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Gated content is a popular marketing tool for lead generation, especially in the B2B industry. But deciding whether to use it is not simple. There is often confusion about what exactly is closed content and what content should be closed. There are also some tricky dos and don'ts for you to grapple with.
In this (un)closed content handbook, we'll explore these conundrums and help you decide whether this should become part of your tactical toolkit.
What is gated content?
closed contentcan only be accessed by the public through a lead capture form. Typically, a website visitor will need to provide contact details and possibly answer a few questions (e.g. name, title, organization size, etc.). They will then be granted access.
This type of content tends to be longer, more practical, informative, or otherwise noticeably “premium”. In addition to requiring contact information from the person downloading it, gated content is always free.
Marketers or the sales department can send out a series of newsletters, an email drip campaign, conversion-oriented content, or even call the prospect directly.
As you might expect,unprotected contentit is freely accessible to the public and can usually be found on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Why is gated content a controversial tactic?
In the inbound marketing community, there's a debate about the effectiveness of gated content — and there's good reason for that. Sincefirst web page went live, on August 6, 1991, the internet democratized information.
It has become second nature to Google information. We scan the news, watch videos, and read blog posts for practical or entertainment purposes.
Most of this content is free and unregulated, which is something people are conditioned to expect. As a result, asking your audience to fill out a form and provide personal information in exchange for content feels unnatural for marketers and site visitors alike.
So what's the real problem? First, lead capture forms add a layer of friction: they make it harder for users to consume your content.
Adding friction is something most content marketers strive to avoid. As Erin Balsa, Director of Marketing at The Predictive Index, writes on LinkedIn:
Blocking an e-book is like arm-locking someone and forcing them to give you their lunch money.
Not a great way to start a relationship.
Erin Balsa, Director of Marketing at The Predictive Index
Erin has a big point. You wouldn't normally start a relationship with closed content. You have to woo your readers first by showing that your content is worth their time and – later – their personal information.
So where does gated content sit in the customer journey?
When a customer is seeking information or help, their needs fall into three main groups (or stages), which are:Knowledge,considerationeconversion.
Each is a distinct stage in the customer journey. To map the customer journey, you need adeep understanding of your audience. This will help you develop gated and non-gated content that addresses real customer pain points as they come up.
Let's take a closer look at these stages and how they relate to gated and non-gated content.
Awareness stage content
In the awareness stage, people have discovered a problem. However, they are often unaware of what solutions are available to them.
As such, users seek information. Your search questions and queries tend to be quite broad – even in B2B scenarios. For example:
- How can I keep track of all my qualified leads?
If they come across your site in search results, the content they see will likely be the first interaction they have with your brand.
For this reason, most marketersavoid blocking awareness stage content(i.e. informative content that answers broad questions). You haven't built trust yet. More precisely, very few content consumers are ready to commit to anything at this stage of the customer journey.
Instead, it's better to provide value and give them a reason to consider your solution.
Content in consideration stage
In the consideration phase, the customer is aware of a range of solutions. They are now weighing their options and looking for more specific content. They might be exploring webinars, guides, white papers or even toolkits to help them achieve their goals.
A customer question, in the consideration stage, might look like this:
- What are the best CRMs for a sole proprietorship?
- Webinar how to use a CRM
At this point, the customer is more focused on a specific need. This means they are more likely to give their email addresses and details to you. However, they will only do so if they see the value of the content you provide.
It's more common to see closed content in the consideration stage than at the beginning of the customer journey.
Content in the conversion stage
In the conversion stage, the customer is almost ready to make a final decision or complete a purchase. Your website landing pages, pitch decks, product demos, and other product-focused content come into play.
A customer question or search query at this stage might look something like this:
- Free CRM Trial
- CRM product demo
Some marketers use gated content at the conversion stage to capture a lead's phone number. Others simply include a contact form or clear call to action.
Gated Content as a Strategy (Rather than a Tactic)
We've just seen how gated content can be used along the buyer's journey as a lead generation tactic. While most of their content is free, lead gen forms are used to select leads that are on their way to converting.
But there is another way to look at closed content. You can make it the foundation of your entire content strategy.
It immediately funnels users into its CRM in an ingenious way, relying on FOMO (fear of missing out), clear value propositions, and social proof.
Breaking Hustle's Closed Content Funnel
Hustle's landing page establishes a value proposition immediately (and simply): "Daily news straight to your inbox", "in 5 minutes or less". The call to action is also simple and appealing, “Join Free”.
