Gated content is one of the most popular methods of lead generation in content marketing. By gating content behind online forms, you’re compelling your audience to provide personal information to gain access. But what if your audience isn’t willing to give out their details? And what if there’s more to gain by keeping your content open to all? This is where the debate of gated vs. ungated content comes into play.
We’re going to delve into the differences between gated and ungated content, weigh up their pros and cons, and help you decide when you need to gate your content. Let’s get started!
Table of contents
What is gated content?
Gated content is any kind of content that requires visitors to exchange personal information—like their name, email address and occupation—in order to gain access. The gate, in this case, is usually an online form that they need to fill out.
The main objective of gated content is to build up your email marketing list and segment your target audience. This will allow you to target them more effectively in your marketing campaigns and create content that is far more relevant to their interests and pain points.
You’ve likely encountered gated content before, like:
- The New York Times: to gain full access to their posts, you need to set up a free account.
- HubSpot: to download certain templates, you need to provide your email address and other details.
- Medium: you can only read a certain number of articles a month before you have to set up an account.
Examples of gated content
- Dedicated emails
- Free trials
- Product demos
What is ungated content?
Ungated content is any kind of content that is free to access. Visitors aren’t required to provide any information. They can simply browse your content at their own leisure.
Ungated content is a great way to build brand awareness and trust with your target audience. It allows you to educate your readers about your brand, products/services, industry and even the topics that they’re interested in. It also works wonders for your SEO.
Though it might not be as effective for lead generation as gated content, ungated content is vital to your content marketing strategy. If you’re able to build up enough interest with your audience, it will increase the likelihood of them wanting to gain access to your gated content further down the line.
Examples of ungated content
- Blog posts
- Product pages
- Case studies
- Landing pages
Gated vs. ungated content: which should I use?
Your choice between gating or not gating your content will depend on which stage of the marketing funnel you’re focusing on and what you’re trying to achieve with your content.
Which stage of the marketing funnel are you focusing on?
The awareness stage
In this part of the funnel, your target customer knows that they have a pain point they want to tackle, but they’re not entirely sure how you can help. In order to build up trust and brand awareness, not to mention encouragement to commit to your product/service, you need to offer ungated content. At this point in their buyer journey, they’re unlikely to trust you enough to hand over their personal information.
You can create useful content built around topics of interest (using audience research) like blog posts, slideshows, videos, infographics and so on.
The consideration stage
At this point in the funnel, your target customer has looked at your website and has determined that your product/service might be the answer to their problem(s). This is the point at which you need to prove that you are an authority in your industry with in-depth content that answers their questions.
You can start to push these potential customers towards gated and ungated content that revolves around your business, product/service and industry at large, like eBooks, webinars, case studies and so on.
The decision stage
By the final stage, your target customer is almost ready to cross the finish line and buy your product/service. Before they can, however, they need evidence to validate their choice. You can provide this through content that explores the ins and outs of your product/service.
You can nudge them towards ungated content like testimonials, case studies and long-form blog posts, not to mention gated content like free trials, product demos, software downloads and free consultations. At this point, they’re that much more likely to hand over their details if they think it will help them make up their mind.
What are you trying to achieve?
If you want to build up brand awareness and recognition amongst your target audience, the last thing you want to do is lock your content behind a gate.
If someone is unfamiliar with your brand, they’re not going to bother leaving their contact information with you to access your gated content, are they? With ungated content, however, you can build up their familiarity with your brand and slowly work your way up towards motivating them to access gated content.
Any business worth its salt spends most of its time looking for ways to generate quality leads. Get your hands on the right personal information and you could push potential leads right through the sales funnel. This includes:
- Email addresses
- Company sizes
The more information you’re able to get your hands on, the more you’ll be able to segment your audience and better target their interests, needs and pain points.
The best way to gain this type of information is through gated content.
If you’re just starting out as a business, you’ll want to do everything in your power to rank well on the SERPs. You’ll also want to attract as much organic traffic to your website as possible and work on your backlink strategy.
