Co-Reg Is Not a Four-Letter Word

Some call it “co-registration,” some call it “lead generation,” and still others call it “opt-in advertising.”

For the longest time, I just didn’t want to say the word “co-registration” in public. As soon as I did, quality Web sites and advertisers would literally cringe. One memorable example is when I was with some folks from a top-tier advertising agency in La Quinta, CA, last year and mentioned that I run a lead-gen/co-reg company. Their eyes rolled, heads tilted, and mouths grimaced. Now, this could have been the result of their fourth shot of tequila in about 18 minutes, but I’m pretty sure it was the mention of co-registration. And who could blamed them? Until quite recently, co-registration was a downright nasty word.

Co-registration occurs during or after registration at a particular Web site, when users are afforded the opportunity to sign up for third-party offers after they enter their demographic information. Why the negative connotation? Co-registration is a tricky proposition that tempts even the more honest operators to cheat in some way, shape, or form.

Back in the day, some providers went so far as to do straight-up data dumps. That’s when a Web site miraculously delivers tens of thousands of advertiser “leads” out of nowhere. Where in the world does a site that gets 1,000 signups a day come up with 70,000 leads over one weekend? That’s a data dump. Some sites used opt-outs, hidden opt-outs, forced opt-ins, and the like. Any way you slice it, the leads were of horrible quality and the experience was downright cruel for the sites’ own users.

When I started my business three years ago, I wanted to distance myself from co-registration as far as I could. All I could think of was horror stories involving spam and other distasteful stuff. Honestly, there would be sales calls in which I would try my best to not even mention the word “co-reg.” But after 20 minutes of explaining what my company does, the client inevitably would say, “Oh, you mean like co-registration?”

Now, online lead generation, which includes co-registration, is growing like wildfire and will most likely clip a billion-dollar piece of the Internet advertising pie this year. Last year, revenues in the space grew a whopping 290 percent to $753 million, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB). No other online segment even came close to that increase. Some of the biggest, most respected marketers and some of the more heavily traveled Web sites have discovered the value of co-registration when it’s done the right way.

As the stakes get bigger, companies had better stand up and take notice. There are still too many companies generating leads with co-reg paths that aren’t user-friendly, displaying prechecked boxes, tricking users into opting in, using opt-outs, locking consumers into an endless maze of offers, duping them into thinking they have to take “at least one offer,” trapping them in an endless array of offers, or offering phantom free stuff. (The free iPods and $100 in “free” gas schemes are grist for a separate column.)

Such ill-advised tactics will continue to dampen opportunity, but they can be overcome. I firmly believe if quality leads are delivered to enough advertisers, and enough sites use co-registration without sacrificing the user experience, it will generate enough goodwill so the overall association with the word “co-registration” will be positive. This means more companies must provide high-quality, efficient methods of co-registration; companies that have the big picture and longevity in mind and that aren’t willing to sacrifice quality for a quick buck.

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