Gates are pretty nifty things. They look nice with white picket fences, or threatening with giant brick walls. Most importantly, though, gates are there to allow only certain people through into the inside. The thing about a gate is: there’s something inside the gate that the visitor wants, and the person guarding the gate can take whatever information the visitor is willing to give up to get to the inside.
So what does gating have to do with B2B marketing? A whole lot, as it turns out. In case you weren’t aware, there’s been a great debate waged amongst marketers for years about whether or not they should gate content. And that’s even more true in B2B industries, where measuring content by the leads, opportunities, and revenue it generates is often more important to marketing leaders than measuring impressions, shares, and engagement.
Just so we’re on the same page: gating content means requiring content readers to fill out a form to give you some type of information (typically their email address, and perhaps first name), before they can access the content (typically via PDF download or email). Usually, gated content comes in two forms:
- Either, readers come to landing page with the purpose of viewing the content you’ve promised, where they must enter their information in a form to see said content.
- Or, readers come to a separate, free piece of content where calls-to-action in the form of banner ads, pop-ups, links, etc. will offer them the piece of gated content in exchange for some information, in addition to the free content.
Gating comes with pros, and it comes with cons.
- The obvious pro is that you get to collect information about people – particularly contact information –which you can then use to nurture those people into leads, who will eventually give you money.
- Gating content helps to provide some context to the leads you bring in. You can tell what the leads are interested in based on what content they downloaded.
- Gating content can make the information seem more valuable to a prospect than giving it away for free. Many B2B companies have actually created an additional revenue stream by selling access to reports and data that’s hidden behind a gate.
With pros like those, does it even matter what the cons are? Well, it turns out gated content can have some fairly serious downfalls. Check these out before you run off to gate everything you’ve ever made.
- Gating content prevents it from being indexed in Google. That means that gated content has little to no SEO value, and all the blood, sweat, and tears you poured into creating that valuable content won’t be accessible via search engines. By not having your content indexed in search, you could also limit the overall lead generation opportunity that would have come your way if you had opened that content up to a wider audience.
- Because it’s gated, less people will read it. Non-gated content receives an estimated ten times more views than gated content. Plenty of people who were not that serious about the content will choose not to go through the work of handing over their contact information. They’ll just abandon your form and go look at something else. (To be fair, this can also kind of be a pro – these potential viewers were not that serious anyway; filtering them out could save you some work.)
- You’re likely to get a lot of bad leads. Plenty of people will want access to the content, but won’t want to give you an email address where you can hound them, so they’ll give you a fake email address. (But on the plus side, sometimes the fakes are really clever, like “Joey.Fatone@getthebandbacktogether.com,” and they will make you smile.)
Like I said, the downsides definitely tip the scales back to the middle. So what should you do? Should you be a free spirit and leave everything alone? Should you be a gater?
The answer is, like always, a bit more complex than we would like, so hang with me, and I’ll walk you through.
First, I can definitively tell you that gating your normal blog content is a bad idea 99.9% of the time. Blogs typically serve two purposes for a company:
- The first purpose is to help a company establish their expertise in their industry, so prospects will trust them when it comes time to make a purchase.
- The second is to help boost a company’s SEO rankings and drive more traffic to their site.
When you gate your blog, you negate both these benefits.
As I mentioned, gating prevents the blog from helping the company’s SEO. But it also prevents a company from gaining their prospects’ trust. For a prospect to be willing to give up an email address or other information, they must have some level of trust that the company will be supplying them with helpful information on the other side. If you don’t have free content for them to check out, how are you going to establish trust with them?
If, for whatever reason,, you don’t use your blog for those two purposes, then see below.
There’s plenty of other content you might already have that can be gated. Commonly gated content includes white papers, templates, guides, ebooks, reports, and case studies. Much of this content can be reformatted from blog posts or videos you may already have.
Just because it can be gated, though, doesn’t mean it should be gated. Here’s a quick list of questions to help you decide if you really want to gate something:
1. What is the goal of the material?
Remember, if the goal outcome has anything to do with SEO, gating is definitely a bad idea. If your goal for the material is to gain leads, then gating could be a really great idea. If your purpose has to do with education and awareness, it’s probably worth testing gating the content on one area of your site and leaving it ungated elsewhere to see how the two different versions perform relative to your awareness KPIs.
2. Where in the funnel does the piece of content go?
Research finds that an average B2B customer is 57% of the way through their buying process before they’re interested in reaching out to companies. Other research indicates that even when B2B customers are ready to make a purchase, 58% of them are, at best, only somewhat willing to hand over contact information. That means B2B buyers will do a LOT of research on your company and what they’re interested in buying before they are willing to give up their contact information to you. As a result, you should seriously consider leaving most or all of your top-of-funnel content (think blog posts, for instance) ungated. These early stage customers will be able to research your company and your expertise in the industry, so they will be willing to supply you with some information about themselves.
Once again, just because a piece of content is lower in the funnel doesn’t mean it’s a great idea to gate it. You may find that some pieces of content perform better than others when gated.
3. Do you have the ability to follow-up with all the contacts you will get?
If you don’t have an email marketing or marketing automation system, gating could be a bad idea because you won’t be able to nurture those leads toward being sales-ready. Just because someone downloads a piece of content, they’re usually not immediately ready to speak to a sales person about buying your B2B product or service. And even if they were, your sales team probably won’t have the bandwidth to personally follow-up with every reader. Of course, this problem is easily remedied, even if you’re on a budget. Check out some of these cheap email marketing systems and low-cost marketing automation software guaranteed to help you nurture all of those leads into sales opportunities.
4. What is the most basic contact information you need in order to turn someone into a lead?
If the answer is a laundry list of information like, first name, last name, phone number, email, address, and the name of their firstborn, you may want to wait on gating content until you can pare that list down to 3 fields max. The ideal form length for gated content is only asking for an email address, and then you can nurture those prospects via email by sending them additional gated content offers and asking more information as they move down the funnel. The more information you ask for upfront, the more likely a person will be unwilling to give you what you want. For an easy guide on how to make a flawless form, check this out.
Once you’ve answered these questions and determined that gating some of your content is worthwhile, you have one last task: testing. You can’t know for sure that gating content is an effective way of generating leads until you’ve tested it. Sometimes content will perform better and generate more leads when it’s gated, while others will generate more leads from being left un-gated and including embedded lead forms and CTAs on the page.
At Capterra, we’ve discovered that our content garners more leads when we give it away ungated than when we send visitors to a landing page to download the content, but we make sure to include lead forms in place throughout the free content to still allow us to capture interested visitors. We’ve also found that offering gated content as an additional carrot to readers through CTAs on our blog posts has a huge effect on how many newsletter subscribers, and ultimately, leads we generate from the blog.
Yet that may be reversed for your business – or could be completely different. The possibilities are unknown until you start trying things out. The only thing I can say definitively is that, for content besides blog posts, gating is definitely worth testing, and it’s worth testing in as many forms as you can think of.
If you need help remembering my tips today, I’ve boiled them all down into this catchy song so that you never forget:
Cuz the gaters gonna gate, gate, gate, gate, gate
And the givers gonna give, give, give, give, give
Baby I’m just gonna test, test, test, test, test
Test it all! Test it all!
(I have really got to stop listening to Shake It Off.)