I recently asked marketers on a LinkedIn Group discussion about content gating. I posed three questions – (1) Are you gating content? (2) What content types do you gate? and (3) How are you gating content?
Are you gating content?
The answer was a resounding yes. It is pretty evident that many marketers gate content at different times for different purposes.
What content types do you gate?
For the most part, respondents said they are gating ebooks, white papers, webinars and third-party reports or studies. Things that marketers do not gate include blog posts, infographics, SlideShare presentations and videos.
How are you gating your content?
Respondents made comments such as
-“we ungate content that is used for awareness but gate for lead generation or where in the funnel it [the content] is”
-“we gate premium content that is perceived to be of high-value”
-gate “high value content that generally outweighs giving up your email for”
-gating content that offers advanced info on topics that have performed well historically
-gating content “to identify the folks who are visiting us most frequently and support our lead gen efforts”
-gating content based on analytics or trends that Sales notes in the marketplace
-gating content that “we wish to tie back to customers”
Respondents noted that content gating was typically used for lead generation and lead nurturing activities.
While content gating is used for establishing leads and moving them along the journey, what is the content consumer’s experience in all of this?
I was curious so I conducted a test on myself. For a month, I requested content – usually white papers or ebooks – that I was interested in, from a variety of sources. The results were alarming. In approximately 60% of the cases in which I asked for a white paper, I received an email, within 24 hours of receiving the download, from a sales person that went like “thanks for downloading our white paper, do you have 10 minutes for a quick call?”
Based on my test, it seemed one of two scenarios were clear. Either (1) sales and marketing were not aligned or (2) Sales and Marketing either had not defined a lead or had an inaccurate definition of a lead.
The questions I pondered were: how does my request to view your content make me a prospect, and, what happened to building a relationship with me and earning my trust before you start pitching me?
These questions lead to the ultimate question — has a marketer’s need to generate a lead trumped building trust?
Build Relationships and Better Experiences to Generate Better Leads
If marketers are gating content to generate and nurture leads, wouldn’t it make better sense to build a relationship with prospective buyers, earn their trust and provide the content they want? And then, as you get to know them and create an enjoyable experience for them, offer them the premium content they find of value, which they would gladly provide contact info to receive? Because you are taking the time with them, they want to take the time with you and want to develop a relationship with you.
One of the respondents, when asked about content gating, said that they gate “high value content that generally outweighs giving up your email for”. When you gate content, consider that like a contest. Sure, people will give up something (email) to get something they think is of value (white paper), but does it build loyalty? They will remember that they gave up their email for your white paper, not that you took the time to get to know them and learn about their pains, motivators and needs before wanting something from them.
Some organizations may think content gating is great for increasing lead quantity. But that short-sided thinking does a number on lead quality.
Andrew Davis, author of Brandscaping: Unleashing the Power of Partnerships, agrees. He says “If you want to fill your database with low-quality leads, then yes – content gating is great!” Davis talks about building trust and creating subscriptions of value instead of gating content. He posits “Content builds trust. Trust takes time. Trust builds relationships. Relationships drive revenue. Instead of gating content that you’re not sure I want, invite me to build a subscriber-based relationship with you. When are you sending out the next piece of valuable content? How can I get it? That’s much more valuable than a one night stand.”
David Meerman Scott, noted sales and marketing strategist, speaker and best-selling author of several books, including The New Rules of Marketing & PR, concurs. He has said that marketers who force prospects to turn over contact information in exchange for free content could be hurting their businesses. He notes this analogy – “I liken it to a singles bar where some guy comes up to you and says, ‘What’s your phone number?’ without even introducing himself. It sets up an adversarial relationship.” He suggests collecting information after prospects get a taste of your expertise and the value you provide.
Traci Browne, marketing strategist and author of The Social Trade Show, echoes all of this. She says that gating content starts the relationship with buyers immediately on the wrong foot. She adds, “You are saying, do something for me and then I’ll do something for you. I prefer to give people something of value first with no stings attached. I don’t want our relationship to be a tit-for-tat exchange. Instead, I embed an invitation at the bottom of the content to sign up for my mailing list, but only if they’ve found what they read to be of value and wish to receive more wisdom and insight. This way, I know that people who are on my list want to be there. I didn’t have to con them into signing up.”
Scott has found that ungated content gets between 20 and 50 times more downloads than gated content does. Chew on that for a moment.
I can’t tell you to gate or not gate your content, but I am saying to be purposeful and methodical, and think different when gating content.
Best Practices For Gating Content
Consider putting the following practices into place to enhance the experience that your buyers have with you and your content.
1. Before considering gating content right out of the “gate”, consider other options. For example, offer a specified number of free downloads prior to asking for contact info. Or set up your lead generation trees to offer free content through the earlier stages first and only offer gated content after certain events have occurred. Or, bypass gating content altogether and offer a call-to-action at the end of your content – you’re doing that already, right? – and either offer additional articles of interest, an opportunity to sign-up for blog updates or a newsletter, or both. Or, offer a premium community like MarketingProfs PRO or Spin Sucks Pro. These options help you build trust so buyers see the value you provide and are more willing to provide info to receive content.
2. If you want to gate content, think long and hard on your reasons for doing so. Include any content gating in your overall content strategy. Which content will be gated? Why will it be gated? What support do you have that gating the content will meet your objectives? How will it be gated? Davis says “Aggressive content gating is a normal reaction to a poorly laid out strategy. Instead of thinking about individual content elements think about a longer term subscriber-based relationship.”
3. If you want to gate content, determine whether your content is gate-worthy. Do you run analytics on your content? What KPI’s are you using to ensure that it is performing well? Before you gate any content, determine if people are reading and sharing your existing content. That will usually help you determine whether gating content makes sense for you.
4. If you gate content, don’t gate your content at the top of the funnel. The top of the funnel is important for generating awareness and building trust. Save content gating at a point where your buyer has converted into a lead and you are moving them along their buyer journey. This should be mid-funnel, at least. In other words, any introductory white papers or ebooks should not be gated. As such, it is important to map your content to each phase of the buyer journey and utilize your analytics to determine which content performs well, when visitors are converting to leads and when leads are converting to customers.
5. If you have decided to gate your content, only ask for the bare minimum such as name, email and title in your contact forms. You can obtain other details later. Davis coins this as “progressive registration” and notes “it invites me to give you small pieces of information over a longer period of time in low-barrier ways”. By the way, did you know that having three contact fields vs. five or six contact fields can increase registration submissions by up to 20%?
Also, please don’t hide a checked box in your contact form to subscribe to blog posts or a newsletter, or require a newsletter/blog post signup to receive gated content. When someone is signing up to read your gated content, it is for that piece of content, not a blanket agreement to receive all of your content. You must still obtain blog post/newsletter opt-in permissions separately. Otherwise, you will be perceived as untrustworthy.
6. Once you have obtained contact details, do not ask for it again. You should have processes in please to determine repeat visitors and have contact forms pre-populated.
When considering whether to gate or not gate content, know that building trust, providing resources that your audience wants and creating a good experience are the keys to developing a strong lead generation and lead nurturing program.
As Davis notes, “You’ll generate higher-quality leads, deeper audience relationships and an ever-growing subscriber base with low opt-out rates. You’ll drive more revenue, faster with less effort.”