Gating content like white papers and e-books behind forms and pop-ups is now so popular and widespread that it’s difficult to find a modern website that doesn’t do it. Though perhaps obnoxious, it’s perfectly understandable given that lead generation has become the top content marketing priority for most businesses.
At the same time, there is an ongoing debate among marketers as to whether “secured behind a form” is really the best place for a brand’s most valuable content to be. Many believe that the advantages of leaving content openly accessible outweigh the advantages of gating it.
Clearly, both approaches have their merits. But these may not always be immediately obvious.
Advantages of Gating
The main advantage to gating content is that it allows you to collect information about your visitors, thus generating inbound leads. Offering a good piece of content as a “bribe” incentivizes your users to share their data. And for your sales team, these self-qualified inbound leads are generally of greater value than those acquired through cold outreach.
Another advantage is that it can make your content seem more valuable. This is due to the psychological bias that causes us to attribute greater value to things that are more expensive. The fact that visitors must “pay” with their personal information makes them more likely to view your content as more “premium” and authoritative than something they might get for free.
Advantages of Open Access
On the other hand, openly accessible content has a number of advantages as well. Most notable among them is greater reach. Ungated content will inevitably be seen by more people, as it can be shared across platforms and can earn inbound links.
Additionally, there are big SEO benefits to open content. Assets like e-books, white papers and ultimate guides are typically keyword-rich and extensive. They are precisely the type of content that is likely to do well on search engine result pages. But if they’re gated behind a form, search engine crawlers simply won’t find them.
So, which approach is best for you?
The truth is there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Whether you choose to gate a piece of content or not should depend on a number of factors regarding the content itself, your business’s goals and the audience you’re trying to reach.
So, before you simply set up a gate because everyone else is doing it, here are three questions you should ask to help you decide whether it’s the right way for you to go.
1. Is your content any good?
Let’s just get this out of the way: don’t put mediocre content behind a gate. A great title and a compelling call to action are not enough. Will this content save your reader time or money? Will it teach them important skills or give them valuable information?
When you put your content behind a form, you’re essentially asking your visitors to pay for it. And that sets a certain expectation. If users lend you their trust and give up their email addresses only to be disappointed by low-quality content, you’re just going to breed resentment. So, you first need to determine whether your content is valuable enough to warrant paying for.
Keep in mind that when a visitor downloads an e-book or white paper, it’s likely going to be one of the first touch points they’ll have with your business. It’s important that you provide a great first impression. Only consider gating something if it’s remarkable.
2. What are you trying to achieve?
You need to start with a clear objective. Is the primary goal for your piece of content brand awareness, lead generation, boosting sales or something else?
If the goal of a given piece of content is greater brand awareness or more sales, you should set it up for maximum exposure. That means leaving it openly accessible. If you put it behind a form, you’re limiting your audience to the small segment of visitors who are willing to give up their personal information.
You should consider gating a piece of content only if your brand awareness efforts are already going well, you’re getting the traffic volumes you want, your landing pages and sales material are excellent, and your business’s primary need is to convert more incoming traffic into leads.
3. Are the leads you’re generating worth it?
One of the strongest arguments against gating is that it can be detrimental to your user experience.
The frequency with which today’s website visitors are confronted with pop-ups, slide-ins and intrusive overlays has contributed to the widespread adoption of ad-blocking software. If you’re not careful, the same content offers that are supposed to capture lead data in exchange for value may also be driving your website visitors away out of annoyance.
Forcing visitors to hand over their personal information will not only turn many prospects away, but it’s also likely to result in lots of fake lead data in your CRM as more people simply use temporary email addresses to access gated content.
So, determine whether the leads you’re gathering with your gated content are of sufficient business value to justify the injury done to your user experience and CRM data. If they’re not, it may be wise to set your content free and reap the benefits of greater exposure and SEO instead.
An increasingly common trend is to semi-gate content. The idea is to give readers a taste – to let them experience the value and quality of the content, and only then ask for personal information to access the full document.
This model allows for the best of both worlds: to generate leads while still allowing your content to be shared and crawled by search engines. Giving prospects a taste of what value you can provide them also makes them less likely to be surprised or disappointed with content that doesn’t match their expectations.
Another popular solution is to gate content using a social login integration instead of a regular form. This comes with two advantages: it decreases the friction for your users (they need only click a button), and it also ensures that the lead data you collect is accurate (it’s pulled in from Facebook or LinkedIn).
Regardless of what stage your business is in, or what your overarching content goals are, you should aim for a healthy balance. The winning combination will always feature a plethora of high-quality free content to draw your audience in, and the occasional piece of gated content geared toward activating your users. Use the questions in this article to find your optimal mix — and whatever you produce, make sure you knock readers’ socks off.
To dig into the subtleties of content marketing to better understand the factors that most consistently contribute to success, check out this comprehensive research report by Aberdeen’s Andrew Moravick.
Daan Reijnders is the co-founder and CEO of Instant Magazine.