Collecting Visitor Info: Reward vs. Reciprocity


Many of us work with websites that depend on collecting user information – lead generation sites, charity sites, etc. Often, these sites have information useful to those visitors. The knee-jerk reaction is often, “Force them to give up their info before we show them the good stuff.” If there’s a search engine optimization person helping with the site, the immediate objection will be, “You can’t put your best content behind a registration form – it won’t get indexed by Google or even linked to, and your traffic will tank!”

The good news is that there’s a strategy that will keep BOTH the SEOs and the numbers people happy.

Reciprocity Beats Reward

Requiring a user to give up his info before viewing good content is a reward strategy – give us your info, and we’ll reward you by letting you see our wonderful content. This is an appealing strategy at first glance – 100% of the people who use the content will have completed the form, and the information should be a powerful motivator for visitors to proceed.

In fact, most users confronted with a form won’t complete it. If they arrived at the site looking for some specific information, they will likely hit the back button and see if they can access it without the aggravation of form completion and without the risk of getting spammed later. (Of course, if all the good content is locked away behind a login, the number of free visitors arriving by clicking on organic search results will be a lot lower anyway.)

It turns out that a reciprocity strategy works better – give them the info they want, and then ask for their information. In the impressively titled Embedded Persuasive Strategies to Obtain Visitors’ Data: Comparing Reward and Reciprocity in an Amateur, Knowledge-Based Website, Gamberini et al found that twice as many visitors gave up their information if they were able to access the information first. It’s counterintuitive, perhaps, but even though these visitors were under no obligation to complete the form, they converted at double the rate of visitors seeing the “mandatory” form.

Not Just for Form Completion

Of course, this approach isn’t just for form completion. The psychological principle of reciprocity suggests that visitors who are rewarded in advance would be more likely to buy products, make donations, etc. In her book, Neuro Web Design, Susan Weinschenk suggests putting the call to action immediately after the good content.

The neuromarketing takeaway here is that if you invoke reciprocity, you’ll be working with the way our brains are wired and will be more likely to get your visitors to do what you want them to. (And, as an added bonus, your SEO guy will be happy that along with your visitors, Google will be able to see your content, too!)

  1. Peter.T says

    I would add one thing to make it maybe even more sucesful and thats it to show visitors that by giving up email, they will get even more value.

    I am courious how exactly does website looked like and how all it was done. I am planning to add free ebook for my site and yeah I would like to get some emails.

    Should I just give my e-book for free away and in side of content I would ask readers to sing up for my newsletter?

  2. chris o. says

    This article brings up a very good point. An altruistic approach is often the best.

    However, some sites require info for them to be able to work. i.e. Facebook, Linked In, Referral Key.


  3. Jorge Cunha says

    Great post, I agree first give knowledge, eBook, whitepapers to your visitors and in return ask for some information like emails “register here and get a sneak preview of my eBook,…”. Remember first plant then harvest.

  4. Alicia Young says

    I totaly agree, you nedd to give at least a bit first before you get what you want then give them the full when you got what you need. I have actually read about a great referral marketing,, and I really think you’ll be interested with this as well…

  5. Daniele says

    It took me a month to follow the link to this blog, and worth every single word.
    Thank you Roger.
    Give and take always works better!

  6. Chris Altamirano says

    That’s an awesome piece of research!

    I’ve always wondered about this type of strategy. You’ll usually see most websites with a pop up as soon as you land on their website. For me, personally, it’s really annoying. Entrepreneur(dot)com does this every time I visit their website. You would think that after not wanting to opt in a bunch of times that it’d be cookied on my browser, but nope, definitely not.

    I really like how you said to offer the valuable information they’re searching for first, then to ask for their information by giving them another piece of valuable information, like an eBook or free audio.

    Plus the search engines, aka “Daddy G,” will still be able to find you!

    Great article guys!

    – Chris

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Thanks, Chris. As usual, you should test the various approaches rather than assuming one will work best in your case.


      1. Chris Altamirano says

        Most definitely Roger! Will do!

  7. Ryan Oakley says

    But shouldn’t this mean that donation buttons should work? Wasn’t that strategy considered a fail for Radiohead?

    I don’t see any online marketers suggesting a donation button on their sites. 🙂

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Good question, Ryan. Every situation is different, and offers should be tested both ways. Most lead gen sites do make you give up your info first, and I presume that at least a few of them have tested alternate strategies. No doubt a lot depends on the perceived value of what the visitor gets and their emotional feeling about the entity that gave it to them.


  8. […] At least one study bears out Cialdini’s logic, even though it may seem counter-intuitive for many lead generation experts – see Collecting Visitor Info: Reward vs. Reciprocity. […]

  9. Tim says

    Very interesting concept. I see loads of websites using Reward for email address capture and it works well. But if there is something better…. would be fantastic.

    Are there any commercial examples of using Reciprocity in respect of email capture rather than Reward?

    1. Roger Dooley says

      I think many sites do it implicitly, Tim, by offering lots of free content and then asking for the subscription with no further reward. Some sites may even have a “free downloads” section that doesn’t require subscription. I haven’t seen any that structured the flow exactly like the experiment, though.

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