Homepage Optimization: Free trial vs. demo


Which offers and messaging on your homepage will most likely motivate your potential customers to act? I was recently asked about free trials versus demos. Today, I will answer that question. But first, as background to that question, let’s look at the challenges of homepage optimization.

Homepage optimization can be a frustrating experience for a marketing team. For starters, in some organizations, the homepage is a highly coveted prize, and meeting room warfare can quickly erupt when any homepage changes are brought to the table.

Making matters worse, marketers will frequently test both their homepage and landing page using identical goals. This misguided approach to testing efforts can yield results that can potentially ruin a campaign and possibly even a career.

Before you can optimize offers and messaging, it is critical to understand the objectives of a homepage, the perception of your customers, and the importance of testing to discover what really works.


The objective of a homepage

MarketingExperiments recently held a special live optimization clinic, “Homepage Optimization Applied: Learn how to replicate a 331% lift on your own site.”

In it, we discussed some of the principles we have discovered from our homepage testing that you might want to consider in your testing:

    • Too often, marketers confuse the objective of a homepage with the objective of a landing page.
    • In most cases, the objective of a homepage should be to get various prospect types on the correct path up the inverted funnel.
    • One way to approach this objective is to shift treating the homepage more like a directory page. (In other words, sort and direct homepage traffic to the correct landing page so prospects begin their push up the sales funnel on the right track.)


Perception. Perception. Perception.

Following the Web clinic I mentioned above, I received an email from Alex Volkov, Customer Success Specialist, SalesCrunch.com.

We had selected Alex’s homepage for our live optimization (you can click here to skip directly to the live optimization of that homepage), and he presented us with an excellent question I wanted to share with all of you.

“In the segment with our page, one of the comments you made was regarding ‘Free trial’ buttons. You said that it asks for too much commitment in this action. You then said that a ‘Demo’ button would have been preferable, as it would be less commitment for the prospect. I would like to ask you to clarify how requesting a demo involves less commitment than a free trial.”

– Alex Volkov, Customer Success Specialist, SalesCrunch.com


First, I wanted to thank Alex for his questions and comments. We receive great questions like these all the time from our Web clinic audiences, and providing the answers quickly definitely keeps us on our toes! So thank you again, Alex. (Also, you can pose your questions to the MarketingExperiments community in the MarketingExperiments Optimization group on LinkedIn.)

To help provide some context around the comments we made on Alex’s homepage submission during our live optimization, I wanted to start with a focus on perception. Our perception is that of a visitor to Alex’s homepage (or to your homepage, perhaps) and the perceived commitment level in the mind of that visitor.

We’re also taking into consideration the perceived outcome as well. (Remember, one of the principles we use in our optimization methodology  at MarketingExperiments is that marketers do not optimize webpages. They optimize thought sequences.)

Therefore, a consideration of perceived commitment in the mind of a visitor must also include a consideration of perceived outcome given the options presented.


“Free Trial” vs. “Demo”

A demo can be presented in multiple forms (video, sales presentation, etc.). In most cases, however, it also comes with an environment that allows the visitor to listen, ask questions and focus on understanding the offer, rather than trying to understand and navigate without a guide simultaneously.

Combine unsupervised navigation with a target market of business professionals, (people who are already very busy), and you might be leaving potential leads on the table.

I suggest that if you have a product that is perceived to produce a relatively quick result, and is easy to understand quickly, then a “free trial” call-to-action may produce a measurable increase in interest.

Conversely, if your product is perceived by a visitor to involve a lot of data entry, is complicated to install, and, in general, cannot be used immediately, then sales opportunities are possibly being lost.

In other words, they may perceive too much cost (in this case, work on their part to install and learn a new piece of software, etc.) to try a “free trial.” Meanwhile, there is likely a lot less cost to just watch the demo.

To be certain of this, as in all optimization efforts, you must test it.


Testing in focus

Your focus on testing should be to understand the effects of the call-to-action language, amount and approach used to attract customers. (I would test “Watch it work” perhaps as an interesting treatment alternative to “Demo.” It is also very possible that your testing could conclude no significant difference at all.)

Multiple test ideas out there could become treatments that produce lifts. Once you find one that works, I wouldn’t stop there.

Test as many variations that answer this question as you possibly can and you’re one step closer to understanding how your homepage can play a better role in connecting you with your potential customers.

Testing really helps put your changes in perspective. You likely live, sleep, eat and breathe your homepage, so you may look at offering a free trial of what you perceive to be a great product as a fantastic, can’t miss offer for any visitor.

However, testing will show you what really matters to your visitors … not to you.

Keep in mind, the disposition of most of your visitors will be not to act, and you have to overcome that hurdle by reducing cost and increasing value. I believe author Robert McKee explained this element of human nature best when he said …

“Human nature is fundamentally conservative. We never do more than we have to, expend any energy we don’t have to, take any risks we don’t have to, change if we don’t have to. Why should we? Why do anything the hard way if we can get what we want the easy way? (The ‘easy way’ is, of course, idiosyncratic and subjective.)”


Related Resources:

Landing Page Design: Eye Path vs. Thought sequence

Big mistakes from a great marketing test at Air Canada (and 4 lessons to help you avoid them)

Customer Value: The 4 essential levels of value propositions

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  1. Ram says


    I doubt, how “Free Trial” and “Demo” might be compared? . Both makes different sense.
    Sometimes, “free trial” might also required a “demo”. If I trial some thing, there I have a chance of owning it (for example any online service). I think it’s purely depend on the product or service you offer.

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