To gate or not to gate? Oh boy, we could spend hours debating this age-old question.
Digital marketers are constantly trying to answer this question. And to be honest, there’s really no right or wrong answer. There’s plenty of good arguments that can be made for keeping content free and open for searchers and prospects to browse at their leisure. Yet, there are definitely cases when you want to gate content with a lead generation form, so you're not missing out on capturing valuable contact data.
Ultimately, it comes down to the type of marketing or sales collateral, the goals behind it, and your overall business objectives. In this post, we’ll walk you through exactly what gated and ungated content is, the pros and cons of both, and when you might consider using each type of sales collateral in your buyer's journey.
So gated vs ungated content. Here’s how to decide between the two.
What is Gated Content?
Gated content is any type of content that can only be accessed if a viewer exchanged information for it. The “gate” is usually some type of form that a user has to fill out. Gated content is especially useful for sales teams who are using this content to generate leads.
What are examples of gated content? Typically, it’s content that is extremely valuable to the user, above and beyond a traditional blog post. Long-form content guides like ebooks and whitepapers are often gated. Other things like templates, checklists, webinars, or even newsletters might be gated.
What is Ungated Content?
This brings us to ungated content. Anything free for the user to browse and scan at their leisure is considered ungated. They don’t have to exchange any sort of information. Usually, ungated content is used to build awareness and trust with a prospect. It’s often used at the beginning of the buyer’s journey, where prospects are just educating themselves about your brand and the products or services you offer.
Think blog posts, infographics, or educational videos. Even though ungated content doesn’t offer the same lead generation value as gated content, it’s still critical for the buyer’s journey. By building trust in the early lifecycle stages, prospects will be more likely to exchange information for a gated piece of content later down the road.
When to Use Gated or Ungated Content Offers
It’s pretty clear there are clear benefits to both gating and ungating content. Both techniques should be part of your strategy. What’s often referred to as The Great Gate debate is not so much an argument about whether you should use gated vs ungated content, but rather, what instances you should use each type of content.
The best content marketing strategy will use a mix of gated and ungated content to keep buyers informed and trustful of your brand.
So when should you gate content? Let’s take a look.
When to Gate Content
- Later in the Buyer’s Journey: The further along in the buyer’s journey your prospect is, the more likely they are to engage with your brand. They’ve more than likely educated themselves already on the products and services you offer and their options. If they’ve gotten to this point, there’s a reason why they’ve sought out your brand. It’s important to not only fuel the trust you’ve already created with these prospects by offering them content of even better value. It’s equally important to capitalize on this opportunity by capturing their contact information.
- Content Topic is Generating High Amounts of Traffic: If you have a piece of content that’s generating a ton of traffic, it might be time to take advantage of it. Take note of what the topic is on, and why people are interested in it. This high level of engagement is a strong sign that a gated piece of content could generate the same level of interest. It’s evidence that what your offering is valuable enough that a user would be willing to share some information with you to download it. Keep in mind that the gated piece of content or offer you create shouldn’t just be another blog on that topic. It needs to be of extreme value to the user, and offer something that they can’t just get by bouncing off to another user’s website or blog.
- The Content Offer You Have is High Value: A prime opportunity to gate content is when you have exclusive information or insights. Do you have any original research such as market surveys or data insights? Consider publishing a downloadable report. Do you work with any authority figures in your industry? Interview them, and create an exclusive video that users can download.
When evaluating whether or not you should gate your content, consider the answer to the following question: Is sharing an identity a fair trade in exchange for the value of this piece of content? Evaluate the answer to this question by analyzing the following characteristics:
- Content quality
- Content format
- Content objectivity
- Content usefulness
This flowchart from HubSpot is a great guide for helping you decide whether or not your content is worth gating or not.
When to Not Gate Content
Let’s make one thing clear. We’re not saying that ungated content should be low-quality content. All your content should be high quality and valuable to the reader. But ungated content might provide a different type of value - and therefore not make sense to hide behind a lead-gen form. Here’s when you shouldn’t gate content:
- Your Purpose is Brand Awareness: If the purpose of a piece of content is to build awareness, you don’t want to gate it. When you hide a piece of content behind a form, you're limiting its shareability. Users are much more likely to share or link to a piece of content if it’s ungated. If you're an emerging brand, ungated content is where you should start. This is how you plant seeds that will grow into an authority reputation, which can eventually be used as an opportunity to gate content. Already an established brand? That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t focus on building brand awareness. Ungated content can help continue to grow your audience while staying top of mind with your customers and prospects.
- You Have Limited Ungated Content: It’s often helpful to think of content like a product or service you're selling. Usually, you like to get a taste of what it is you're going to buy before you buy it. This might be a free sample at the store, or just picking something up and feeling it. Content is the same way. How can you expect a prospect to “buy” a piece of content, if you don’t have any “free” content on your site that gives them a taste of what they can expect? Before you start creating gated content, be sure you have a solid library of information on your site that proves your brand as an authority source.
When Your Gated Content Isn’t Performing Well: If you’ve created a great piece of content, and it’s sitting behind a form and getting no traction, it might be time to ungate it. Once you’ve established that you have valuable information that is worth the price, it will be much easier to gate content in the future. Another piece of advice? Consider including a downloadable version of your ungated piece of content. If you believe it truly is valuable to the reader, then why not offer them the chance to take it with them? Ask simply for an email address in order to download the PDF. This is the best of both worlds for your reader, and a good test on the value of your content. If it’s worth it, they’ll pay the price.
Gated vs Ungated Content: Best Practices
The best content strategies will use a mixture of gated and ungated content to woo prospects that land on your site. But each method requires a method to the madness. Here are some best practices to follow if you decide to gate your content:
- Evaluate if it’s worth it - First and foremost, do a hard look at what you're offering. Make sure it’s worth it. Is your content teaching your user something? Will they step away more educated and empowered than before?
- Keep the forms short - Only ask for the most critical information. Don’t complicate your forms with required fields. For your first request, just gather the must-know info, like name and email address. You can learn more about the prospect when you follow up.
- Use progressive profiling - Don’t ask your prospect for the same information twice. Allow forms to fill out themselves. When you collect specific information about a user, progressive profiling utilizes cookies to remember that information, and automatically fill it in the next time you ask that same information.
Leaving your content ungated? That doesn’t mean you throw away all chances of lead capture. Consider weaving in strategically placed CTA’s. At the bottom of your content, you can include specific call to actions like:
- “Contact us”
- “Schedule a demo”
- “Request your sample”
Make these CTA’s clear, aligned with your ungated content, and easy to click on. This type of content strategy can set a good precedent with your users that will lead to more successful gated content down the road.
Use Gated Content Strategically
Don’t get too caught up in the gated vs ungated content debate. The right answer is a combination of gated and ungated content aimed at nurturing your prospects through the buyer's journey. As long as you are utilizing gated content in a strategic way, you will begin to see results from your content offers.
Keep in mind, it’s all about providing a valuable experience to your user. Gain your prospect’s trust upfront by using ungated content at the beginning of their journey. Once you’ve established your brand as insightful and your information as valuable, use gated content strategically to capture high-quality leads.