Is there evidence of better results with a free version vs. free trial?


Some companies opt for a free version in hopes of converting to paid. Others offer a free trial. I can see merit in both, but I'm curious what your thoughts are around which is preferred and why. Any statistics out there to support one case over the other?

Marketing Trial Statistics Freemium

asked Dec 3 '09 at 16:47
892 points
Top digital marketing agency for SEO, content marketing, and PR: Demand Roll
  • Definition of "freemium" might be helpful. I'm just guessing as to what it means. I assume, it means that you get a basic set of features and you pay for extras and/or "the good stuff" – Scott 13 years ago

10 Answers


We're dealing with this very issue right now at HubSpot.

Right now, we have a free trial of the product, but I'm pushing for moving this to a freemium model.

My primary arguments:

1) There are some number of users that simply will not invest in a trial. But, if there's a free version of the product, they may think "hey, I get the basic features forever". So, I think uptake of the free version would be much higher than the free trial.

2) As noted in an earlier response, there is a lot of goodwill that builds from having a lot of users of the free product. This goodwill translates into improved marketing.

But, of course there are tradeoffs. The biggest one is the degree to which the free version will cannibalize sales of the paid product. Finding the right balance of what to include in the free version vs. what to charge the premium for is tricky.

answered Dec 7 '09 at 09:58
Dharmesh Shah
2,865 points
  • I know of at least one "freemium" program that is very basic but I manage to use only the free version for all that I need. As a consumer, I love it. – Scott 13 years ago


Maybe try to decide by looking what you like the most. Have you ever wanted to review some online product yourself?

Well I did and here is my $0.02 on it.

  1. free package - often so unusable that you can't really do anything with it and you abandon the evaluation of it; in rare cases it is fantastically usable, problem can be that my needs are less than a free top limitation and I would never pay for it (it happened and I still use it)
  2. free trial with asking for cc - something I really don't like. I will give my cc number for free trial ONLY if I desperately want to try something. I know it safe, it is just pain in the a** to do it (I don't know why, but it is for me)
  3. free trial cc number not required - these OI loved the most. Easy to register easy to try, if I like it, I'll bought it.

And one more thing about freemium - many people will come just because it is free. if and when you ask for money, they will disappear.

answered Dec 8 '09 at 09:24
594 points
  • +1 my experience trying a lot of difference services match this exactly. – Dane 14 years ago


Advantage of the freemium model are that your program is more likely to become well-known when there are many users of the free version who spread the word. Optimaly, a community forms that essentially does a large part of the marketing for you. For obvious reasons, the more specialised your software is, i.e. the lower the number of potential users is, the less likely is that the supposed network effect of the free version leads to anything. When there are only 100 potential users of your software worldwide, you better make them 100 paying users.

Personally, I don't see ethical concerns with the freemium model. Paying users are paying for the free members, but it's their own choice to do so.

answered Dec 3 '09 at 20:01
Ammo Q
561 points
  • I'd never considered the paying users vs. free users dilemna, and I agree I'm not sure there is much of one. Ideally I want everyone to have the full experience - if it's a good fit and return, they can pay, if not, we'll continue to add value to raise our conversion numbers. I just don't think it's doing our product justice to offer a watered down version. It would end up looking like many other free tools out there, and the value is in the goodies that should be paid for. We will certainly have lower mass without a freemium model, but I think focusing on our paying customers will pay off. – Justyn 14 years ago
  • And thank you for your feedback! – Justyn 14 years ago


Yes there are statistics.

Mailchimp has an excellent blog post about this very thing.

Going Freemium: One Year Later and this great article

Why free plans don't work

answered Sep 7 '11 at 11:13
Ryan Doom
5,472 points


We went through a similar decision making process at my company. What we learnt was that a time-bound "free trial" with access to all features of the product had a higher conversion rate than a cannibalized time-unlimited free product. The key is to get the correct time limit for the free trial and nurturing users over the free trial so that they convert. As with all other things, the best way is to take a reasonable starting point for your business, test and refine based on results.

answered Dec 8 '09 at 01:11
Anand Rajaram
71 points


After taking a quick look at your "sneak peak" page, I have a couple of thoughts.

