How do you deal with “generation free”?

Thanks to the likes of Google and open source providers such as WordPress, we are increasingly becoming trained to expect a lot for very little, or even for nothing at all.

The freemium model has been around for years, but there has been a dramatic shift towards this becoming the expected norm. Online services and apps have to increasingly deal with customers’ expectation they will get something for nothing as part of their product and pricing strategy.

As a small business or a start-up, how do you deal with this kind of competition, and more importantly, consumers’ expectation they should get services for free?

With major companies such as Evernote seeing only 2% of free accounts becoming sources of revenue, how do you put a strategy in place to get customers paying?

Business/ power users fund the consumers

SaaS providers such as Dropbox, MailChimp (screenshot below) and Wunderlist don’t offer personal/home users cut down, limited versions of their products for free, they offer business/power users enhanced versions of their products for a fee. MailChimpThere is a subtle difference here from what most companies do. By giving personal users a complete product they make their product synonymous with people’s daily lives.

This essentially turns them into a platform, one that so many people use that they become a natural tool for a business.

Microsoft used this strategy to dominate the PC OS market in the 90’s – get it on to as many computers as possible!

Limited time freemium

You can play to customers’ expectations they should get to use your product for free by having a free trial as the default (or even only) choice.

You can see this in action with Netflix (30 days) and Shopify (14 days), with Netflix not even giving you the option to part with your cash.

Compare Shopify a year or so ago to now…

ThenShopify old price table

NowShopify current price tableFrom a subtle nudge, to the centre of their pricing strategy, their free trial has become the primary driver.

I would surmise this is in response to the rise in free ecommerce platforms such as Magento and WordPress ecommerce plug-ins (like WooCommerce).

There is a handful of useful reads about converting trial users in to paying customers:

Bolt ons, upgrades and in-app purchases

Mobile games are a classic example of this strategy in play. How many games in the app stores can you think of that are free to download, but the only way you can progress at a reasonable rate is to buy add-ons/power ups?clash of clans

The danger here is you make the basic free product so limited that no can get anything done with it.

The most successful games on iOS and Android take a patient approach, letting you get deep enough in to the game that it is starting to form a habit before limiting the experience until you pay.

The worst games dive straight in demanding cash to do the simplest tasks before I’ve really got in to the game. These games are instantly deleted from the phone!

Because your product is free, there is absolutely no financial or emotional relationship between you and the user to start with. They don’t have that sensation to “get their money’s worth out of you”.

This means you have to work hard to get them to use your product, and not become another forgotten log-in password. Give them enough of a taste to form a habit and desire more.

Get value without the revenue

The best example of what I mean here is Dropbox. When you first sign up you don’t get a great deal to start with. The real meat comes from all the extra actions you can do to earn more.Dropbox referral bonusEvery free account user who has tweeted, shared, or referred their friends for the service can be built in to your customer acquisition costs, making the shares, invites, and tweets from “free” users actually correlate to real marketing pounds.

Do it for a reason, not just because everyone else does it

Free account customers are notoriously difficult to move along the funnel, so it is vital you have a strategy behind your freemium plan. An important question to ask yourself is “Are my customers attracted to ‘free’?”

What would you say if I offered you a fridge for free? Chances are you’d get a little suspicious and assume there was something wrong with it. Some products are so important or complex that customers prefer to pay for them, associating price with quality.

Teach yourself marketing a SaaS product

Marketing a SaaS product can be a minefield, especially when it comes to pricing, features, support and customer acquisition budgets.

Judging the right mix of how much to charge, what each package will allow a customer to do, and how much you can afford to spend acquiring a new sign up can make or break a SaaS product/company.

Here are the resources you need to read if you are planning on launching a new SaaS product, or you are already involved in marketing one.

Sixteen Ventures is has some of the best blogs I have ever read, providing “Marketing, Customer Acquisition, & Churn Reduction Consulting for SaaS providers” It is an essential read if you are interested in marketing. Recent articles to get started with include:

Help Scout

Online help desk software provider ‘Help Scout’ has a fantastic blog, often aimed at customer support issues, but also with great ideas on running a SaaS company. Here are some stand out articles:


GrooveHQ are another online help desk solution, but their blog is a little different. They tie up their posts in to a narrative, as we follow them on their journey to $500k per month revenue. The blog is very open about their successes and mistakes. As well as a great source of information for your SaaS product, it is also a great case study in content marketing.

Price Intelligently

Price Intelligently are a company that specialises in helping businesses create their pricing strategy. Their pricing blog is full of great advice to help guide your SaaS price.


