Build free tools that generate millions of visits: Step-by-step guide

We’ve researched over 400 side products that generate millions of monthly visits from some of the world’s top SaaS businesses, and put together a comprehensive guide showing you how you can create your own free tools to generate free traffic for your SaaS.

Build free tools that generate millions of visits: Step-by-step guide
Created time
Feb 15, 2024 06:23 PM
Publish date
Feb 19, 2024
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It feels like everyday marketing channels are evolving outside of our control. SEO puts us at the mercy of Google algorithm changes, Product Hunt decides (without transparency) which products are to be “featured” to the world (irrespective of effort put into them) and we still have no idea the impact AI-generated content, text and video will have on customer acquisition costs and channels.
The one thing that is and will always be evergreen though, is building something people want.
Something they want to use, something that brings value and helps them achieve their goals. This is where “side product marketing” comes in (you may have also heard of it as “free tool” marketing or “engineering as marketing”).
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Here is a chart showing the monthly visits from side products alone to a number of the bigger side-product-building businesses, to put it in perspective, the smallest company on this list gets almost 8,000 visits per month from their free tools:
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What is a side product?

A side product is a small tool or piece of software, often aligned with your core product or target audience that gives them a small bit of value, addressing a common pain point of theirs.
The goal of a side product is to build awareness of your core offering by capturing traffic of (usually) a search term that they are already looking for.
In a way, you can think of them as an evolution of the common strategy of creating multiple landing pages to address different features or use cases of your product. They are built to target specific terms or pain points and can be thought of as providing your potential customers with multiple entry points to using your product.
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There are a few industries where side products seem to work particularly well right now: design, SEO, video, and domains:
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What are the advantages of side products?

  • Building awareness
    • One of the biggest benefits of side products is the awareness they build of your product.
      With many B2B products, people are unlikely to buy straight away, they often interact with a product or are exposed to it through multiple channels before making a purchase decision.
      Side products can be an excellent tool to make people aware that you exist and bring people back to your page so you can reach those multiple touchpoint numbers far quicker (and more cheaply) than if you were trying to do the same through content and paid ads.
      Not only that but side products are also often incredibly shareable assets. Very few people tend to share paid products, however a free tool that might help a friend or colleague out? That’s a no-brainer.
  • Reduced bounce rate, increased dwell time
    • One of the Google algorithm’s most influential factors in determining webpage credibility is the bounce rate or dwell time on a page.
      With most content, this means you need to create really good “hooks” to whatever your piece is, to draw people along with incredible, captivating content. However, the competition for this type of content is incredibly high and there are some very smart agencies competing for this attention so, given the competition, it can sometimes make sense to do something a little different.
      Side products work because instead of just telling someone how to do something, you can show them or do it for them, this not only means they are likely to stick on the page instead of going elsewhere, but it also means that they are likely to stay until you have provided them with whatever value your side product provides, which can be a few minutes.
      This will mean your side product page is likely seen as “higher quality” than a lot of content pieces that people might skim and then bounce from.
  • Fun to build
    • Building side products can help you as a builder or business too because the skills required for them often have other benefits:
    • They are fun to build - they take you a little outside of your usual product development cycle and let you try something out. You can do them as part of a time-boxed hackathon for your team or developers.
    • They might use a technology you have been meaning to try out but never really got the time (or excuse to).
    • You often feel less invested in them so the fear of failure is lower “Oh well it was only a side product” and so, allows you to be more creative.
    • The process of building a side product (as you will soon find out), helps to teach you more about what your customers do, what they want, what they search for, and their pain points, all valuable skills for your main product and business.
    • And finally, they provide a test bed for any new product ideas you might have.
  • Create a good impression with your customers
    • Giving a little something for free to your customers (or prospective customers) will put you in a good light with them.
      It shows you care about and know about the broader tasks they are trying to fulfil, it shows them that you are on their side and that you aren’t just building things to squeeze as much money from them as you can.

What makes a good side product?

