Which option is best for your marketing?
Gated or ungated content?
Instead, here are six questions you should be asking to decide whether or not to gate your content:
Question #1: “How does gating my content benefit my audience?”
By “What’s in it for them,” I’m not referring to the value or benefit they’ll get from consuming your content. I’m referring to the value they’ll get directly because you gate your content.
For example, let’s say you’re creating an ebook on lead generation.
You go to LinkedIn and make an announcement for people to send their emails in your DM so they’ll get updated when it’s published.
And you tell them they’ll be joining your email list if they register.
So those who sign up get the benefit of knowing when you publish the book.
This is good marketing — because there’s a direct benefit they get from you gating the content: a notification for when your ebook gets published.
You’re asking them to sign up so they don’t miss the content you’re about to publish; that’s a direct value they get from you gating your content piece.
Plus, you’re also being upfront about them joining your email list. This will reduce the number of emails you get, but you’ll get people signing up who really want to keep hearing from you.
But if you’re asking them to submit their emails for an already published piece of content, aka asking for their emails with no benefit attached for them, you’ll — in many cases — end up:
- making them question your real motive for requiring their emails
- stressing them out unnecessarily, and
- making it harder for them to get to the bottom of your funnel.
You don’t want any of that….
So here’s what to do to
If your ebook (or whatever content format) is already published, make it ungated and let prospects consume and get value from it.
And while they consume your content, you get the opportunity to convince them about an idea — which could convince them to start considering your product/service.
(Although, leading them to your product from content depends a lot on how you’ve created your content. But that’s a topic for another day.)
Now, will you get more emails if you gate content?
Sure, beyond the shadow of any doubt…
Will you also get more emails if you’re not upfront about people joining your list if they sign up for your content, definitely! But this leads to question 2…
Question #2: What’s the value of those emails?
Does gated content shorten your sales cycle length?
Are you getting more sales qualified leads?
If you’re answering “no” to these questions, consider ungating most (if not all) your content. Because at the end of the day, gating gets you little to no results.
Especially in 2020; we’re at a time where it’s now common for people to sign up with bad emails since they just want access to your content. Or they give you emails they don’t normally use.
Case in point: The team at Integrate once shared the following as the result they got from a B2B lead gen research:
“We recently analyzed the quality of over 775K leads generated for B2B marketers in the technology industry during the last year — and we were astonished to find that on average 40% of generated leads were deemed to be of poor quality.”
The same study also cited that 60% of companies have unreliable data health — according to another SiriusDecision research.
There are many reasons why companies end up accumulating bad data, but gating content and collecting emails (and tagging them as “leads) is one common reason it happens.
Because when you gate content, you collect emails from a lot of people who don’t want to be in your email list; they only want the content you’re asking them to sign up for.
So they sign up with bad data.
On top of that, there’s this thing that Gmail is now doing:
When Gmail notices you haven’t opened emails from a particular sender in a while, they’ll send you a one-click unsubscribe notification:
Guess what happens when a gated content subscriber sees a notification like this? That’s right, they’ll take the chance and get out of your list.
Of course, not all of them would do that.
But the bottom line here is: you need to have people in your list who choose to be there.
They’re the ones who’ll gladly open your emails, click through your links, buy your stuff.
On the surface, content gating seems like a tactic that’ll get the best results — since you’ll be getting more emails. And it does get more emails than most no-gate content.
But bottom-line results from it are often not worth the investment that goes into it.
Another case in point: when a marketer on Reddit asked, “Experienced marketers –– which KPI’s do you find overrated?”
Here’s the response they got from another B2B marketer:
So why do marketers keep using gated content when it’s mostly ineffective?
The numbers, that’s why. You know, “We got 2,000 emails from our last lead magnet.”
But those emails aren’t sales, and frankly, in many cases only a fraction of them convert into sales.
This is why we now ungate all of our content.
But this leads to question 3…
Question #3: What do you get if you ungate your content?
Kyle Lacy from Lessonly shared results he and his team saw in 12 months when they ungated most of their content:
But generally, here are some results you can expect from removing your gates:
- Have prospects moving from one page to the other, speeding up their journey through your sales funnel.
- Remove obstacles that hinder sales conversations.
- Easily create interest in the minds of customers through helpful, accessible content.
- Get more shares on social media — because it’s easier for your audience to share something that’s not caged with a signup form.
- More backlinks — because people link more to content their audience can access.
- Better open rates — because your subscribers willingly gave you their emails to see more of your content.
And again, it’s 2020. People have figured it all out; they know that when you gate an already published content piece, you’re trying to sell them something after the gate.
So you’d often come across as being salesy from the get-go.
