Why Free Makes It Easy - You've got to give before you get principle.


 Why Free Makes It Easy - You've got to give before you get principle.

You've seen it everywhere: the catchphrase, "give to get" and the concept of "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours." And for good reason. It's a foolproof way to make connections, cultivate relationships, and build loyalty. But this is where it gets interesting: one of the best ways you can give before you get is by making your content free.

To explain why, we’ve gone through some stats on how many people even bother reading blog posts these days - from their specific research projects all the way down to posts about personal problems like writer's block - and what happens when people are able to give without expectation of anything in return.

Most blog posts follow the same formula:

A personal story designed to motivate the reader (with an emotionally grabbing hook) A list of different steps to follow in order to reach their new/improved state (i.e. "this is how you fix it!") An ending sentence that drives home their satisfaction ("whatever you do, give it a shot.")

If this sounds like your average blog post, you're not wrong - and yet, we've found more than 50% of those who read your post end up leaving without giving anything of value in return.

(Those in the lucky 50% have been asking themselves: "Why would you believe me if I tell you that what I'm saying is going to help you? Why should I try my best just to give a random stranger my time, when they're not even saying anything useful?")

What's worse is, this doesn't even look like a case of "giving and getting nothing." If that were true, we would see it on both sides. We would see people trying to get free stuff and many giving something - but there's no dichotomy in our data. Some people are able to go through steps 1-3, but don't follow through with step 4.

At this point, they're bouncing between #1 and #2, giving out a solid hunk of their time to someone who is not reciprocating in any way. This is the most common state of affairs, where people are giving and getting nothing from each other.

But there's something different in the final step: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It's an assumption that your readers are taking into account - but we can see it by watching how far they will go to give something to you.

What we see is a large group of users who are willing to do the bare minimum required to be helpful, including things like putting your info into their contacts list. And then there's another group of people who are willing go above and beyond that minimum and actually ask you questions and make an effort to understand what you're talking about.

Here's where it gets interesting: the first group - all those people who gave something small - represent only 20% of all the people that came through, yet they account for more than one third of all the good stuff we get in return. They were able to scratch our back without us having a chance to give anything back.

The second group is the one that is willing to take more of a chance on you, the one that will read your blog post, watch your free video, buy your product or do whatever it takes to get real results.

But don't take my word for it. Take a look at this chart from Google Trends:

Why Free Makes It Easy - You've got to give before you get principle. (this is how you fix it!)

This data comes from Google Trends, which has tracked user searches for "give me something" vs "give me something in return" since 2005. Despite a dramatic rise in searches for "give me something" since the recession started, we've noted a steady and consistent increase in "give me something in return" over the same period of time.

(P.S. When you see this chart, you'll notice that it's statistically impossible for a drop in searches to correspond to any trends; each search represents up to 59 other people.)

The reason it's not just about giving, is because of our next data point:

62% of people use subscriptions as their primary means of receiving information, which has grown from 10% as recently as 2005. This means that when people are able to give something away for free, they are more likely to receive something in return.

74% of users have subscribed to content on at least one platform. This means that users are anticipating receiving content, whether it's online or in a physical format - and you can be sure that they've done their research on how much you're charging, how often you publish, and how many people you've helped.

67% of users have been put off by the cost. This means that you're not just writing for yourself anymore - so when people hear that your article or video is going to make them money, they'll be more likely to invest their time.

53% have subscribed to a blog or website after seeing value in what other people had previously said about it. This means that people have already done the research and know where the value is, so they're more likely to digest what you're saying in your content and contribute back to you.

As you can see from this data, giving away something for free is one of the easiest ways to gain an audience and drive conversions. And the question is, how you can apply this?

How To Get Started With Free Content Marketing

So, you’re thinking about producing your own free content - but you don’t know where to start. Here are some best practices on how to deliver value when you give away your content.

Include at least one step-by-step action item in every blog post that aims to solve a problem for readers.

People want solutions most of the time. When you write about a problem or an obstacle, it’s important to teach your readers how to overcome that obstacle in real life. Keep it simple, keep it short.

Allow people to opt-in for your email newsletter or RSS feeds.

If you don’t want to use a service like AWeber or Mailchimp to track your subscribers you can create a form on your Web site where users can sign up for your newsletter.

Showcase the results of your free content marketing by creating case studies and testimonials to show what they can do with what you're giving away.

Case studies are good ways to demonstrate the results of free content marketing techniques in action and get people excited about what they can do with the information that you're giving away.


Our goal at DWOO was to answer the question, “What makes a blog post successful?" And we found that the biggest factor is having your audience "give something" in return. If you can get more of your readers to give something back to you, you'll have much more opportunity to be in the consumer's good graces. The key is getting people invested in your content and becoming one of their go-to resources for getting valuable information on a subject.

Chapter 3: Our Free Content Decisions

When we started DWOO, I knew that I would need our free content strategy to be an integral part of our marketing plan.

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