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January 19, 2011


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I think the author of the content has to gauge if the work they put into creating the work is worth giving out 100% free.

I think if it's a quick white paper, summary of ideas, or an outline to a problem - then it could probably go without registration.

If you're creating a valuable e-book loaded with information - I would want registrants because chances are, I have a more thought out business plan behind it.

Another route (something I'm considering) free smaller e-book and for the additional chapters, then you can register for more.

At some point you're going to want to analyze your conversions on all this...

Sarah Montague

David, sounds like an interesting debate and we wrestle with the "how much info to ask for as you move the prospect down the sales pipeline." I wonder if the answer is make video available to all, with no registration required but have compelling offer after video rolls with registration requirement that at least captures that prospect as a warmer lead? Video viewers can be tire kickers.


Jake LaCaze

I can speak only from the aspect of the consumer, since I don't market any services online. As a consumer, I agree with you, David. Sometimes, if I am required to submit contact information so that I can download something, I may click away because of the extra (and annoying) effort. I have to be VERY, VERY interested in order to fill out a form so that I can get something that I want.

I would think that, by giving something away for free, you make it easier for people to consume your information and fall in love with your insights. I found out about you because I picked up The New Rules of Marketing & PR on a whim, but I keep coming back because of your open platform. And I have told people to check out your books and your site.

If you're in the business of marketing online, isn't that a significant portion of your strategy?


There is certainly a tremendous potential upside to the kind of sheer download numbers one can get from making downloads open and avialable to all - without registration - particularly if that content does a good job of demonstrating your company's domain expertise and the quality of your work.

However, there is a very real need to be able to capture and deliver lead information - both to feed sales and to justify marketing efforts.

As happens so often, the best answer lies somewhere in the middle.

We've found that an effective solution is to do both. Use events like webinars (which should require registration anyway) and give away licensed, third-party content (which has a high dollar value attached to it) with registration required. That allows lead capture, which paired with a tool like Volpe's Hubspot or more sophisticated marketing automation tools, allows tracking and scoring when those same people download the great proprietary reports and whitepapers we make available to all because we think demonstrate our value so well.

Bobby Burns

This has been a bit of a quandary for me, as well. As a consumer of e-books and just about anything else I can get my hands on - especially if it's free - I often have no problem filling out a brief form. I also know that if the subsequent emails and offers becomes too annoying I can opt out or unsubscribe. To my mind that is a small price to pay for what is often valuable content.

But on the distributing end I hesitate to ask this of potential readers. I want my stuff to get downloaded and often. I want my name and my content to be seen, shared, and - hopefully - resulting in return visits to my site. It ultimately comes down to what is the underlying purpose of the author for making the content available?

So, like many others, I see value in both schools of thought, but vastly prefer no gating and will usually "click away" if the form is daunting.

Bob James

Gated content is acceptable. What isn't: a cheesy outbound call five minutes after the download from a rep (whether originating from Mumbai or Milwaukee).

Pamela Atherton

I'm with David and Jake. If it's a site or author I don't know, I don't want you to have my info as a "lead." If I like your stuff, I'll buy your stuff. And if I think you have value, I'll sign up for your newsletter on my own.

I think philosophically we have to look at the concept of how we are perceiving the end-user. Am I just a "lead?" Or am I someone who will become a loyal and long-term user of your content/product/brand? If I am the latter, then don't treat me like a sales target.


In principle, if people like your ideas (eBooks etc.) they'll want to do business with you, and they'll contact you. But sometimes they need a little gentle follow up. #HSDebate


You have to fill out a form to watch the whole debate on HubSpot! You should post it on your page, without a form, and see who gets more views/love ;)

Danielle Keister

I think the answer is doing both: Creating totally free, no-strings-attached, value-rich viral marketing pieces as well as subscription/sign-up based list-building lead generation pieces such as free DIY/instructional tools, ezines, ecourses and so forth. One value that is definitely helpful with sign-up based pieces is that at the same time, it helps you get a feel for what people are interested in and how much they are interested in you and the things you offer.

