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Whether or not content should be gated is a constantly debated topic among marketers. On one hand, leaving your content ungated poses less friction for your audience. On the other hand, if you don’t gate content with forms, how will you convince website visitors to give you information.
Even trying to boil the debate down to just “do what’s best for users” can still provide ambiguous directions because gating content can add a perception of value that improves how a user views their interactions with your brand.
Does Gating Content Align with Your Brand Values?
Before deciding to gate or ungate specific pieces of content, you need to determine whether gating content in general aligns with your values.
“Step one is evaluating your brand values: who you are as a brand, how you want to interact with your potential customers and who you want to be in the market,” Olivia says.
For example, if transparency is a pillar of your brand, gating content might feel at odds with that. Conversely, if a part of your brand is exclusivity, you might want to emphasize that your content is gated and even limit the audiences for some pieces to your customers or subscribers.
What Are Trade-offs Involved in Ungating or Gating Your Content?
By not gating content, you’re restricting your ability to do marketing.
“If you’re going to take that approach, then you’re also restricting the marketing avenues that you have available to you,” Guido says. “You’re basically saying ‘if we’re not going to gate content, then we’re not going to collect people’s information at scale, and we’re not going to be able to do a lot of email marketing. We’re not going to be able to do more in-depth re-targeting campaigns or things along those lines.”
Meanwhile gating content can pose friction that drives some prospects away, and if your content is gated, it won’t be optimized for search so you risk losing out on traffic.
“I think the core thing you need to be asking yourself is “what are the tradeoffs?” If you’re not going to be [gating content] then what are you getting in return?” Guido says.
For example, if you’re not gating content for lead acquisition, then you need to find some other way to acquire customers. Leaving that content ungated needs to in some way benefit your company.
How Much Nurturing Does Your Product Require?
What is the buyer’s journey like for your prospects? How informed are they when they start engaging with your brand, and how much content do you need to provide them with before they can be ready to engage in the sales process?
“How much do we need to educate someone about this product? If they can just come to the site, read one page and then they buy, why would you gate anything?” Guido says. “The more complex whatever you’re trying to sell is, the more likely it is you should have a gated content strategy because you’re going to need to educate people way earlier in the process.”
According to Olivia, it comes down to building trust — and you can do that by being a thought leader and producing educational awareness stage content that aligns with the needs of your buyers. Top-of-the-funnel educational content like that wouldn’t be gated, but if progressing prospects through the buyer’s journey requires email nurturing, then you need to find a way to collect their information.
Subscriptions can provide you with the opportunity to do that nurturing without gating your content. With subscriptions, you’re explicit about what’s being exchanged, an email address for more content the prospect has already seen value from, and email subscriptions can add convenience into a person’s day-to-day, so they don’t post friction in the same way gating content would.
Another aspect of nurturing is how much information you need from a prospect once they’ve provided you with an email address on the first form they filled out.
“You still need to provide education and trust, but once you’ve captured their email, you can deliver that educational content through ungated forms. Why would you continue to make that difficult?” says Guido
It’s important to balance the size of the ask on the form with the value the user receives from the content offer. But that perceived value can also be influenced by what kind of information is required for the other offers on your website.
For example, someone can sign up to start using your freemium product with just an email address, starting to use your product would require the same, if not less, effort as downloading one of your content offers. Do you really want to imply that your content is as valuable as your product?
“I only would [gate content after someone converted on a free trial] if I’m trying to gain more context in general or about a specific segment,” Olivia says. “I could see having a form with a few questions that are more specific and contextual to the content that they’re downloading.”
So if someone is downloading a lead generation guide, you could ask them tips about their lead generation velocity or biggest lead generation challenge — but you should only do that if that information is useful for sales conversations.
Can You Obtain Info Through Digital Body Language or Sales Enrichment Instead?
When it comes to your form strategy, is the information you’re asking worth the friction of asking it? If you can learn the information you’re receiving through a form without the person telling you it, that might be a strong case for leaving content ungated.
“Now that you can enrich a contact record with all of the company information you need assuming you got a company email, there isn’t much value in gating content to learn more about them on the demographic and firmographic side. You want to get more of that implicit information,” says Guido.
With marketing analytics tools, you can also track digital body language to gain an understanding of less explicit information too.
“The more you learn from someone directly, the more you can direct the conversation and send them towards things you know would be relevant, but can you do the same thing by observing them and seeing what content they engage with?” Guido says. “Can you infer that since they’ve visited these solutions and case studies that their challenges are probably X?”
How Will You Get Contacts?
In order to make inferences based on body language, you need a contact record to document behavioral info in.
“You still need that entry point. You still need to create contacts in some way,” Olivia says.
Again, subscriptions can provide a solution here, or you can exchange other things of value for a prospect’s information.
For example, in the retail space, it’s common to offer discounts and free shipping in exchange for an email address or newsletter signup. Or websites may have a saveable wishlist feature that requires the user to create an account.
Providing contact information in order to receive those benefits acts as a starting point for the nurturing conversation.
“‘How early can you realistically start a conversation with a potential customer?’ and ‘How can you keep that conversation going?’ are the two big questions. Because someone can find you through search and that can be how the conversation starts even though it’s one-sided and they haven’t said anything back to you. So how do you get that initial reply and how do you get the back and forth going?” Guido says.
Lead generation quizzes are a great format of non-traditional content that can require contact information in exchange for value without feeling gated, and quizzes can be worked into longer, more complex B2B buying journeys.
You can create a quiz assessing someone’s knowledge about the topic your solution addresses or a quiz that’ll help prospects understand which of your products would suit them best and then email them the results to open up a conversation between your company and a prospect.
Do You Want Everyone to See This Info?
In some cases when it comes to bottom-of-the-funnel content like product demos, pricing and specific service specifications, you might want the friction gating provides in order to prevent proprietary information from falling into the wrong hands.
“We have a common discussion on case studies and what you do with case studies,” Olivia says. “I think a lot of clients do try and gate case studies because they don’t want their competitors seeing that information.”
While ultimately Olivia and Guido are both against gating case studies, doing so does enable you to maintain some control over who has access to that content, which can be a deciding factor in the gate vs. ungate debate.
Whether or not you should gate content will depend on your business and your audience.
“I don’t think there is one size fits all when it comes to how forms are used,” Olivia says. “Every company is unique, and I think you can make those decisions on a case-by-case basis thinking through all those different factors on whether this is a piece you gate or not.”
“Don’t just choose gated content because you think it’s cool or popular,” Guido adds. “Choose it because you’ve thought through all of these questions. Choose it because it aligns with the goals and objectives of pursuing this particular strategy and your beliefs and value.”
Want to hear more perspectives on the gated content debate? Check out this video with New Breed’s marketing team discussing the topic:
Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.