Registration Required: Yes, No, Maybe So?

There’s an ongoing debate in the online marketing world about whether visitors to your website should be required to register before downloading an informational asset you offer, such as a white paper. My position has wavered on this, but now—in most cases, at least—I’m in the camp that you should not.

Most companies consider the free resources they offer on their websites to be lead generation vehicles. It seems like a reasonable trade: you get valuable information, while they get your contact information for sales prospecting. If someone wants your information badly enough, they’ll of course provide their contact information to get it.

But let’s be honest: most of the free information assets you find on the Web aren’t particularly valuable, and many are nothing more than thinly-veiled advertisements. As a result, site visitors are increasingly unwilling to be added to yet another contact database to gain access to your “valuable” information—which means that if you require registration, far fewer people will download your asset.

The obvious counterpoint to this is that the people who do provide their contact information are probably better prospects for your company, anyway, so it’s fine if only a handful of people register to download your assets as long as that helps you obtain a high-quality prospect list…right?

I see this kind of thinking as a missed opportunity. The obsession with “building a list” revolves around short-term sales goals and, more accurately, sales qualification goals—typically, someone who downloads an asset will be contacted within 24 hours and qualified as quickly as possible; if they don’t meet the minimum qualification criteria, they’re essentially forgotten.

Wouldn’t better goals be to use information assets to build market awareness, establish thought leadership, and encourage the viral spread of your marketing messages? If so, you should want as many people as possible to download your assets, which means removing any potential obstacles for people to do so. The more people who download them, the more people will be introduced to your company’s name and your way of thinking. Good content, like a legitimately educational white paper, will get passed around the Internet thousands of times. It’s incredibly hard, and expensive, to get that kind of exposure in any other way.

In comparison, think about blogs. If I asked you to register to read this blog, would you? How much extra time and money would I have had to put into marketing my company and this blog to overcome your natural resistance to give out your email address? A lot, right? By putting this blog out there—so anyone, anywhere can read it without having to give up anything—I’m engaging in a long-term, open conversation with the world. Perhaps one of you will become a client of mine someday, or perhaps not. But that doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that you now know something about me, my views, and yes, my company. In this regard, a white paper or any other asset is no different. All you should really want is for people to read it—not to get another prospect to qualify.

For some other perspectives on this issue:

I’m curious what you think. Please add a comment.

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One response to “Registration Required: Yes, No, Maybe So?

  1. Good stuff Dave!

    David Meerman Scott goes into some detail on this topic as well – http://www.webinknow.com/2009/10/say-no-to-squeezing-your-buyers.html

    For businesses like Swordfish and Tyner Blain, it is a no-brainer. Free is huge

    I know of one company that did this test specifically (register vs. not) for e-book download. The difference was 20X! Not +20%, +2,000%!

    Another key element is to make sure that the “free” content is still relevant and valuable – not just “another step on the path to registration-only content.”

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