Why can’t website visitors just view your best content?

Last week’s “Is your website wewe-ing?” blog post discussed part 1 of my observations from browsing through a number of business software vendor websites. This post looks at the second of the inside-out common practices observed.

As I was browsing through these 20 websites looking for information, access to the detailed or interesting content was gated most of the time. Almost every time I wanted to look at product datasheets, demos, whitepapers and other worthwhile content, I had to first disclose my full set of contact information to see the vendor’s marketing material. This is incredulous – these vendors provide mostly marginal, self-centered information on their web pages and make it difficult for their website visitors see the information they came to get in the first place. It’s not the crown jewels or their trade secrets – it’s just marketing materials for goodness sake.

But it gets worse – the links to these materials are somewhat deceptive; usually stating something like “download this whitepaper now”, or “view the datasheet for more details”, or “view the product demo” or something like that. I didn’t see a “registration required” qualification on the originating links. Some websites even had flashy graphics or animations promising something, but leading directly to a registration page to collect your full contact information.

Some vendors take absurdity to new levels with this practice. The worst examples require you to create a full profile with over 25 data fields to become a supposed member of some privileged inner circle group before you see their information. Wow, what a privilege to see their marketing materials. Another absurd example is after I completed the obligatory registration information with my mickey@mouse.com contact information to access something, I had to reenter all the information again 3 minutes later to download something else. And they think someone is going to buy eCommerce solutions from them when their website can’t remember a simple registration from one minute to the next?

What about existing customers for one of these vendors – would they have to register to download something? I didn’t see anything to indicate otherwise. Sure they could call their account manager or Support to send it to them, but that’s just unnecessary and unproductive for multiple people.

This is a dumb practice IMO. Think about the website visitors and why they came to a website. WIIFM (what’s in it for me) – there’s nothing in this practice that’s good for website visitors. Why give them the impression that they're dealing with an impersonal company that makes things difficult for their customers? We all know why marketers do this – to add the contact information to their database so they can email marketing stuff and add to their marketing statistics for management reporting.

There are many good tools available to track downloads and the use of downloaded materials that don’t require registration. Inserting links to videos or other additional materials in the downloaded material can track usage. There are better ways to fulfill marketing statistics and better track material usage without annoying or chasing your website visitors away. There are more welcoming ways to get potential buyers to sign up for permission marketing.

There are various anecdotal reports that up to 95% of website visitors abandon websites or enter bogus information when confronted with a registration form. MarketingSherpa’s 2009 Business Technology Marketing Benchmark Guide, indicates that after reading whitepapers, engineers typically visit the vendor’s website (70%), contact the vendor (45%) or pass the white paper to a peer (37%). Seems to me it’s possible to get more downloads and more subsequent qualified traffic by not requiring registration.

Maybe there’s a better way to handle this and rethink this registration practice that website visitors, customers and buyers loathe. What do you think about this?

Your comments are always welcome.
Copyright © 2009 The Marketing Mélange and Ingistics LLC. http://marketing.infocat.com

5 comments:

Melissa Paulik said...

Mike,

I agree with so much of what you said, and more importantly, the experts agree. e.g. This sounds like a great example of what David Meerman Scott argues for when he says to “let go of your marketing.”

Marketers often feel they need to use the forms to build their database. And, if your intent is to build an opt-in list for nurturing, these forms can be helpful. However, the marketer has to understand the concept of equal exchange.

The visitor to the site is giving something of value (their contact info) in exchange for something they believe is of equal or greater value (the vendor’s information.) It’s like an old fashioned scale where you weigh two things against each other.

You can tip the scales either way by how you handle this. If you ask for more information than is necessary, the value to the prospect of that info goes up and the likelihood of them giving it to you goes down. For example, it has to be something I really want for me to fill out the physical address on a form.

If the information isn’t very valuable to the customer e.g. a product brochure, the value they get in exchange goes down and, once again, they are less likely to give you their information. Of course, you can suggest that the download is more than just a brochure disguised as a white paper, but even though you succeed in collecting your prospect’s info, they’ll come away feeling cheated. Not a good start to a business relationship.

