Content marketing has multiple functions: to acquire high-quality leads for sales; guide prospective customers down the funnel; increase brand awareness and visibility; educate people about a product/service, and foster a brand-customer relationship. But the big question when it comes to creating and distributing content is whether or not to gate it.
The decision of whether to gate content is a dilemma marketing teams face daily. Some believe that the only way to ensure content marketing is measurable is to gate content, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. There are many factors to consider, and there certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for businesses or content types.
Good content marketing often requires a balance of gated and ungated content. But what is the correct balance? Is it about ratios, or is it about thinking strategically about the content in question, the audience it’s intended for, the follow-up process, and whether gating will help or harm ROI? These are the questions we will discuss in this blog.
Most B2B companies have content on their website that visitors can access for ‘free’ (i.e. they don’t have to give over any information in order to view it). This content is considered ‘ungated’ (aka open access), and is often the case with blogs, checklists, infographics, product updates, company news, etc.
Gated content, on the other hand, sits behind a ‘wall’ and cannot be accessed unless the website visitor fills out a form. Usually, the form will ask the visitor to provide their name, email address and consent to being contacted by the company for marketing purposes. The form may also have fields for job role, industry, location, and more. Content that is typically gated includes ebooks, in-depth reports, surveys, how-to guides, etc.
The purpose of gated content is to acquire and nurture leads. The idea is that people will enter their contact information to access the content because it is relevant to them, so marketing and sales teams can then nurture them down the sales funnel to conversion.
However, gating content doesn’t result in a quick win. For one thing, not all leads that come through gated content are high quality. Not to mention, gating content can be off-putting to some people who would rather cut their losses and seek the information they need elsewhere (perhaps a competitor).
Ungated content is generally suitable for those at the top of the funnel – who are newly acquainted with a company, are getting a feel for the product/service offering. This is why TOFU blog posts that discuss industry-specific topics are valuable, because they increase discoverability through search, help the reader to understand whether the product/service is relevant to them, and build trust.
Gated content is suitable for the MOFU or BOFU, and is often more specialized and tailored to those who are discovering what exactly the product/service can do for them. Think of gated content as a premium – prospects are giving over their information in return for something that has a higher value.
Leads generated from gated content may not lead to a direct sale, but they have shown a keen interest in your offering and are discovering more about it. You can use lead scoring to determine which leads are warm and should be nurtured via automated email marketing, and which are hot enough to direct straight to your sales team.
In both cases, the eBook’s subject matter will provide valuable context to start more personalized and relevant conversations with leads. For example, if the eBook was about social media marketing, you can share resources and case studies that showcase your social media marketing features and capabilities.
There are upsides and downsides of gating content. Neither is right or wrong, per se – it’s all about the strategy behind it.
“There is no single answer to this question as it depends on each business' goals and objectives.” says Thomas Simon, Marketing Manager at SaaS company Monitask. “For example, if a company's goal is to generate leads, then gating their content may be a good idea in order to capture information from potential customers. On the other hand, if a company's goal is to build thought leadership and brand awareness, then making content freely available may be a better strategy.”
Let’s explore when gating content is wise or unnecessary.
Gating the right content at the right time can boost lead acquisition and direct sales. For example, if you know that a lead is interacting with multiple blog posts on a particular topic, and you have a gated ebook on that topic, you could retarget them with an ebook lead gen form, and they would be more inclined to download it.
Frank Strong, founder of Sword and the Script Media, notes that content gates justify marketing efforts. “Registration forms are a measurable source of potential sales prospects,” he says. “44% of B2B marketing organizations say they gate content, and of those, ‘close to two-thirds (62%) cited earning qualified leads as their reason for doing so.’”
As a rule, only your best content should live behind a capture form. If your content is available elsewhere for free, people are unlikely to ‘pay’ for yours.
“Gating content can be a balancing act,” says Luciano Viterale, co-founder of investing newsletter Ticker Nerd. “You want to ensure the user has a great experience but you don’t want to give everything away for free. The easiest way to do this is by offering something a user can’t find elsewhere. This could be a premium report, whitepaper, or even your own survey results.”
Luke O’Neill, Owner of Genuine Communications, agrees that there is a time and a place when it comes to gating. “Nobody likes being hit up by sales people, simply because they’ve downloaded something to help with a business problem,” he says. “That’s why B2B businesses need to be picky about what they gate and when. Gating makes sense if your content is exclusive and valuable. Think proprietary research, conference session recordings, or guided courses.”
But how do you convince website visitors that your content is worth their while? You can tease the content with a compelling landing page with copy outlining what the ebook covers. You may also want to share a few pages to further illustrate what lies inside. Below is a glimpse at the landing page for Ortto's email deliverability ebook.
If you’re an early-stage startup, you need to consider whether you’ve created the brand awareness or garnered the respect needed to gate your content. First, you must pay your dues (give your content away for free).
Once you have established trust and loyalty from your readership, you will be more likely to find success from gating certain content pieces. This could result in higher quality leads, or could be a way to build your email marketing lists and create more targeted campaigns.
If you have a wealth of ungated, high-quality content on your website, and then you gate a few pieces, it will give people the impression that you’ve spent a long time producing something unique; something special.
“It gives the illusion of scarcity,” says Strong. “Scarcity is one of those tried and true psychological factors in marketing – people will value it more if it’s harder to get. If you aim for this approach, make sure your download is actually worth it.”
