Give Your Site Visitors What They Came For

Imagine this scenario:

You are attending a business trade show. While walking up and down the rows and rows of vendor booths, you come upon a company that appears to have exactly the product you’ve been looking for.

As you approach the booth, you notice that sitting on the front table is a stack of color brochures that appear to describe the company and its offerings in detail. As you reach for one, the man behind the table stops you, smiles and says,

“I’d love to give you this brochure. But I can’t until you furnish us with some personal information about yourself. Just fill this short form out, and I’d be happy to let you have one.”

Ridiculous, I know.

Why would a company that has made the effort to rent and staff a booth, spent money on producing quality marketing collateral, and then successfully attracted a prospective customer to its display from amidst all the noise and competition of a trade show floor, make it difficult at the last moment for that prospective customer to get the information that he or she came for?

I have no idea. But I can tell you that this is the way it happens every day on the Internet.

Many web site managers deliberately erect barriers between the information they have, and the visitors that want that information. After making the effort to build and staff a web site, spending money on quality marketing collateral, and then finally managing to attract a visitor to the site who actually wants the information. . . they put an obstacle in the way.

Take a look at Connected ( as an example. If you click on the free booklet offer in the top right hand corner of the home page, you are taken to another page offering a lot of free stuff (brochures, white papers, booklets), in either printed or downloadable format (so far, so good).

But here’s the catch: To get any of these things (even to simply download the information), I am required to provide my name, company name, address, phone number and email address, as well as (I am not making this up) tell them the number of desktop PCs at my company, the number of mobile PCs at my company, and the number of remote office sites at my company. Only then, will they give me the free information.

This is counterproductive. It’s hard enough getting people to your web site in the first place, and harder still to get them to take any action once they get there. Wouldn’t it make more sense for Connected to focus on getting their product information into the hands of as many people as possible? I’m sure they hand this kind of information out at trade shows, why add an additional step just because the request is coming via the web?

Once prospective customers take the first step to request information, if they like what they see, they will very likely come back. The key is making the first step as effortless as possible.

So here’s the rule of thumb to apply to your own web site: Ask for and require the least amount of information necessary to satisfy a given request. That means that for printed information to be mailed, all you need is a name and mailing address. For enewsletter signups, all you need is an email address. Period.

Believe me, as someone who’s spent his career in marketing, I understand how much you’d like to know who these people are, what their household income is, even how many mobile PCs they have. But holding your information hostage until visitors hand over personal data is not the way to start a relationship. If things go well, you’ll have the opportunity to gather that data later.

To expand upon Seth Godin’s writing — which uses a dating metaphor to explain permission marketing — when you ask a stranger to dance, the most effective approach is to keep it brief. Something like, “Hi, do you want to dance?” Asking things like household income or occupation at this early stage often meets with resistance!

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