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«Return to Blog List Why Bad Websites Happen to Good Companies, Part 8: Creating Barriers to Downloading Free Information

Giving away stuff on your website is a really smart thing to do. It’s an opportunity to spread your ideas or information about your products and services, sometimes in exchange for a little bit of information that could be helpful in your marketing. It’s a very simple process, but companies screw it up all the time, usually by one of the following two methods.

Screw-up Number One

Too often, companies undermine their attempts to offer free information (whitepapers, product info, sample book chapters, etc.) by requiring onerous amounts of personal or contact information in return. You’ve probably seen this, and maybe even been guilty yourself (I confess, I’ve done it). In exchange for a lousy whitepaper, I have seen people asked for ALL of their contact info (including their work phone, home phone, cell phone, and Twitter ID), their job title, their preferred salutation (Mr., Mrs., Miss, Dr., Professor) and their underwear size. OK, I made up the last one, but it does get intrusive after the third piece of info. By the time people finish and submit the form (IF they finish), that whitepaper had better be damned good.

Screw-up Number Two

Another way to blow it is with poor execution. I recently got an offer in an email newsletter I’m subscribed to for a free chapter download for a just-published book. I need another web design book like a hole in the head, but I was game to find out if there might be a reason to spend almost $30 on this one, so I clicked on the download button. That did not start a download. Instead, it took me to a page that asked for my email so they could email me the download info. While I didn’t consider their request for my email address to be too much to ask, the button had said “download,” and I found it a little disturbing that it wasn’t what happened. I also wondered why, if they had my email address to send me the newsletter, they needed it again to send me the download info. Why didn’t they just send me the download info to begin with?

I dutifully typed in my email address and clicked “submit.” That took me to a page where they offered me several newsletter subscriptions, all preselected as “yes,” including the one I already had. I clicked on the link that said “No thanks, I’m just here for the free book chapter.” That took me to a page that promised to send me a download link. Two days later, I’m still waiting for that download information. I don’t think I’ll go back and make the request again: I just saved nearly $30.

Giving stuff away is not rocket science, and unless you’re a government supplier, your customers are probably not rocket scientists. So don’t make it difficult. And keep the information you ask for to a bare minimum. Your visitors will never hold it against you if you ask for too little information.

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