Opinion: Restricting Access to Core Content

The What

Many websites are set up to primarily obtain contact information from potential customers. Before they let you see their website, they demand you sign up for their newsletter or create an account. But, that contradicts how many people use the Internet. People often use the Internet because it allows anonymous contact – a sort of try it before you buy it.

A Realtor once told me that once she gets someone in the car, they’re hers. Don’t underestimate that your customers know this too and want to have more information about you before they step foot in your office or shop, much less your vehicle.

Many companies think this gotcha translates to their website as well. It would be foolhardy to assume that a first time visitor can’t find your competition; after all, they found you, didn’t they?

One online marketing technique restricts access to a website’s main content areas by requiring a visitor to provide their contact information and/or set up a user account. While this may grow a contact database, what else is it doing?

Whom Will I Tell?

Identity theft is a major concern. People are limiting where and to whom they give their personal information.

While online, I will only give my contact information to someone I plan to do business with or request information from. If a website insists that I give them my information, I’m going to do one of two things; leave, or make up something.

We all know how quickly giving our email address to the wrong person can lead to an inbox full of junk.

What Will Your Customers Think?

Consider how this could work on your website.

I am a first-time visitor. I like what I see and want to learn more about your company or in the case of a real estate website, try to see your listings or search the MLS in your area. I am told that I cannot access that area until I create an account and give you my personal information. Let’s say that I even stay on your site, enter some information and proceed to the restricted content. You captured new contact information, which is what you were hoping for when I first landed on your home page.

What percentage of this information is valid?

How much time are you planning to spend on vetting this information to remove Mickey, Donald, John Doe, and all the other false names that have been entered?

Of course that assumes, that people will even stick around long enough to enter that information. Unless you enjoy a monopoly, it is more likely that visitors are going to leave and go to a competitor who makes the information more accessible.

An On-line Example:

A website that offers free software downloads, on rare occasions requires a user account. With all the user names and passwords that I have to remember already, I am not interested in maintaining yet another set for that once every 20 downloads they might ask me for one.

Under these circumstances, how often do you think legitimate information is added? I have been known to create accounts with a user name of thisisapain and a password of yetanotherstupidpassword; along with other totally useless information. (Oh, yes, one must remember that the user name must be unique to gain access.)

So what have they accomplished? They now have an account taking up resources on their system with absolutely no usable information. And since they so infrequently require this, I am apt to create a new account each time I am confronted with this requirement.

An Off-line Example:

Think about this form of guerrilla marketing a little differently. 

Someone meets you in the supermarket and you get to talking about your kids or some other personal, non-business topic. Within a few sentences the stranger you have just met insists on having your home phone number, address, e-mail, income, and maybe even how old you and everyone living in your house are. They refuse to speak with you further until you provide that information.

Do you suddenly feel uncomfortable being near that person? How quickly would you end the conversation?

The Opinion…

I have heard some marketers claim to be very successful with this method. I can only wonder how many more clients they would get without this not-so-subtle blackmail for information; and what percentage of their contact database is bogus.

Why work so hard to get potential clients to come to your website to meet you and then make them feel so uncomfortable they want to quickly leave? 

Always offer ways for a customer to contact you on your website; just don’t make someone give you personal information as a sort of pass key to the core of your website.

Do you really want a bunch of useless information in the hopes that every now and then someone will leave good information?

Mickey, Donald and John are not your next client, but the person who voluntary submits a question or request for materials could be.