Marketing is sometimes like politics. Two people can read the same report and draw different conclusions. Typically, those conclusions support whatever you believed before reading it.
It’s a bit like that with gated content. Marketers tend to be for it or against it – and passion may sometimes cloud new perspective.
Recently, I’ve had several consulting conversations about gated content and while I too have a strong view, I decided to keep an open mind and go canvas the web looking for solid arguments for and against gated content.
The Case Supporting Gated Content
Here are the key arguments for gating content.
- Gates provide (near-term) marketing justification. Registration forms are a measurable source of potential sales prospect; 44% of B2B marketing organizations say they gate content and of those “close to two-thirds (62%)…cited earning qualified leads as their reason for doing so.”
- Registration is a form of qualification. People that really want that gated content may make them a quality lead; this only works if you’ve thought through what is gated and what isn’t. It does not work if everything is gated.
- List building. You want to build your email marketing list. This is useful for email marketing and also retargeting and custom audience campaigns for paid social media.
- The illusion of scarcity. Scarcity is one of those tried and true psychological factors in marketing. Things that are plentiful are free and people will value it more if it’s harder to get. If you aim for this approach, make sure your download is actually worth it.
- Blocking the competition. Some organizations want to prevent competitors from downloading information. They’ll vet registrant emails addresses and block competitors from obtaining the content.
The Case Against Gated Content
These are the key arguments against gated content:
- No shortage of content. Content is plentiful these days – whatever information you are offering is probably available somewhere else that does not require registration.
- Registration forms are a pain on a mobile device. More and more people are accessing information on mobile devices and filling out a registration form on a mobile device is hard – so visitors bounce.
- Pull out all the stops. Frictionless marketing – content earns more exposure if there are no friction points. Every year, Verizon puts out a cybersecurity study that exemplifies this idea.
- Search rankings and SEO. Search value – search engines won’t fill out a registration form. If you gate content, you may be giving up search traffic. Search is – by a long shot – the biggest source of traffic for most sites. HubSpot did an experiment on this that showed some search benefit – and also some conversion drawbacks.
- Try reciprocity instead. There’s a better way to obtain contact information – in a related post on this topic, Mark Schaefer rounds up several viewpoints, including that of neuromarketing advocate, Roger Dooley, who says, “It turns out that a reciprocity strategy works better – give them the info they want, and then ask for their information.” (Update: Mr. Dooley’s idea isn’t just his opinion; here’s his post and it links to this research study).
“Trojan Horse Marketing” – new cartoon and post on content marketing that's too salesy https://t.co/G9IUVaVpwb pic.twitter.com/AHQfKyh9Z9
— Tom Fishburne (@tomfishburne) March 13, 2016
The Middle Ground on Registration Pages
Usually when there two sides dogmatically arguing the truth is somewhere in between. I’ve found that to be about right with registration pages too.
Deciding to gate something is a case-by-case decision. I like to see things like case studies and infographics freely accessible. If these types of items are gated, you both lose visibility and create an influx of “leads” that overwhelms the sales team and leaves them chasing their tail.
Still, there is a time and place for some gated content. The best organizations are selective about it. This means they develop a thoughtful process for both determining what gets gated – and what they do when someone does hand over their information.
In my experience, well written white papers and reports with genuine insights that are created in collaboration with SMEs are often good candidates for registration pages. This works well in an organization weaves this campaign style of marketing, with ongoing owned media program like a publication or blog that you own. You carve out bits of the information – turn these into articles and blog posts – and give it away with a CTA to read the whole report.
Are Messaging Apps Replacing Gates?
The people marketing messaging apps and chatbots – those little bubbles that pop up with red alerts that you two missed messages when you visit a website for the first time – are spraying gasoline on the gated content debate.
So first, keep in mind they have a product to sell. It’s not right or wrong, but that definitely influences their perspective. And I just don’t get excited by the messages proclaiming the end-of-times in marketing anymore ( _____ is dead).
Second, I don’t think they’ve really replaced registration pages, they’ve just moved the collection point (and annoyances) around a little bit on a website. I’m not throwing shade on these products as these may well work for you if you use them properly. Just know that if you go this route – you are ultimately still trying to collect contact information and you need an equally thoughtful process.
5 Solid Reads on Gated Content
In the course of working on this, I scoured on several different occasions for good arguments around the use of gated content in marketing. There are many results in Google that largely say similar things (and this post isn’t exceptional in that regard).
However, there were a handful of solid posts with data or counterfactuals I found interesting while working on this piece:
1) When Does Gating Make Sense for Content Marketing? | Mark Sherbin | CMI
“Knowing what kind of content someone with purchase intent consumes helps you understand when gating is appropriate. You’re playing the long game – attracting with breadcrumbs of helpful content until leads have wandered deep into your brand and the purchase process.”
2) Content Gating: When, Whether, and How to Put Your Content Behind an Email/Form Capture – Whiteboard Friday | Rand Fishkin | Moz
“If audience size, reach, and future marketing benefits are greater than detailed leads as a metric or as a value, then you should go open access. If the reverse is true, if detailed leads are more valuable to you than the audience size, the potential reach, the amplification and link benefits, and all the future marketing benefits that come from those things, the ranking benefits and SEO benefits, if that’s the case, then you should go with a gated model.”
3) The Secret Power of Ungated Content | Lauren Holliday | Medium
“…there is no easy, get-rich-quick marketing scheme. You have to put in the effort. You have to secure high caliber writers, who promote their content. And you have to deliver A LOT of value way before you ever receive anything in return.”
4) Moving Beyond Gated Content: Other Tech to Help Generate Leads | Ben Beck | ClearVoice
“Millennials are beginning to enter leadership positions and are starting to make more purchasing decisions…millennials generally turn to more relational channels (social media and personal referrals) instead of typical corporate websites (i.e., landing pages).”
5) B2B Marketing Experience: The Case For and Against Gated Content | Jordan Con | Bizible
“We found that gated content has a lower click-through-rate (CTR) and a cost-per-click (CPC) more than double that of ungated content. This would suggest that the argument against gated content has some merit. Clicks come easier and cheaper, showing that ungated content is a smoother B2B marketing experience—at least at the top of the funnel.
But as we move down the funnel, gated content shows its merits. The click-to-lead ratio was much greater for gated content. Even though ungated content may be a smoother experience, the long-term payoff, at least to leads, didn’t make up for it.”
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What about you? Have a view, study or idea about gated content that’s not reflected here? Comments are still open on this blog.
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