As a very successful SaaS provider themselves, Kissmetrics are well positioned to guide you through the trials and pit falls of marketing a SaaS product. Always insightful and easy to read.

Chaotic Flow by Joel York

Chaotic flow is a SaaS marketing specilaist blog with of the objective of sharing “…knowledge and opinions that will help executives at Internet software companies that create and deliver SaaS and cloud applications critically analyze real-world, go-to-market strategies and tactics by applying sound business principles.” It isn’t updated very much anymore, but there is a huge library of really useful posts from the past couple of years.

Some general tidbits

ConversionXL have a useful post linking to 9 case studies that ‘ll help you reduce SaaS churn today.

SaaSopdia is a useful mini-library of SaaS terms and SaaS terminology.

Customer loyalty’ by Jill Griffen – Increasing repeat purchases by creating and growing loyal customers

Quite a big read, but very comprehensive, The ultimate lifecycle email marketing guide from Vero is a great jump board for developing your life cycle strategy.

Lessons from Stripe’s user onboarding

User onboarding is such a powerful concept, full of light bulb moments driven by seemingly obvious marketing that so few of us actually do. Online payment platform Stripe has definitely applied user onboarding principles to their website and order process.

Their sign up process is one of the best I have ever seen.

In this post I will give you a breakdown of that experience, along with notes on how you can apply these ideas to convert more customers through your sign up process.

A quick note about user onboarding

You can read my guide on how to create your first user onboarding strategy for more detail about the concept. In a nutshell, user onboarding is a process for increasing the likelihood new users become successful when adopting your product.

Successful customers stay longer, spend more and generate positive word of mouth. They are also much less of a drain on your resources.

There are five stages to consider when putting together your user boarding strategy.

  • Introduction to product: Align you product with their success
  • Sign up process: Remove friction and simplify
  • First use of product: Guide them to an important quick win for a positive first step
  • Recurring use of product: Give them the tools and ideas to become successful
  • Advanced use of product: Prompt and nudge to turn regular use in to a habit

In this post I am looking at Stripe’s introduction to the product and sign up process. Let’s get started!

Arriving on their home page

This is a classic example of modern Unique Value Proposition (UVP) principles (read more about creating a UVP on the Help Scout blog). The headline firmly plants their flag within the web developer community, supported by a sentence explaining the benefits of using their product.

1 stripe home page

They are also using a trusted and fashionable companies (Lyft and Dribbble) to show it being used in the wild, instantly adding credibility.

Although beautifully presented, there is still not enough information for me to sign up, so I am going to click on the very easy to find “Learn more about Stripe” call to action.

Finding out more about their features

The next page guides me through all the key features and benefits of the product, as well as any concerns I may have about security.

2 Stripe features page

This leads to me to a very clear CTA at the bottom of the page:

2 stripe CTA

So far, so good, but you may be thinking “It looks very pretty, but these type of sites are a dime a dozen now”, and you would be right. But it is at this stage onwards where Stripe does a particularly amazing job.

Signing up to an account – or not!

I don’t have to create an account to start using the product. How often do you see that? You’ll notice from the screenshot below, even if I do choose to create an account, they aren’t asking for me to buy upfront. They are only interested in customers who are confident they want to buy from Stripe.

This will reduce churn, the load on their support staff and creates a customer base that is instantly positive about the brand.
3 stripe sign upI’m not ready to commit my personal data, so I’m going to ‘Skip this step’.

Rather than leaving you to it, and hoping you work out, upon logging in for the first time you are given access to some great getting started guides.

4 stripe first time log in

Alternatively you can dive straight in and ‘Go straight to your dashboard’.

Stripe are clearly eager to provide assistance at every stage, with links to ‘Learn more’ on each sections’ home screen. 5 Stripe learn moreSee the orange ‘Live – Test’ toggle at the top left on the control panel above? Clicking that brings up this message:

6 Activate stripe account

If I have spent hours playing around with the account, adding data and testing the code on my website, I would feel very strongly about not wanting all that time to be wasted. I would need the gratification that can only come with going live. That means I need to start becoming a paid customer!

That’s all great, but where are the takeaways?

I’ve taken you through each stage, highlighting some nice features, but here are the lessons you can take away from Stripe.

  • 3 steps to having an account – Home page, product page, form – done!
  • Only 3 fields to fill in if I do want an account
  • Reduce friction to the point where they don’t even need my details for me to start using the product
  • Give prospective customers the ability to play and experiment with out any pressure
  • Provide clear guidance on where I can read more/get help at within the control panel
  • Get me using the product and then ask me to buy
  • I decide when I start paying for the account, not an arbitrary date (e.g. 30 days free)

This is a very confident approach to marketing, and they clearly have a lot of belief in their product. You may think that your product can’t live up to that kind of scrutiny, or you can’t afford to support free accounts.