Segmenting gated content will also boost conversions. To make the most of segmentation, consider what information you’d like to know about your customers, and then create form fields accordingly. For example, in addition to asking for a name and email address, perhaps you can ask a prospect to specify their industry, or the size of their company, etc. With this information, you can more accurately target your ideal customers – for example, matching case studies with contacts in relevant industries. This technique may also prompt new content ideas.
While the advantages for gating content are clear, there is a case against it.
Madeleine Work, Content Marketing Manager at Chili Piper, believes the days of gating content are over. “At Chili Piper, we don’t believe in gating content. It’s not like someone goes to your website, downloads an ebook, and then decides to schedule a demo with you on the third nurture email – people aren’t buying like that anymore,” she says.
“Instead, people are learning about you from their peers, from social media, Slack communities, and 1:1 conversations with colleagues. From there, they'll go to your website to learn more — and once they get on your website, you should make it as easy as possible for them to learn more about you.”
Let’s look at some instances where gating content is not advisable.
Don’t gate content that has the sole purpose of getting your brand’s message across. If your business is new, or your offering is complex, you will need to educate and inform prospects through ungated content.
“Don’t make potential buyers jump through hoops to learn how other customers succeed with your solutions or understand what your products do, whether that information is delivered as a web page, video, or a document,” says Ann Smith, B2B marketing specialist.
“Business buyers are self-directed, consuming dozens of pieces of content on the way to a decision and they loathe friction in the buying process,” says Smith. “Web content that is open and optimized for search indexing is a must for buyers to find you on the web. So the trend is to offer most content gate-free and only request contact information for the most valuable assets.”
It’s generally understood that the more gated content you produce, the less engagement you will get, because you will be giving up search volume. “Search engines won’t fill out a registration form,” says Strong. “Search is – by a long way – the biggest source of traffic for most sites.”
Not to mention, there is no shortage of content online, and chances are that if your business is covering a topic, your competitors have already been there, done that (or plan to). So whatever you’re offering (that isn't specific to your offering), your prospects can probably get it for free elsewhere.
Also, people are less likely to share a link to gated content on social media or to their network. That being said, Google favors quality over quantity, so you could still compete in the SERPs with well-optimized landing pages for gated content.
“Early in the game, you do not want to put barricades on content you really want people to read,” says Ellis Fitch, co-founder of Edify Content. “This is especially the case if you get little to no traffic to your site.”
Your ungated website content is an indicator of the quality of your gated content. If your website content is high quality (well written, well researched, insightful, educational, informative, etc.) people will assume that your gated content must be the crème de la crème.
However, it's crucial that your gated content delivers on its promises. If it does not meet expectations (maybe it’s not sufficient in length, doesn’t look professional, or simply isn’t useful), readers will be disappointed and less likely to interact with your content in future.
If you don’t have a follow-up process for leads, you will waste your time writing and marketing gated content. Before you gate anything, make sure you have:
Email marketing automation so that you can constantly communicate with leads and send content
A post-signup campaign prepared and ready to go before the gated content goes live
Triggered communications so that you can deliver tailored messages to leads at different stages of the funnel
The ability to track and analyze lead nurture campaigns
Ortto can help you achieve all this and more with easy-to-build journeys and reports.
Browsers today are constantly bombarded with pop-ups, banners, overlays, etc. It can become tiresome to hunt for the ‘X’ on a popup, so many of us will just exit off the page altogether. Therefore, it’s important to consider the journey your prospects will go on to reach your gated content, and whether being met with a form will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Also, ensure that your capture forms are optimized for mobile. “More and more people are accessing information on mobile devices and filling out a registration form on a mobile device is hard – so visitors bounce,” says Strong.
When it comes to gating content, below are some caveats and considerations.
Offer PDF versions of ungated content. A way to slowly introduce gated content into your marketing efforts and boost your credibility among your prospects is to offer downloadable versions of ungated content such as checklists. This way, the prospect will be able to see the value of your content and then feel compelled to enter their details to own a handy downloadable version.
Only ask for what is absolutely necessary. When building a capture form for a gated content piece, there is a temptation to include multiple fields to gather as much information about your leads as possible, but this can be off-putting. Keep it simple – a name, an email address, and something specific that relates to the content (as mentioned earlier).
Only gate content you’re willing to follow up on. Gate the larger, more valuable content projects such as webinars, reports, whitepapers, etc., so that you have more reason to follow-up with leads and nurture campaigns. This may mean you gate less content, but the impact will be greater.
Considering the above advice, you may decide to ungate content if you feel like:
You have not established enough brand awareness and trust
Your gated content is not garnering high quality leads
Your content is not unique
You are not setup to follow-up with the leads you do get
Your traffic volume is plummeting
There is no shame in ungating your content – in fact, it might be the best decision for your brand. And that’s the key – what is right for your competitors may not be right for you.
Ortto users can track the content on their site – whether it is gated or ungated. For example, if you host your downloadable content (say, a PDF file) on your site, you can create a report for the downloads even if there is no registration form.
If your content is gated, you can set up a tracked form and track every submission, even if you are hosting your downloadable content on a third-party site. You can then set up journeys to nurture your leads, or create automations to direct them to the appropriate sales representative. Learn about Ortto's tracked forms feature here.
Both gated and ungated content serve a purpose. If you want to build brand awareness and increase engagement, publishing ungated content may be the right fit for you. But if you want to increase your leads, you might experiment with gated content and lead nurturing.
There is no right or wrong answer, and marketers have different experiences. The best thing to do is consider your company’s objectives, goals, and resources, and create a strategy that plays to your strengths. To start tracking your content downloads today, signup to Ortto for free.
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