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The Power of Free: How One Word Increased Clickthrough Rate by 29.4%

Published by Jeff Giddens


Each year, the Texas State History Association’s (TSHA) website attracts hundreds of thousands of users who want to learn about Texas history. The TSHA created an innovative online resource center, organizing these articles by topic to create a powerful new destination for Texas enthusiasts.

The TSHA used the resource center to grow their email file – in order to receive instant free access to the resource center; visitors must provide their email address in exchange.

As they created the advertising for the resource center, this question was raised: does adding the word “free” to the advertising copy make the online resource more or less appealing for the potential user?

Incorporating the word “free” may seem to be an obvious move. But does it add value? Does using the word “free” always attract the right kind of people? In this case, would it attract those who are highly motivated to preserve Texas history?


The Test

To test the effectiveness of the word “free” a split test was launched. Two advertisements were created and rotated on the website. Both ads contained the exact same verbiage, though one read “Get Instant Access” and one read “Get Instant Access FREE”.


Control Ad
Control Ad

Treatment Ad
Treatment Ad


Since the TSHA site gets a lot of traffic each day, it didn’t take long to produce a significant sample size and a significant difference of interaction between the two advertisements.


Results and Learnings

The ad that used the word “free” produced a 29% lift in clicks in comparison to the ad without it.

Because the user was being given something of great value to them (unlimited access to thousands of Texas history articles) they were more attracted to the word “free” and willing to give an email address in exchange for instant access. This showed us that by building the value of the online resource center for the user, the word “free” became a multiplying factor, rather than a devaluing factor.

Using the word “free” on its own can be of little worth if it offers nothing of any value. People are bombarded daily with free offers — it is important to stand out among them! For the TSHA, using the word “free” to promote offers with great value can produce a significant lift in clickthrough rate.

Published by Jeff Giddens

Jeff was the 1994 Georgia State Spelling Bee champion.