Should You Require Registration for Web Content?

Should you require registration in order for Website visitors to download white papers and other content? And if so, how much information should you require?

Perform a random survey of high-tech company Websites, and you’ll discover very quickly that there are widely varying schools of thought on this topic. Some sites (including those of some very well known brands) provide unfettered access to all content and require no registration whatsoever. Others make the visitor run a veritable gauntlet of forms and qualifying questions simply to get to a measly case study.

There’s also a growing trend towards the “resource center” approach, that is, a one-time registration that thereafter gives the approved visitor complete access to everything the Website has to offer.

What’s the best approach? It depends on your priorities, and to some extent your audience, but here are some thoughts to consider:

Should you require registration in the first place? If you care about sales leads, the answer is absolutely: yes. If your priority is getting your brochure or white paper or case study into as many hands as possible and not really caring who those people are or whether you ever talk to them, then: no.

There was an interesting discussion on this topic during a recent industry Webinar I attended. To quote the transcript:

“… this is a real-life example from Red Hat, where they set their webinars free. A lot of their webinars do not require any registration at all. You just go online and there it is. So how are they collecting leads from this? Well, they’re collecting plenty of leads because what’s happening is they’ve got that big, honking, ‘contact sales’ button there. They’ve got a ‘learn more’ button. They’ve got all sorts of buttons there designed to get the right lead to interact with them.”

To which I say: ridiculous. Yes, you’ll pick up some subset of the leads you might have captured initially through registration, but you’ll lose many more. With all due respect to the speaker, believing that you’re going to capture leads anyway because people are so desperate to talk to your sales department is, well, optimistic. And besides, this is Red Hat (open source software), for whom offering free downloads is a way of doing business.

So, yes – make people register. Next comes the question of how much information to require. In years past, the answer to this question has been driven by what information is needed to determine whether the person is a qualified lead. You see this legacy quite clearly on a number of sites. For example, recently I attempted to download a white paper from a well-known manufacturer of security appliances. Here was the process, painful as it sounds:

* In order to access the white paper I needed to create an “account” on the Website.

* In order to create the account, I needed to fill out a form with 18 (count’ em) separate fields – all required (I know, I tried to skip them) – asking how big my company was, what role I played in the decision process, whether I had an upcoming security initiative, and my timeframe for a decision.

* Then I needed to create a user name and password.

* Then I had to wait 2-3 minutes for a “validation e-mail” to arrive in my inbox.

* Then I had to click on the validation link to access the site.

* Then I could download my white paper.

Now if I was a network security manager, and not just some nosey marketing type, I doubt very seriously whether I would have bothered to complete the process unless I was extremely motivated to get that particular white paper.

Putting prospects through this type of initiation ritual is ridiculous. But clearly it’s the result of some past sales VP saying “unless we know these facts about every prospect, I don’t want my reps calling them.”

News flash to all sales VPs: you don’t need to capture all that information as a first step. And to the extent you DO require that information, you’ll lose the opportunity to engage with some seriously interested prospects who are genuinely curious about your product but who want the information you’re offering NOW and don’t want to jump through hoops to get it.

Instead, use what’s called “progressive profiling.” You’ll need a marketing automation system or similar technology in place to accomplish it, but the basic tenets of this approach are:

1. Require very little information to capture initial registration.

2. Engage the individual in a series of follow-up communications via e-mail encouraging him or her to provide more information (in a way that doesn’t require that person to fill out the same information already provided)

3. Set a threshold for what defines a “sales ready” lead (i.e. the amount of information, or certain demographic criteria) and forward those leads to your sales force (automatically) once qualified.

In most cases, the information required for initial registration should be no more than name, company, e-mail address, phone number, and zip code (for lead assignment purposes). If there’s some other absolutely vital qualifying data – for example, the person MUST have Microsoft Exchange installed or there’s nothing you can do for them – then ask that too, but stop there.

Marketing automation systems also enable the “resource center” (one-time registration) approach whereby a visitor, once registered, can access additional content freely, either through a log-in process (as in the security site referenced previously) or because the system recognizes them automatically via IP address or cookie and “lets them through.” Some systems will also track when that additional content is accessed and what was accessed, record that data and populate it into the prospect’s record in or other CRM system.

There are benefits to this approach – the most obvious being that the prospect only registers once, though you could accomplish the same thing by placing a registration form in front of every content asset but have that form pre-populate automatically for repeat visitors.

The downside of the resource center approach is how it’s presented. When I went to the security vendor’s site, I didn’t want to register for an account on their site. I wanted a white paper. To the extent you’re asking the prospect to register for something he/she didn’t request (a user account, or access to your entire white paper library), you run the risk of that prospect abandoning the process. Basic direct marketing 101 says: give your reader what he/she wants. If you decide to pursue the resource center approach, be sure to position it as simply an added benefit of requesting the initial content, i.e. “When you register for your free white paper, you’ll be automatically granted access to our complete resource library …”

Don’t let the registration process, and your decision of how to structure that process, be governed by your sales reps’ demands to know absolutely everything there is to know about an individual prospect before they will deem to talk to him or her. Instead, make the registration process as quick and painless as possible, even if it means requesting the bare minimum of information. Then employ automated lead nurturing to engage that prospect further, and trigger sales follow-up either when you’ve collected enough information, or else when that prospect has met “sales ready” criteria by your definition. You’ll generate many more leads and your sales reps will thank you for it.

For more information on the lead nurturing/progressive profiling model of demand generation, download a copy of our free white paper on “Lead Recycling: A More Cost Effective Approach to Demand Generation for High-Technology Companies.”

7 thoughts on “Should You Require Registration for Web Content?

  1. Gerold Braun

    Beneath the minimum data (you are absolutely right with it), one can ask a qualifing question which can be skipped of course. I’ve done it on a registration form for several months now and of the 15-20 registrations a month almost everyone answers the question. It’s a multiple choice question under the headline: Quick, tell me where you stand.
    1: There is fire on the roof
    2: We have acknowledged a problem ..
    3: I’m just taking first steps / exploring
    4: ..
    5: ..

    Those who mark 1 or 2 are defenitely sales qualified

  2. Rick

    What’s the expected white paper registration page abandon rate where name, address, job title and a 3 or 4 check-off type business qualifying questions are asked? I’ve seen references to 90% — is that the conventional expectation in the industry?

  3. Howard Sewell

    Rick, I don’t know the precise answer to your question, but here’s another, possibly related data point: when we’ve tested requiring (at the client’s insistence) mailing address as part of contact information (name, title, company, e-mail, phone), it decreases conversion rate by 50 percent (that is, doubles abandon rate.) So based on that, if you were to require address AND 3-4 qualifying questions, your abandon rate would be even higher. This sort of issue is the ideal application for A/B landing page testing.

  4. Mac McIntosh


    You are spot on with your recommendations.

    Requiring registration does reduce the number of people who take an action, but if your objective is to generate leads, registration is essential. The trick is to only ask enough of the right questions to avoid more prospects bailing out during registration.

    – Mac McIntosh

  5. Alley

    I was going to respond with my disagreement on this, it is a very antiquated approach, but then I realized just how old this article is. It does bring up another dilemma for online content seekers, how old is old when it comes to content and bext practices, and how do you know when something is no longer valid.

    Glad I didn’t have to register to get to this content 😉

  6. Howard Sewell Post author

    Alley, what exactly do you find “antiquated”? 5 years on, I still stand behind everything I wrote in this article. In my view, the principles are just as valid today as they were back in 2008 …


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