Amp Up Trial Offers: Best Practice Basics for Subscription Trial Offers

Learn from our decision-tree to help you decide if you should offer a free trial, plus tips for free trial offers, payment processing practices, conversion tactics, and legal compliance.

Trial offers are a potent tool for subscription businesses to attract potential customers and convert them into loyal subscribers. To ensure the success of trial offers, consider these basic best practices:

Source Bigstock

Should You Even Offer a Free Trial? 

Determining whether a free trial aligns with your business model is important. Here are some detailed questions to help guide your decision:

  1. Existing Free Content: If your website already provides substantial free content or operates on a freemium model, offering a free trial might not be the optimal strategy. A free trial could be redundant and fail to entice users.
  2. Usage Duration Patterns: Analyze user behavior. If your audience tends to engage with your content for short periods, it could indicate that a free trial might not be the best fit. This scenario is common for websites like, where their ratings are hidden behind a paywall and not available via a free trial since the need for the ratings is usually for a short period of time.
  3. Compelling Sample Content: Evaluate if your free samples are substantial and compelling enough to convert users into paid subscribers. For example, Testing Mom offers a free trial with 100 questions and utilizes this opportunity to upsell users to a subscription.
  4. Engaging Content Segmentation: Is your subscription available and structured in a way that can engage users progressively? If so, a free trial might be a great strategy.
  5. Niche Focus: Does your membership or subscription serve a hard-to-reach niche audience?  If so, creating a free trial offer to capture (and then upsell) them may be the right strategy. 

Source: Bigstock

Factors Favoring Free Trials:

Consider these scenarios where offering a free trial:

  • Complex Experiences: If your service offers a unique and complex experience that is challenging to explain in a simple manner, letting users experience it firsthand can be a powerful selling point.
  • Competitive Markets: In markets where your brand is not the dominant player, offering a free trial can be a strategic move. For instance, MorningStar, operating in the competitive financial news sector, uses free content and a 2-week free trial to attract subscribers.
  • Referral Programs: If you have a refer-a-friend mechanism tied to your trial, it can be an effective way to generate leads and capitalize on word-of-mouth marketing. Dropbox, for instance, encourages users to refer friends in exchange for extra storage space.
  • Budget-Conscious Markets: In sectors where budget constraints are a significant consideration, such as the education sector, offering a trial can attract users who are more inclined to explore a service before committing financially.

Source: Bigstock

Payment Processing Basics:

When implementing payment processing for trial offers, make sure you keep in mind these basic best practices: 

  • Credit Card Requirement: Ensure you always collect credit card information during sign-up. This facilitates seamless charging after the trial period ends and psychologically conveys the value of your content.
  • Pre-Authorization Holds: It’s advisable to avoid pre-authorization holds, where a nominal amount is charged temporarily. This practice is increasingly scrutinized by credit card companies and might deter potential subscribers.
  • Charging Timing: While charging at the end of the trial is standard, consider adding a grace period before processing charges. This minimizes chargebacks and refunds. Additionally, explore the benefits of offering paid trials for a nominal fee ($0.99 or $1) to attract more committed leads.
  • Don’t Forget The Statement! Make sure how your membership or subscription is described on a payment card statement is clear. This is fundamental. The last thing you want is for your NEW subscriber (or their family or co-worker) to NOT recognize your subscription charge because it is listed under a parent company or the abbreviation is confusing. This is a poor reason for a chargeback!

Source: Bigstock

Conversion Tactics:

To effectively convert trial users into paying subscribers, delve deeper into these strategies:

  • Early Email Collection: Prioritize collecting email addresses early in the process to establish a direct line of communication with users. This can be achieved even before presenting trial offers, improving your chances of future engagement.
  • Welcome Email and Onboarding: Craft a welcome email that is sent immediately upon sign-up. This email should provide a brief introduction, guide users to essential features, and set expectations for their trial experience. Consider incorporating videos, site tours, or benefits showcases to enhance onboarding.
  • Email Reminders: Experiment with sending email reminders during the trial period to encourage users to convert. This can be a powerful tactic, but its effectiveness varies depending on your audience. This is over and above legally required reminders (see below).
  • Segmented Email Lists: Organize your email lists to differentiate between trial users and regular subscribers. This allows you to tailor your communication and marketing efforts for each group effectively.
  • Testing and Refining: Continuously test your trial conversion strategies to identify what works best for your specific audience and industry. Make data-driven decisions to optimize your conversion rates.

Source: Bigstock

Legal Considerations:

Make sure you are aware of the basics of subscription legal compliance. Federal and state laws are always evolving, so make sure your legal team reviews and approves your final UI and offer flow!

  • Notification: Notification that a free trial is ending is now a requirement, so make sure that you are notifying your free trial subscribers.
  • Terms and Conditions Disclosure: Display your terms and conditions clearly and conspicuously. Use the “4 P’s” framework—prominence, presentation, placement, and proximity—to ensure transparency.
  • Access Guarantee: Commit to providing access for the entire trial period as promised during sign-up.
  • Clear Charges Disclosure: Transparently disclose all charges, including any third-party involvement and refund policies.
  • Cancellation Process: Clearly communicate the process for canceling subscriptions to users, meeting legal obligations, and ensuring customer satisfaction.

INSIDER TAKE: By thoroughly understanding your audience, carefully assessing the decision to offer free trials, and implementing basic best practices, you can maximize the effectiveness of trial offers. This approach will not only attract trial users but also effectively convert them into long-term, paying subscribers.

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