Gated vs. Ungated Content: Deciding Between Links or Leads
As a follow up to last week’s blog post on content length, let’s address another common content marketing question that we are frequently asked by clients: should our content be gated or not? The debate between gated vs. ungated content is frequent in content marketing circles, and as with almost any question in the content marketing realm (or any marketing realm for that matter), there isn’t a quick, one-size-fits-all answer. The unsatisfying truth is: it depends.
As a marketer, the answer to this question starts with the goal for your marketing and specifically, how you will measure your marketing objectives. Do you want leads? Or do you want your content to go viral? Are you building brand awareness? It’s also important to consider your customer’s perspective. Hubspot frames the “to gate, or not to gate” question perfectly: would someone trade their personal information for the piece of content you’ve created?
There are many things to consider, so let’s review a few specific situations where you will need to decide whether or not to gate your content.
The Why, When & When Not To: Gated Content Best Practices
Gated content is just what it sounds like. Typically, a piece of content is made available to a visitor in exchange for personal information. The personal information required can vary from something superficial, like an email address, to something much more in-depth, such as company name, salary, or profession. For some diehard content marketers, like those at Moz, this may seem against one of the core “kumbaya” philosophies of content marketing, which is to offer free, great content to your audience and ask for nothing in return. But gating content has a time and place and it can not only help you meet your marketing objectives, but it can help you better understand your audience.
Here are some common questions about gating and some gated content best practices.
What are the benefits of gated content?
Generating high-quality leads: For most marketers, this is the #1 reason for gating content: finding potential customers for the sales pipeline. Doing this has a number of benefits as it validates that the people you are selling to trust and care about your brand enough to exchange personal information. This can have the direct benefit of more efficient and increased sales.
Understanding your audience: Gating can also help better understand the wants and needs of your audiences. By experimenting with different formats and types of gated content, you can determine what holds enough interest and value for them to get them to convert and give you their personal information. This can help you further segment your audience based on their interests, level of engagement, or any of the personal information you obtain (position, salary, etc.).
Exclusivity: Gating content can give the impression that a piece of content is valuable or is only available for a limited time. It is a strange bit of human psychology that while we all like to get something for free, the exchange of value for value, even if it’s small, carries weight. Of course, that means that your gated content should actually have value!
When is it a good idea to gate content?
When you’ve mapped the buyer’s journey: Understanding your buyer’s journey is an essential step toward answering the gated vs. ungated content question. In general, the further along in the journey a potential buyer is, the more engaged they are with your brand, and the more sense it makes to gate your content.
When you’re seeing high engagement for ungated content: Another good time for gating content is when you have ungated content that is seeing a ton of engagement with potential buyers. If the blog you just wrote on the state of clinical genomics is still getting views and social shares months after publication, then it may be a good topic to develop for a gated piece. There is an important caveat here, though. You also have to have more to say about the topic and create something new, engaging, and high quality. Don’t just take the same blog post and put it behind a gate. This is a sure way to lose your audience’s trust.
When you have valuable expert opinions or original research: Original research or an interview with a KOL can really elevate the value of your content for potential buyers. Have you interviewed experts in the clinical genomics field? Or does your company have any market research on the newest trends in healthcare marketing? Would your potential buyers be interested in that? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you could be sitting on a gold mine of gated content!
When not to gate
When your audience is skeptical: For those in the life science and healthcare marketing fields, audience skepticism may sound familiar to you. Gating content could send up red flags for buyers in the medical community or scientists who are wary of marketing tactics. Gating content with an audience like this may result in high bounce rates from your landing page, or worse, fake or unqualified leads that don’t end up converting. There are some great examples from the healthcare industry where companies, like Health Catalyst, have taken a completely ungated approach to all of the content on their site. The result: increased website traffic and sales. The Cleveland Clinic did something similar and serves as another great example of the power of ungated content.
When building brand awareness: Gated content may not be the way to build awareness with new audiences. It also limits share-ability; people are much less likely to share great gated content with their networks than great ungated content. They are also less likely to link to gated content, which means your website would be missing out on some great SEO value. By choosing the ungated route for brand awareness, there is potential to build a substantial audience through organic traffic and social shares.
When there is limited ungated content on your site: If you have no ungated content, don’t put the only content on your site behind a gate. Having most, or all, of your content gated, with minimal ungated content, is a huge content marketing faux pas. If you aren’t offering your audience any great free content, then it will be hard to establish trust with those buyers in the early to middle stages of the buyer’s journey. And without trust, they will be very unlikely to provide personal information.
Gated & Ungated: The Semi-Gated Content Model
Chances are that your content strategy will require both ungated and gated content, and the two can have a complementary effect. This doesn’t always mean creating double the work for your content team. A long-form, gated white paper can be repurposed for multiple blog posts, infographics, or a number of other ungated, shareable, and compelling pieces of content with minimal additional effort.
Creating multiple ungated pieces from a single gated piece can be a great way to “tease” your gated content to your audience. And guess what? Often times, people will make determinations about whether or not to give you their personal information based on your existing content. If your ungated piece is great, people will want your gated content.