Gated vs. Ungated Content: How to Choose the Right Content Type
April 16, 2021
By Julia Bye
Just like the chicken or the egg argument, there is an age-old debate among marketers about whether to gate or not gate content. When you spend time, effort, and money creating something, you want to be sure you will see the ROI from that investment. But the truth is, some things perform better gated, and others perform better ungated.
Gated vs. Ungated, That Is the Question
When you gate something on your website or landing page, you are literally adding a barrier to entry for a visitor to access that piece of content. What questions you ask and how many of them you ask can either raise or lower that barrier. It’s like going to a club that has a cover charge—the person who wants in has to decide whether or not they think the band is worth the $20 charge.
You want people to “get in the club” (fill out the form) because that means new leads and potential customers added to your content management system (CMS) to nurture and target. However, if it is a new band playing, or if your goal is just to have a good turnout, it sometimes makes sense to get rid of the cover charge.
As a marketer, it is your job to decide if the barrier you are creating for your audience fits the “prize” behind the door. When considering gated versus ungated content, here are some things to keep in mind.
When to Gate Content
Why do we gate content? This answer is so simple: Because we want leads. We want more people to hand off to the sales team to show that our marketing strategies are working. 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.
Your Top Priority Is New Leads
This will seem obvious, but the main reason to consider gating content on your website is to grow the pool of leads you have in your database. By adding a gate, you are lowering the number of people who will see a piece of content, but also providing your teams with more information for a given contact. On average, you can expect your landing page to convert 2.35 percent of visitors, however, if you have a high valued gated-offer you could see upwards of 11.45 percent or higher.
Perceived Value Is High
If you believe that your persona will have a great perception of the value of your offering, then you should consider gating that asset. This is a “you give me something, and I will give you something in return” tactic. The lower the offer is in the sales funnel, the more sales-ready indicator questions you can ask.
I typically follow this cadence—with slight variations depending on the industry and persona—for how many questions to ask at each level of the funnel:
- Awareness: Three form fields (first name, last name, and email)
- Consideration: 5-6 form fields (try to find out industry and persona at this stage)
- Decision: 7-8 form fields, if needed (the things sales absolutely needs to know before calling on this person)
Gating Is the Norm
One of my favorite marketing strategies is hosting webinars, because there is an assumption that the barrier to entry will require an email (so that the attendee can get the meeting link). However, just because people expect it to be gated doesn’t mean you can ask every question you want to know about your contacts. Put yourself in your viewer’s place: How many questions would you answer on a form to gain access to a webinar?
Pro tip: Use progressive fields on forms in HubSpot. If you already have the answer to a question, it will ask a question you don’t have the answer for. That way, you are always gaining more and more intel on a contact that will help in the sales process.
When to Ungate Content
Form fatigue and overflowing inboxes cause many of us to think twice before sharing our information with a new company. Whenever you gate something, you are creating a friction point for that visitor.
Reach a Bigger Audience
If you want the piece of content you have created to get in front of the most people, you should consider ungating your content. When you remove the barrier to entry, people will spend more time reading and absorbing the information you share. After you have built this initial trust, you can retarget visitors with more relevant content that may even be gated.
Increase Your SEO Benefits
Take a step back: What are the goals of this piece of content? What are your marketing goals? If you are a brand new website with hardly any traffic, it doesn’t make sense to gate a piece of content because no one is going to see it. Or if the majority of the traffic to your site is direct and you want to draw a bigger pool of people, you might consider ungating a piece of content to get the search engine optimization (SEO) benefits.
By optimizing your content for SEO, you grow the ability to:
- Receive backlinks from other sites
- Improve page rank and authority in search engines
- Increase the number of organic visits to your website
Keep Your Forms
Just because you are ungating resources doesn’t mean that you are removing forms or conversion opportunities. As long-form content, pillar pages provide all of the information of an e-book, but also include an option for the viewer to email themselves a copy of the information. Even when you provide all the information for free, it is amazing how many people will see value and give their information to have a saved copy of it in their inboxes.
Gated vs. Ungated Doesn’t Have to be an Either/Or Tactic
When deciding whether or not to gate a piece of content, you can decide for that specific piece of content. Not everything has to be either gated or ungated—it is about creating a balance on your site, gaining viewer trust through educational resources, and driving new leads to the sales team through conversion points.
You are also allowed to change your mind. Sometimes, we will gate something for our clients, and if we see that it is not performing how we hoped, we may recommend trying to ungate it to get it in front of a broader audience.
You may also want to experiment with a semi-gated model. This model is about adding a bit more of a teaser. Share a small section or some of the most interesting pieces of the content to show its value and demonstrate why a visitor should give their information. Like all things with marketing, it is about testing to see what works and doesn’t work for your business.
If you want to see a live debate about gated versus ungated content, check out our on-demand webinar and see two of our marketing managers duke it out. Note: This webinar is not gated!
About the author
Julia Bye is a Minneapolis-based Director, Client Strategy for SmartBug Media. With a background in agency marketing, she specializes in lead generation, lead nurturing, sales enablement, and content-based tactics that focus on her client's sales and marketing goals. Read more articles by Julia Bye.