A few tips for marketers who still want to use these forms in order to build their database:
- Make the forms as simple as possible and use technology to autofill the forms if possible. (you covered these two)
- Make the content worthy (also already covered but worth repeating)
- Give them an opportunity to opt-in for more information and only email market to opt-in subscribers. Put it right on the form so that they know they have the option.
- Watch your bounce rate in tools like Google Analytics. If visitors are hitting your forms and then leaving, you know you have a problem with the value equation.

Melissa Paulik

Mike Frichol said...

Melissa, thanks for the comment and additional considerations - very helpful.

vensonk said...

Mike,

I totally agree, but I don't see this changing anytime soon. For one, there is not a lot of forward thinking marketers at large B2B companies, and with 'design-by-committee', usually the highest ranking member makes the decisions and most often they have no real Internet Marketing experience. Working at an Internet company or having used Google doesn't count.

I bring this up often and executives always say that they want to do what everyone else is doing - and that is protecting their assets. Also they think that Internet Marketing's ROI is number of leads, not Return on Influence (quantity not quality). Some other excuses I've heard in my 13 years are that if prospects are really serious, they would fill out the forms (pre-qualify). Just recently I was told that the corporate website is not there to provide detailed value add decision making information for the prospect, but rather to provide general overviews and to get people to call Sales where the real 'selling' occurs. I see this form of thinking in all Sales driven companies.

Real change will occur when large B2B companies realize that their corporate website is dead and their Partners, competitors, analysts are garnering all their prospects. In fact this is a great opportunity for Parters to step up to the plate. Another nail in the coffin of the corporate website is the social media revolution, where the customer is driving the interaction. Yet again corporations only see SM as a vehicle to promote their modus operandi, rather than give up control.

Given my experiences, the way I am affecting change is working within the confines of this inside the box thinking:

- First I would start concurrently measuring quality (revenue) of leads vs raw hand raises.
-Second I would find your most popular asset and perform an A/B test, with 50% of requests not getting forms or at least a scaled down form (email address)
-If email address is all that is requested, I would put the 'prospect' in a lead qualification cycle, where they would get supplemental assets weekly by email and subsequently ask them to fill out more contact info when they are ready.
-Lastly for each visitor given 'free' assets, I would mark and track them through the pipeline, reporting on revenue and comparing to those that got protected assets.

Although what I am describing requires some (existing) technology and a shift in thinking, it will be clear to even the unexperienced that 'free content' will give you greater ROI.

Venson

Angela Schuster said...

Mike,

I agree and also with the comments that gating material is about value exchange. However I have yet to find any clients corporate websites that are dead if (BIG IF) they are executing lead management techniques effectively - it really comes down to how this is executed.

The trick is to have a scale of valuable materials and match this with the level of detail required when accessing material.

As the material becomes more valuable the gating requirement increases.

A good technique is to incrementally ask for more information each time a visitor downloads materials (this is a pretty basic ability in any good online system). Instead of those 25 fields all in one form, split them up over a range of materials and gather the details over a period of time.

For example

* Data sheets - no gating (why would you??).
* White paper (part 1 of a 2 part paper) - Email address and name.
* White paper (part 2) - Company name and position.
* Demo - Phone number, address, interest in the demo.

Over time you build a complete profile of the visitor without appearing invasive.

What we've found is that as people become more and more engaged with your material and you're proving you are giving valuable information to them, they have a greater level of comfort in providing their details. They become more and more "wedded" to you, your brand, product and materials so are more willing to part with their valuable details in exchange for something of value.

This also makes them far more qualified.

Through this approach, we have very successfully proven marketing's contribution to the organisation (one campaign alone generated 15% of the company's sales) and not alienated users.

Angela

Mike Frichol said...

Angela,

Thanks for the post and sharing your approach - seems like a reasonable compromise. Also, take a look at Melissa Paulik's post on this topic: Are Web Forms Old School?

Mike