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February 18, 2007

Site Advice: When To Ask For Email Addresses

Filed under: Main — Ryan Jones @ 10:32 pm

Alcúdia The first question I ask myself when I come across a website asking for my email address is “Why?” What’s in it for me?

It might sound selfish, but it’s true. With all the spam I get lately, there’s just no way I’m going to enter my email address into your form without seeing a direct benefit of doing so.

If you’re designing a website, this is a good rule to keep in mind. A good question to ask is: “Am I asking for this because I want it, or because I need it to deliver more value to the user?” If you don’t have a good use for information, you shouldn’t be asking for it.

Let’s look at some examples:

Just the other day, I needed to download a program called wikto. Upon clicking the official download link, I recieved the following message:

lthough SensePost releases this information at no cost, we do ask that you submit your email address and contact before downloading. This allows us to get positive feedback from the community. It also allows you, the reader, the opportunity to contribute to our research. You will be re-directed to www.sensepost.com and your username and password will be emailed to you shortly.

Reading their disclaimer you’ll see that they not only require me to enter my email address, but all the reasons they list are for their benefit. Why do I, the end user, care about giving them feedback or contributing to their research? That sounds like more work to me. I did what a lot of you might do – I created a throwaway email address to get my login information and got rid of it after that.

So how could they have improved it? For starts, offer me some value. If registering gave me access to a members only support forum, or put me on a list for upgrades and new release notifications I’d have probably given them my email address.

Let’s look at another example. This time let’s visit domaintools.com – a WHOIS site. Domaintools (formerly whois.sc) is (in my opinion) one of the best sites around for looking up domain information. It offers all kinds of powerful tools – for free!

It’s not until you perform quite a few lookups that they ask you to register. They give you a tease by offering a daily limit, and offer you unlimited lookups in exchange for creating a free account. I didn’t mind registering here, because I’d already grown accustomed to the service and I saw its value.

The trick here is to look at things from the customer’s point of view. If they see value, they’ll gladly provide you with their contact information. If you don’t really need it, then don’t ask for it.


  1. Ryan,

    >For starts, offer me some value…..
    >If you don’t really need it, then don’t ask for it.

    Uhmmm….let’s see what’s “in it” for you. You get unlimited use of their tool – for free. Of course if you didnt need it you dont have to give them anything – if YOU don’t really need it – then don’t give your email address – real simple. Try seeing it from THEIR perspective. It takes 2s to fill in your email address and months to develop the software that your 2s effort gives you free access to. Is that too much to ask for?

    >Why do I, the end user, care about giving them feedback or contributing to their research?

    Also – as a software engineer I would expect you to understand that feedback about a product from the community enhances the product. So in giving feedback it not only benefits them, it also benefits the rest of world.

    Comment by PF — February 19, 2007 @ 5:16 pm

  2. PF.. Wikto is a windows port of linux software called Nikto.

    Nikto (which compromises most of the code of wikto) The reason they don’t charge for it, is because the can’t.

    As a software engineer, I can tell you one simple truth: The company’s perspective doesn’t matter.

    The only thing that matters is the user’s perspective. Sure, I may give feedback if I find somethign could be done better. I might even jump in to an open source project and offer a fix or a feature.. but the average user doesn’t do that.

    Comment by Ryan — February 19, 2007 @ 6:44 pm

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