In this scenario, gated content is something you’ll want to avoid. As it’s locked behind a form, Google and other search engines can’t crawl or index the content. This means that it’s not going to rank or contribute to your domain authority. That is, unless you create an indexable and crawlable landing page to act as a preview for the gated content. Your best course of action, then, is to build up high-quality ungated content. Once you’re happy with your SEO positioning, you can start to consider adding gated content into the mix.
Of course, if you’re already at a comfortable position with your SEO, you’ve got nothing to lose by trying your hand at gated content.
Gated vs. ungated content: pros and cons
Gated content pros and cons
➕ Lead generation
The biggest advantage to gating your content is that it allows you to slowly build up your email marketing list. You can use this list in your campaigns to slowly nudge your leads through your marketing funnel.
➕ Audience segmentation
Gated content enables you to learn more about who your target audience really is. If they’re willing to share their personal information for a piece of content, it’s clearly a topic that they’re interested or invested in. This is something you can take advantage of—sending them relevant, ungated content that relates to what they want to learn more about.
Depending on what details you’re asking for, you could also gain information about a person’s occupation and company size, which could further help you target their needs, interests and desires.
➕ Interested parties only
Gated content automatically weeds out the uninterested parties from those who genuinely want to read your content and/or learn more about your product/service. This means that the leads you’re acquiring are likely to be more interested in moving through your funnel.
➕ It creates the perception of value
If you’re gating your content, you’re implying that it’s valuable enough that people will want to hand over their personal information to access it. This can sometimes be enough to entice people into giving it a try, just to see if the hype is real.
➖ No SEO advantages
If you’re gating your content, it won’t be able to contribute to your SEO at all. This means no organic traffic, backlinks or keyword rankings. This can be a dealbreaker for businesses looking to build up a strong online presence.
As mentioned earlier though, this issue can be bypassed if you create a preview or summary page that contains a snippet of information about the gated content. This can be crawled and indexed, which can help draw organic traffic to the page. Of course, if you’re looking to create a wide range of gated content, setting up dozens of corresponding preview pages might not be feasible.
➖ It depends on reputation
People aren’t going to hand over their names, email addresses and other personal information to a business that they don’t trust. For all they know, you might sell their details to a third party.
In order for gated content to be truly successful, you need to first establish yourself as a trustworthy business, which can take a lot of time and effort. You can do this through various types of social proof and user-generated content.
➖ It isn’t always successful
Though gated content can be a great way to generate quality leads, it’s not always successful. Some people are completely against sharing their personal details, which means that gating your content could end up driving away valuable leads.
Even if you do manage to convince people to leave their details, that’s not to say that they’re going to be the kind of details you’re after. Plenty of people use fake names and throwaway email addresses when they sign up for gated content. This means that you could end up trying to email accounts that people only open every now and then.
➖ It requires a lot of work
In case we haven’t made it obvious yet, gated content requires a lot of work on your end. If you want people to leave their details, you need to make it worth their while. They’re not going to do it for an eBook that isn’t at all relevant to them, or for a blog post that they could likely find elsewhere.
This means that you’ll need to do a lot of research to ensure that your content is relevant, unique and of high quality. You can’t afford to disappoint people who are displaying a genuine interest in what you have to offer, simply because you’re not willing to put in the work.
Ungated content pros and cons
➕ Brand awareness and trust
Ungated content is a brilliant way to educate your target audience about your brand and build yourself up as an authority in your field. You can make use of a range of content types to encourage readers to take a chance on you and move through your sales funnel.
It’s simply impossible to do this solely through gated content. In order to entice people to access gated content, you need an existing foundation of trust—something that can only be obtained through ungated content.
➕ SEO advantages
If you’ve taken the time to create valuable, relevant ungated content, you’ll be able to reap the SEO rewards that come with it, including:
- Increased organic traffic
- Better keyword rankings
- Increased backlinks
The true beauty of ungated content rests in its shareability. Unlike gated content, it can be shared easily on social media and in emails without appearing to be overly salesy or spammy.
