Imagine a professional online application in Flash or Silverlight that's being sold for around $15 per person. Which in your opinion is best for the first-time visitor?

  1. Give everyone access to all its features, but have a nag popup every 5 minutes.
  2. Create a light version which is missing some of the more advanced features. Then allow customers to sign up for a 30-day trial where they can evaluate the professional version.

I have tried both methods and my findings are a bit inconclusive because I wasn't able to test these things in isolation. But I'm curious how others feel about these experiences.

Is a nagging popup so annoying that it would turn you away from the product forever? Or is the "sign up for a trial" page too much of a barrier to get a taste of the professional features? Or is there a third alternative that's even better?

This is venturing into marketing territory. After a little more digging into this subject I came across an interesting article from Coding Horror. In particular I liked this story...

When Williams-Sonoma introduced bread machines, sales were slow. When they added a "deluxe" version that was 50% more expensive, they started flying off the shelves; the first bread machine now appeared to be a bargain


So with that in mind, perhaps a tiered product range with trials could work...

  • Lite Version for $15 (offer a 30-day trial)
  • Professional Version for $30 (offer a 30-day trial)

UPDATE: After switching to a Standard / Professional model I saw a huge jump in sales. Essentially the Standard version is what you use when you first go to the site, but you see a nag popup every 5 minutes. You can read more about it here.


5 Answers 5


Depending on what the app does, more creative solutions may be found. As @Peter said, nagging every 5 minutes is extremely annoying and it makes users hate you, right at the point where you most need them to like you. How about nagging them only on startup? Or inserting a waiting period on startup, similarly to what rapidshare et al are doing? It may grow over time, too.

My favorite trick in these cases is providing limited functionality, but not by blocking some functions altogether, as you've suggested - many trial versions of apps only handle files of very small sizes, while the full version can handle large files. Free antivirus software and some webmail services insert promotional signatures in your emails. Foxit Reader leaves large watermarks on your edited PDF files. Prezi displays its logo on your presentations and makes them public. You can do a lot of stuff like that, usually in some self-promotional way, depending on the nature of your app.

  • It's interesting to me what both you and @Peter say about nag popups. I dislike popups. But for an evaluation period it's been proven to work well. Balsamiq Mockups has used them with great success. Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 19:27
  • @Steve Well, that really depends on how annoying you make the popup, and how great your app is vs. the competition. If you're on a level with Balsamiq, then maybe you can afford it, I'm sure there's a point of equilibrium for every app and every annoying feature out there. IMHO WinZip is slightly nicer than the competition (7zip), and their popup is only mildly annoying, so people keep on using it. But not paying for it :). Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 21:34
  • All good points. WinZip is a great example. So is WinRAR. Nobody likes the popups, but that hasn't kept WinZip from becoming the most downloaded zip application of all time. But as you hinted at, I have no idea how many people have paid for WinZip. Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 21:49
  • Thanks Vitaly - I've updated my question with an interesting article that you might take a look at. I don't know if I'm going to use any of your ideas. But your answer was thought-provoking, and led to me finding that article. Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 22:41

Are you planning that light version anyway? If not, don't bother, give everyone the 30 trial, and then ‘lock’ the application until they pay (have a big “Buy” button) or quit.

If you're planning that light version, let them use it for as long as they want, and make sure the full version has enough meat to make them buy it.

Nagging me every 5 minutes is the best way to make me leave and never come back…

  • Actually the light version is already done. To give you some history -- the app was first released in March 2009 to be completely free. Then I added a nag popup similar to what you see with Balsamiq Mockups. Then about a year later I got rid of the nag popup in favor of light / professional versions. But all along I've been making improvements which makes it impossible to measure objectively. And it's why I'm still unclear which strategy is best. Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 19:37

One approach you've not mentioned and might work for you is something I've seen VisionApp do with it's latest versions:

Provide the full application by default. There is no "lite" version. But then there is a free version that has fewer features. Customers get the full version effectively on trial for n-days, then after that time they can either pay for the full version they've had, or you downgrade to the free version.

They've had a chance to use all the functionality and power of your application before you cripple it down to it's free version. As a user, I like the approach because I still get to choose the free version, and I fully understand that for the professional version I ought to pay. I'm always happy to get an employer or business to purchase something I use for free for my noddy projects.

In summary:

Give it all, then after a trial, charge to stay that way or remove some features/functionality.


I too started out with a 30 day trial model.

Now a days I provide all the funtionality for free, except the ability to save bigger projects. In order to save big projects the user must pay for the product.


Currently I'm working on a webapp also. I decided to provide a free 30 day version that has no limits.

After 30 days all information is frozen (no edit allowed) Until the account decided to pay, after that the full functionality will be restored. Data is kept for another 30 days, after those 30 days the data will be removed if no payment is made.

I do not ask information that is not needed.

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