How to handle the tribulations of free mobile app trials

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Free trials in the tech world are nothing new. They’ve long been used to get a critical mass of potential customers in the door quickly. The idea is to hook users on your app during a trial period so they won’t be able to live without it when it’s time to fork over some cash. Free trials also level the playing field for independent developers because they make it “safe” for users to experiment with unfamiliar apps from unfamiliar companies.

When can I offer a free trial?

As a developer, you need to be familiar with app store submission guidelines. They’ll shape how you decide to offer a free trial.

    • Apple App Store summarily rejects beta, demo, trial or test versions of iOS apps. However, you can offer a free app with in-app purchases to unlock the full paid app experience. A tricky workaround, but it does give users a taste of what your app has to offer before they commit to paying $0.99–$2.99. There is no expiration unless you pull the app completely.
    • Google Play lets you set an optional trial period for subscriptions, defined as “content, services, or features in your app with automated, recurring billing.”  Spotify is a great example with its Premium 48-hour free trial.
  • Amazon Appstore enables Test Drive for many apps so users can try an app using their web browser, Android or Kindle Fire device. You can also specify a free trial period for subscriptions.

Convince users to stick around

When it comes to free trials, the debate rages on over how much to give away in order to get the most sales. Reported conversion rates vary widely, but there are some things you can do to get users over the hump and into your paid customer base.

    • Shift your mindset. This might seem like a subtle thing, but you should approach free trials with the goal of getting people to use your app, not simply try it. With that in mind, you can pinpoint the interactions that will get them to invest time and effort with your app and see its full potential. Pay close attention to what happens right after launch since this will likely be the Test Drive experience. It’s also a best practice since Google Play gives users 15 minutes to return any app.
    • Find the right duration. There’s no right time period for a free trial. Some experts believe that a short trial length has more impact on downloads than on actual conversions. As a developer, you want the shortest time that will make users feel like they can understand and evaluate your app without feeling rushed.
    • Stay in touch. For mobile web app trials especially, the registration process may require users to provide their email addresses or user names. If you have contact information, use it to welcome the new user when they open your app and continue to engage as the trial plays out. It’s all about striking the right balance between helpful interactions and annoying spam. Analytics can help you determine what level of communication is most effective in driving conversions.
  • Keep your eyes on the prize. If your goal is to monetize through a paid subscription model, focus your time and resources on users who are willing to pay. It’s a waste of effort trying to satisfy people looking for a free ride.

Free trials can be a great way to raise awareness and attract curious users, but you can’t be stingy about it. Give users an enticing taste of your app’s full potential, and you’ll have a better shot of keeping them around for the long haul.

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Yuan Weigel

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