Why ‘Forced Registration’ Can Backfire for Case Studies and White Papers

By Rachel Karl

Being bombarded with marketing from all directions, people have become skeptical. They require proof that your marketing hype isn’t just that – hype. Case studies and white papers provide that extra ‘push’ customers sometimes need to make a buying decision.

So, why make it difficult for prospects to get that further bit of proof? If it means the difference between clicking, “YES! I want to buy your widget,” and walking away from your website empty-handed, does it really make sense to force someone to give up his name and email address first?

Having prospects register for content is a very common B2B practice. You are asking readers to fill out a form prior to reading a case study or a white paper. The idea is that you will increase your leads list by doing so. But forcing readers to register can backfire.

My Story

I recently found a software company’s website by accident. I got curious and looked around their site. It seemed like a great company, but when I clicked on their case study page, which had a very impressive list of companies, and case studies to match, I was only able to access one case study before they tried to force me to fill out a registration form to access the rest. The white papers page was worse. If I wanted to read any white paper at all, I had to register.

If I had been a prospective client, this would have thrown me off their site, and I never would have looked back. Case studies and white papers are your beefed up sales army. So be careful about forcing opt-ins.

The Options

There are two approaches that can be utilized: Forced registration and voluntary registration.

1) Do you force someone to register for content so you can generate more leads (in theory)? Or,

2) Do you give the prospect the option of registering for the content, allowing for more exposure but risking less lead generation?

With forced registration when a reader clicks on the ‘Read More’ link he is told he must give up his name, email address, and sometimes other information before being allowed access to the report. It’s a gatekeeper of sorts. You give up your contact information, we give you content.

However, voluntary registration asks the reader to fill out a form on an optional basis. In other words, he can still access the content whether or not he gives up his contact info.

According to Marketing Sherpa, voluntary registration appears to be the better way to generate a higher number of quality leads. In one study of INTTRA, an e-commerce platform for the ocean-shipping industry, nearly one out of four demo viewers were converted into leads, and it was felt that voluntary registration was the reason for this. You can read more about that study here. (Note: Be sure to read Michael Stelzner’s take on voluntary registration).

It’s hard to say whether or not voluntary registration actually does increase the number of qualified leads. Perhaps with the right amount of promotion and marketing, it will.

In direct mail marketing, we are taught to test two different sales letters against one another. Why not use the same theory for your case studies and white papers? Try one campaign that utilizes forced registration and another that requests voluntary registration. See for yourself which campaign generates the most qualified leads.

One thing you can be sure of is that with clearly labeled voluntary registration, you won’t scare away prospects, and your content will gain more exposure.

About the author: Rachel Karl is the Co-Founder of 6 Degrees Media Group, a marketing and PR firm in Oregon. She is a copywriter and author of over 100 articles, white papers, and case studies.

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  • http://twitter.com/clementyeung Clement Robert Yeung

    Totally agree Mike. Even having viewed some MarketingExperiments.com and MarketingSherpa.com materials on the matter myself, intuitively I feel that higher quality leads can only come from people that actively seek the access.

    Thanks for the article.

  • http://twitter.com/RyanMalone Ryan Malone

    Hi Rachel,

    Thanks for the nice article. My belief is that there are different types of registrations. Many companies don't want to take the time to make registrations easy for prospects, so they do one of two things. They make you register for every white paper individually, or they force you to create an account. Both of these are very painful, especially the “create an account” option. It kind of makes me laugh that some folks think I really want an account.

    However, I do think asking for a minimal amount of information from readers is acceptable and almost without exception, I recommend clients always put up a lead form that is required. My experience shows me that with optional lead forms, you just get the people who register for anything anyway.

    Companies get leads from all over and the smart ones have a qualification process and a lead nurturing process to both weed out bad leads and ensure good leads have the opportunity to continue the conversation.

    I do urge folks to minimize the number of questions they ask on the form. Many companies feel they need to ask an burdensome amount of questions to get to a paper, and that it is a huge mistake. Most companies can asked 1-2 qualifying questions, which is more than enough to start the selling process.

    Registrations for a case study is a huge no-no.

  • http://twitter.com/Karyn_Barnes Karyn Barnes

    Completely agree with this. I learned the hard way. In Nov 07, I launched a website that required registration to download PDFs, press releases or watch videos. By Sept 08, I was re-designing the same site to allow free downloads and direct access to videos & presentations. Now voluntary registrations are for email news or event updates. And guess what? Registrations have increased & hits to the site are up 30% compared to the previous year. I think the info 'sharing' that is the foundation of social media impacts on all our online activity and we can't ignore that.

  • http://twitter.com/rachelkarl rachelkarl

    Wow! Thanks to everyone for the RTs and the terrific comments.

    Ryan, you are absolutely correct that too many questions in the form field can be burdensome. Finding a middle ground and a way to offer information while still increasing subscribers is definitely the way to go. I say do what works while keeping both the company and the customer happy!

    Karyn, I'm so excited to hear that the hits to your site went up 30%. Although it was learned the hard way, it was a good example of testing both methods to find one that worked for you. Best of luck on converting those leads into sales!

  • robertdrew

    We've found that this depends on the type of offer. Case studies, for example, detailing successful use of our lead gen services, are best left to voluntary registration, or open. Topical white papers, addressing issues that our target market finds critical and adding to the general knowledge base in that space, often justify 'forced registration'.

  • http://www.www-wills.co.uk/writing-a-will/ Writing A Will

    I think people are changing and now expect to get access without the compulsory registration. I have no problem with this and I have found that it has been very worthwhile to allow access to material quite freely.

  • http://www.forexnos.com/ Forex Automatic Trading

    I often read your blog and always find it very interesting. Thought it was about time i let you know�Keep up the great work

    Have a nice day
    david swin
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    I will bookmark and continue reading your blog in the future! Thanks alot for the informative post!

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    jenny martin
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  • http://www.samuraiwriter.com/blog/hooked-on-white-paper-success-copywriting samuraiwriter

    I listened to a Bob Bly mp3 chat with Michael where Bob described the 'free-on-free' approach used by some software company marketers. Namely, give the white paper as a freebie thank you for signing up to attend a free webinar demo of the s/w app.
    Nice one!

    Split testing or multivariate testing seems a wise approach to take because the factors influencing optin versus giveaway sign up rates are likely to vary a lot between different markets, locations and even age groups. And even between b2b and b2c marketing.

  • http://samuraiwriter.com/blog samuraiwriter

    I listened to a Bob Bly mp3 chat with Michael where Bob described the 'free-on-free' approach used by some software company marketers. Namely, give the white paper as a freebie thank you for signing up to attend a free webinar demo of the s/w app.
    Nice one!

    Split testing or multivariate testing seems a wise approach to take because the factors influencing optin versus giveaway sign up rates are likely to vary a lot between different markets, locations and even age groups. And even between b2b and b2c marketing.