A lot of marketing theory based blogs would now try to convince you why it is a worthwhile investment to offer free accounts, or that if you aren’t confident in your product, you shouldn’t sell it. Both those points of view are nonsense in the real world.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t cherry pick elements of it. Are you providing guidance for new customers – how are you helping them set up their account and achieve that first quick win? Is every question you ask in your order process 100% necessary – how can you strip it down more? Is every stage in your order process necessary – what can you consolidate or remove?

How to target mobile users with Google AdWords

We all know that mobile phones are becoming increasingly important in the research stage of the buying cycle. Research shows that 61% of UK shoppers use their mobile phone to research products before they purchase.

What is not as well known is the speed at which people go from research to purchase.

43% of users researching for local businesses using a mobile phone, who make a purchase, typically do it within an hour

(source: Google).

That is a huge target audience for any business to put themselves in front of via Google AdWords. However, a lot of advertisers are displaying the same adverts to mobile users as they are desktop users.

This is a wasted opportunity to tailor the copy and destination to the limitations of a smaller screen.

If you have a product/service/app that is specific to mobile users or you want to target people as they are out and about (e.g. they are searching for a shop nearby), you can use Google AdWords’ targeting options to make sure you deliver a highly targeted advert, specific to that device.

In this post I will show you how to create mobile optimised adverts in Google AdWords that drive more clicks and conversions.

I am going to assume you already have a Google AdWords account, and you already now a lot of the basics (e.g. the structure of  an account, how to research keywords etc.) So let’s get started!

Create campaigns just for targeting mobile phones

I would strongly recommend creating campaigns and ad groups just for your mobile adverts. The example below is for a Manchester based florist who wants to target customers looking for a local supplier whilst they are on the move.

1 ad groups naming

Breaking out your ad groups like this makes it much easier administering your account, including reporting, bid management, audience targeting and ad creation. It also keeps your quality score contained.

Set your bid modifier

Because a click is worth more to you if it comes from a mobile device, by setting bid adjustments you can increase or decrease your bids to gain more control over when and where your ad is shown. To do this, at the ad group level (which should be a mobile only ad group!), click on the ‘Settings’ tab and then ‘devices.

2 mobile bid modifierFrom here you can increase or decrease the amount you are willing to bid based on the user’s device. Because we want to target mobile users with this ad group, I am going to increase my bid by 100% when the search comes from a mobile device.

To do this  I click the cell in the “Bid adj.” column of the row that I want to adjust.:

3 mobile bid modifier increasing mobile bidTo make sure the adverts are not going to appear on desktop computers or tablets, I will then reduce those bids by 100%, essentially taking the bid down to £0. I couldn’t do this if I mixed mobile targeting with desktop targeting!

Create mobile specific ads

There are three different ad types you can choose from to target mobile users. You can use all three, or just one, it is totally up to you based on your needs.

Mobile preferred ads

The most straight forward way to create a mobile focused advert is using this method. When you create your advert, you can tick a check box that marks it as “mobile-preferred”, telling Google you want that advert to primarily be displayed on mobile devices.

4 Mobile prefered adsThis gives you the opportunity to customize your messaging specifically to people on mobile devices. E.g. “Call us now” in your call to action.

Note: Some advertisers have reported seeing these ads appearing on desktop searches, which is why Google are very clever with their wording here i.e. ‘preferred’, not guaranteed.

Call only ads

Call only ads are designed to encourage people to call you rather than go to a website, with all clicks on these ads sending potential customers to call you from their phones. To create your call only ad, go to create a new advert as usual, and choose ‘Call-only ad’.

6 click to call ad

Then simply add your details, ad copy and preferences before clicking ‘Save ad’.

7 call ad creation

This is particularly useful when you sell high value goods and customers like to speak to a person to find out more, or if your business is primarily phone based commerce rather than e-commerce.

Click and call ads

Ad extensions’ ‘Call extensions’ lets you create ads that people can either click or call, depending on what they want to do. To set this up,  click on the ‘Ad extensions’ tab, and choose to view ‘Call extensions’

5 call extension ads

Underneath “Select phone numbers to use with this ad group.” where you should see an empty box, click on “+ New phone number”. You will be presented with this pop up:

6 call extension options

Add your information and choices, and click ‘Save’. The ads in this ad group will now start to show the phone number you listed above in the ads – another reason why having your mobile ads in standalone ad groups is so important.

Start targeting by location

If you are a local/regional service you can add additional parameters to ensure your advert is only shown to people in that area. You only show your ads to people who can act, making it a huge money (and time) saver.

