Content gating: use with caution

Gated content is a divisive subject for content marketers – case-by-case treatment is essential

Fans of British politics may remember the ‘Gategate‘ scandal of 2012, when the then-chief whip Andrew Mitchell was forced to resign amid accusations he had lost his temper outside Downing Street’s gates and called a police officer a “pleb”.

The stakes are just as high in the world of content marketing. In this case, however, the gates are digital – designed to make the content behind them seem more tantalising, rather than black and pointy, designed to protect the UK head of government.

Should you allow the hordes to flood in or close the drawbridge and ensure your content reaches only a select audience?

To gate or not to gate?

To start with, it is worth being aware of the type of content falling into the gated/ungated categories. Gated content – such as newsletters, e-books and webinars – requires consumers to sign up or pay to access premium content lurking behind a wall. Ungated content – including blog posts, social media content and infographics – tends to be unrestricted and open for the world to see.

Gated content has well-founded benefits. Requiring users to sign up provides businesses with respondent information, allowing them to follow up leads and create intrigue around content in the process. It also serves to filter out consumers who have chanced across your website, leaving behind those genuinely on the verge of making a purchase.

On the other hand, the format is not failsafe. Gated content can just as easily filter out potential buyers who may have been interested once but are sent running by the sight of a sign-up page. Moreover, the allure of content can induce gate-openers to fill in false or part-finished information, sending businesses on a wild goose chase.

Ungated content is similarly controversial. Its advantages include an instant increase in traffic and immediate boosts to SEO, removing hurdles to interaction and increasing shareability.

However, it also has its drawbacks. Ungated content makes conversions more difficult by clouding the client-consumer link, provides less data from referrals and requires more laborious ways to warm up potential leads.

Gated vs. ungated in B2B marketing

The split of advantages and disadvantages has been a cause of some controversy in the B2B community. Ostensibly, gated is coming out on top: research suggests 80% of B2B content marketers gate their assets in an effort to nurture leads and drive engagement.

However, some renegade voices in the B2B community are fighting back. Marketing strategist David Meerman Scott argues that content can gather up to 50 times the number of downloads without a gate in front of it. The theory is that any interested parties will download the content anyway, while pulling in lots of other potential consumers. After factoring in sharing, this could mean reaching tens of thousands of potential consumers post-gate rather than a measly four figures.

The gateway to heaven? 

Not all gates are created equal.

Even for businesses trying to establish a more discerning audience, throwing up a velvet rope in front of content can simply act as a deterrent. Gating needs to be done skilfully, on a case-by-case basis.

Consider an organisation like The Economist. Gating is a cornerstone of its content strategy, but rather than a prohibitive, ham-handed paywall, it tickles users with three free articles a month to draw readers in. Such an approach is customised effectively to its audience – readership and revenues continue to grow steadily.

Beyond the obvious traffic versus engagement trade-off for gated versus ungated content, content marketers must be aware that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to gating. Every business is different.

Whether your priority is boosting page views or nurturing leads might depend on whether you’re B2B or B2C. Is it quantity or quantity of leads that is crucial to your firm’s overall strategy? Who is your core audience?

The key message, then, is that gating can be an asset for your content, but also a ticking time bomb if used carelessly. As Andrew Mitchell will tell you, there’s no easy way to row back from gate-related scandal – take a cautious approach and make sure you’re doing the right thing for your strategy.

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