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How much expertise should your blog give away for free?

7 minute read

Ed Palmer
Paper covering wall

There’s no getting around it:

People online expect free information.

If you’re running a website for your business, you really should have a blog. And if you have a blog, you really should be offering something valuable to every reader.

Some blogs can do well with content that’s pure entertainment: commentary, opinions, personal stories, and reviews.

But usually, they’re the exception.

If you want to take the fastest and most reliable route to a successful business blog (high traffic, search engine visibility, and promising leads) you need to solve problems.

You need to offer useful information that helps people out.

But you also need to be careful not to give away too much.

Here’s everything you need to know about sharing free expertise through your blog:

Why would you give anything away for free?

You’re running a business, not a charity. Right?

Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.

Lots of successful businesses give away small things for free: merchandise, trial subscriptions, food and drink samples, and even entire products.

And if you’re thinking about giving away your knowledge and expertise through a blog, you’re in luck:

Unlike everything we just mentioned, giving away little bits of knowledge doesn’t come with an ongoing expense.

There are loads of good reasons to offer free expertise through your blog. Here are just a few:

1. It gives your blog immediate value

If you cling to every useful bit of expertise you have (or reserve every good bit of content for your paying customers) your blog will quickly dry up and die.

The best content focuses on the reader, the problems and interests they have, and the solutions and insights you can give them. If you’re not willing to offer something valuable or unique, your blog becomes worthless to your visitors (and you’ll run out of ideas much faster).

When you focus on useful and valuable content, your blog becomes more attractive to visitors. They’ll happily digest more of it, spend more time on your site, and share it with their networks – which means you’ll get a better ranking on the search engines, and more total traffic over time.

2. It shows the world that you’re the real deal

We’ve all read blogs where the owners harp on about how they’re experts in their field – and how they can magically solve all of your problems.

But when you land on a stranger’s website through Google, you need a bit of proof before you can believe what they promise.

Useful content like tutorials and guides helps to prove your mastery and knowledge – long before any visitor decides whether you can be trusted with their money.

It can immediately show people that you’re experienced and knowledgeable and that you understand the kinds of problems and challenges that your customers need help with.

And as a bonus, it shows a level of confidence in your business and its revenue that’s a guaranteed green flag.

When people see that you’re comfortable enough to share important expertise for free, it tells them that you’re busy and successful – you’re not worried about losing a potential sale here and there.

3. It creates trust and loyalty (and an obligation)

When people have a choice between options with similar prices and levels of expertise, who do they go for?

The nice ones.

The ones who have a helpful attitude, and the ones who seem like they’d be a good person to build a relationship with.

Have a little think for yourself – because I’m sure you’ve been through it as a customer at some point.

You wanted to learn about something, so you went to Google and found a fantastic free resource.

Maybe you had a leaky pipe, and Google sent you to Joe’s Plumbing.

Joe had a blog post and a video dedicated to this problem, where he laid out the simple steps you can take to fix the pipe yourself. You might even have ended up on Joe’s site a few more times since then (because you Google everything and Joe has lots of useful guides).

And then one day something big happens in your house. You know you can’t fix it yourself: you need a plumber.

You think ‘plumber’, and you automatically think of Joe and his helpful blog.

If you hadn’t had that experience of getting Joe’s expertise for free, you probably would have hired the first plumber you found with decent prices and ratings. But instead, you skip Joe’s competition and head straight to his website.

This same scenario happens all the time, in all sorts of industries.

People remember the websites that helped them out in a pinch. They trust those websites, and those websites are the ones that people recommend or buy from when they have new problems.

And as an added bonus, people feel a subconscious obligation to repay the people who helped them out.

I know I’m much more likely to recommend or buy from the businesses that solved one of my problems for free – aren’t you?

But won’t people buy less when they get some of it for free?

It’s natural to think that people will prefer to take your free expertise and do the job themselves, taking work away from your business.

But in reality:

1. People don’t have the time (or they’re just lazy)

There are plenty of people out there who are simply too busy to learn new skills or spend time on complicated problems.

They’ve often got their own businesses to run or their own specialised jobs to focus on.

And they know that paying an expert like you for one hour makes more sense than spending a whole day of their own time learning something new.

2. Most jobs are too big for an amateur

Fixing a leaky pipe is easy. But when someone needs to install a bath or repair their boiler, they know the problem has gone beyond the scope of casual DIY.

For complicated jobs like these, giving away your expertise for free won’t hurt you – because most people won’t touch them without a professional.

