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Symphony of Gates: A Healthy Debate Over Gated Content

Should We Gate Our Content

It’s a question as old as the web – should you gate your content?

It appears that most marketers do and reported gating “80% of their major content marketing assets” according to a survey vetted by MarketingProfs.  The same study points out some content – infographics for example – is rarely gated.

There are credible – and often very passionate – arguments on both sides of the debate but the answer that’s right for an organization probably varies. It depends on the goals across the content marketing spectrum – is the content intended to attract, convert or retain customers?

Gated Content Doesn’t Go Viral

The most practical of arguments – one Joe Pulizzi makes in his book Epic Content Marketing – centers on the natural friction a gate brings to web content.  From an earlier review of his book:

Most brands want their content, and by extension ideas, to spread as far and wide as possible. Bloggers and influencers are instrumental in facilitating a broad reach. Guess what groups do not download gated content? Bloggers and influencers. To be clear, Pulizzi isn’t completely opposed to the idea of gates, rather he notes it depends on the business objectives and the understanding that when content is gated the tradeoff is in awareness, reach and exposure. He’s never seen a piece of gated content go viral…unless of course, you use this one weird trick.

Luminary or not studies have demonstrated people share content because it benefits them.  People share content they believe it makes them look smart or exclusive or cool or has some other benefit, whether perceived or real. Nobody gets cool points for sharing a registration page but they might get some for honesty for tweeting, “Give this organization your email address!  Do it right now!”

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The Gated Numbers Game

It’s been my observation that those that advocate gating content usually have something those that oppose gates do not:  a budget.

A recent discussion thread on Inbound, which got me to re-thinking this topic, provides a case in point.  Writing about cost per lead (CPL) campaigns, Craig Tomlin said:

“…for a large enterprise cloud hosting company client of mine, I spent well over $100,000 in placing a series of CPL campaigns through large CPL advertising networks. The resulting leads generated by this business had a Revenue Per Opportunity of $50,000 annually, and they received over 20 opportunities. That’s $1,000,000 in potential annual revenue for that firm. I can’t share the final results with you, but I can assure you the client was VERY happy about that campaign.”

As PR is my core discipline, I read such anecdotes with incredulity.  It’s a waste because what I can imagine doing with $100,000 is mind numbing. PR has done so much, with so little, for so long, we can do anything with nothing.

Unbounce, which provides tech tools for developing registration pages, reminded me of this when it asked if gates are a necessary evil.  The company included the thoughts of several marketers with a variety of views for – and against gates.  Two, in particular, stood out for me.

Hubspot’s Mike Volpe and Copyblogger’s Demian Farnworth expressed a very similar viewpoint:  gated content brings a brand closer to the prospects that really care.

“The question is what is the value of a view or a download versus someone who has actually filled out the form,” asked Volpe?

Similarly, Farnworth wrote,

“Holding something back identifies those who are more serious.”

That these gentlemen nearly reach the same conclusion is interesting, because, from my vantage point, Volpe is focused on the mathematics of marketing while Farnsworth centers on the art and prose.

Should We Gate Our Content-2

A Gated Debate is Probably Healthy

Absent the constraint of time, any blogger could drum up enough data and anecdotes to make a case in either direction.  “It depends” may not be the easy answer a casual reader was hoping for but probably closer to the truth than publishing a religious edict.

What works for one marketing organization may not work for another.  What works in one marketing organization today may not work tomorrow.  As a marketing leader recently reminded me, a genuine and healthy debate is a natural tension that’s probably healthy for a marketing organization.

A good way to frame that debate is with one simple question:  What is the goal you are trying to achieve?

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Photos:  Instagram.com/frankstrong 

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