Marketing and public relations professionals often create gated content. The whitepapers, webinars, infographics or other types of information require viewers to provide their contact information and sometimes company name, title, and other information.
Gated content has emerged as somewhat of a controversial issue in marketing and PR circles, with strong proponents and fervent opponents.
Advantages of Gated Content
Advocates say gated content:
Gathers qualified leads. Visitors who complete forms identify themselves as quality leads. Two-thirds of B2B marketers surveyed create gated content to obtain qualified leads, according to a recent Walker Sands report (which itself is gated content).
Builds marketing lists. It builds lists for email newsletters and other marketing purposes. More than half (53%) of B2B marketers use gated content to add prospects into an automated marketing program, according to Walker Sands.
Creates a sense of scarcity. A feeling of scarcity creates a feeling of desirability. What’s plentiful is free; people place greater value what’s more difficult to obtain.
Blocks the competition. Some organizations want to prevent competitors from downloading information. They’ll vet registrant emails addresses and block competitors from obtaining the content. It doesn’t work. Competitors then use Gmail or other non-corporate addresses.
Disadvantages of Gated Content
It creates a barrier. Some people simply won’t provide their contact information due to fear of spam and sales pitches. “People hate gated content. Even marketers who gate their content know this,” asserts Mark Schaefer, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, saying most users abandon the forms before completion.
Almost half (47%) of vice presidents from enterprise-level companies give their personal email instead of their business emails when downloading gated content, reveals a study from NetLine Corporation. While personal emails tend to remain valid longer, they make it difficult to link people to businesses.
No shortage of content. The internet is swamped with information. Whatever information you offer is probably available somewhere else, possibly on a competitor’s website, and doesn’t require completing a form.
Awkward registrations on mobile devices. More people access information on mobile devices. Completing a registration form on a mobile device is difficult. Many give up or don’t bother.
No SEO benefits. Search engines don’t complete online forms so don’t index gated content. “Search bots view most forms as almost a brick wall — gating the content from humans essentially walls it off to search robots,” writes Janet Driscoll Miller, president and CEO of Marketing Mojo, in Search Engine Land.
Some companies use a work-around to minimize the search engine problem. They create a detailed description of the ebook or white paper – maybe even including a table of contents — on the registration page. Search engines index that page which can rank relatively high in search results, especially if it gains backlinks from highly ranked sites.
To reach prospects who won’t register, some companies use another work-around: A few months after releasing the content, they post the entire document on an HTML or PDF page on their website and link to it from an obscure link in their site map. Search engines can then index the entire document and display the content in search results. The form page remains in place and continues to be promoted.
Our Glean.info website uses yet another approach. For the 14-day free trial of the Glean.info media monitoring service (which provides real PR and marketing value and incurs real costs), we require a corporate address; the registration form doesn’t accept addresses from email services. That requirement deters deceptive applications. A sales rep then evaluates each registration and sets up trials only for legitimate prospects.
When to Use Gated Content
In deciding when to use gated content, Miller advises to consider the content’s purpose, promotion and value. If you want to encourage inbound links or promote social sharing, gated content is a poor choice. If you post the content on social media and your website, visitors have no incentive to complete a form to access it. They also lack an incentive to download something of little value or already widely available.
Think about the prospect’s stage in the buyer’s journey, advises Jennifer S. Tomlinson, senior marketing manager for Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Network. In the early stages of exploration, leads are not necessarily engaged or invested in your products and services yet, so ungated content helps build trust and creates a positive image of your company, she explains. In the evaluation stage, leads are becoming more qualified, and it’s time to get to know your prospect, so it may be wise to prompt them to fill out a short form.
Gated content is also appropriate for instructional or confidential customer information.
Be selective. Well-written white papers and reports with genuine insights that are created in collaboration with well-known subject matter experts or executives are often good candidates for registration pages. Case studies and infographics should be freely accessible. “If these types of items are gated, you both lose visibility and create an influx of ‘leads’ that overwhelms the sales team and leaves them chasing their tail,” he warns.
Bottom Line: Although many marketers believe gated content offers an effective technique for gathering qualified leads, others argue that requiring forms blocks both people and search engines from valuable content. Most website visitors detest filling out forms and releasing their contact information. The best strategy is to limit gated content to a small number of high-quality white papers and research reports.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.