Registering complaints

It seems most everybody is saying newspapers should drop registration on their Web sites. Everybuddy is. The Bivings Report from August was (this one was circulating through our email system this week). And Mark Potts is. A legion of others are in one way or another.
The value of having a good database of customers is a business no-brainer. It’s very difficult to develop relationships with customers you don’t know. But for anyone but regular users of a site, registration is a bail out barrier. And some number of customers who actually want to use our sites always seem to have problems making it work, get frustrated and give up.
But it’s not like users are not signing into Web sites. On a typical day, I log into about 10 or more sites that require a login and password and no two are using the same user name/password combo. How many are you logging into? On top of those forced logins, there are other registration sites that I am bypassing the login screen due to the site’s “cookie check.”
I certainly wouldn’t be the first to say it’s time to move to smarter registration. E.W. Scripps took a step in that direction by softening its registration wall for our site (KnoxNews) and others. But it would make sense to provide features and services in which the user can see how registration is a necessary tradeoff for the time pain and private info.
There’s much work to be done here instead of abandoning efforts to collect information about users that could be used in one-to-one marketing. It is fair to say we haven’t nailed it.
And despite registration’s critics, I doubt newspapers that dropped registration would see substantial audience growth in their core geographic market area (where they most want to gain users). Anecdotically, most of our webmaster mail with registration objections are coming from people who are out of market (and most do identify themselves quite well).
Anyone have any evidence to the contrary?
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  1. Jack,
    We dropped registration in Kingsport back in the Spring. We do offer a service that requires registration, but for the most part, users can access content without a required registration.
    Looking back, we thought it would be great in the beginning to know our audience, but the truth of the matter – we were swimming in data and never used the information for a variety of reasons and the most important was the question of credibility.
    We could tell what zip codes people were using to access the site, but beyond that the data collection never happened.
    With our hybrid, we’re at least starting to see that visitors will register if there’s a reason and publishing and commenting attributes seem to ease the agony a bit.

  2. David, I suspect that your experience in the data “pool” mirrors many, including ours. MORI and Scarborough market research have been as insightful to me about our audience as how we’ve made use of our gigabytes of registration data.
    That said, we are getting some really useful information from a monthly corporate analysis of registration and traffic data about the value of the core heavy users. I know some of these users are more aware of what’s changing on our site than I am sometimes!
    Registration also has allowed us build a large email database of people who have said they are willing to receive advertising emails about special offers. We wouldn’t have been able to build that list as quickly as we did without “hard wall” registration. That’s a very good revenue area for us.
    But we’ve never successfully executed banner campaigns on our site targeted to some combination of user preferences and behavior (auto ads to users who said they are interested in cars and/or who have been searching our auto classifieds). A promise that never panned for us.
    I’d love to get the benefits without the friction!

  3. Jack,
    Our traffic doubled last year when we removed registration on the site in Kingsport.
    In May, we went to the paid Olive edition and it was a real challenge for us. Matter of fact, one of the toughest pills to swallow because we used to publish plenty of local content on the site and that was reduced to 5 stories, death notices, advertising and new social fodder from comments, blogs and photos.
    Nevertheless, paid online subs now represent 3% of our total subscriber base and traffic although it dropped 30% when we made the switch was a record high last month.
    Registration is still a part of our experience, but only if there is some benefit on the other end. That includes access to the e-edition and participatory functions.
    Glad to hear email has been a success. We mail lots of items to clients, but continue to work with improving this service to beat the sobering open rates of 10-20% on most services.

  4. Maybe the idea of an “opt in” with some incentive attached would get you at least some of the e-mail addresses and demographic info you want.
    For example, if the KNS allowed forum-style commenting on all articles, you could require registration and login to do that.
    Or you could offer e-mail discount coupons for registering for the e-mail services you described.
    Or maybe you could have semi-premium content, something in between paid content such as the sports stuff and the news/editorial content. Like maybe the classifieds or reviews or feature articles or extended info such as the documents and videos sometimes attached to articles.

  5. Excellent suggestions. We do plan a “makeover” in 2007 when we move to the Django/Ellington content management system. Maybe we can try some of those.

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