Every now and then, a subject comes up which seems to dominate the world of SEO and, while it may not generate Trump-style headlines, it’ll be the talk of the town for marketers. One such topic which keeps rearing its ugly head is that of gated content and, in this article, I’m going to lift the latch on this popular subject.
Gating success hinges on content
When we mention gated content, we’re talking about the act of hiding your goodies away behind an online form. For your users, this means that they can’t get your hands on your content without handing over their data. For you, of course, it means that you’re offering a transaction – the user gets your great content and you get more fodder for your databases. Unlike a paywall, your users will get your ebook or video for free as long as they’re prepared to let you have their details.
How does it work?
In most cases, your gated content will be embedded within a call to action or pop up which, when clicked on, will present the user with a form which needs to be completed before they can get their sticky mitts on the good stuff. The most effective way of offering gated content is with a landing page. Why? These tend to focus the user on the task in hand rather than allowing them to be distracted by other items on your home page.
To gate or not to gate
—an interested visitor who leaves without learning anything about you because of a form
—an interested visitor who gets everything they’re looking for, but doesn’t provide you with an email address
— Chris Todd (@IamChrisTodd) September 22, 2020
So, I’ve talked a little bit about the reason for gating content and, also, how you go about it but, the bigger question is, should you do it? This is something that has a lot of SEO superheroes scratching their heads. The simple answer is that, some content benefits from being gated and, other content doesn’t. Figuring out which is which can be complicated and, so, I’ll try to untangle this for you by going through when you should – and when you shouldn’t – gate your content.
Lock it up
— Ironpaper (@Ironpaper_Inc) January 18, 2016
When working out whether or not to gate your content, a rule of thumb is that you first need to look at the value of your content. This is important as it speaks to the user’s decision-making process, namely – is this content likely to be worth the time that it will take me to fill in my details?
These days, attention spans are super-short and, although filling in a form only takes about 30 seconds, that may be 30 seconds too long for some users. For this reason, it’s a really good idea to think carefully before gating your content and, in general, this should only be considered for the following kind of content:
In the last few years, free e-book downloads have been massively popular (I can testify to this with just a quick glance at my own extensive collection). E-books are very much considered high value as they tend to be of a significant length and will (or should) contain useful information which can be referred back to time and time again.
In most cases, an ebook has taken a fair amount of time and work to produce and so, for the most part, users will consider these to be high value enough to splurge those 30 seconds on filling in the form.
Quite frankly, nobody has any business publishing a white paper unless it’s jam-packed with high quality, thought leadership information backed up with accurate and checkable thesis statements, facts and figures. Once the domain of huge, stuffy corporations, white papers are now produced by a lot of brands looking to offer in-depth insights and information to a particular industry. As long as you have a grabby hook, most users will happily trade their deets for your latest white paper.
Everybody loves a free template and, for many businesses and individuals, these are absolutely considered high value – as long as they’re good quality. Never be tempted to throw together some rubbish templates just for the sake of gating them. Put in the time to offer value and the user will respond accordingly.
We’ve seen more than our fair share of these this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and I don’t see that changing in 2021. The average running time of a webinar is 60 minutes and so users are getting quite a lot of bang for their buck when they get hold of these for the bargain price of a few contact details.
It goes without saying that webinars became a crucial part of marketing strategy for various brands and industries, especially for those who had to move their marketing efforts fully online. And with the right webinar software, your webinars will be more than just talking to your camera – you can use advanced lead generation features, chat, interactive drawing tools, whiteboards, surveys or tests.
Gating – Best Practices
These are a few examples of the kind of content that you probably should be gating but, before you go and get all ‘gatey’, there are a few best practices that you should be keeping in mind:
The buyer journey
When somebody is skipping their way through your website, they’re unlikely to be clicking on every link. For this reason, you need to make sure that you’re creating content for every step of the buyer journey in order to increase your chances of turning your user into a lead.
Yep, just like anything else, your gating strategy should include some in-depth competitive analysis. Whatever you’re thinking of doing, you can bet that your competitors are already doing it so, before starting, you need to see who’s doing what in order to make sure that your offering is superior.
If you were on a website and wanted to check out more learning resources (think webinars, ebooks, additional gated content) what "word" might incentive you to click and stay on that page?
