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How to offer effective free trials

· 10 min read

trial to paid

If you could increase the conversion rate of your free trials by 10%, how much of a difference would that make? For most companies, even a 5% boost in their trial-to-paid conversion rate would transform their business.

The problem is figuring out how to do that. What defaults should you use? How should you design your trials? There are so many small decisions that can make a big impact.

To help, we created a cheat sheet on how to offer an effective free trial so you don't have to A/B test until you're sick of hearing the first two letters of the alphabet.

credit card or no credit card

To require a credit card or to not require a credit card?

The big debate when it comes to free trials is whether to require a credit card to access your trial. Companies and experts often go back and forth on the merits of both options.

However, most major subscription services require them. Companies like Spotify and Google ask customers for their credit cards because they’ve done a lot of experiments and come to the conclusion that they perform better that way. Here are our thoughts:

Requiring a credit card

  • Increases the number of people who convert at the end of the trial

  • Reduces the number of people who sign-up for the trial

  • Reduces the amount you spend on free trials for those without buyer intent

  • Trial participants are only those truly interested in your product

  • You're better able to identify those who have already done a trial

  • Some forget to cancel the trial and could file a chargeback

Not requiring a credit card

  • Increases the number of people who sign up for your trial

  • Reduces the number of people who convert

  • Increases the costs of your free trial program

  • Trial participants might not be very invested in your product

  • It's easier for users to get multiple free trials rather than signing up

Some argue that since you can get more people to try your product by not requiring a credit card, you could potentially still convert enough to come out ahead. However, that's not always the case and whether that strategy makes sense might depend on your product.

For example, some free trials are expensive for companies to offer. If you're giving out trials to a significant mass of people who aren't exhibiting buying intent, you could be greatly increasing your customer acquisition costs and the number of months it will take to start generating income off that new subscriber.

If that customer churns before you hit that magic breakeven point, you'll have lost money on that customer. You also don't want to just pour people into your trial funnel. The number of users that take part in trials doesn't matter to your bottom line. The percentage of people that convert does.

If you have a small market and you encourage people into the trial when they don't have a buying mindset, you're also going to potentially burn through prospects that might have converted at a time they were more invested in finding a solution.

A free tier can be a great alternative to capture the wider audience without requiring a credit card, but have the higher rate of conversion from a credit card gated trial.

For most businesses, requiring credit cards is a key part of effective trials.

different trial lengths

Choose the right free trial length

Choosing the length of your trial seems easy. Just do the same as your competitors! The industry standard knows best, right? But there is no one size fits all for free trials.

Your product's time-to-value

Each product has a different time-to-value. The goal of your trial is not just to get users to understand the value of your service but to feel that it's so valuable that it's worth paying for. With some services, that takes a bit longer than with others.

A music streaming service, for example, gives users immediate value on their trial. However, a workflow app for teams requires a company's staff to onboard onto it, learn the system, and figure out how to make it fit into their workflow? That takes more than a week.

Also, your competitors might not know best. Or your product might have functionalities that distinguish your solution from theirs and require a bit longer to fully understand and use.

Similarly, if you have a number of tiers for your trial or if your trial is focused around moving current users to a higher tier, you might need to give your users long enough to become so dependent on those features they can't imagine giving them up.

Testing different lengths

The good news is that you can test different trial lengths and see if they have an impact on conversion. To decide which trial lengths to try, spend some time thinking like a user. What will their use look like? What steps will they need to take to get to the point where they're getting value from your product?

If your product requires a user to complete a lot of steps to understand it's full value, you can offer trials where the user gets extra time if they complete certain trial milestones. You might offer an additional week if they invite someone from their team to use it or a few days extra if they import their data. This can be a great way to ensure users are getting the most out of their trial and doing things that optimize them to convert at the end.

incontext upgrade

Showcase tiered features in your trial

Whether you're trying to upsell a current paying user to a higher tier or trying to onboard a new user, your higher tiered features should be the stars of your free trial.

Before your trial even begins

If your product offers a free tier, this should start before the free trial even begins. Current users should be able to see the buttons for the higher-tiered features they can't access. Your UI and site flow should clearly indicate that these are higher tiered features and what they do.

When users hover over them, they should be told how the feature works, its benefits, and what kinds of users like them. For example, a career networking site like LinkedIn might offer tiered features for high volume users like recruiters. In this case, your copy would talk about how certain upper tier features are particularly valuable for companies recruiting over 20 people a year on the platform.

If users click on these features, they should see in context information and benefits and be immediately able to sign up for a free trial to try them out. Here you could break down how much the higher tier costs per new employee when companies recruit 20 new staffers via the platform versus how much time it saves for recruiters.

During the trial

During a trial, you should also clearly distinguish which features are at a higher tier in the UI. When a user first uses a higher tier feature, you could tell them with a pop-up, too. This allows users to test and know which features they won't have access to after the trial is over. If they love those features, they'll be aware that the only way to keep them is to move to a higher tier.

Be meticulous about your copy

Copy matters a lot in trial conversion.

A trial is, essentially, a storytelling process. You are telling your users about your product and how it could improve their lives. You need effective and succinct copy that shows why your product's features will improve their lives. You also need to teach them how to use it and help them if they're struggling to figure that out.

Here are some things that can help on both those counts:

  • Explain your features and their purpose during your onboarding tutorial

  • Give examples for who the features benefit most when they first try them

  • Help them imagine how they will use your higher-tier feature by linking to blog posts or case studies showing how others have used that feature

  • Automate a drip campaign during their free trial with emails coming from key people from your company educating them about features or offering to answer any questions they have

  • Send them messages via email, in-product, and through other channels when they complete key trial milestones

  • Send them a reminder when their trial is almost over. If you can easily integrate their user data with this automated email, personalize this email so it talks about the product features they used most. This notification also helps you avoid chargebacks since they get notified before they are charged

  • Allow them to convert midway through their trial with a funnel page giving them a discount if they pay for the first period in a lump sum

repeated trials

Catch the people attempting a second trial

Given that 10% of people trialing any product have done the free trial previously, most people have double trialed a product at some point in their lives. Some are frequent triple trialers. Rather than see this as a problem, we see it as an opportunity.

Repeat trialers represent your next conversions

The only people willing to go through the trouble of creating a new email address or listing someone else's address just to get another trial, are people who love your product. They're a great population to market to because they're already fans. In fact, they're more likely to convert if you ask them the right way.

That's right, we think that repeat trialers can be an area of growth for your business. By identifying them with products like Upollo, you can then send them an offer designed to (finally) convert them. For example, you could offer them a discount on their first few months.

With 10% of users trying your product already fans, if you could increase your conversion of that group by just a few percentage points, that would make a huge impact on your revenue.


Effective trials are an art and a science. While some A/B testing is critical to ensure that yours are optimized, creating a smart free trial strategy is the most effective way to optimize your conversion rate. That involves paying careful attention to things like your trial length, how you highlight your features, and how you message your users during the trial.

It also means catching repeat trialers and sweetening the deal to convert them. Upollo can help you find those repeat trialers and turn them into happy paying customers. And we can do it in as little as three lines of code. Curious? Sign up for our beta and start converting more trials.

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