watched the entire 5 min video, and all they basically said in the video was “outsource the market research to a university student or someone on Upwork”!
This was disappointing because it felt like a bait and switch to me, and I’m sure others have felt the same way when they’ve had this experience.
So, what did I do next?
I found a much more comprehensive guide on market research online that gave me tons of valuable information – for free.
Can you guess which came across as more credible to me? The answer is obvious (the second one).
3 benefits of giving away valuable content for free
When you give away free content, here’s what happens:
You build trust with your audience
When you give away free content, you’re essentially saying to your audience, “I’m an expert in this field and I’m here to help you.”
By providing valuable information for free, you’re building trust with your audience and positioning yourself as an authority figure.
You’re giving them the gift of (your) knowledge.
You attract new readers/viewers
If you’re providing valuable information for free, people are going to want to consume it! When you give away free content, you’re attracting new readers/viewers who may not have found your content otherwise.
It’s a great way to generate leads
Free content is a great way to generate leads because people are more likely to sign up for your email list or follow you on social media if they’re getting something valuable in return.
When you consistently deliver value to these people over time, they’ll be more likely to do business with you when they’re ready to make a purchase. They can also turn into your advocates and refer you to their friends and colleagues.
So what content should you actually be giving away?
You may have heard the phrase, “If you don’t like selling, teach.”
This is a powerful statement because it’s true!
When you’re passionate about something and you share your knowledge to help others, it doesn’t feel like selling.
Now let me introduce you to my friend and fellow business owner, James Michael. He’s had tremendous success with education-based marketing.
James consistently posts valuable content on his Linkedin profile and gets solid engagement. Below is an example.
“But Anf, posting content and engagement on social media doesn’t pay the bills!”
Well, my skeptical friend (and I don’t blame you), James has built three profitably successful businesses around education-based marketing.
I can definitely attest to the power of education-based marketing. I was recently interviewed on someone’s podcast about “how to use case studies to generate leads and sales for your business.” (note: a podcast interview is valuable free content)
During the interview, I went into depth about how I plan and create compelling case studies for my clients. As soon as the 40-min interview was over and we stopped recording, the host said to me, “I need your service. Where can I order?”
Within 24 hours they became a client for my done-for-you case study service.
I’m living proof that free content can indeed pay the bills!
What content you should be giving away for free and what you should charge people for?
Here’s a good tip courtesy of Shane Melaugh from Activegrowth.com:
“Make your content be concise packages that are very practical and very useful about one thing at a time, and make your premium product the big picture and the hand holding. You don’t have to do your own thinking – just follow my lead.”~ Shane Melaugh
I agree with Shane’s suggestion that it’s important to focus on creating free content that’s actually useful and practical, and that naturally leads people to the option of implementing the solution themselves (DIY) or hiring you to help implement it.
Give your audience quick wins
The goal is to give your reader, who is ideally your target buyer, something actionable to get a quick win. This in turn builds credibility because now they’ve seen that you can deliver on your promises.
It will make them feel you’ve helped them progress, and it’s natural for them to want your help to move forward to the next step and consequent steps.
And once you have their attention and credibility, you can start selling them premium products and services.
How to give away free content without giving away the farm
A common that many marketing experts recommend is to give people a taste of what you know – just enough so they see the value in what you do – but not so much that they don’t need to hire you. You want to leave them wanting more!
They say things like “give the why, and what, but not the how”.
For the past few years I’ve been advocating a slightly different approach – give your audience enough detail to understand the steps required to solve the problem themselves. Then let them decide whether or not they have the ability to DIY.
- Step 1: Share your high-level blueprint/methodology/framework (no opt-in)
- Step 2: Share a more detailed guide with steps on how to implement your solution (opt-in required – this is what’s typically called a “lead magnet”)
The key is in step 2 you’ll also want to reveal:
- the bigger picture
- what typically happens after they fix the immediate problem. i.e. What challenges might they come across?
- a customer case study/testimonial
- a call to action/invitation to work with you.
