Gated vs Non-Gated Content

Mar 10th, 2017

In the world of search marketing there are several factors that determine the success and failure of your brand online. One of the most important areas is to fully understand your content marketing strategy.

First of all you have to understand your audience; secondly it is vital that your content and communications are relevant and, finally, you have to be clever with your data and get that content out your audience on the right platforms at the right time.

When it comes to the output of your brand, everything that you produce is content. This portfolio can include, but is not limited to blog posts, a social media posts, whitepapers, eBooks, videos and infographics.

After conducting a thorough analysis of your market, and deciding on the message that you want to portray, you must decide on the format and location of your content. This is the easy part; the difficult question you have to ask is whether or not to gate your content.

Gated content is, in essence, a form of data capture. It requires the user to fill in a form or template, or to subscribe in order to access the content. Items that often fall into this category are include whitepapers, eBooks and webinars.

In some cases it may be possible for companies to partially gate content, in that they may release a preview of some of the text or release a few headline figures. These will act as a hook to draw in potential readers. In a similar way emails that contain some of the content will the use a call to action (CTA) to take the recipient to a landing page where they can download the remaining content. Although in this case the brand will already have your email address, the data they capture here is that by following the funnel they can gain a better understanding of the products and services you are interested in via your click-through.

Through a logical chain of thought, non-gated content is content which is free at the point of use. Common examples of non-gated content include blogs, podcasts, videos, infographics and newsletters.

There have been many reports and studies conducted on gating your content, and the debate rumbles on as to how much content should be gated. Getting the balance right is imperative. According to Starfleet Media, companies gate 80% of major content marketing assets behind lead generation forms and that they lose 93% of visitors in paid search and social campaigns from gating content.

Whilst this stat may appear a little off-putting, it is worth remembering that if the quality of leads and conversions is higher in the small percentage of those that stick around them maybe gating acts as a natural filter.

Marketing automation platforms such as Act-On are used by businesses in the marketing industry as a means of  sending emails and campaigns out whilst holding the data collected for you to analyse and filter. Act-On regularly write posts on the topic of gated content and advocates for this process believe that it will:

  • Generate sales leads
  • Reflect the true value of the content
  • Filter out those who are just browsing

Whilst this sounds great for clients, there are however those who – according to Act-On – want to “tear down this wall” by offering ungated content.

They also believe that the benefits include:

  • Building trust with prospects and viewers
  • Removing road blocks for consumers
  • Improving SEO (and theoretically, you’ll get more traffic and inbound links)

Content is how many potential customers meet a brand for the first time. How they are welcomed during the first interaction will determine a second, third and indeed if a relationship can be formed at all.

According to industry specialist, Tom Fishburne:

“Marketers can be too fixated on site visitors only as leads to be generated. They forget about the customer experience. They forget to deliver an experience worth generating a lead.”

These thoughts lead us on nicely to the next section and raise the question of when you should gate your content.

Asking the above question goes some way to deciding on whether or not gating content is the right approach. If you need to increase the number of leads and want to make sure that  the leads that are coming in are worthwhile then gating is for you. If the exercise is to build up the brand and to promote your company across the web to as large an audience as possible, then don’t gate.

Like all marketing there is a certain degree of trial and error. What might work for one client might not necessarily work for another. Clients are so varied and so are their audiences so you have to ask a series of important questions before you gate any of your content.

First of all you have to ask if the content is valuable enough to be gated in the first place. Does it contain information that you wouldn’t want others to see for free and is there research of finding that are of value to you? If this is the case then you will want to gate and exchange your content for a potential lead.

Following this you have to make sure that all of your content is unique. Why go through the trouble of gating a piece of content and dissuading the reader, especially when the information is widely available and can be accessed elsewhere, for free?

The next two questions relate to the actual data you are gathering. First you must decide on what the minimum amount of information you need is. Are you content with a name, address and email or do you need to access a phone number, job title, company and location?

When you have decided on your information then the next question is to be asked of your team. What are you going to do with the data? Can it be filtered and if so where does it go to. An email address is useful for marketing purposes but name; job title and phone number might be passed on to the sales team to open further relationships and to turn leads into sales.

One of the most common queries is whether or not gated content has an effect on SEO. With visibility being such a big consideration, it is understandable why the question arises.

As soon as you decided to gate some of the content on your site, you have concerns to address. You’ll need to promote the content but can you do this whilst improving your ranking?

According to Search Engine Land: “If there’s no direct link path to the content so that the search bots can get past the form (as human visitors would), then you risk blocking the bots from this content — and thus blocking the content from being indexed and ranked.

One thing you can do is to provide preview/summary pages with gated content. These will essentially provide a snippet of the information (pictured below) — like an executive summary — to visitors prior to being presented with a gate. Preview pages also provide an opportunity to share a summary with the search bots which can then be indexed and ranked, drawing organic traffic to the preview page.

This is one of the more common approaches to balancing both SEO and lead generation requirements.

All in all gating content is something that has to be considered and by using a tactical approach you put yourself in the best possible need to hit all of your objectives. Gated content tells the reader that you have something worth downloading and that as it is behind a form it will be unique content.

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