Voluntary registration: The way to go

By Steve Outing

Oh, joy! … One of my pet peeves is news websites that insist on requiring users to register before viewing free content. This strategy is nuts. There’s so much information available on the Web that many people will simply go away rather than register to read some story they’ve come to via a blog mention or search-engine result.

So, anyway, I stumbled onto a story on the High Country News website this evening (referred by a Google search) and encountered the right way to handle user registration. Go to this story and unless you’ve already registered with the site you should see a registration request at the top of the story. Ignore it if you want and read the story.

And here’s the really smart part: If you voluntarily register, you get free access to the site’s archives. That’s how to get people to register with a voluntary system: Provide them with an incentive. I hope more free-content media sites that now have forced registration will reconsider and implement this sort of system.

ADDENDUM: An alternative to forced user registration is setting a “soft wall,” where casual website visitors don’t hit a registration requirement until they’ve seen several articles, which allows those people who come in via a search engine link to view an article. I think the voluntary approach described above is better, but Jay Small of Scripps writes about that company’s experiments with soft-wall registration variations. Worth a read if you care about this topic.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!

3 Responses to "Voluntary registration: The way to go"

  1. Jay Small
    Jay Small 11 years ago .Reply

    My experience with purely voluntary registration — even with incentives — is it doesn’t drive enough new registrations to maintain an effective e-mail marketing business, for example, if that is your intent.

    It’s great if you need a profile mechanism for site user interactivity and other participatory forms, and may even be enough if you want to understand some demographics/psychographics of a site’s user base.

    So I think the dividing line between pure voluntary and any form of required registration (hard- or soft-wall) on an information site may be between:

    — whether you’re taking names only to enable functionality or understand your user base, or …

    — whether you’re taking names intending to turn them into *addressable* profiles for advertisers.

    Jury’s still out, imho, on whether that second choice overcomes the more opaque customer experience of required registration. Our new soft walls may ease that pain enough.

  2. […] Voluntary registration: The way to go. Steve Outing points to a smart way for a news site to ease the aggravation of user registration. Read and learn. […]

  3. Craig Saila
    Craig Saila 11 years ago .Reply

    When we launched registration at the globeandmail.com about a year-and-a-half ago, we decided on the soft-wall approach. The threshold was set to about 10 unique visits/sessions per user, this was cut in half shortly after, and then reduced to the current three. (Our registration process was designed to be completed in about 30 seconds to make it easy for drive-by-users who wanted to stick around.)

    After a surge of registrants, our traffic hit a plateau for a few months, but has since picked up (as has registration) and is breaking records nearly every month. It’s probably not a coincidence things picked up again after we invited registered users to directly comment on our news stories.

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