While no side product is guaranteed to be successful, there are a few things that can increase your chances of success:
  • Free
    • This is pretty much non-negotiable, if it isn’t free, it isn’t a side product, it is just a part of your core business.
      It is incredibly unlikely to have the same impact as if the tool was free.
  • No signup
    • Ideally, you shouldn’t require a user to sign up to use the side product or tool.
      If you do, people will be immediately suspicious. The only time it feels necessary is if it is to prevent some kind of abuse or if it is obvious that there will be significant costs incurred by you in providing the tool to the user.
  • Keyword alignment
    • Your side product must align to a keyword or keyword cluster (more on this later).
      If it doesn’t, while you may make a splash with a big launch, it is unlikely you will get ongoing traffic to the tool, meaning your tool will have a very short lifespan. You can target “top of funnel” (TOFU) or “bottom of funnel” (BOFU) keywords, both can work.

What are the different types or categories of side products?

Side products can come in lots of different forms, but will usually fall into one of the following buckets:
  • Generator: A tool that helps the user create something or write something e.g. Keyword Generator
We analyzed all the side products we identified and found that generators, features and checkers seemed to bring in the highest volumes of traffic - likely because they do something for a user, instead of just telling a user “how” to do something.
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How do I build a side product?

Now, how do you go about creating a side product for your business?
Here are the basic steps:
  1. Come up with an idea
    1. A side product doesn’t have to be perfectly aligned with what your product already does, it can just be something of use to your Ideal Customer Profile, that will help build awareness of your business, to do this:
      • Search for keyword terms
        • Take all of the different types of side products above and search them in an SEO tool like ahrefs, or SEO Stuff.
          Choose a low keyword difficulty (below 20) with as high a volume as you can (but don’t worry if it isn’t super high, you may be able to build multiple variations of your products). It may be easier to combine these terms with your business’ normal keywords.
      • Cannibalize your product
        • Take a look at your own product and think about which features of it may provide some use as a standalone product: what can be extracted (at little cost) and given to users for free?
      • Talk to your users or prospective customers
        • By talking to your users you can find out what “tangential tasks” they perform:
        • What workarounds are they currently doing?
        • What are they using automation tools like Zapier for?
        • What “scripts” have they written to perform small tasks that may be things you can automate for them and others?
      • Get inspired
      From these techniques you should be able to come up with a shortlist of a handful of potential side products you can start building.
  1. Small tiny feature, ideally 0 or near to zero cost and maintenance
    1. Now it’s time to build the actual tool or side product.
      Be careful not to get carried away here, this is a side product remember. Consider setting yourself a timeframe - 24 hours or a weekend, to build it so you don’t get carried away.
      Make sure what you are building won’t require support or ongoing maintenance and will be next to zero cost to keep running - if it does, go back to step 1 and find another product.
      This doesn’t mean what you build should break, in fact, the opposite, it should be extremely robust so it won’t cause future headaches, and this is why, to ensure this, you need to keep the product incredibly simple and limited to one key feature.
  1. Add content to your page to help it rank
    1. Once you have built the tool, you want to make sure you get the most possible ongoing benefit from it, so you need to build a page around it, VEED.IO has excellent page structures for their tools if you want some inspiration.
      Here is a basic page structure you can apply for your side product:
      • The tool itself
        • The tool should sit at the top of the page, ideally in the hero section of the page so the visitor can get immediate value from it, this will minimize the bounce rate of the tool.
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      • What is it/what does it do/features
        • Even though the tool is (should be) self-explanatory through either the tool title or the UX, you have to make it obvious to Google also as to what it does and who it can benefit. It is therefore always helpful to add a few paragraphs of text explaining:
        • What the product is
        • What the product does/the key feature(s)
        • Who might be the user of the product
        • How they might use the product
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      • Internal linking
        • For SEO purposes, it is always a good idea to include some internal links to other pages of your site (where it makes sense), obviously include your page footer too but also aim for at least 3 other links to different pages from your site.
          While you’re at it, make sure you can get to the tool from other points on your website or within your product.
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      • FAQ
        • Create a basic FAQ section for the side product, again this will help Google better understand the product and will also help minimize the likelihood of any support questions from free tool users.
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      • CTA for own product
        • One of the most important things - think about how you are going to link or cross-sell your product (more on this below)
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  1. Name it
    1. This is another place where your research from 1 will come in handy.
