Gating content has grown into one of the most contentious issues in content marketing. Hard-line content marketers will tell you that information should be free for readers to access, and in return, you gain brand awareness, shares, and social capital.
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Traditional “smarketers” and B2B lead generation managers scoff at the idea of giving content away for free, since it would mean passing up valuable lead data that can be monetized through conversion strategies. We may never find out who’s entirely right, but each side may have to compromise, or else be hoisted by our own gated content petard.
Rusty Hinges: Problems with Gating Content
Gated content is defined as content that cannot be accessed, either by a human or a web index crawler, unless the user provides some information in return.
Marketers typically use email forms and subscription gates to exchange contact information for well-researched content that prospects (hopefully) find useful. Web crawlers, or robots, do not read websites the same way that humans do, so gating content means you hide some of your most informative and valuable content from search bots whose main purpose is to find the answers to users’ questions.
Why write the content if you keep users from discovering it?
One way marketers get around this problem is by providing a significant amount of text (but not giving away the farm) on gate pages. This is a better option than closing off your content entirely, but you still have less text on your landing pages than in a white paper, and therefore fewer amazing answers for Google to index.
The Great Gate Debate: Which Way Works?
Let’s talk about the merits of both systems. If one way were clearly better, we wouldn’t fight about gated content at all.
Merits of Free Content
- more inbound links
- builds brand awareness
- promotes social shares across platforms
- higher quality score for landing pages from page ads (which can lead to better ad placement)
- higher page rankings from in-depth and informative content
Merits of Gated Content
- increases inbound leads
- self-qualifying customers for sales teams
While the deck seems stacked against gated content from those lists, it’s hard to argue with more qualified leads. While increased page rank and higher brand awareness can drive traffic, they may not result in higher conversions in the long run. Ay, there’s the rub.
Plan Your Yard Before Installing The Gate
So many marketers start publishing content willy-nilly, thinking that just getting content on the blog or in the newsletter is a plan. A content calendar does not equal a content strategy. Understanding what your team wants to achieve with your content can help you build a strategy. Ask (at least) these questions for your strategy as a whole and individual content pieces:
- What is this content supposed to do? [Possible goals: brand awareness, blog visits, B2B lead generation, converted users]
- How will this piece of content achieve those goals?
- How much are your goals worth to you?
- Does gating this piece of content fit into my larger content goals?
- Does this content directly impact your lead gen efforts?
- Can you move the content from behind a gate or change strategy and still acquire leads?
Gate with a Purpose
One way content marketing teams have mitigated the GateGate controversy: they use “pillar content.” Kapost goes into great detail about pillar strategy, but I like to think of it like a Christmas tree.
The tree itself is a substantial, informative, and incredibly useful piece of content that you write to position your company as the authority on a subject. Gate this authoritative content, because customers find it of high value and will trade their information for that content. Decorate your tree with free, smaller bits and baubles of content: blog posts, social media posts, podcasts, and videos to attract users to your site. These ornamental pieces still have value, and they will attract both users and indexing robots to your site. You give away these pieces without losing the tree.
Also consider whether you can achieve the same lead gen and brand awareness aims with a different way of collecting data? Can you use a pop-up modal as the customer leaves the page and then mine for qualified leads through your email list? AWeber reported a 1,375 percent higher conversion rate for email subscriptions over traditional lead gen forms. Using an email newsletter for B2B lead generation requires a longer lead cycle, and you’ll need to do more content syndication, but you might end up with a better user experience and more traffic because your content ranks higher.
1,375 percent higher conversion rate for email subscriptions over traditional lead gen forms.
Another option, similar to pillar or Christmas tree content strategies, involves gating content that provides a value upgrade from your free content. A content upgrade strategy means writing value-added content and linking to that from your free content? It works like this: You publish an informative, educational blog post. Within that amazing post, you link to a gated white paper or guide that builds on the same topic. These suggestions drive engagement (another Google ranking factor) on your own site, extending user time on site and visitor page depth. Wishpond has a bunch of content upgrade suggestions at the bottom of this post that you may want to try.
Here are some tips that may help as you build a hybrid content strategy that straddles the gate (that actually sounds painful, but it’s the metaphor I chose):
- Look to other marketing leaders for content strategy examples. Sirius Decisions has a whitepaper you can download to help your team make a gated content plan, but . . . surprise! It’s gated. If you really want that plan, you’ll give them your email address. See how this works?
- Think about using social logins instead of form fills. These give you lots of information about user intent plus access to (some) social data. They also decrease user friction to access your content since they let people download content without entering more information.
- Use agile project management tactics to drive your content marketing plan: create user “stories” for your buyers, and build your content gating strategy around those. Atlassian has a simple template for user stories that might help you build these for content.
- A/B test. Can’t stress this enough. Don’t just do something because you’ve always done it that way, and don’t implement a plan because some marketing guru says it works best. Do what’s right for your company, and measure the results. Watch your leads, signups, conversions, and downloads, but also page rank and your actual keyword searches on Google’s Search Console. All of these factors can tell you how well your content achieves your goals.
“To gate, or not to gate . . . is this even still a question?”
– William Shakespeare | Content Marketer
Marketers obsess over how much they can sell and which types of content earn the highest ROI. A content strategy that mixes informative, free content with epic, informative, gated content will always win. It will also please both marketing and sales, and getting those two to agree is nothing short of a miracle.