Setting this up is really quick and easy. At the campaign level (which you have created just for mobile ads!), click on the ‘Settings’ tab and then ‘Locations’. To add a new location to target, click on the red ‘+LOCATIONS’ button. Click on ‘Advanced search’ to bring up this lovely map:

8 Location targeting map

Right now I am targeting all of the UK, but my florist only serve the Manchester area, so there is the potential for a lot of wasted clicks and call here. You’ll see there are  a number of targeting options on the screen shot above, including a simple location field I can type in to, as well as ‘Radius targeting’, ‘Location groups’ and ‘Bulk locations’.

To be as specific as possible and only target customers who are within an easy to get to distance from my store, I am going to choose ‘Radius targeting’, choosing a 5 mile radius.

9 Location targeting map

So, that is my ad targeting all set up driving traffic to my website. The next step is to convert them in to customers.

Send people to mobile optimised content

Despite most mobile phone having decent sized screens and full internet access, full desktop websites with a lot of information become very frustrating to navigate. This is especially so when you are walking around town, and all you want is some basic information about a supplier nearby.

Never send traffic to a generic home page. People on their mobile phones need the information instantly or they will bounce and continue searching elsewhere.

  • Minimal graphics + limited text to read = Fast page load speed
  • Key info very easy to find e.g. phone number, directions, menus etc.
  • Minimal product choices (preferably just the one they searched for)

With this in mind, direct visitors who come to your site via a mobile ad to a dedicated landing page created specifically to their needs.

Transational mobile searches is only going to get bigger

Google is investing a huge amount of resources in to devleoping tools and data to help small businesses target mobile searchers at the final research stage, and who are getting ready to buy.

They know it has the potential to be a gold mine for them, but only if small businesses start to understand the significance of the shift we are seeing in people’s buying habits.

Small businesses that get in at the ground floor can take advantage of this transitional phase, because it won’t last forever. It is inevitable that local businesses will increasingly wake up to the sales opportunities mobile saearch offers.

My advice…get started now.

Digital marketing quick wins you’ve probably overlooked

Following on from my post about SEO quick wins, here are simple, but often overlooked, ideas for you to use in your digital marketing. Applying these to your digital marketing will create instant results, quickly and easily.

In this post I’ll show you how to:

  • Re-optimise your website for even more traffic (I did it and increased traffic to a post by 115%)
  • Track how people use your website and where they click (or don’t)
  • Capture, store and analyse customer feedback to make data driven changes
  • Put yourself in control of the data with tag management
  • And more!

Re-optimise your website content

I’m not going to lay claim to having thought of this myself, but using this idea from Neil Patel’s Quick Sprout blog, I increased traffic to pages I re-optimised by up to 115%. I am currently working my way through the rest!

The original article is here, “How to increase your website’s traffic without any marketing” but in a nutshell, the idea is to find search terms you already rank well for in Google (using Google Webmaster Tools) and then conduct those searches.

For example:

keyword search

Scroll to the bottom of the page to find which keywords are presented as being related to the search term.

related searches


Then, go back to the page and add those keywords in to your page content (in a natural context). Because Google already associates you closely with these terms, you are very likely to start ranking well for them once you use them in your content.

Simple, but brilliant!

Add heatmap tracking to your website

Heatmapping has been around for years, but I am surprised how few websites use it. I suspect it is treated with suspicion by some designers because they are scared it will highlight “mistakes”, but that is looking at it from the wrong angle.

It is an extremely powerful tool to highlight where you can improve, and no website can ever improve if you shy away from user generated data.

Heat maps will show you where people are clicking on your website, visualised as, you guessed it, a heat map! For example:

  • Are people finding your primary call to action or are they clicking on an unlinked image?
  • Are visitors scrolling below the fold?
  • Can they easily find your sign-up/log-in button?

Here is an example of a heatmap in action. Note how people click on areas you couldn’t possibly anticipate or expect. The challenge is to work out why, and how to adapt the page accordingly.


Which is the best heat map software? The most famous, and oft-used paid supplier is CrazyEgg. I have used them in the past, and it is very easy to set up and the visual reports are very easy to analyse and act upon. It comes with a 30 day free trial so you can have a go without any risks.

Use customer feedback to drive your product marketing

Nobody knows your product like your customers, not even you. They will always find ways to bend and break it you can never think of. They are also the most honest about how you are performing.

Creating a centralised, systematic, reportable and actionable process to capture this feedback will drive both your product, and your brand. Companies such as The Money Shop use multiple sources of data to capture customer feedback, in their instance TrustPilot, store feedback forms, online community steering group and social media.

