Robert Beerworth Team : Web Strategy Tags : Common Sense User Experience Rants Featured

Trapping your audience is a sign of fear

Robert Beerworth Team : Web Strategy Tags : Common Sense User Experience Rants Featured

I read a great article this morning about what is essentially white-paper strategy.

The author rubbishes the concept of the whitepaper strategy which is, in a nutshell, allowing a user to download a document (purported to be valuable and largely unbiased) in return for an email address and other personal information, such that they can try to sell you and email you.

The content is behind an ‘email gate’, where the article is what is known as ‘gated’.

The author does make the point that the 'gating' strategy does work for some companies and had he not, it would probably have been my only point of contention with the article; a 'gating' strategy can and does work for certain websites and businesses.

Though the underlying argument in the article is strong and essentially goes like this:

  • Asking users to hand over their contact information in return for content that may or may not be of use or quality, especially when users likely know little about your company, is a big ask.
  • Unfortunately, experience tells us that the content is more likely to be in the ‘may not’ category of quality. Whitepapers are rarely what any of us would gauge as even mid-range quality.
  • Indeed, to validate this, the author goes on to argue that ‘trapping your audience is a sign of fear’. Quite literally, you are trying to ‘trap’ users which hardly instils trust or confidence in a user… in your content.

    He argues that gated content means one of two things.

    1. You think that I have no self-respect because I don’t value my contact details.
    2. You know your content sucks.


The conclusion of the article is rational, though probably too rational and daunting for many websites and businesses: create genuinely good and valuable content, give it away and trust that users will be inspired and impressed enough to reach out and make genuine contact.

And it would be rare that I would advise a client to outright disallow users access to ‘free’ content without an email address. Like webinars, white papers have a pretty bad reputation, no matter how good the content might be and simply placing roadblocks in the way of users experiencing you cannot be recommended because they are entirely that: roadblocks.

And I agree that the more a website delivers on what is known as ‘user intent’, the greater the long-term payback (in terms of traffic, leads, sales and shares), though in helping clients understand this utopia, we also have to recognise the organisational realities within our clients.

Many businesses are built around leads. Short-term, show-me-the-money leads.

Indeed, many of these same companies are hooked on SEO, generally the antithesis of user intent and customer experience; keyword-stuffed pages rather than quality prose and interactive content.

SEO companies - are not so good anymore

And perhaps, for some businesses, this is a fine, maybe even long-term business model.

Even if half the ‘leads’ are

Indeed, in 2009 we developed and help grow the Cudo group-buying business and within a not-unreasonable period of time, we had millions of users subscribed, because they had no choice about the matter.

But times have changed.

(And 70% off kayak-hire on Sydney Harbour versus downloading a whitepaper talking about your software vertical are two different things.)

If a business is in the business of leads and can’t kick the addiction overnight, look at forms of more subtle withdrawal. 

Such as the concept of ‘give a little, take a little’ where you give away some of your value, hook users and only then, not unreasonably, ask for a little back from your users in exchange for what you have given them.

Not a bad deal and not a bad start to withdrawal.

Withdrawl to the place you need to be, where your website is all about what the user wants rather than what you want.


Though as a website owner, don’t lose sight of your worth or the value of email

Having told you to give it all away for free, don’t get me wrong.

You have every right to ask for email addresses, though only when you have the right. Once you have started adding value, that’s the point.

Because as a business, that is what you are investing for: rich, valuable, beautiful email addresses.

Do not get me wrong; we’re not here for fun. We also have businesses to run. and emails to collect.


You said 'gating' worked for some websites and business though?

I was torn as whether to write this final part to my blog, especially as it will seem to contradict everything written above.

But I need to be honest.

My advice to 95% of my clients is everything I have written in this blog, and not just about whitepapers. Be honest, offer value, give users what they want and when they want it and trust that they will generally repay the favour.

But for 5% of our clients, my advice is the opposite.

See, for all the asterism we should be reaching for, for all the good guys out there, there are always crooks and cowboys profiting.

They may look different each generation and 50 years, though the cowboys just adapt for the ride.

The guys and girls who truly understand the web are cowboys. They have to be to make serious coin out of it and they don’t apologise.

And these are the people tricking you and I – the good folk – to hand over our personal details, our credit cards, our identities and so forth.

Cowboys are not necessarily bad. They just have a plan and don’t have time to do it the ‘right’ way. And I don’t lament anyone who needs leads and does whatever they need to do it.

We should all be thinking long-term, though if that isn’t your game, who am I to stop you?

But for the rest of us, do it right and give your customers what they want. Your business is long-term and not a popup-shop.