— Nadya Khoja (@NadyaKhoja) September 17, 2020
OK, so your fabulous content should be incentive enough, however, you still need to hammer the message home in terms of telling the user about the benefits that can be had by getting on board – namely, great, high value, authoritative content which will help their business.
As I mentioned earlier, these are invaluable when it comes to really focusing the user on the content that you have on offer. Get into the habit of creating landing pages for your gated content and keep these simple with a clear call to action for the best results.
Crunch the data
If you’re just starting out with gating you will, naturally, want to be able to see how you’re doing and, the only way of doing this is by performing proper analytics. As with any marketing strategy, A/B testing is the way forward when it comes to figuring out how users feel about a bit of give and take when it comes to your content.
Paywall on your stories? That's OK – I'll just cite another publication with ungated content in my story. 🤷♀️
— Michelle Garrett (@PRisUs) January 13, 2020
While it makes sense to gate some of your best, long-form, high-value content, not all content is created equal and, with some types, gating it may well mean slamming the door on your followers. Some examples of content that shouldn’t be gated are:
Remember the last time you were on a bus or train? For many, it may seem like ancient history but, what you will no doubt remember is that the majority of your fellow passengers were glued to their phones – and a lot of them will have been reading blog posts. By their very nature, blog posts are designed as quick reads which can be easily picked up and put down again. For this reason, it’s quite unlikely that a commuter will want to faff about with forms and will therefore simply move on to the next.
Video is great for providing short, informative soundbites about your brand or an industry topic. They’re also usually pretty short. Before thinking about gating your video content, do the maths – would you spend 30 seconds filling in a form in order to watch a two-minute video? No? Neither would your user. In general, gating doesn’t perform well with video and these should be left unlocked if you actually want people to watch them.
The Pros And Cons Of Gated Content
Now that I’ve taken you through the kind of content which should and shouldn’t be gated, we’ll zero in on some of the pros and cons of this much-discussed activity:
The gating pros
- Increases lead generation
- Improves sales
- Gives you valuable insights into your customers
- Sets the scene for email segmentation
The gating cons
- No brand visibility
- May deter busy users
- May reduce page views
- Limited SEO benefits
— Mary Thengvall 🌉 (@mary_grace) April 12, 2017
I’ve included pros and cons here as, while it’s important for you to generate leads, it’s also vital to keep the customer in mind. People are busy and you really need to weigh up the pros and cons of gating your content before going ahead. One great way of finding out how people feel about this is by snooping on them.
No, I’m not suggesting that you turn into some kind of stalker. Social listening and brand monitoring are an excellent way of drilling a bit deeper in order to find out how the land lies. Brand24 is one of the best tools that I’ve come across for this and can really help you to form your gated content strategy as part of your wider marketing and SEO goals.
Once you’ve decided to gate your content, you’ll need to decide on the finer details:
Your first job will be to decide how the content will be accessed once the user has unlocked the gate. The options here are:
- Receiving the content by email
- Receiving an immediate download link
- Being redirected to a subscriber page
I would almost always recommend sending the content to the user by email as this is by the most convenient method. Your user may be too busy to immediately download the content, in which case they’ll appreciate the fact that, instead, it’s sitting in their inbox waiting for them.
Creating your gated campaign
It is, of course, possible to do this yourself if you have some techy skills, however, this can be fiddly and time-consuming. I would recommend using a tool such as Optinmonster or Thrive Leads in order to quickly and easily put your campaign together. This tool will take you through the different campaigns available including floating bar, fullscreen and slide in and offers a number of templates to get you on your way.
These days, you have tons of options when it comes to creating forms, however, for gated content, I would always recommend keeping these short and sweet in order to avoid customers getting annoyed and scrolling away. For form newbies, Zuko Analytics is a fantastic tool which will not only help you to create forms but also to perform in-depth analysis to make sure that your forms are working as hard as you are – all the time.
While I’ve laid out the kind of content you should be gating and the kind that should be left wide open, these are guidelines rather than hard fast rules. As with any kind of marketing, nothing is black and white and there’ll always be nuances to be examined. For example, while it’s best to leave blog posts ungated, the exception may be when you’ve added an update to a post which offers significant value – in which case it may be worth gating the update.
I can’t stress enough the importance of testing, testing and then testing again when it comes to gating content. The only way to figure out if its working is by running the analysis and making the necessary adjustments. While this can be very much trial and error, the results can be brand-changing once you get it right.