Can you remember the last time you were on a website that failed to offer you a guide, coupon, ebook, white paper or something else in exchange for your contact info? (And no, Facebook doesn’t count.) If you spend a good amount of time on the internet, it’s likely you run into a dozen of these every day (I actually have a library of “free” content offers collecting dust on my hard drive). The practice of generating leads through gated content offers, also known as lead magnets, has become so widespread that if you don’t encounter a pop-up or slide-in form during your visit, you might get the feeling something’s missing.
As a marketer, you might click these things away out of habit. But the pervasiveness of this trend testifies to the fact that they do work—or at least they’re working on someone. The fact is, many of the leads generated by such offers are fake (i.e. people using bogus email addresses). This is becoming easier to do with more temporary email address services becoming available. And on top of that, if these offers incorporate intrusive overlays, they tend to drive most people crazy. So, the question is whether the advantages of gating your content outweigh the disadvantages. Are the leads you’re gathering really worth the damage to your user experience? More importantly, are you really getting the most out of your content assets if they’re sitting behind a form?
In this blog, we’ll explore the pros and cons of gating content so that you can decide for yourself which option is best for your business.
Arguments For Gating
- Generating Inbound Leads
The most obvious argument for putting your content behind a form is that it gives you the opportunity to collect contact information from your visitors. Few website visitors are willing to give you their email addresses for nothing. But bribing them (or what should really be called a value exchange) with a quality piece of content is an effective way to get them in. If a visitor is interested enough to download an ebook or white paper and is even willing to give up contact information, it’s likely they’re a good candidate for further sales and marketing engagements.
- Coming Across as Premium
In the mind of a consumer, quality is almost always connected to price. If you have to pay for something, you will inevitably attach more value to it than if you received it for free. The same principle is applicable to your content assets. In a sense, users are “paying” with their contact details. The mere fact that they must fill out a form to get your ebook, white paper or brochure will cause them to attribute greater value to it and see it as more authoritative.
- Gauging the Level of Interest in Your Content
Gating your assets allows you to determine just how much your readers want your content—especially if you perform some testing. If you begin by offering your ultimate guide for free, and later put it behind a form, the change in download volume will give you some clues. If the downloads stop, it may indicate that the general level of interest in your guide is not so high. If the decrease is only marginal, it means you have something your visitors really want—and that they see you as a trustworthy source.
Arguments Against Gating
- Greater Reach
The biggest reason to avoid gating your content is that it will inevitably increase your content’s reach. More people will see it, and—if your content is really good—you’ll have the chance to impress more people. Many internet users are loath to give up their info on principle. And if you’ve spent a lot of time producing your content, it would be a shame to limit its exposure only to those willing to provide contact details.
- (Controlled) Shareability
The problem with gated PDFs is that, once they’ve been downloaded, users can simply email them to whoever they want and you lose the ability to track and measure your content’s performance. If your content is freely accessible online, however, you can both include sharing options to increase reach and maintain an overview of how many times your content has actually been accessed, shared and read.
If your content assets cannot be accessed without first filling out a form, it means that web crawlers won’t be able to access them either. Ebooks, white papers, and guides are typically rich pieces of content that are likely to boost your SEO—but if they’re gated, you forfeit some of that benefit.
It All Boils Down to Your Content Goals
Like so many things in life (and in business), there is no single correct answer. The best choice is always contingent upon your goals. For each piece of content, you need to decide what your primary objective is before you decide whether to gate it or not.
If your goal is lead generation, gating makes a lot of sense. But if you want the best of both worlds, you may also consider semi-gating your content—allowing users to freely access the first few pages and then asking for contact details to gain access to the rest.
If your goal is brand awareness, it makes sense to aim for maximum reach and shareability. Leave your content freely accessible so that it can be shared, indexed by search engines and found by as many people as possible.
If your goal is customer engagement, then gating your content is probably not going to be of much value considering you already have your customers’ info. If you don’t want content to be freely accessible, you should allow customers to access it with their existing credentials.
If your goal is sales enablement, you probably want to introduce as little friction as possible. Product brochures, pricing pages, specifications and other sales collateral should be easy to access for prospects nearing a purchasing decision.
So, before you jump on the bandwagon and put your new ebook behind a gate like everyone else, take a moment to think about your content goals and overall marketing strategy.
What successes have you had with gating content? What successes have you experienced with ungated content? Do you have hard and fast rules that you follow at your company as to what content is gated and what content is ungated? Let’s keep our conversation going in the comments.