If it’s good enough, readers will want to follow suit and share it with their colleagues, followers and friends.
➖ No leads
Unless you’re throwing a CTA for email subscribers into the middle of each piece of ungated content, you’re not going to be able to build up your email marketing list and keep track of qualified leads.
Of course, there are other ways to get to the bottom of user intent. You can create buyer personas, conduct heavy audience research and delve into your website and social media analytics.
➖ Not capitalising on value
Depending on the ungated content in question, you might not be fully capitalising on all of the value that it has to offer. If, say, you’ve written an in-depth piece of content that people can’t find elsewhere, on a topic that is extremely relevant and of interest to your target audience, you could be missing out on a long list of quality leads because you’ve left it ungated.
Ultimately, you need to determine what’s more important to you: leads or SEO?
Gated vs. ungated content: best practices
Whether you’re opting to gate your content or leave it accessible to all, there are steps that you need to take to ensure that you’re capitalising on its value.
👉 Make sure it’s valuable
You should never gate content just for the sake of it. Before you take any action, you need to ask yourself some key questions…
Is this content unique?
If you can find another website that covers the same topic as your piece of content, with similar resources, you should forgo gating it. Your target audience isn’t going to bother jumping through your hoops if they can head somewhere else for information.
You need to make it worth their while, which means covering topics that aren’t well researched, including your own qualitative/quantitative data and, quite simply, putting in the work to ensure it brings something new to the table.
Is this content high quality?
If you’re expecting people to hand over their email addresses so you can eventually market your product/service to them, the least you can do is put in the effort to make sure your content is high quality.
- Ensuring your editing process is robust enough to spot glaring errors
- Working on the design so that the finished product looks professional
- Offering the content in a universal format, e.g., PDF
What’s the objective?
As we’ve covered, your decision to gate content will depend on what your primary objective is. If you’re looking to increase brand awareness and work on your SEO, you’ll want to leave your content ungated. On the other hand, if you’re keen to build up your email marketing list and you’ve answered ‘yes’ to the previous questions, go ahead and gate it!
👉 Consider your forms
If you have decided to gate certain pieces of content, you need to think long and hard about the forms you’re going to ask visitors to fill out.
If you’re just interested in basic lead generation, the only fields you’ll want to include are email address and name. Unless you’re in the B2B sector, for example, you shouldn’t be asking for information like company size and budget.
Though you might want to learn as much about your visitors as possible, making too many fields compulsory will only lead to drop offs. To keep your visitors moving, you should only make the email address a compulsory field.
👉 Add CTAs
Though gated content is one of the best methods of lead generation, that doesn’t mean you can’t gain any quality leads from your ungated content.
If you’ve got the opportunity to do so, you should add relevant CTAs to your ungated content to nudge your readers to:
- Sign up to your newsletter
- Get in touch
- Try a demo
- Download a free trial
👉 Maintain the right balance
As useful as gated content is, it shouldn’t take over your entire website. In fact, you should have more ungated content than gated. Why? If you want to pull readers in and convince them to try your gated content, you first need to give them a taste of what to expect.
Build up a solid foundation of ungated content first so that you can present yourself as an authority and a trustworthy source of information. Once that’s set, you can introduce gated content.
👉 Know when to make changes
Not having any luck with getting people to fill out forms for your gated content? That’s valuable content going to waste!
What you need to do is open the gate and turn it into an accessible landing page, eBook, whitepaper or something similar, while offering a downloadable PDF version. All your visitors have to do is hand over their email address.
This gives you the best of both worlds. You’re offering visitors ungated content, but open up the door to the possibility of gaining quality leads with a downloadable version.
Now you know what all the fuss is about with gated vs. ungated content, you can get started on refining your content strategy and generating quality leads. To get more handy tips and advice, head on over to the Supersede blog!