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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistTue, May 19, 2020 12 min read

Gated Or Ungated Educational Content? That Is The Question

Ungated Drives Engagement; Gated Drives Leads – How To Know What’s Right For Your Company

Gated vs. Ungated ContentIt’s become a common topic of heated conversation in marketing department meetings.

Do you gate your content to drive qualified leads for your business, or do you ungate your content to drive awareness of your business and get your content to more people even if you never know them?

Typically, many inbound marketing professionals lean in the direction of gating content, while many demand generation marketing pros prefer to ungate and share everything with everyone.

There is no right or wrong answer.

But there are ways to know which approach is better suited to your company, and it’s very possible that the answer is a combination of both used at the right time and in the right place.

Let’s look more closely at the gated or ungated argument.

Perhaps some definitions are appropriate at this point just to make sure we all know exactly what we’re talking about.

What Does Gated Mean?

Gated Educational ContentGated means that you’re asking your visitors to provide some contact information before they receive your educational content.

For example, you land on a website page, click on a button to get an e-book and arrive at a landing page that has a form. To get the e-book, you have to share your contact information via the form.

What Does Ungated Mean?

Ungated means that when you request the e-book, there is no form. The educational e-book is simply provided via a website page. You’ve provided no personal information in exchange for the educational content.

In the gated scenario, you’re collecting contact information from someone who allegedly has an interest in what your company does. In the ungated scenario, you provide that content and no personal contact information has been shared.

Here is an example of gated content on our site. Click on the image below to see the gate.

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The Argument For Gated

Mike Volpe, the ex-CMO at HubSpot and one of the founders of inbound marketing, has been quoted as saying, “If I can get 100,000 people to see a website page and I can get 28,000 people to fill out a form with contact info, those 28,000 contacts may be more valuable than even 50,000 people seeing the content.”

As we’ve said and written about many times, your marketing strategy is going to be as unique as your individual DNA. No one approach is going to work for every business.

However, here’s when the gated approach is usually the better approach:

If Lead Generation Is Important

Many marketers are measured directly based on how many leads they generate for their organization. The number of MQLs (marketing-qualified leads), or people who express some level of interest in your story, content or company, is usually a good indicator of early interest.

Not everyone who fills out a form is going to be ready to buy today (an SQL, or sales-qualified lead), but they are signaling there is some level of interest, even if it’s early buyer journey interest. The number of MQLs can be an indicator of interest and future sales opportunities.

There is no real way to generate leads other than later-stage buyer journey offers, like demos, free quotes or no-obligation consultations, and those are only going to appeal to a small percentage of your website visitors.

If lead generation is important, then gated content should be your go-to deployment option.

If Building A Database Of Interested People Is Important

It’s rare that someone shares their contact information with you and then immediately buys. The more likely scenario is that you’ll need to proactively continue the conversation with an email campaign or targeted nurture email campaign tactics.

You can’t run either of these playbooks if you don’t grab at least an email address when someone downloads your educational content. If everything is ungated, you’ll have no ability to build your database of prospective customers.

The size of your prospect database is another early indicator of future sales. The more prospects in your database, the easier it is to stay connected with those individuals. You should be looking to add net new names to your email database every single month.

If Direct Sales Is Important

Some CEOs believe the only role for marketing is to drive sales and revenue. If that’s your situation, then gated is going to be one of the only ways to try and attribute revenue back to your marketing effort, activities and campaigns.

When you snag a new email address or contact and that person eventually buys, you can track that revenue directly to the content they downloaded, pages they visited and emails that were used to move them along. This revenue attribution modeling is key to a lot of marketing dashboards and reports in 2020.

If Program Performance Is Important

Speaking of dashboards and reports, if program performance is important, then gated might be right for you too.

Having information on your prospects improves the efficiency of your marketing. Just ask Mailchimp. When they analyzed the opening rates of nine million emails, they found that segmented campaigns had a 14.4% better open rate than non-segmented campaigns.

Take a look at WordStream. When they collect contact information, they ask about platform preferences, like Facebook vs. Google Ads. They then serve up additional content based on those preferences Facebook info to the Facebook users and Google Ads info to the Google Ads users. The improvement in performance was 10x.

But clearly, gated isn’t right for everyone, so now let’s look at who should consider using ungated content on their website.

The Argument For Ungated

The counter argument is that the form turns people away. In the example at the top of the article, wouldn’t it be better to have 100,000 people see your content than the 28,000 people who filled out your form — even if you don’t know anything about the 100,000 people?

That’s many more people to share your content, provide comments and digest your thought leadership. It’s many more people to be potential customers.

In essence, you’ve traded leads for awareness. Awareness by nature is much harder to track, if trackable at all. There are situations where an ungated, awareness content approach makes sense:

You Have Prospects Who Are All In The Early Buyer Stage

We often talk about marketing and sales working hard to help prospects get to know, like and trust your company.

Prospects who are early in their buyer journey typically have less trust in your company, and so they will be less likely to provide contact information in exchange for content.

Offering ungated content allows them to get to know you. It allows them to sample your content without any risk and without having to share their contact information. As they get to know you, respect the quality of your content and realize your content has value, they will be more likely to provide their contact information later on.

You Don’t Need Or Want An Ongoing Conversation With Prospects

As we discussed earlier in the article, your product or service might not need ongoing conversations. It might be a very abbreviated sales cycle. Instead of the sales cycle taking 30 to 60 days, the sales cycle or prospect’s buyer journey might be only a day or two, maybe less.

In this case, having that contact information is less helpful, and having ungated content might be more important.

Your goal in this situation is to keep your prospect on your website, and ungated content does an excellent job at keeping them there. Perhaps you’re an e-commerce company, and getting people to shop, fill up their basket and check out are your goals.

Ungated content could support those B2C sales motions and drive checkouts.

When Organic Search Rankings Improvements Are Important

Finally, there are situations where your main goal might be to drive new organic search visitors to your site. Putting highly searchable and indexable content behind a gate might prevent it from being indexed or crawled by the search engines.

The more searchable, indexable and high-value content the search engines can see, the better your rankings on the search engines. This ungated approach could also drive additional clicks, average page views and time on site while reducing page bounce rates. This all signals to Google that this is a highly valuable page, increasing your rankings for keywords, phrases and questions.

You should by now be able to see that there are positives and negatives about both approaches. Our advice and guidance around this question is to use both approaches strategically based on your company’s specific goals and objectives.

If leads, sales and net new names for your prospect database are your goals, you might want 85% of your content to be gated and 15% of your content to be ungated.

If you’re looking at a shorter sales cycle, if your prospects are primarily getting to know you or if you have organic search rankings as the overriding marketing goal, then having 80% of your content ungated and 20% of your content gated might make better sense.

Generally, a mix of gated and ungated content is key. The mix of the split in your content recipe should be dialed in month over month based on your goals and objectives. Need more leads? Dial the recipe toward gated. Need more awareness? Dial the recipe toward ungated.

Once you get the data, this dialing in process gets a lot easier. If you’re looking for additional information on the gated vs. ungated content question, we wrote another article on the topic a few years ago you can read it by clicking on this link.

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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.