      The goal is not to be clever or witty, you are not creating a fancy brand name, you want to use something super clear, to the point, and descriptive of exactly what the tool does e.g. Keyword Rank Checker, Image Caption Generator, Unretweet or see more examples here.
      This will help your tool or side product rank from launch.
  1. Decide on a way to monetize
    1. While you are building this tool for free, the ultimate goal is always to bring more revenue to your core product.
      There are a few ways you can do this and the way you choose will likely be dependent on the type of tool you are building and the nature of your audience, here are a few options (there are likely more):
      • Awareness
        • Put a few references to your core product throughout your side product page, make sure it doesn’t confuse the value proposition but you could mention your core product at the bottom of the page, as an exit intent or just by having your brand logo and value prop at the top of the page.
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      • Upsell
        • If you wanted to you could ask for an email address, ideally, this is optional and maybe as part of an exit intent, but once captured you could use it to send a drip email sequence to educate them or get them to a trial of your core product.
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      • Ad
        • Add an in-page “ad” to your core product, it makes things pretty transparent, you can give an offer too.
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  1. Host on domain
    1. When you have finished creating your tool and the page on which it will sit you will need to host it somewhere, again you have a few options, each of which has a few pros and cons:
      • Sub-directory e.g. (recommended)
        • Pros
        • Maximum SEO-benefit
        • Builds awareness
        • Better for long-term traffic
        • Easy to set up
        • No additional domain costs
        • Cons
        • May confuse a user if the site they are visiting isn’t obviously for the tool
        • Can’t consistently launch on Product Hunt
        • Obvious it is a side product/marketing for your company (Redditors sniff it out)
      • Sub-domain e.g.
        • Pros
        • Builds awareness
        • Easy to set-up
        • No additional domain costs
        • Cons
        • Can’t consistently launch on Product Hunt
        • Obvious it is a side product/marketing for your company (Redditors sniff it out)
      • Own domain e.g.
        • Pros
        • Can build a completely separate brand
        • Can launch on Product Hunt over and over
        • Easier to do Reddit launches
        • Good for quick launch/big bang products with some virality
        • Cons
        • Little to no SEO benefit
        • Domain costs
        • Potentially marginally harder to set up
      Based on our analysis of tools on our directory, we found that:
      • 94% were hosted on a sub-directory
      • 4% were hosted on a separate domain (some looking like recent purchases yet to be moved onto a sub-directory)
      • 2% were hosted on sub-domains.
  1. Launch it
    1. Now it’s time to launch your tool, while the real benefit of your tool should be long-term, it never hurts to do a launch too and try and maximize your tool or product’s awareness.
      As it is a free tool you can put it on:
      • Existing users - send an email to your existing users as they should be your strongest advocates and most likely adopters.
  1. (Advanced) for “pro” side product builders
    1. Once you have a pattern for building and launching side products down, there are a few more things you can do to make the most of them:
      • Side product variations
        • If you are lucky enough to find a good set of keywords that may even have long-tail keywords then you may even be able to create side products of your side products, and then create multiple variations of them, all off a core base side product
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      • Localized side products
        • Also, consider that your side product may be searched for in different languages and, given the simple nature of the tool, it may be easy to translate, so don’t underestimate the power of localizing your tool to other markets
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      • Buy side products
        • You may find that there are already some “side products” out there that are perfect for you, these could be things people are already using as main products or have made as a bit of fun.
          These products may never have managed to generate any revenue for their original owners, even if they generated a lot of traffic so while they may not work for them, they may be perfect for you.
          Here is a guide on buying products like these: How to acquire SaaS products
          And a few examples of side products that have been bought by their current owner:
        • Viral Post Generator by Tweet Hunter
        • Tomato Timer by Toptal
        • Schedule Twitter Threads by Pallyy

*A word of warning*

One thing to be careful of when building side products is to ensure your side product has a decent degree of alignment with your target audience and existing product. It can also be easy to see large traffic numbers of free tools you find and know how easy they are to build and just build that, but if there isn’t traffic alignment then you are going to find you get very low conversion to your core product offering, which only makes sense if you have exceptionally high traffic, zero running costs and zero maintenance.


Side products are the perfect complement to most SaaS businesses, allowing your developers to show off their skills while also building a long-term traffic-generating asset for your business at next to nil cost.
So don’t overthink it and get started building yours today using our guide (and tell us what you end up building so we can add it to our list!).

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Written by

Mike Heap
Mike Heap

Mike is an experienced Product Manager who focuses on all the “non-development” areas of My AskAI, from finance and customer success to product design, copywriting, testing and more.

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