Scott Thornton

As much as I dislike sitting on fences, I think the gated vs. free decision should depend on the content behind it. What are the goals of the piece? What buyer personas or sales stages does it speak to? Is it better served by spreading to the masses, or lead capture – or which do you need more at the moment?

If it’s an awareness generating or branding exercise, then let the world tell the rest of the world about it. If it’s laser-focused on a particular problem/audience, or is geared to people further down in the buyer’s journey, from the publisher’s perspective, these would be the more valuable leads you really want, so gating makes sense. On the reader’s side, there will be more willingness to fill out a form as the content is there to address a need of theirs, or more generally, the content has more value than their anonymity at that given moment.

David Meerman Scott

Thanks all for these great comments. I've been at the PR Newswire Global conference all day and unable to participate.

Yes - there is room for a "both" model.

When asked about this religious discussion in my live presentations, I also offer a third option, which is a hybrid.

I suggest the first offer be totally free (such as an ebook). Then within the ebook, have a secondary offer that requires registration that you can use to capture leads. A secondary offer might be a Webinar or something similar.

Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound

I've debated this same issue the last several years whenever I give away my free ebook, "The Best of the Publicity Hound's Tips of the Week of (Year)," which is a "best of" book of tips from that year's ezine.

Each year, I've required no opt-in. Here's why.

The tips include lots of links to products at my own site, and affiliate links. I also have a Recommended Resources page at the end which includes affiliate products and services. I want as many clicks as possible on those links.

The ebook also includes numerous opportunities for people to sign up for the newsletter. By not forcing the opt-in, I can encourage my readers to "Feel free to regift this to your own clients and customers. They'll love you for it!"


I think the key here is experimentation and doing both i.e. depending on the stage they’re at with communicating with your organization, new visitors etc. Once you have this trying different things based on the tracking of visitors and their behavior is key to making informed decisions on content and forms. Also having integrated offers in your free content, newsletter sign up, other content or community sign up.

Regular reviews of your programs and metrics will help you make informed decisions on the best approach and having discussions about a building a conversation with your personas rather than one off programs will reap greater benefits.


One of the things that really tickes me off about the Hubspot site is that I have to register every damn time.

I mean, they already sent me the email, so they already have my details.so why do I need to go through the tedious process of filling in the very long forms every time?

What possible purpose does it serve?

Instead of impressing me as a potential client all it does is 1: Male me think that these guys haven't really got their act together and don't really care about the potential client.

And 2: these days when I see a registration form, more and more I simply abandon the site straight away. I just can't be bothered.

So they actually lose a potential client.

And I'm sure I'm not the only one who just skips ASAP.

Dave Huffman

I was thinking about this yesterday Mark, because I'm a HUGE fan of Hubspot.

And it used to kind of bother me that I had to always register.

But I REALLY wanted the material they were giving away. And their gentle follow up actually sort of pushed me to gather up my managers to discuss purchasing their software.

If it weren't for the registration, I would have never done that on my own. The call from the rep gave me some more ammo that I would have never gotten otherwise.

Well, who knows for sure - but I can definitely draw a straight line between a download, a very informative call from a Hubspot rep, and a meeting with our C-Level.

Anywho - I like the "both" model and use it regularly.

Mark - largest plr seller

I think this totally depends on the 'value of content' you are offering. Either you want people to sign-up or not, if you have something that can force your users to switch on for the information, they wouldn't mind of the form fillings. But the other side to this is also important! Take for example Google, the information it has been offering about search engine optimization in the form of a pdf file is universally accessible without any forms!

The Destiny

Content online should be free. Plain and simple. People are skeptical of filling out forms and giving up personal informaiton and they shouldn't have to. It instantly says "I'm going to call you or email you or in some way intrude on your time." Isn't the beauty of being online about doing research and finding products, services, etc., that you need on your own time, under your own terms and not being bothered unnecessarily. If you're putting out information that's valuable then when I'm ready to do business in that realm, I'll seek you out because of the great information you provided not because some sales person called me or emailed me with follow ups.

Adele Revella

Interesting debate. I just read all of the comments and I propose this summary. David (and the people who agree with him) argue that providing value to buyers (free, good content) will generate the most revenue for the company. Mike (and the people who agree with him) argue that providing value to sales people (leads) will generate the most revenue for the company.