You can apply the same theory to just about every industry.

People like to tweak websites, but they don’t like to build them.

They like to edit photos, but they don’t like designing logos or infographics.

In fact, laying out a detailed tutorial for something big might actually help you: it’s reassuring for your customers to see exactly what you’ll be doing before you start, and it proves your skills and knowledge of the job before they part with any cash.

3. People want more than just a quick fix

When someone hires a professional like you, they know you’re going to do a better job than they could.

That’s a given.

But they also know that they’re getting a complete package that comes with:

  • Your specialised experience in your field
  • Your personal advice and recommendations for their situation
  • Your ability to respond to unexpected obstacles, and adapt the method you’ve been teaching to fit their specific needs
  • The chance to build an ongoing relationship – so they’ll have someone they can trust available for problems in the future
  • And your professional responsibility to get the job done properly (a reassuring warranty or guarantee).

These are all things you can’t get by doing a DIY job – and your customers know it.

So, how much is too much?

It’s not an easy question to answer.

There’s a lot of educational content out there already – and some of it is so broad and vague that it often just feels like filler designed to cash in on some easy and disingenuous SEO.

But if you’re a specialised business with the experience and expertise to offer advice and guides that are specific and thorough, you’ve got a chance to cut through the competition.

You can make your website too valuable to ignore.

However, it is possible to give away too much for free.

You’ll need limits. And while we can’t tell you exactly where those limits should be, I can give you a few general guidelines to help you decide for yourself:

1. Give away small, everyday insights

For the most part, there’s no problem that’s too small to solve.

Every day, there are people searching for the bits of knowledge that you and your business take for granted.

And these basic lessons can give your visitors a huge amount of value without taking away anything significant from your own business.

Often, these small problems will seem so basic and obvious to you that you would never have thought they need covering in a blog post.

So to get some ideas, you can use tools like AnswerThePublic. You can type in a keyword relevant to your business and see the most common questions asked in the search engines, such as:

  • ‘How to update your drivers’ (for an IT business)
  • ‘How to fix a dripping tap’ (for a plumbing business)
  • Or ‘How to paint over wallpaper’ (for a construction or home decorating business).

If they seem like amateur tasks, that’s because they are. But if people are searching for them, that means there’s a demand for that expertise – and you can benefit from sharing them for free.

2. Spread your free expertise around

If you’re giving away a complete solution to every problem, you might be giving away too much.

You don’t need to show people how to fix every type of leaky pipe. Instead, you can show them a little taster from every area that your business covers, such as:

  • How to fix a cold-water pipe (but not a hot one)
  • How to repair a combi-boiler (but not a conventional one)
  • And how to unblock a sink with a chemical (but not with a drain rod).

By giving away a few small pieces of several different puzzles, you’re able to demonstrate your mastery (and your desire to be helpful) without ever putting your professional services in danger.

3. Give away a better version of what’s already out there

There are some morsels of knowledge that can seem too valuable to share. And if you come across another business sharing that same knowledge, you might think that they’ve given away too much for free.

But there’s no point keeping secrets if your competitors are already sharing them with the world.

If it’s out there, people will find it. And if they’re going to find it, you want to make sure they find it on your blog first.

So don’t be afraid to cover the same topics as your competitors – just as long as you’re offering something better.

Make your content the most detailed and helpful version of that knowledge that people can find, and over time, your expertise will outperform your competitors’ – leading to more traffic and higher search rankings.

4. Give away knowledge that most people won’t use

It’s tempting to think that the most advanced tips and tricks are the ones you should be keeping close to your chest.

But there’s a limit to what the average person will ever attempt or achieve. And that means there are some tasks and processes that are so challenging and overwhelming for an amateur that you can share them freely – without worrying about losing business.

Most people won’t learn the complex code they need to create an ecommerce platform.

Most people will never try to build a conservatory.

Most people won’t ever open up their laptop, and most people wouldn’t dare to mess around with their car’s engine.

But these kinds of jobs and lessons are still interesting. They’re impressive, and they demonstrate your business’s experience and knowledge (as well as showing people what they can expect if they buy from you).

Some people will start to read and learn, only to realise that they definitely need a professional. And when they do, they’ll already be on your website – just one click away from getting in touch.

Did you find this free knowledge helpful? If so, you can find more free blog-related knowledge and expertise across these handy guides and articles in Content and Blogging.

Ed Palmer is a freelance copywriter at Keep This Copy. He's spent more than five years helping businesses look good and sell more stuff – writing for and about almost every business and industry there is.

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