Corporate websites often make available white-papers, articles, or other content-related materials pertaining to the company's area of expertise.

While this pattern is consistent, the methods of access to such materials appears to differ. One site will force you to register before you can access the content, while another will allow you to simply download the .pdf or access the web page article.

By forcing a user to register, the company can ask for and obtain information such as phone #'s or other items valuable to a marketing dept.

By registering, the user gains access to the otherwise inaccessible content.

But...is this really a win for both parties?

Whenever I come across this scenario as the "user", my immediate reaction is: sorry, I don't like how you're requiring me to give you all this information just so I can download a whitepaper; unless it's mission critical, I'll just skip this registration form and content, thank you very much.

I can understand how a person would fill out a registration form if the person is signing up to join an online forum or to make an online purchase, but to just download an article, whitepaper, or quasi-marketing content?

Perhaps this is too narrow of a field, but do you know of any best practice or usability studies within this specific context of user registration?

  • Have you ever thought that those sites main business is not providing you the information but getting your details and that that white-paper is just a bait to get you to give out your details? Ofcourse they're not interested in handing out the paper to you without signing up if that's their business model.
    – Pieter B
    Jan 10, 2013 at 7:45

2 Answers 2


There is no best practice. Depend on the user, the business, the context, etc.

For example I'm very, very interested in applying Agile and UX practices together. It's something I'm passionate about, do a great deal, and am eager to find out how other folk are doing it.

So - for me - if I need to sign up or give some details away I'll probably do it if somebody is offering a white paper on that topic.

My business partner doesn't have that particular interest - not more than mildly anyway. She might read the white paper (or whatever) if it was publicly available, but she wouldn't bother registering to get it.

What should the business do:

  1. If the business's idea is to get as many people to read the paper as possible - then having registration is a dumb idea.

  2. If the business's idea is to get as many people to register as possible, then it's probably a dumb idea (if this is their only mechanism anyway)

  3. If the business wants to get a really focused list of people who are passionate about agile/ux - then this is a really good idea.

  4. If the business wants to target the release of a white paper only to people passionate about agile/ux - then this is a really good idea.

Depends on the users. Depends on the business goals. Whether 3 and 4 are going to be a long term success depends on how the business uses the details they gather.

They start spamming me with general UX stuff - probably an instant unsubscribe. I already have a ton of sources for that.

If they send me stuff that's really targeted at my interests... then I'll probably hang around.

For the smart business the problem is often not 'people not registering', it's 'having the right people register'.


It does make more sense than forced signup for online purchase. What does the distributor really gain from you downloading content, if it's free? They're probably much more inclined to try and connect with professionals rather than blindly handing out articles etc. free of charge. If you decide not to download the content then it's probably not a big loss for those holding it, compared to an e-commerce site when someone abandons an online purchase.

In addition to this it could also be a way of keeping the spreading of the content regulated, maybe something imposed by the authors.

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