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Should free B2B content hide behind a form?

The dreaded B2B web form

The debate rages on: is it better to ask people to fill out a form to download your content (chasing shy people away) or maximise downloads and go without a form (losing the list-building benefits)?

A recent post by Kim Cornwall Malseed on MarCom Ink argues that reg forms are ‘killing B2B software marketing’ and Roger Warner, writing in this blog two years ago, agreed.  Kim refers to a recent survey by Spiceworks that says “More than 75% of IT professionals DON’T sign up for white papers requiring registration”.  If that’s true it certainly argues for doing without the forms (Spiceworks decided to risk it: you can get the survey but have to fill in a form).

At Velocity, we tend to advise clients to get the best from both strategies:  Make the vast majority of content available free (and atomise it on other sites like Slideshare and LinkedIn); but require a brief form (name, email, maybe company name) for the highest-value pieces.  For top-value content, we feel the vendor has earned the right to ask for the data. It helps to let people know up front that you won’t be using the data to spam them to Kingdom Come.

We follow this plan for our own web marketing. All of our goodies are free (with an option subscription form) except for our Content Marketing Workbook, a 50-pager that, we feel, is worth leaving your name for (or a fake name and email as some have done — we don’t reject false emails).

The Content Marketing Workbook has been downloaded nearly a thousand times powered by a marketing budget of bupkis (no cash but a bit of time). One might say that this proves the web form is working, but of course, we have no control group.  We can’t say how many people decided not to download the eBook due to the form — our web analytics gives us evidence but no proof.

Clearly, the only way to analyse the pros and cons is to run an A/B test.  Two landing pages, one with and one without a form.  Spray people randomly at either one and measure.  Next time, we’ll do that and report back.  In the mean time, we’re thrilled with 1,000 new names on our database and try not to think of the 4,000 who got away.

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