Gated vs. Open Content: Which One Is Better?
After many hours of work, you finally have this great piece of content. You did your homework, you made sure it is on message with your brand, and you really feel it will add value for your consumers. It hopefully also results in more awareness and quality leads for your business.
The only question is: should you gate it? The answer: it depends on what your goals are.
In this post, I’ll talk about reasons to gate, when you should keep your content open, and weigh in on which strategy I think is better. Before we get into that, let’s start by defining what we are talking about:
What is Gated Content?
Gated content refers to the practice of requiring a user to hand over a piece of information in order to access the content. Typically this is an email address, but it can also include your name, the company you work for, what your position is and other things. It can also require you to complete an action in order to access the content - for example, Google gets people to fill out surveys (for which companies will pay them for) in exchange for accessing premium, or gated, content.
And of course, perhaps the most common form of gated content is a paywall. Here’s an example from The Athletic, a sports journalism website:
Of course, this can apply to several different types of content, be it curated blog posts, custom research or e-books, like this series of eBooks from HubSpot:
In all cases, you have to exchange information to get to the content. Sometimes it requires payment, but most of the time the user just needs to provide an email address. But why would websites put a hurdle like this in front of customers? There are a few big pros to doing it, including:
Pro: Gated Content Is Good For Lead Generation
Gated content is significantly better than ungated content in terms of generating leads. While it is true that ungated content is better for top of funnel metrics (see below), gated content delivers higher, more qualified leads. The reason? The fact that your customer has handed you their email address typically indicates they are on some level interested in your business, product or information. They have moved from general awareness to consideration.
Using these interactions, you can also gain insights into your customers that interact with your content. By seeing what they download, you can better segment them and send them materials or information that helps push them further down your sales funnel. For example, the website CopyBlogger published a series of 15 eBooks that required providing an email address to access. The result: email signups increased by over 400% and $300,000 worth of sales were recorded.
With results like that, it should be a no-brainer to gate your content. However, there is a very significant reason why more business don’t do it:
Con: Gated Content Is Bad For Top of Funnel Metrics and SEO
As with many things, there are trade-offs that exist. In this case, gating content results in less people seeing it, as fewer people will enter an email address to access it than will consume it if it is free. In essence, the more hurdles you put up in front of a customer, the more likely they are to drop out of the process entirely.
This is important to think about if you want to drive up awareness using your content. Because the bots that search engines use to crawl, index and rank your content cannot enter their own information into your gated content, they will not be able to crawl it. As a result, your SEO will not be impacted by any kind of gated content that you have. If your goal is better, more qualified leads this won’t be as big of an issue, but if you are trying to get your content out to as many people as you can, gating your content does not support that goal.
Pro: You Can Better Stay In Front Of Your Audience and Reach Them When They Are Ready to Buy
Not every customer, particularly with products that require a lot of consideration and research, are ready to buy the first time they visit your website. In fact, according to Inc.com, 92% of customers who visit a brand’s website for the first time do something other than purchase. Even when they intend to make a purchase, either via a website or an app, they rarely or never make a purchase 32% of the time.
This means that staying in front of them is crucial. As most businesses can confirm, the buyer journey often is not straightforward - it can take multiple stimuli to nudge a customer further down the funnel, and it can be a time consuming process. This is where gated content comes in handy. You already have an email address and know what the prospective customer engaged with. Your business can use that not only to send the customer content they are likely to engage with, but use it as a way to stay front and center with the customer.
That way, when the customer is ready to buy, your brand has engaged with them, has data on what they like - not only through your gated content but your email open rates - and can reach them when they are ready to purchase.
Con: Gated Content May Not Be Mobile Friendly
When I say “mobile friendly”, I don’t mean the format does not translate well to mobile devices. That your website and content should be mobile friendly in terms of format should be a given, considering how many people use mobile. Any content that does not come through cleanly on mobile is a recipe for a high bounce rate.
What I mean is that if you want people to opt-in by filling out a form, they prefer to do it on a desktop than a phone. According to The Manifest, only 3% prefer to fill out a form via a mobile device. In contrast, 84% of people prefer using a PC to do that. So if you are a website that requires a lot of information in order to access your content, bear in mind that people are unlikely to fork that over on a mobile device.
In a somewhat related note, the less information you ask from your customer, the more likely they are to sign up. When people are asked to fill out 10 fields or less, conversions increase by 120%. When that number drops to four fields or less, conversions increase by 160%. So be careful how much you ask from your customers.
Both gated and ungated content have their positive and negatives. The strategy you choose is really dependent on your goals - if pageviews and awareness are your goals, make your content totally free. If quality leads and data on your customers is your goal, gated content is something you should consider. Both serve a purpose, and it is not an either/or decision...often they can complement each other.
Ultimately, I come at this from the angle of a business with an established brand and that has a degree of visibility. With that caveat aside, I consider revenue and conversions - that, and not top of funnel metrics, should be what is top of mind for marketers when they craft strategies, particularly digital strategies. Awareness is great, but it is not what should be hunted - ROI should be. With that in mind, I lean towards utilizing gated content. But again, gated and ungated do not operate in silos - they should be used in conjunction with each other.
One final word - no matter what method you use, you need to have good content. It’s easy advice and is pretty prevalent, but it’s true, particularly if you push out custom content through opt ins via gated content.
Oak Moon is a consulting agency based out of Columbus, OH that helps companies market their brands, define value propositions and uncover customer insights, among other services. If you are interested in hearing more or have questions or comments about this blog, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.