This makes it easy for me to choose sides. The only time we should require registration is when we have confidence that subsequent sales or marketing contacts to those buyers will generate the most revenue for the company -- even though fewer people decided to download.

Measurement and A/B tests would give us empirical data, but most of us lack the resources or time to get that data.

So I suggest that marketing needs to think about the buyer persona and their path to making a buying decision. Then the question is not about registration or no registration, leads or no leads, but whether, regardless of that decision, we have done everything necessary to make sure that the next step in the buying process is both positive and persuasive.

Stephen Gibbons

I believe that the answer is to use both. Try and see what works best for your audience. The best part about free content is that you can update it infrequently yet still have it be a worth while hit on your page.

The email marketing portion is great to constantly stay in touch with your audience to essentially sell them!

Use both!

Steve Kayser

Just ran a test on this concept last week for Cincom Expert Access. Was looking for some real-time stats/feedback on an e-book Louis Columbus wrote for us called 'Using Social Networks to Increase Channel Selling."

1st test had a form to fill out to generate leads. 2nd didn't.


Behind the registration form - 23 downloads.

No form - 659 downloads.

Marketing will argue that they now have information on 23 people so they can profile and market to. And that's true. But just because I filled a form out doesn't mean I want you to profile or contact me. If I'm impressed with your content and how you can solve a problem I need solved - then I will contact YOU.

I prefer the numbers being on my side with 659 vs 23.

That's 636 more chances to vet ideas, spread your message, your name, and generate leads for your business without interruption marketing.

Two different approaches.

Both can work.

Both can work together if you keep the registration form up for a week or two and then remove it for a no form, free download. The problem with that approach is - if you try it, you'll see - that when people want it and are driven away by the form, they won't remember to come back two weeks later. Your audience will be severely diminished.

A week or two in real-time is ancient history.



David Meerman Scott

Lots of great comments.

Thanks for bringing it back to revenue, Adele.

Steve, friend, THANKS for the data. Amazing!

Julia Stewart

This is an awesome issue but why does it have to be either/or? Why not BOTH depending on the goals of a specific marketing campaign?

I've used BOTH together in ONE campaign, based on both David's AND Mike's advice, because I wanted my work to spread far and wide AND I wanted more leads.

I did it by offering an impassioned manifesto about why coach training should be free. It spread like wild fire and brought some of my best web traffic, ever.

Then I offered 5 free (without sign up) classes via MP3 and PDF as samples of the program. If people liked the sample classes, they could sign up to get the entire 5 courses for free.

The result? Not only did the program spread via SM and the blogosphere, but I averaged a 65% conversion rate for the courses that were behind forms!

Thanks for the great advice from BOTH of you! =)

Murtaza Ali

I am with David. If an individual person Or a company who is responsible for itself can give away Freebie (Contents) without registration. This will bring more genuine leads for sales afterward.

I've tried it before and it effects.

It irritates me every-time if I have to fill-up the form to download. Let's the filtered leads come naturally.

Aurelius Tjin

What I could say is David’s is the women and Mike is the man in a courtship at the end of the day, both of them will be married.

Good thing about David’s approach is he will get some audience attention even if the audience in the first place doesn’t really care about the topic that only after seeing it has developed the interest. This is something that will limit mike approach since he will only be involve to people who has already interest in the topic.


We know as people and Marketers that real buyers are happy to give info (eg, via a form) once they see you have an answer to a problem they'd like addressed.

A key question is 'at what stage of the buying cycle is your target audience'? For example, I’m prepared to give less or more information depending on whether I’m in Need, Evaluation or Action mode. So perhaps a more flexible hybrid model would be useful. Therefore, stand in the shoes of the customer to get an answer. There’s good reason “personas are one of the most fundamental aspects of great marketing”.

The discussion on Free or Gateway (eg, forms) resonates with the legal principles of 'black letter' verses 'equitable' interpretation of law. Black letter means there are identified statutes, rules, cases, etc that have been established over time. It's generally well established, accepted and not open to argument. Thus a 'technical' application or decision (on the law) is clear. We are still relative adolescents in Digital Marketing (let alone Real-time marketing & PR), so are we in a position to be clear in the black letter sense? Arguably not.