Content gating makes you appear salesy
As marketers, we all claim we’re customer-centric.
But one area to really test your customer-centricity is your approach to content gating.
If you gate a piece of content and your prospect asks, “Why ask for my email? Why not just show me the content?” Would you have a good answer to give them?
The truth is, if we’re all truly customer-centric, we’d understand that walling up a content piece isn’t something our prospects enjoy seeing. We’d know that it stresses them out.
And this is why we agree with what Nick Bennet from Clari posted on LinkedIn a while back:
Nick’s right. As a marketer, you’re usually either creating content to send people into a funnel or you’re doing it to help your buyer.
But you need to do it for the buyer. Once you do that, everything else falls into place.
And on top of that, if you play your cards well, you can even create content that helps both your business and your customers at the same time.
You can create what we like to call ‘T-shaped content’ — the type of content that helps your customers and business simultaneously, without coming across as “too promotional.”
Author’s note: If you’re looking to generate more demand for your product or service, our T-shaped content marketing approach can help.
But you still need to collect emails at some point, right?
Well, if you’re looking to build an email list of engaged prospects, you need to collect emails. This will create an opportunity for you to feed them helpful content and build relationships that lead to sales.
Think of it as the type of relationships you’d build on a platform like LinkedIn through sharing helpful content and networking.
So how do you do build an engaged email list without gating content and annoying the crap out of potential customers?
Question #4: How do you build an engaged email list without using gated content?
First, understand this:
It is possible to collect emails without gating content.
For instance, our last ungated piece of content on this blog back in January saw a decent 2.5% to 3% reader-to-subscriber conversion rate:
No big numbers there, but the point is you can build an email list without gating content. And these subscribers were our agency’s target clients: marketers in B2B and SaaS.
They read our content and signed up for more content — without us tricking them into entering our email list.
We’d definitely get more subscribers if we gated our content, but having 250 potential customers who choose to be on your email list is way better than having 10,000 who got into your list because you twisted their arms to join in.
So how do you build an engaged email list without gated content?
It’s not as hard as it may seem, and here’s how:
- Write truly helpful content — like this one you’re reading (you wouldn’t get to this point if was terrible). Or hire a content creation agency; feel free to check us out 🙂
- Don’t wait till the end of your post before inviting readers to join your email list. Place a persuasive CTA at about 50% into your content.
At this point, they’re pretty engaged enough and might subscribe if you give them a good reason to. And this means your copywriting on the CTA needs to be at least decent.
- Have another email subscriber CTA at the bottom of your content; this will be targeted at readers who didn’t sign up at the 50% reading level.
- Don’t stop promoting your content. The more people you get to read the content, the more subscribers you’ll get.
- Distribute your content in communities/platforms where your potential customers are. This will help make sure people who see your content and join your list are potential customers.
With these five strategies, you can collect high-quality emails and build a list of potential buyers for your business.
But what if you have to gate a piece of content? How do you promote a gated piece of content?
Question #5: How do you promote gated content (if you must gate content)?
First, the types of content that fall into the “must gate” category for us are mostly the ones where you have to collect emails to notify people when it’s published.
Like the example we cited earlier, prospects will have to give you their emails to access an upcoming webinar, ebook, or even a blog post.
The key here is you need to collect their emails to notify them when your content is coming out.
But let them know that by signing up for your upcoming content, they’ll be getting into your email list. This will help you:
- let them know what to expect; they know specifically what they’ll get by signing up.
- eliminate any surprises when your emails start showing up several days after they subscribed for your gated content.
- improve their engagement rates with your emails — since they willingly signed up to receive them.
Question #6: Should you use content upgrades?
There are many companies that have shared that they’ve gotten great results from their content upgrades.
But then again, most of the results they share (or, at least, the ones I’ve seen) are more like “How we collected 1000x more emails using content upgrades.”
The era of these types of “marketing ROI” is gradually vanishing — if not completely vanished.
It doesn’t matter that content upgrades get you 100,000 emails. What matters is:
- Do the people who signed up want to be on your list or did they just sign up because you gated the content they needed?
- How many of them go through your funnel and become customers? And it’s true that some (or even many) of them could become customers.
But then again, what’s your goal here? Do you want subscribers who voluntarily sign up for your emails or the ones you have to “lure” into it?
Most of the time, you want the former.
The verdict: gated vs ungated content
As a rule of thumb, I’d leave all content ungated.
Plus, if people don’t want to be on your list, they shouldn’t be there.
It’s just better that way and reduces friction.
But if you must, use gated content as content upgrades. And let readers know what they’re getting into. Let them understand that if they sign up for your content upgrade, they’d be joining your email list.