At the same time, the creative shows an example of the content. The website visitor now knows exactly what to expect:
What happens if they aren't sold on the offer and drop out? There's an exit time pop-up that tries to reinforce value propositions more clearly, highlight the call to action, and create a sense of FOMO: would you like to join over 1.5 million subscribers?
Even better, if they don't like it, they can unsubscribe very easily:
Then comes social proof. Testimonials are the icing on the cake, showing the customer's experience.
Gating ALL your content like this is a bold move. While it clearly works for The Hustle, most content marketers want to use gated content more sparingly. Let's explore why this might happen.
The pros and cons of gated content
As we've seen, blocking your content can create intrigue and a sense of FOMO among your audience. This can be a good way to encourage them to take action. But it can also scare them. Therefore, you will need to consider a number of factors before deciding whether or not to use it.
Find the right leads
Making your content harder to access might seem counterintuitive, but the people who sign up to download it are often more than just casual visitors.
They have a goal and your content will help them achieve it.
You will be building a relevant and interested list of potential customers that you can contact later.
But you will reach a smaller range
On the other hand, if your content is behind a lead capture form, fewer people will see it.
There is no SEO value in gated content because it is not visible to search engines.
You won't get the same level of reach, traffic, or engagement, and your best ideas may go unnoticed by genuinely interested leads.
Segment and target your audience more easily
When blocking your content, you can request additional information (usually in the form of a drop-down list) including title, objectives, company size, etc.
This can help you better understand who is on your email list so you can target different customer segments with follow-up emails or calls.
But you will also capture false information
It's impossible to stop a sneaky determined human from getting your valuable content for nothing.
Just because you ask people for details doesn't mean they will give you accurate information.
You may receive a recorder or temporary email account details, false names, phone numbers or other incorrect details.
A CRM full of Seymour Butts will damage your data - and worse, waste your sales or marketing department's valuable time.
Grow a mailing list
Perhaps the most compelling reason to block any piece of content is to grow an email list.
Email marketing campaigns are always more successful when you have an engaged and targeted audience.
Plus, you know what they've downloaded, so you can really button up your messages.
But you will turn some people away
It is inevitable that some people who are genuinely interested in what you have to say will choose not to provide their details.
Of course, this is better than providing false information, but it's a lost lead that doesn't come close to converting.
For this reason, it's important that your gated content is really compelling.
Push your audience in the right direction
Make no mistake, asking for and getting an email address is a conversion.
When someone trusts you enough to give something up for them, you begin to cement a relationship.
If you deliver on your promises, micro-conversions like this lead to greater trust – and trust leads to paying customers.
But you need to deliver
If your unprotected content is not up to standard, you will be forgiven.
However, if you asked them to put in the effort to get it and it wasn't what they wanted, they will feel disappointed.
You'll have to be very clear about what should be closed and what shouldn't be.
Examples of high-performance gated content
We've seen gated content as a tactic and a strategy, but what type of content is typically gated? Here are some examples that tend to work well as gated content:
Templates or Tools
In B2B environments, professionals are always looking for ways to save time, reduce the number of routine tasks and make their lives easier.
If you can offer templates or tools to help your audience get through their workdays more easily, they'll love you for it. Think:
- Google Slides or PowerPoint Templates
- accounting worksheets
- KPI Trackers and Calculators
Many people see giving up their details as a small price to pay for something that will help them through a real work life challenge.
Sites likesubstackeGhostare popularizing (and monetizing) email subscriptions. While technically not gated content, the guiding principle is the same: the appeal lies in the fact that the content is unique, regular, and valuable.
If you can hit this trio, you could very well build, retain, and grow an audience of newsletter subscribers.
Technical documents, guides or reports
Technical documents, guides and reports are usually blocked. Research is a valuable commodity, but you'll need to make your case. Your audience wants something that will inform and help them, rather than selling you your solution.
Webinars ao vivo
Webinars are a commonly gated type of content. They are attractive because they are valuable sources of information, interactive and have a human element.
Also, they tend to have an element of scarcity because there are a limited number of seats.
For these reasons alone, many people are willing to give up their details in exchange for a seat at the table.
Deciding whether to block your content
It can be difficult to decide whether or not to block your content. Use this simple flowchart to point you in the right direction.
Producing quality closed content
So is content in exchange for an email okay? We hope you came to the same conclusion as us. It will depend on:
- Where your website visitor is in the customer journey
- The types of challenges or questions they have
- The value and uniqueness of content
- Your overall content marketing strategy
- If you need more traffic or more qualified leads
That said, the success of your gated content depends on its quality. If you need help producing (closed) e-books for your audience,explore the Semrush marketplace.
*Only one, but it will take 3-6 months to see results.