After over two years of running a bootstrapped marketplace business, I’ve come to realize what works and what doesn’t when it comes to marketing your product online especially when your hands are tied by an extremely tight marketing budget.

It all comes down to one realization: usually, when a person has a problem they want solved, they turn to the Internet for a free solution. The key word here is free.

Think about it – you usually don’t turn to Google’s search engine and think, “I want to spend X amount of $$ to solve my problem”. You’re more likely thinking, “I want to find a website that will solve my problem for free.”

In the back of your mind, you may be thinking that you’re willing to spend some money to solve the problem, but you will always begin by looking for a free solution.

But your product isn’t free. It’s many things – valuable, useful, problem solving, maybe even revolutionary – but it’s not free. So how do you capture the attention of these folks and convert them into paying customers (in return for solving their problem in an effective way)?

The new rule of Internet marketing is to provide your target audience with a free and valuable service that has the capacity to solve their problem effectively, while simultaneously introducing your premium product as a means to solve their problem in an even more effective way.

Pause. Let me explain.

Helping people, without asking for anything in return, builds a rapport and trust with your target audience. When it comes to selling your product online, trust is number one. People usually like to know and like the people they give money too.

From an online business perspective, when you give someone something for free or grant him or her a favor, they come to learn about your business and associate positive feelings with your brand, resulting in trust being built with your customer.

It’s human nature to feel obligated to return a favor or a free gesture. When you offer a free product or service online, this principle translates into additional users and revenue.

With that said, the objectives of your free product or service should be too:

1. Provide a free, creative solution to a problem you know your target audience has. The free solution should be able to sufficiently solve your customer’s problem.

2. Educate your target audience, while they are using your free solution, on your brand personality as well as your premium solutions.

The result: Your free online solution will attract a large amount of relevant, targeted traffic to your website. A fraction of that traffic will convert to paid users/customers who you will continue to serve.

Those who don’t become paying customers will at the minimum come to learn about your brand, and feel obligated to spread the word about your business due to the free service you provided them.

Blogging can be a useful tool to achieve this, but it’s easy to get lost in the sea of businesses pursuing this same tactic. You need to be a bit more creative and invest more time (and money).

You need something with a bit more umph.

You need to create a free web app for your target audience.  

Your free web app should be completely automated and self-serviced (the users of your app should not need you, or anyone else on your team, to use the app, otherwise it will be impossible to scale).

Your free web app should be relevant to the problem your target audience has, and it should be relevant to your product offerings.

Your free web app should be able to sufficiently solve the problem your target audience has (if it doesn’t, it won’t be shared or talked about).

Let’s get into some examples of this being done in the real world.

The New Rule of Internet Marketing In Practice


The company I founded, CopyShoppy, is a marketplace that connects entrepreneurs & businesses with business writers through a contest-based platform. Among other creative writing contests, entrepreneurs and business owners can launch business brand name contests.

Applying the new rule of Internet marketing, we decided to create a free web app called the Business Name Generator Guru. The Guru provides users with free, and very creative, business name options based on their industry and a specified keyword.

We’re continuously working on improving the creative output and functionality of the generator, to make it the most creative business name generator developed to date.

When creating your own web app, look at the competing free web apps in your space, and develop a blueprint and plan of action for your app that will ensure it stands above the rest. This is what aimed to do for the Guru.


Hubspot has applied this concept well. Their free tool, the Marketing Grader (formerly known as the Website Grader), works wonders for their lead generation.

“In under 30 seconds, [the Marketing Grader] analyzes all of your marketing — not just your website — reviewing over 30 different factors and then providing an overall Marketing Grade on a 1-100 scale.” – Hubspot Blog

According to socialfresh:

  • 20,000 people a month find HubSpot via Website Grader
  • 1,500 HubSpot leads (people interested in HubSpot software) come from Website Grader every month
  • 400 new additions to our email list (people interested in content updates from HubSpot) come from Website Grader every month

In a free and effective way, Hubspot’s Marketing Grader solves their target audience’s problem of coming to learn better marketing data about their business.

Free web apps take careful research, creativity, planning, budgeting and execution. But once completed and developed, they are a gift that will keep on giving, both to you and your customers, at no added expense relative to other marketing channels such as PPC.

If you’re looking to automate your marketing and sales, and attract your target audience to your solutions, you need to figure out how to create a relevant and effective free web app for your target audience.

If you need some help brainstorming free web app ideas for your business, shoot me an email at

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