With Equitable law it depends on the circumstance. So when David Meerman Scott offered an iPad app I just clicked, and it was installed (giving info would have been fine too). See the useful discussion on going Freemium by MailChimp (http://j.mp/freemium-). They suggest looking at the facts, stats & reasoning, rather than taking a fixed approach.

Peter Tennis

I managed B2B demand generation for years, and started out gating everything, with the thought, "Hey, if they fill it out, then they are the right suspect. If not, then they are not ready yet." Oooohhhh, yeah.

Yes, marketers do need numbers to show their boss, but is the number of people's info that you captured the right number to chase after? I'd bet these folks still collect business cards and raw scans at tradeshows as well.

At the end of the day, there is a process that all buyers go through. Content needs to fit the different parts of the process, and the way content is accessed also needs to fit. That may be different for different sectors, products and cultures.

Give away the content and lace it with links to discussions, videos, places to contribute and ways to raise your hand when you are interested in learning more. Give them every opportunity to tell you they want to talk. And if you want a quid pro quo marketing operation, then you are going to have to start giving more away than just white papers and webinars.

How you sell me is how you will service me. Build the relationship, and the relationship will pay your bills.

Lisa Pecunia

Ah David, the universe always seems to send you to me right when I need you. I've been working for months on an eBook and today is my target date for publishing. I have been struggling over the past month on whether to let it go out for free, or require registration.

This is the same book I mentioned that I am giving you special thanks in, so it seems fitting that I would follow your lead and give it away. However I've spent many many hours of toil working on this 60-page book, and it's hard to give that away for free.

My brand is still much an unknown, and I really NEED these leads, so I am thinking I will do both. I'll have one (shorter and condensed) version that I offer for free. I'll use the longer, meatier version, to collect email addresses to add to my list.

I'm still working on figuring out how to measure the results from each approach.

At any rate, thanks for being open-minded and willing to listen to "the other side". And I was happy to land on this blog post just when I needed to hear the arguments again.


David Meerman Scott

Lisa -- We all need leads. (Me too.) But there are different approaches to getting them. Whatever you choose, best of luck.

As Peter says above, consider your sales process.

Krishna De

David - apologies I am late to this debate - I agree that there is a place for both.

However one issue I don't think was covered was about what information is requested and why.

As a subscriber to white papers or registering for webinars, what is particularly frustrating and puts me off is when the opt in form is extensive and does not seem relevant.

I request that people provide their details to access my free webinars as an example, however I take the time to customise the information I look for people to respond to based on the programme and that information then enables me to customise the content so that I can add more value in the live event.

Tendering Software

Its a debatable issue i think. If i was the one doing it, my way for such an activity would be considering the content first. What it\s worth is? Does it worth a lot to readers or is it just as common content as we can get easily on internet? If i think my content can fire the world then it must be provided after registration and should be delivered in 4 to 5 rounds so that the registered person keep coming on in your website. If the content is common then it should be forgive without registration. What do you think about it?


I, too, agree with everyone's comments. I think you need a bit of both.

Let me ask you this though, what if you applied this debate to books? Like the physical books you sell? If we should give away eBooks without registration, why not real books without a sale? You may be thinking, "well, I need to make money at some point!"

Same goes for online forms of media. I believe requiring registration behind *some* types of content, because the ultimate goal is lead gen & sales.

Thesis Writing

This blog is informative for me because I am going to write my thesis about digital marketing that's why I am getting points and different reviews about it from different blogs and here I found enough information about..!

Andrew Palmer

Both right, however, if I have already signed up to Hubspot to get more info (who wouldn't) and then Hubspot send me an email advising that another white paper is available - please do not make me sign up again.

I have not trolled through the other comments but it would seem obvious to me to simply give it away free and politely ask for an email address during the download process so we can send you more free stuff and then....upsell from there - just a thought.


Ach! The link to the entire debate is broken - any idea where I can find a video of the full debate?

David Meerman Scott

I'm asking the HubSpot team to fix it. Thanks.

David Meerman Scott

ArtilleryMarket - the video is now working. Sorry about the glitch.

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