Generate a higher volume of qualified leads and build brand awareness by knowing when to gate your content and when to publish for open access.

While a robust inbound marketing program may have a number of goals, including increasing site traffic, lifting search rankings, and providing consumers with interesting, value-adding content, the principal goal will often be generating meaningful leads. Effectively delivering on that goal, however, forces brands to face a debacle: is it better to grant site visitors open access to all of your content or to gate some or all of that content in the hopes of pinpointing the most promising leads?

Gated content is any kind of media guarded behind a lead capture form — requiring visitors to input some kind of personal data (typically an email address, name, or phone number) in exchange for premium content — which may include industry-specific resources, special infographics, templates, tools, or ebooks. Ungated content, on the other hand, is freely and readily available to all site visitors, and often consists of curated content, testimonials, press releases, blog posts, and more.

Will one or the other approach garner better results? How can brands strike an effective balance in their brand publishing model?

The Case for Gated Content

Proponents of gating content argue that contact forms enable brands to gather valuable information, allowing them to generate more (and often better qualified) leads. For example, HubSpot CMO Mike Volpe once defended the value of gating content, saying, “If I can get 100,000 people to see that page and I can get 28,000 people to fill it out, 28,000 contacts may be more valuable than even 50,000 people seeing the content.”

What’s more, gating content positions brands to convert leads that are relatively far down the sales funnel and may be prepared to make a buying decision. Since gated content is often highly informational, industry-specific, and written in longer form than a typical blog post, it has the added benefit of segmenting an audience. In other words, it allows a brand to gain increased visibility into the industries and areas of interest of site visitors (based on what kind of content for which they are willing to exchange their information).

Opening the Floodgates

On the other hand, some argue that gating content unnecessarily restricts access to information, which impedes lead generation. Defendants of this side argue that requiring personal data in exchange for access to content deters visitors from wanting to share their information — or read this content.

Acclaimed online marketing strategist and author David Meerman Scott has taken this stance, saying: “The vast majority of people are unwilling to share a piece of content that has a form in front of it. A lot fewer people will blog and tweet something that has a form on it.”

Aside from deterring audience members and failing to appeal to leads nearer the top of the sales funnel, gated content is rarely optimized for the mobile interface, further minimizing a brand’s lead generation potential. This is especially concerning given that 52.2% of all worldwide online traffic in 2018 was generated through mobile phones, up from 50.3% last year.

What’s more, gated content fails to exert any weight or authority if it is not counterbalanced and supported by a plethora of open-access content resources. Ungated content, open to everyone, provides brands with the opportunity to make their case, articulating specific value-adds and building a brand voice that is both approachable and compelling — ultimately helping to build authority and inspire higher rates of conversion.

Striking the Right Balance

While brands can elect to distribute their content assets in any manner of ways, to achieve the goal of maximizing qualified lead generation, striking an effective balance is key. An effective content marketing strategy rests on the harmonious interaction between gated and ungated content.

If you are unsure about what content to gate, err on the side of caution. Gating general interest blog pieces, infographics, or testimonials probably won’t do you much good — since they may not be hard-hitting or worth a consumer’s extra effort. Ungated content will help build brand awareness and drive site traffic up. However, holding some of your cards close to your chest can be extremely beneficial — especially if these cards carry industry secrets, hard-won data or research, or subject-specific content. Always consider gating white papers, ebooks, case studies, webinars, and any persona-specific content.

What’s more, it’s critical that brands learn to build bridges between gated and ungated content resources — which can maximize lead generation by providing more opportunities for audience members to interact with your content and introduce new junctures at which visitors can share their personal information.

In fact, ungated content can serve as an effective pathway to gated content: if you pen an engaging blog article that concludes with a call-to-action directing readers to download a piece of gated content, readers may in fact be more inclined to download said content because you have won their trust and interest.

Ultimately, it’s up to content marketers to master a strategy that prioritizes both site traffic and the generation of qualified leads to the appropriate degree. If leveraged wisely in tandem, gated and ungated content can work in unison to drive leads down the funnel into your sales CMR.

Author Kendra Clark

A current graduate student in creative writing at the University of Cambridge, Kendra writes for a broad array of L&T's clients in industries ranging from healthcare to manufacturing. She has consulted for tech startups in California and Washington, D.C. on editorial and brand strategy development. With a degree in philosophy and literature from Santa Clara University, she is a lover of poetry, vegan Thai food, documentary films, and arguing about Nietzsche.

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