Marketing through freeware version

I am trying to sell a new B2C product in a quite competitive and quite mature market.
The software itself is good enough with some unique and interesting features and I get 8-10% visitors to trial downloads conversion. This means there is some potential demand which could be fulfilled and people are generally interested.
After eight months of online marketing we are still getting 10-20 visitors daily which is quite frustrating.

Now as many of us face this issue, there is a huge problem with getting traffic these days.
Blogging, link building, articles… honestly it all gives too little.
I am seriously considering to stop doing any serious online marketing because at such rate there would never be enough visitors to get a good number of sales. At least not in the nearest 2-3 years.

Currently there are two basic strategies on my mind:

  • Build an attractive affiliate scheme for offline businesses. This means sharing 30-50% on each sale
    and trying to find as many partners as possible offline and online, real people, real shops, real businesses.

  • Make FREE version of the product and try to grow visibility, user base and traffic on these type of users.

What would be your advice, is there someone happy after doing a freeware fork?
Are there any other ideas?

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It would help to know what your product is before giving advice. At the very least, you should share the market category.

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I’ve never did affiliates but I did read several post mortems and the most frequent conclusion was “it was not worth it”.

I’m sure it works for some but it’s a chicken/egg problem: if you don’t have sales today, why should I, a potential affiliate, invest time and effort promoting your software if the payout is not guaranteed? Not to mention the logistic issues (tracking affiliate sales, paying out the fees etc.).

I think content marketing is still the most viable option. You shared little about the nature of your business, so I’ll share my experiments, which might or might not contain wisdom relevant to your situation.

For kicks I’ve been trying to increase visitors to my blog.

I wrote a couple of articles about Go (

I posted each article on r/golang and that gives me at least 1k visits in the first 2 days and then a trickle of visitors.

I tweet about it, which probably has zero effect.

The articles are also picked up by others e.g. every article was picked up by a Go newsletter, driving another large amount of traffic.

I did nothing to reach to this newsletter but it makes sense: their job is to produce fresh content about Go weekly, so they probably scan r/golang and relevant mailing lists and follow relevant people on twitter as a way of gathering information and they repost everything that is of decent quality and related to Go.

This might or might not be applicable to your situation.

I wouldn’t know how to market software for managing a hair salon (other than cold calling and door to door sales).

But if I had a decent PostgreSQL GUI client, I could content market the shit out of it. I would write entire books about PostgreSQL, post every chapter on r/PostgreSQL/ as I write it and gently link to my client from there.

Another avenue is to make simple tools related to your domain.

For example HubSpot (a SEO / online marketing company) made tools like A simple tool that is not good enough to charge for but it does solve real problem and is in the vicinity of the other software they sell.

Thank you for your responses!
kjk, your Go experience is a bit different and I am sure there are tons of technical materials to fuel your marketing.

Making a simple free tool is an interesting strategy. Then there would be two products to advertise :wink:
If the new tool is not going to be viral it would be the same problem with traffic.
Anyway I agree this might work better than writing texts alone.

In my space, the software is closer to the photo management software niche. No doubts the marketing in this niche is challenging. There are two types of users: the pros who already have some tools but may be interested to find some better tools and a huge amount of regular users to be reached and educated.

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Don’t make it a downloadable tool tho. Make it a web page. I noticed that in the recent years, whenever I need to do a quick specific job, I’m searching “do X online”. And usually there is a page that does that. Not as nice as a standalone tool, perhaps, but good enough, and I’m saving time by not installing anything.

So in you photo case it could be the typical operation that you do on photos, but online. Quick and dirty. If the user needs more features - here is a link to a full-featured software.

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The trick with Content Marketing it to write about a topic that meets these criteria:

  1. Something your prospective customer will need to learn in order to use your product. Or, something that once they have learned it they are more likely to want/ need your product.
  2. You can write something that is better than the top 5 or 10 search results for that topic.

I’ve done this once and that article now accounts for 50%+ of my blog traffic. The equivalent traffic would have cost me over $8700 a year through paid advertising.

I’m working on an article about this and also working on my second article. And for my second article, I kinda swam around in the SEO Keyword data and started on one topic but discovered a much better one.

Direct Message me if you want more specific suggestions. The trick is really getting inside your customers mind. I’m happy to share some of my experience and makes some suggestions. If 10 minutes of my time can make a difference, I’m happy help. (no charge!)

This is not a binary thing.

I can tell you from experience that “if you build it they’ll come” works quite well for free tools. I wrote SumatraPDF which today is extremely popular program.

I did nothing to promote other than the obvious (make a simple website, blog about it on my modestly popular blog).

I didn’t promote it. It also didn’t go viral. It had slow but steady growth because the more people used it, the more it would get recommended in various places.

People tend to share information about useful free tools much more frequently than they share information about paid tools. Free tools have much higher “viral coefficient”.

And my experience is not a fluke. See e.g. tig which has 5.6 k stars on GitHub. I’m pretty sure the author doesn’t spend much time promoting his tool. You can find many other examples on GitHub.

I agree with @rfctr.

In photo-adjacent markets I would build simple, single purpose tools and SEO the shit out of them.

Build jpeg->gif converter (or a family of X->Y converters). Buy domain names like

Then prominently advertise your related program.

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About your affiliate program idea:

Unfortunately, affiliate marketing is not the solution to the lack of sales, it’s a scaling channel. Most small companies start an affiliate program thinking that now, a few affiliates will come and share their product all over the place and lift the sales by 50%…it doesn’t work like that.

Happens very often for a company to sign up over 100 affiliates and don’t make more than $500/month from the affiliate program, mostly because those affiliates either don’t promote the product or they don’t have the resources(they are very small).

In order to make an affiliate program work, in SaaS, you either need to have an amazing product that people die to promote or be active, put some time building relationship with the real affiliates, with top influencers in the industry, with top bloggers, facebook group owners, forum owners, etc. Those are the people that will make the program a success. The great thing is, you need at least ONE good affiliate to break even. I have clients that have 2-3 affiliates and brings from 40 to 70% of their entire revenue as a business.

Of course, a lot of SaaS companies shut down their program after a year, at most, but when you ask them what they actually tried to make it work, most of them said they put a sign up form, 50 people registered but no sales - without doing any actual work on building relationships with people that matter or having a strong funnel+product.

About me:
My SaaS provides affiliate tracking and management for SaaS companies, I work with SaaS affiliate programs every day and have a few which do 6 figures a month from this channel, but they have a very well put conversion funnel, with strong, powerful products and compelling offers. Most of them have someone doing outreach, maintaining/building relationships and setting up deals and webinars.

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From my experience, most of the “partners” who sign up are useless coupon sites. They will not market your product, they just earn from accidental search traffic, affiliate cookies, and occasional sales coming from their affiliate links. They will not drive any new customers. It’s really hard to find a partner who will increase your sales, even if you’re ready to give them 90% of your sales.

It will not hurt to try. We do this, although not directly (there’s no “free” plan on the pricing page), and it definitely adds some user attention.

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This is how 90% of companies do, because it’s easy to just set up an affiliate program “wait for it to work”. Some may have some influential people as customers which sign up and actually bring sales, but most of them don’t.

To solve this, start a private affiliate program, have an amazing product, a high % commission and start building relationships with top influencers, bloggers, websites, facebook group owners in your industry. DON’T wait for them(unless your customer base is super large), the quality ones won’t sign up to your affiliate program by themselves.

Trust me, you need to get only one solid partner to make it worthwhile…IF you are willing to put the time to build those relationships(which helps you long-term even if you don’t have an affiliate program)

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