Most of us out there are no strangers to the tradeoff between offering up some bit of personal information and receiving something in return. This is how most free products and services operate. The same concept applies to the content marketing world in the form of “gated content.” A person provides name, email address, job title, etc. and receives some valuable piece of content in return.
Not surprisingly, marketers want to know who is engaging with their content. In fact, according to a study by Market Research Expert, Jeff Zabin, 80% of businesses content assets were gated. Gated content can be a great way to gauge potential prospects interest in certain content and educate your target audience on your product and/or service capabilities, but gated content is not without its drawbacks. In this article, I'm going to walk you through some of the pros and cons of both gated and ungated content to help you decide which one is right for you.
The Case for Gating Content:
Showing Interest: As we’ll discuss later in this article, people generally don’t want to go to the trouble of filling out a form to access content, but when they do it’s a good indication that they are very interested in it. Looking at what specific content or product information visitors are accessing can give you good insight into what users are looking for.
Knowledge = Power: By requiring certain information from anyone who wants to access your content, you hold all the cards in terms of what data points you want to ask for. This provides a ton of flexibility and allows you to focus on certain criteria that matters for your business needs. Furthermore, requiring things like name, industry, job title, etc. can give you a good indication of who your engaged user base really is. This can also be useful in determining if your messages are resonating with your target audience as well identifying potential new market segments that might find value in your content.
Building Pipeline: In a world where in-person trade shows are essentially nonexistent, gated content form fills can be a good way to fill out sales and marketing pipelines. Although they aren't quite the same as regular inbound leads, they can still be added to various sales and marketing campaigns or email lists.
Privacy: By requiring an email and other information to access content, it’s much easier to prevent your competitors or others from gaining access to sensitive content.
However, it’s not all smiles and rainbows with gated content. Here are a few big cons you might run into if you’re using a gated content strategy:
The Drawbacks of Gating Content:
Low Engagement: Users fill out a gated content form as a form of payment knowing you get value out of knowing who they are. But honestly nobody wants to do this. It can be a nuisance at best, and a deal breaker at worst. This leads to low conversion rates for gated content landing pages, which are estimated to be around 2-3%. This can be a huge letdown after putting in all the time and energy to create high-quality content only to have it viewed by just a handful of people.
Form Abandonment: Gated content can provide a plethora of useful information about your readers, but it's also important to be selective about what is actually important for you. As we discuss in our Form Abandonment article, in general, the longer your forms are the less likely people are to complete them. And while tools can help auto-populate certain fields for the user, it is still a bit intrusive to blast them with a wall of questions just to download a simple guide or ebook.
False Form Fills: If you or your company has ever used forms to gather data about your website visitors, I'm sure you’re no stranger to seeing some “colorful” responses. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve personally filled out a gated content form with bogus information, I’d be very rich – like adding extra guac at Chipotle rich. Believing that everyone fills out gated content forms with accurate information is giving them (myself included) far too much faith. Solely relying on the information users provide to get access to content will lead to numerous problems if you’re planning on using this data for any meaningful sales or marketing outreach.
The Case for Ungated Content:
Thought Leadership: Producing high-quality, valuable content around a specific topic is one of the best ways to show people you are an expert in that field. When people read, watch, or otherwise consume your content, you start to become a source of information and truth about whatever that topic is. So, maybe the viewers are not ready to buy at the exact moment they are engaging with your content, but later on down the road when they are in the market, the fact that they see you as an expert will only benefit you when it comes to selling to them.
Popularity and Sharing: By ungating your content you make it much more accessible for your users. Additionally, if they enjoy your content, having it ungated makes it possible for them to share it freely among their network, thereby allowing it to be seen by many more people than if it were gated. A bonus of the increased traffic and engagement will be a likely boost in SEO for a particular piece of content since it will indicate to search engine algorithms that this is high-quality content worth putting at the top of the search results page.
Psychological Impact: Two psychological principles can be applied to content engagement: the halo effect and the mere-exposure effect. In the business world, the halo effect claims that consumers will have more loyalty or favoritism towards companies or brands that they have had a positive experience with in the past. Additionally, the mere-exposure effect claims that people will gravitate toward things that are familiar to them. So if they have seen your logo or heard your name, or consumed some of your content in the past, they will be more likely to ultimately purchase from you. From a content marketing perspective, the more people we can get having a positive interaction with our company or brand through our content, the more potential customers we will have in the future. While these concepts apply to both gated and ungated content, as we know, in general, more people will engage with ungated content, meaning the potential benefits will be amplified.
Downsides of Ungated Content:
The downsides of ungated content can arguably be considered the exact opposite of the pros of gated content. There is essentially no privacy in who sees and shares your ungated content so if there’s something you’d rather your competitors not see, maybe reconsider that. Additionally, removing any information requests to access your content eliminates the ability to add users to any future sales or marketing campaigns. And finally, it reduces your visibility on exactly who is engaging with your content.
BUT… B2B Marketers Have an Ace Up Their Sleeves – First-Party Intent Tracking.
First-Party Intent Data is information collected by you about your website visitors that indicates increased interest or intent to buy. When B2B marketers use first-party tracking combined with IP address intelligence, they are able to gather a wide range of account-level information about their website visitors, such as: company name, industry, revenue, employee count, and more. This information is incredibly valuable for sales and marketing campaigns, attribution reporting, and many other account-based marketing activities. The best part is, all of this data can be gathered from non-gated content pages. With first-party tracking on your website, when people engage with your ungaged content, you can look at all the views, downloads, shares, etc. as indicators of increased interest within a company about your products.
For example: you could say that a content download counts as 5 points toward a company’s account score and once the company gets to 25 points, they get added to a marketing campaign; 70 points and they receive a sales outreach.
At the end of the day it's up to you which method of content you want to produce. Gated content offers more privacy and more in-depth information about the audience your content is reaching, but also prevents a large percentage of people from accessing and sharing it. Ungated content on the other hand gets more eyes on your content and helps boost your SEO, but is free for people to use as they like and can suffer from lack of information about the viewers. But, for you B2B marketers out there, leveraging first-party intent tracking on your content, you’ll be set up for success getting the best of both worlds while minimizing the downsides.