Content Marketing Blog
How to decide when content should be gated

How to decide when content should be gated

If you’re an inbound marketer you’ll have had the gated content debate with colleagues, clients and managers countless times. Do you put your best content behind a form so you get a lead whenever people want to read it? Or do you make it free to access for humans and search engines alike so more people get to see it?

In this post we look at some of the arguments for and against, including the views of some expert marketers. And we share our tips (ungated) on how to get the most out of the content you do decide to gate.

How to decide when content should be gated: the 5-second answer

Gate content if it’s for capturing leads. Don’t gate content if it’s for SEO.

5 reasons you should gate your content

If that 5-second answer did the trick then goodbye and thanks for reading. If not, then check out these 5 reasons you should gate your content:

1) Capture leads, prove ROI, keep your marketing budget

It’s the obvious one so let’s start with it. Marketing is about proving ROI. Whatever tactics you choose or content you create, without leads you’re always at risk of losing your budget. If you’re generating leads for your sales team to follow up it’s much easier for you to demonstrate the value you’re creating for the business.

2) Learn more about your users

Capturing a lead doesn’t mean you immediately have a handful of red meat to toss over the wall to the sales enclosure. In most cases lead capture is about learning. You find out who’s accessed your content and then how often they come back and what else they engage with. This allows you to create more relevant content, send better emails and gradually qualify and nurture leads until the sales team barely has to chew.

3) Your best content took a lot of hard work to create

These days content marketing ain’t cheap. Insane competition for attention and smarter algorithms mean creating content that gets in front of relevant users is difficult and expensive. That goes for blog posts like this one, plus content for social media and email. It’s especially true when it comes to the sort of content you might want to put behind a form. As well as the extra research and writing time, you’ve had designers putting together photos, charts and graphics and laying it all out for you in a lovely. brand-consistent PDF. You shouldn’t give that away for free.

4) People value what they pay for

Gating content is not a new or secret tactic. Most brands that do content marketing use gated content in some way. That means people who give you their email address for your latest ebook know exactly what’s going. They know they’re paying for that ebook with their data rather than their dollars. This knowledge can be helpful. As marketing automation provider Marketo said in a blog post on this topic at the end of last year: “If you have to pay for something, you will inevitably attach more value to it than if you received it for free. The same principle is applicable to your content assets.”

5) HubSpot already failed for you

Another marketing automation brand, HubSpot, can be even more helpful in convincing you to gate your content. They already tried removing their email forms and putting their premium content on the open web. And it didn’t work. In a blog post originally published in July last year, Hubspot described an experiment to test whether ungating content would improve SEO but generate fewer leads. They were right about the fewer leads, but also found search engine performance only improved on pages already doing well in search.

5 reasons you should not gate your content

You’ve heard the case for gating, now here are 5 reasons to set your content free.

1) Donald Trump did not just download your whitepaper

President Trump thinks fake news is bad but what about fake leads? If you’re a content marketer leads are your lifeblood. They keep your boss or client onside and keep the marketing dollars rolling for your next campaign. So when someone uses a fake name and email address to access your best content you’ll feel like pressing a big red button of your own.

There are some steps you can take to tackle the fake lead scourge. Your form provider should do some basic field authentication to make sure fakers have to at least try. You can also send download links out by email rather than redirecting people directly to your content. But personal webmail addresses can be largely anonymous and there are plenty of temporary email services available. This means determined fakers will usually get your gated content for free..

2) Not all content is worth gating

The bar for content is being raised all the time. That applies to what people will watch on Instagram, what Google returns at the top of its search results and what your audience will give you their email address for. If your download doesn’t sound relevant, valuable or rare enough then people won’t pay for it. And before you say it’s free, remember internet users in 2018 are savvy enough to know that their data is valuable (apart from everyone still on Facebook, of course). Worse still, if you oversell your download you can leave people feeling short-changed and that can have a really negative impact on your brand.

3) Gated content leaves a bad taste in the mouth

Rand Fishkin, founder of marketing software company, Moz, has been an advocate of ungated content. In a Whiteboard Friday video on the gated versus ungated debate he explained some other ways this popular content marketing tactic can damage your brand. As well being disappointed with the content, some people resent having to fill out the form, while others are unhappy at being contacted by sales as a follow-up. In some cases, all this “leaves a very bad taste in their mouths,” according to Rand.

4) Your gated content is available for free elsewhere

One of the challenges with gated content is keeping it out of the hands of people who didn’t fill out your form. We already covered fake leads, but another way sneaky people get around content gates is to see if it’s been indexed by Google. Blocking Google’s crawlers from certain pages of your site is tricky and can cause all sorts of problems if you do it wrong.

So most brands that gate their content rely on people not looking for it. Searching for the exact title of your prize, gated content is a simple but surprisingly effective way to get it for free. You should also check to make sure your competitors are not offering the same or similar content without a form. That’s not only bad for you, but good for them. So double bad for you.

5) There are no more “one and done” sales

Finally, in this excellent post on Search Engine Journal, regular contributor Brad Smith makes the argument that gated content is dying as a marketing tactic. He cites the multiple brand interactions people now tend to have during the buyer journey before they make a purchase. It’s never as simple these days as get a lead, follow it up and make sale.

“In other words, ‘one and done’ doesn’t exist today. No single campaign or channel will deliver what you’re looking for,” Smith said. He also pointed out that an increasingly large share of searches are conducted on mobile devices. And while your landing pages should be mobile friendly these days, people have to really, really want that ebook to download it on to their iPhone.

Our top tips for gating your content

Hopefully you can see from this post that there are good arguments on both sides when it comes to gating content. Most marketers conclude that it’s still a valuable tactic in the right circumstances. So, to wrap up, here are our top tips for effective gated content.

1) Spend some time on the presentation

One of the easy ways to set your gated content apart from meatier blog posts is the design and layout. A PDF offers a chance to provide a consistent user experience regardless of browser or screen size. So, make the most of it and get your content professionally laid out and include plenty of graphics to break up the text.

2) Sell the benefits of downloading it

Getting users to your landing page is only part of the battle. You need to convince them to take the final, all important step and complete your form. Something that will help is if you share some of the value they’ll get from accessing and reading your download. Use bullet points to make the information quicker to process.

3) Meet or exceed expectations

We already covered the risk that over-selling gated content can lead to a negative brand perception. But another useful tip is to be consistent. How you describe your gated content in your Facebook ad or promo email should be the same as how you describe it on your landing page. And then the content itself should line up with those descriptions.

4) Put human faces on the contributors

Sharing who researched and wrote your gated content can help add credibility and authenticity and highlight value to the user. Perhaps it was your chief engineer who has 30 years’ experience, or your new head of marketing who just joined from Silicon Valley. Push this on your landing page and add photos and bios to the download itself.

5) Experiment with time-limited gates

Some gated content has a really long shelf life and can generate leads for you months or even years after it was created. In other cases, content can be extremely valuable, but only for a very short time. You might have, for example, a whitepaper featuring exclusive predictions for software-as-a-service in 2018. That could be well worth an email address for people in the industry at the end of 2017 and probably into 2018 as well.

But as the months tick by, demand for that content will fade and the few leads it generates will probably be business school students researching an essay. In these circumstances you could remove the download and make it available for free after a certain date to extract some SEO benefit from it.


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Adam Barber
Adam Barber About the author

Adam is one of Castleford's founders and remains actively involved in the day-to-day running of the business. He started out as a writer and still contributes regularly to our blog, covering SEO, CRO, social media and digital strategy.

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