Is gated content on the outs? Is this being replaced by newer, flashier content methods like pillar pages; long-form, powerhouse content pieces that are packed with SEO potential and accessible to everyone?
Or is this inbound methodology mainstay – that is, hiding your great content behind forms in exchange for collecting lead information – just as valuable as ever?
Or… do we really have to pick a side at all?
The question of “to gate or not to gate” is not necessarily a new one. Yet given all the explosive changes we’ve seen lately in the world of content marketing, we figured it was a good time to clear the air on the gate debate and surface both sides of the story.
Let’s start with the marketing experts.
Some thought leaders seem to pledge that it should be one or the other: B2B marketers should either stick to their guns with gated content OR choose to make their content free and clear of forms.
Take marketing guru Dee Meerman Scott, for example, who contests, “A lot of people will see the form and say, ‘forget it. I don’t want to fill out the form.’”
On the other end of the spectrum is HubSpot’s Mike Volp, who acknowledges the value of gated content as it pertains to getting qualified leads. “If I can get 100,000 people to see that page and I can get 28,000 people to fill it out, 28,000 contacts may be more valuable than even 50,000 people seeing the content.”
But like so many rules in marketing, the question really isn’t that black and white. Gated content is a small piece of a much larger picture, and needs to be looked out holistically. So let’s explore both sides of the debate that commonly arise.
Against: Gated content hinders SEO.
Google continues to update its algorithms to give search authority to long-form content. That makes long-form content, loaded with internal links and other rich media, all the rage right now.
So where does that leave long-form content that is not accessible (in other words, is hidden behind a form)? Gated content on its own would indeed diminish your search-engine power.
For: Reclaim search authority with pre-gated content.
Your gated content may not gain you search authority, but you can easily make up for it with your pre-gated, or “teaser” content. For example, serve up an appetizing blog post (or a series of blog posts) on topics that are closely related to your gated content – just enough to get your readers interested in the main course.
Using video teasers or vlogs is another SEO-friendly way to engage readers and highlight the value of the content they are about to receive. Read some key ways to optimize your videos for SEO.
Against: Forms instantly repel readers.
You’ve got a seemingly great offer that is gated on a landing page – and it’s simply not leading to conversions. It’s true that there may be a subset of online searchers who immediately reject the idea of filling out a form in exchange for great content.
For others, hesitation or skittishness about filling out forms can be a result of multiple factors: It’s not worth the extra five seconds. Why are they asking so much – and why do they need my phone number? Who is at the other end of the “submit” button? If a prospect has never heard of you before now, there may be a general distrust of marketers or salespeople in general – and your B2B company is no exception.
For: Reduce the factors that cause “form friction.”
Here’s the thing: the scenarios described above are not necessarily a result of “gated content not working.”
With some smart and relatively simple tweaks, you can cut down on small annoyances that may be costing you conversions, such as asking for a phone number. Or, perhaps you failed to establsih credibility with a privacy statement or a clear expectation about what prospects will receive once they hand over their email. Landing page design also plays a huge role – so be sure you’re sticking to the basic design principles listed here.
Finally, we can’t emphasize enough the importance of the aforementioned pre-gated content, which should be doing the heavy lifting on highlighting the value of your offer. Ideally, by the time someone reaches your landing page, they are already sold on you – and those nagging elements associated with form friction are a non-factor.
Against: Gated content limits my visibility and is not shareable.
Many of your searching online prospects know little of you or your brand, and offering thought leadership content like eBooks or white papers is a good way to establish credibility.
But there can be a definite Catch 22: if your goal is to establish credibility, are you really in a credible enough position to ask for something in return, like an email address? Chances are, you’re not. And when your prospects are simply not ready for this step, your attempts to win them over (and even more idealistic, promote you to a colleague) are futile.
For: Align gated content to the right stage in the Buyer's Journey.
What’s missing from the scenario above is consideration of the Buyer’s Journey. Your decision to gate or not gate MUST be aligned with the right stage of the journey to truly serve its purpose in lead generation.
It’s not just about creating maximum visibility. It’s about being visible to the right audience, at the right stage. Do that, and your prospects will not only respond to your content but become promoters of your brand. So let’s review:
- Awareness: Your prospect knows they have a problem. They don’t know much about your business. For this stage, consider content pieces like blogs, infographics and videos. Ebooks and white papers are also excellent at this stage, but only when used to supplement your stellar pre-gated content. The idea is to NOT surprise your readers in this stage with an unexpected form.
- Consideration: Your prospects are beginning to recognize your brand as an industry authority and a potential solution to their problem. They are more likely to respond positively to gated content including webinars, software downloads, and case studies.
- Decision: It’s time for prospects to decide whether your brand’s products and services can meet their needs. Your prospects are more likely to respond to gated content for things like free consultations, product demos and free trials.
All in all, for every argument that can be made against gated content offers, a stronger one can be made for it. But to truly make gated content work to your advantage, you need a strategic approach that helps you overcome all the ways it can work against you.