The Purpose of Visitor Registration

Every content site manager I know is trying to “force” registration these days.

The process has its attractions. You can send email to a registered user. You can count registrations in your presentations to potential advertisers. You can even name and identify registered users. You can survey them. There are all sorts of ways to make money off ‘em.

But all this misses a key Clue, a Clue that every single business publisher knows in their bones: the purpose of controlling circulation is to prove to advertisers that you reach their target.

What Every Advertiser Wants to Know

As in all things related to business, you see, it’s not about you. It’s about them, the people who pay your bills: your customers. Or in this case, your advertisers.

There are two reasons why people buy ads. One is for direct marketing, and Websites have always used direct marketing metrics. A "clickthrough" is a direct marketing metric – it measures an action, a "click" to an ad, one vital step down the sales funnel. And most campaigns that measure clickthroughs also measure "conversions," the offer’s success in generating sales from prospects.

But if someone buys an ad for its branding impact, they want more. Direct marketing metrics aren’t enough: they want to know that their ad hit its target. If the target is Website managers, the campaign must hit all of them, multiple times. The purpose of building a campaign that incorporates various media is to do just that.

So, the advertiser asks, how many site managers do you have in your audience? What size sites do they represent? How much do they spend? How big a piece of the market does that represent – in terms of people and dollars? And can you prove it (see this report for information on audits)?

These are all valid questions. Controlled-circulation print publications can answer them, but most Websites can’t. So advertisers who now buy print, don’t buy the Web. Until sites can answer these questions with the precision of their print counterparts, they’re poor media for building brands.

What you Need to Give Them

Registration would seem to let you answer those questions. Forcing people to register in order to access your site would seem to guarantee answers.

But if you’re thinking that way, you’re thinking wrong. Again, this is not about you, but about them. Although the definition of "them" has changed: now we’re talking about readers.

If you are to justify yourself as a brand-building medium, you have to convince the readers in your target market that they should register with you. Magazines do this with "qualcards", detailed questionnaires given to prospective readers. Those who measure up – and hit the target – get a free print magazine, and those who don’t, don’t.

I have personally filled out dozens of qualcards over the years, and (because I’m a reporter, not a "player" in advertising, or computer networking) I’ve been turned down many times, too. PC Week didn’t want me in the 1980s because I didn’t buy enough PC equipment and related supplies. Infoworld didn’t want me because I wasn’t a big buyer of network equipment. Advertising Age didn’t want me because I wasn’t in that business.

In short, if you don’t hit the target, your registration is worthless. If you do hit the target, on the other hand, your registration is golden. So design an online "qualcard" that will hit your industry target, and only approve those registrations that meet your standards.

The best example of this principle on today’s Web is Variety.

Variety Targets for Value

Variety targets the entertainment business. Its list is a who’s who of TV, movies, and the rest. Variety wants those people as readers – it doesn’t want the rest of us.

So this year Variety hit upon a plan. Print subscribers would continue to get free access to Variety.com. Non-subscribers could apply to subscribe, but if they were turned down, they could still buy access at $59 per year.

How..? Next week, we’ll talk about how Websites can get their readers to say "yes" to such an audacious demand.

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