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Reciprocity: A Counterintuitive Alternative to Gated ContentMarketers face a common conflict of when to gate content behind contact collection forms. After they invest a great amount of time and resources to create a white paper, ebook or other piece of fabulous content, they usually seek to obtain contact information from website visitors in return for the content. Marketers hope to develop lists for email newsletters and other marketing purposes. They also can then pass along leads to sales.

Most people refuse to complete the forms or provide false information, fearing unwanted sales calls or unrelenting spam emails. With so much ungated content on the internet, they see no reason to bother completing the form. Plus, the team’s SEO experts may object. If the company’s best content is put behind a registration form, Google won’t index it, no one will link to it, and website traffic will decline.

Roger Dooley, an expert in neuroscience and marketing, proposes a third alternative – a strategy that he says will keep both the SEO folks and marketing and sales staff happy. It’s called the reciprocity strategy.

Requiring users to provide their contact information before viewing valuable content is a reward strategy. This may be 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. The reciprocity strategy calls for requesting contact information after the website views the content, generally by placing a call to action at the end of the content.

Reciprocity Produces Twice as Many Conversions

“It turns out that a reciprocity strategy works better – give them the info they want, and then ask for their information,” Dooley says.  The research paper, Embedded Persuasive Strategies to Obtain Visitors’ Data: Comparing Reward and Reciprocity in an Amateur, Knowledge-Based Website, shows that twice as many visitors provided their contact 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,” he says.

“The neuro-marketing 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.”

Plus, your SEO person will be happy that Google and Bing will also be able to see your content.

The Simple Psychology of Reciprocity in Marketing & PR

The psychology behind reciprocity is relatively straightforward, says Lila Reynolds at Walker Sands Communications. When people receive a worthwhile gift, they feel compelled to give something in return.

“Reciprocity is especially important for B2B marketers to understand. B2B purchase decisions can take as long as a year, with as many as a dozen brand interactions along the way,” Reynolds states. “Each of these touchpoints is an opportunity for marketers to provide value to prospects, which in turn increases the prospects’ desire to reciprocate the favor.”

Still, it’s appropriate to gate longer, intensive resources behind registration forms, she says. Website visitors are more inclined to share their contact information, allowing marketers to continue engaging with them. The website page with the contact information form should provide a detailed description of the depth of the content.

Bottom Line: Some marketers argue that the reciprocity strategy, or requesting contact information after website visitors view content, garners more conversions than gated content. Human psychology explains why: Our brains are wired to return favors.