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Choosing Between Gated vs. Ungated Content

Published on Mar 16, 2022

Choosing Between Gated vs. Ungated Content
Anastasia Dyakovskaya
Anastasia Dyakovskaya studioID

If you’re reading this, you’re probably no stranger to subscription prompts. These days, while surfing the web, any kind of site might ask you to sign up for their newsletter or tempt you with some kind of offer in exchange for your contact information. 

What they want is an email address to enter into their database and track for targeted messaging — the end game of any piece of gated content. Yet marketers often ask: to gate, or not to gate? For a successful brand-to-demand strategy, you can’t really have one without the other. Let’s take a look at what it means, the pros and cons of each, when and how both practices can be applied most effectively, and a few questions you can ask yourself next time you’re faced with this common conundrum:

What is Gated Content?

Gated content is any kind of content that requires a user to enter their email address or other personal information in order to view or download. More often than not, these pieces of content contain original research and exclusive data, and fall into the following categories:

  • Whitepapers
  • eBooks
  • Newsletters
  • Webinars
  • Templates

This kind of content offers in-depth, valuable, proprietary information to readers and helps cement the author brand as an industry thought leader. It’s generally designed to generate leads and positioned in the consideration or decision stages of the customer journey, working to build trust and relationships with actionable guidance. 

“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.” – Marketo

Gated Content Pros 

Gating content ups its value and makes it possible to gather user information to then track conversions and measure analytics. Marketing teams can leverage that kind of data to better understand their audience, segment their email lists, and improve or pivot their strategy and content initiatives. And if someone’s interested enough to share their info, chances are they’re a qualified lead. 

Pro Tip from studioID: Experiment with shorter gates/form-fills. While having lots of user information is extremely helpful in lead nurturing practices, asking your user to trade a laundry list of information (name, email, business name, company size, industry, phone number, etc.) can feel invasive and become a major deterrent. Try asking for only the essentials (name and email address) to increase your conversion rate. 

Gated Content Cons

One the other hand, as to be expected, gated content receives less traffic and page views because people are often deterred from entering their information.

“Many internet users are loath to give up their info on principle,” according to Marketo, “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.”

Expert Insight: “Usually, when a user clicks on a CTA for a content offer, they’ll be led to a landing page,” according to Hubspot. “That means one of the best practices for gated content is to build a strong landing page. You’ll want to create a strong headline, write compelling copy, and generate a [lead capture] form…[to] eliminate distractions and capture your visitor’s undivided attention.”

Pro Tip from studioID: For the strongest landing page, make it a 1:1, seamless experience. In other words, ensure the content advertising the landing page and the landing page itself are a perfect match — from messaging style, to color/design, to the benefit users will get from unlocking the content. This approach plays into psychology to help establish user expectation and the sense of trust required to trade information. 

What is Ungated Content?

Ungated content is any content that’s freely and readily accessible to any user across the digital sphere, no contact details required. At times entertaining and inspirational in addition to educational, it can be used to raise brand awareness, boost engagement, bolster SEO, and drive traffic. Examples include:

  • Blog posts
  • Pillar pages
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Pricing, product and services information

“If you aren’t getting enough traffic to your site, make sure you start with a foundation of ungated content to attract and engage your audience,” says Hubspot

“When determining whether a piece of content should be gated, it’s essential to consider the amount of effort it takes to put together that piece of content, how available that type of content is in the industry, and the perceived value to the prospect or client.” – Twitter

Ungated Content Pros

Ungated content nurtures your audience and allows marketers to analyze a range of metrics for key insights and better planning. “If your content is freely accessible online, 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,” Marketo says. And in terms of SEO benefits, it allows for backlinks, improves page rankings, and drives organic traffic to your website.

Ungated Content Cons

If you’re only offering ungated content, however, you’re missing out on a whole other layer of analytics. Without any attempt at lead capture, it’s harder to understand user intent and nearly impossible to keep track of qualified leads. 

Expert Insight: When it comes to ungated content, “marketers can look at the value of audiences as a multiplier of value to influence purchases,” according to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI). “Engaged, subscribed, and measured audiences typically buy faster, buy more, stay longer, and evangelize with more frequency.”

4 Questions to Help Determine Whether to Gate 

Who is your audience and where are they in the customer journey?

With gated content, people are more likely to convert if its aligned with their journey, so make sure you know who they are and plan accordingly. But “when you remove the barrier to entry, people will spend more time reading and absorbing the information you share,” according to SmartBug.

“After you’ve built this initial trust, you can retarget visitors with more relevant content…and by gating content further up in the funnel, we have the opportunity to nurture a lead through their buyer’s journey with personalized email campaigns.” 

What goals are you trying to meet?

Whether you’re aiming to boost brand awareness and sales enablement or increase customer engagement and lead generation, most “content marketing teams try to balance the high number of short-term, demand-gen, sales-enablement content requests that lead to gates and the ‘free’ content to build the brand’s owned media publishing experiences,” CMI says. “Simply put, they attempt to balance the creation of assets that fuel lead generation and nurturing campaigns with editorial content that builds differentiating owned media experiences.” 

At studioID, we’re firm believers this balanced approach is essential to success. But how you might swing the pendulum to brand or demand might shift at any given time. For instance, if you’re a new brand attempting to drive brand awareness/emerge in a new category, you’ll want to focus on brand building with an audience with a breadth of ungated content. If you’ve already got a healthy audience and strong brand awareness, you can focus on delivering more high-value gated content to convert that audience into qualified leads. 

Is your content substantial enough to warrant a gate? 

One of the worst mistakes you can make in this realm is to over-promise and under-deliver. Nothing’s worse than being promised the world via advertisements and the landing page, only to trade your information to reveal lackluster, thin content on the other side.

While you might think you’ve won by getting the information you’re after with this approach, you’ve actually damaged your audience’s trust in your brand with a “bait and switch.” And no matter how strong your retargeting/nurture practices, you’re facing an uphill battle in reestablishing their trust. 

When you’re asking for information, make sure the content you’re offering on the other side is worth it. In a perfect world, your gated content will be a winning combination of in-depth and proprietary. 

Can you have it both ways? 

For the best of both worlds, try a hybrid approach by semi-gating content by granting access to its most intriguing parts before requesting contact info for the rest. And even on ungated pages, “include an option for the viewer to email themselves a copy of the information,” advises SmartBug.

“Even when you provide all the information for free, it’s amazing how many people will see value and give their information to have a saved copy of it in their inboxes.”

We’ll leave you with some additional food for thought from Liam Moroney (SVP Revenue Marketing at Notarize):