First of all, I see the potential for this bringing compelling value to smaller businesses without social media expertise, but isn't that lack of awareness about social media (and the benefits of your service) also a pretty big sales barrier?

Whenever I think of this "to freemium or not to freemium?" question, I think of 37Signals and their blockbuster Basecamp offering. Even now, they still offer (although less prominently, as I remember my earlier experiences with their pricing page) a free subscription with reduced functionality.

The premise is simple and (to me, at least) very compelling: "Don't just take our pitch for it; get a real taste of the product. You can use it for as long as you want, but we are confident that your experience will be so great you will soon be throwing us money to get more."

It seems to me that your product is very similar today to where Basecamp was at its launch. Few people really understood web-based project collaboration back then, and the freemium plan proved to be a great way to educate the market.

Isn't your offering at the same place now with your target market, re: the need to educate them about tapping the power of social media?

answered Dec 7 '09 at 13:23
Startup Guy
88 points


I just read about what you're offering. Interesting. Personally, I'd say go with free trial and then convert to paid. I've seen many ethical concerns about the freemium business model because essentially all the paying users are paying for the free members. Although I don't mean to completely discredit the freemium model, it's worth noting.

Give someone a taste of how great your stuff is, if it truly is great, have them convert to paid. If not, then find out why they didn't convert so you can tweak your offering/service. I'd be interested to help you more with this/act as a sounding board.

You can also conduct a survey with a few people who work in the social media business and find out what they would prefer. Find out how much they'd pay, etc... but personally, I wouldn't overthink it too much. Offer a free trial and run with it. Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki talks about making sales and tweaking things later... make sales, and maybe add freemium later. :) I would be curious to know which route you take and how it goes, though. I'll keep an eye on the blog :)

answered Dec 3 '09 at 19:41
460 points
  • Thanks Matt! And feel free to contact me using the email address on the blog post if you're up for discussing further. I primarily share your sentiment about using a trial model, just doing some further homework to make sure we're on the right track. – Justyn 14 years ago


Personally I don't like to sign up for trials, since I don't want to have a hard deadline to 'upgrade' but I will sign up for free 'basic' apps because I can use them for as long as I want and can upgrade when the the time is right. On thing to keep in mind -- your free version has to be functional. No one will upgrade if the free stuff doesn't do anything useful.

answered Dec 5 '09 at 07:36
649 points


If the cost of upkeep of a user is low, then "free" users may be considered "free" marketing.

If during the course of daily usage lots of user-specific data is generated, then it will be hard for them to walk away because they'll need to take their data and recreate it elsewhere.

You may then consider allowing "free" with a usage limit. Set the limit high enough so that it will only be reached after a few months of usage. When they hit that limit, they're already hooked and will consider paying.

Hope that helps.

answered Dec 8 '09 at 15:43
Raj Raman
66 points


If there is a compelling reason to pay then having a free version makes sense.

For example, you could have a web application that duplicates what Photoshop does, so you allow them to use it for free, and to save their work, but if they want to export it or do anything special with it then they need to either pay each time or pay a membership.

The difficulty is determining if it makes more sense to charge by usage or a membership at that point.

The problem with free trials is that it is easy to get around it, if you are tracking by email address, as I could keep going to yahoo and getting new email addresses, use your service, and repeat until I get tired of it.

It would help if you explained your product a bit, to give some better thoughts.

answered Dec 3 '09 at 17:11
James Black
2,642 points
  • Thanks for the comments James. Some details on the product can be found here: Signing up for multiple trials would negate the progress, so we have some inherent defenses for that. Ultimately I'm hesitant to scale back the product at all to fit a freemium model. I'd like everyone to get the full experience. But, some well known companies have opted for the freemium model, so I want to make sure I consider all angles before finalizing our approach. – Justyn 14 years ago
  • @James, what's the difference between by usage and by membership? – Jpartogi 14 years ago
  • @jpartogi - In my example, you could pay by usage, so, for each image you want to export/save, you pay a fee. If you pay a membership you may be able to save 50 images/month for example before you get charged a usage fee. – James Black 14 years ago

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