There are five key stages to using customer feedback to inform product and brand marketing:

  1. Collecting – Collection of the data
  2. Cataloguing – Putting the data in to distinct groups
  3. Storing – Where the feedback is stored to be retrieved
  4. Analysing – The ability to analyse volume, trends and value
  5. Acting – Putting the ideas in to practice

Here are some practical ideas for you to think about.

Collection and cataloguing

Report on how customers interact with your support databases. I.e. most commonly read articles, popular searches, failed searches…

If you have customer feedback forms, use closed questions to make it easier to identify trends. One tip is to include fields for the customer to categorise the topic/product for you.

You can crowd source product road map, asking customers to recommend and vote up what features we should work on next

Run a bi-annual survey asking customers for feedback on brand/product related topics to gather ideas, and benchmark performance.

Use Net Promotor Score (NPS) to benchmark how you are performing over an extended period of time, and see how the changes you make are impacting on customers.

Storing, analysis and acting

Don’t view sources of data as silos. Bring all your data in to one centralised database and start associating the data with customer account data including revenue and product metrics.

NPS dashboard

For example, if you associate NPS data with customer accounts you can then start tailoring the messages you send to the three groups, as well as track a customers’ responses over time, and act accordingly. E.g. if a traditionally regular Promoter drops to a persistent Detractor.

Create a marketing dashboard

Your digital marketing effectiveness can only be judged by using data, but it is easy to become overloaded with too much data, a lot of which isn’t relevant to you.

Every business and website have different objectives and use different marketing channels. Additionally, if you use different sources of data, logging in and logging out of multiple control panels can get old very quickly.

By creating your own marketing dashboard you can get instant access to the data that matters to you.

Services such as Google Analytics Solutions Gallery (free) and (paid) will let you connect all your different sources of data in to one dashboard, as well as giving you the choice on what information to show, and what to ignore.

Use a tag manager

What is tag management? Tags are snippets of code that you add to your website, which then enables you to add and remove analytics, remarketing, conversion tracking, affiliates etc. code via a control panel, without having to touch the website’s HTML again.


More than just a time saver and general admin idea, using a tag manager also ensures consistent and up to date tracking code across your website.

Tag managers also give you control over adding and removing code without having to ask a developer or web admin to do it for you.

As you’d expect, Google provide a tag manager for free here: Google Tag Manager.

Looking for more ideas?

If you want more quick and easy digital marketing ideas, you’ll like my 30 online marketing quicks wins you can apply today.

A great way to test the strength of your brand

With so much information competing for your target audience’s attention every day, the importance of strong branding has never been greater. From recall, to sales to satisfaction levels, it has an impact on everything to do with your business.

But how strong is your brand?

Here is a great way to quickly test the strength of your brand.


Because we need to justify marketing costs, there are countless brand metrics agencies will use to measure the value of a brand. The fact that there is no one definitive answer shows how difficult branding is to quantify.

Most companies can’t afford to hire an agency to do this in-depth brand analysis any way, but there is a quick way you can determine how strong your brand is yourself.

No research, no data, no graphs and no fancy pie charts at jaunty angles. Just you, your brain, a pen and some paper.

The one question to ask yourself

“If your brand was a commercial airline, what would it look like?”

Write down as much detail as you can think of. For example:

  • The check-in process customers would have
  • The type of uniforms your flight staff would wear
  • The in-flight entertainment you would offer
  • The amount of seating space on the place,
  • The quality of the food,
  • The speed of the plane
  • and so on…

You will get better results if you are brutally honest with yourself at each stage.

How easy did you find that to do?

If you instantly had a clear picture of every element of an airline applying your brand, then you have a very strong brand position and statement of purpose.

If you could think of some of the elements, but had to force a few others or were unsure, then you are making progress but your brand needs to be better defined.

If you sat there unsure of any of it, or it being a real jumble of ideas, then that is probably how people see your brand.

To illustrate my point, think of some of the world’s top brands and apply the same idea. Without fail, the type of airline they would be is clear and obvious.

My example

Let’s have a go at applying this to the world’s most valuable brand; Apple.

You know an Apple airline would use beautifully crafted aeroplanes with very comfortable seating, and customisation of the experience at each stage available via connected devices.

They would instantly know who you are and your preferences based on the data stored on your iPhone/iPad/iPod. The service would be relatively informal, with as much emphasis on helping yourself as much as possible.

The in-flight entertainment would be heavily focused on consuming the content on your Apple device, connecting people on the plane to play games. The food would be presented in such a way that it felt original.

That all came very easily.

Your turn

Have a go with your own brand, and let me know how you get on.