But things have been changing…
The new way of marketing (2022): Zero-Click content
If you’ve been paying attention, Google has been tweaking its search engine results page (SERP) to do everything possible to keep users from clicking away from their site.
They’re basically presenting as much information as possible to answer a user’s query so there’s no need for them to click away from the SERP.
Furthermore, social media platforms have been limiting organic reach on posts that include links to external sites too.
So what does this mean for you?
It’s time to focus on producing what the Sparktoro team is calling “zero-click content“.
Zero-Click content is content that offers valuable, standalone insights (or simply engaging material), with no need to click. Clicking might be additive, but it’s not required.~ Amanda Navitad, Sparktoro
This requires a shift in mindset, so yes it will be uncomfortable at first.
For marketers, writers or creators, it means optimizing impressions without the goal of earning that click. It’s taking a leap of faith. Giving the juiciest information upfront, earning engagement so the algorithm rewards your post, and building enough goodwill that your audience remembers you next time, seeks you out later, follows you on the platform, or even clicks on your profile to go find your call-to-action.~ Amanda Navitad
By providing enough valuable information for free in this way, you establish yourself as an expert in your field, and you’ll have the opportunity to upsell your products and services down the road.
It’s also important to keep in mind that not everyone who consumes your free content will be ready to buy from you right away. So building brand value and trust with them is critical for having people come back for more.
5 Examples of valuable free content
The key is to create great content because the reality is that there’s a tonne of content being published online every single day – so it’s super competitive, so you want to stand out. The good news is that very little content is actually great.
Here are some examples of valuable lead magnet content that I’ve created as well as others that I’ve seen online: (can you spot how many of these are “zero-click content”?)
Free guide (read magnet)
I first heard the term “read magnet” from training that I purchased from Jill and Josh Stanton of Screw The Nine to Five.
A read magnet is basically a lead magnet without the opt-in requirement. The goal with a read magnet is to provide something that you would normally offer as a lead magnet and give it away for free (without asking for an email address).
Because the goal is to get people to read your content and see you as an expert in your field. You can also offer a relevant content upgrade/opt-in inside your read magnet (related to the problem your read magnet is helping solve).
If a reader enjoys reading your content, they’ll be more likely to opt into your email list or purchase a product or service from you down the road. (hello zero-click content!)
The read magnet also works particularly well as a resource that you can point people to when you appear on podcasts as a guest or write guest articles for other people’s sites.
Because it’s ungated content, podcast hosts and site owners for guest blogs are more likely to link to it as it doesn’t require their audience to take any action (such as inputting their email address) in order to consume the content.
When you score a backlink in this fashion not only are you getting members of their audience clicking through to your resource, but you’re also helping the search engine optimization for your website. That’s a double win!
Want to see a few more examples of epic read magnets? Here are three (they call them “courses” as they were previously email courses I believe).
Free online summit (training)
Brand Builders curated personal branding tips from 25 influencers and packaged them up nicely in a virtual summit that you can access for free for 30 days.
Free video training
How to start a youtube channel by Ali Abdaal
Here’s the description by the creator:
I started making videos in 2017 and I had no clue what I was doing on YouTube. But, I recently hit 2.7M subscribers and I wanted to share what got me there with a simple three step framework that you can use to get started on YouTube.
You’ll notice the call to action to purchase Ali’s Part-time Youtuber Academy course is in two places – in the video description and also in the video itself.
Free email course
Here’s how the team behind this amazing email series describes it:
“We’re going to take you on a journey through a new paradigm of how we view marketing and the work we do as creative professionals to serve and matter in a world of distractions and sameness.”
In my humble opinion, this is mandatory training for anyone wanting to build a sustainable business.
Free online assessment
Take this scorecard and find out how ready you are to be a Key Person of Influence – and receive a report that’ll tell you what to work on to become one.
Want more examples of valuable content being given away for free? Check out these 9 B2B lead magnet ideas.
Do you have any other great examples of valuable free content that you’ve seen online? Let me know in the comments!