Conventionally in inbound, the depth of the expertise you share in blog articles, podcasts, videos, and content in general is what brings in the traffic. Then, a relevant call-to-action (CTA) drives that traffic toward a landing page and premium content offer where it converts and becomes a lead for sales to work.
For any of us who've tried this, we know it works — Some of the time.
Unfortunately, leads don't always convert and even if they do, chances are a whole bunch of them are junk:
So much for kicking your feet up.
The reality is that the internet is flooded with ebooks, “ultimate guides to,” checklists, and other content being tucked away behind form fills.
Buyers have grown tired of shelling out their private information for content that may or may not really answer their questions or solve their problems. They're wary of getting bombarded with sales calls and spammy email pitches once they do so.
In short, they're are wise to it.
Forms have become a “necessary evil” in the eyes of buyers and they’ve responded by providing fake email addresses — or simply going elsewhere.
There are even tools out there designed to give you a temporary email address to use just to fill out forms then disappear, and who can blame them?
With so many companies creating content, and many of them doing so without much attention to detail or quality, buyers have taken note and they approach conversion forms with an increasing level of skepticism.
In an environment where buyers are suffering from form fatigue and conversion rates are dropping, it begs the question, should you still be gating your content?
As with many things, the answer to this question is, “it depends.”
3 cases when you should gate content
Despite the fact that conversion forms often get a bad rap in the eyes of buyers, there are still plenty of cases when it not only makes sense to gate your content, but your buyers will also be happy to fill out a form (with their real email address!).
Here's when that makes sense:
1. When your content is extremely high value
There are definitely cases where buyers are more than willing to fill out a form to get content. Often, this happens when the content they are trying to get is extremely in-depth or contains unique or original information or data that they can’t get anywhere else.
If you are producing original research or white papers with insights or thought leadership from sought-after authors, odds are that your website visitors will willingly fill out a form to get it.
For example, every year, I look forward to HubSpot's State of Inbound report that's chock full of primo research and insights.
Granted, they already have my email address, but even if they didn't, I'd be happy to share it in exchange for the original takeaways.
2. When gated content is already performing well
If faced with the choice of what to do with existing content, let your conversion rates be your guide.
So, start by doing an audit of your content offers. Where your landing page conversion rates are less than 3%, try ungating them to see if the increase in traffic outweighs the number of leads you were getting.
By contrast, for those offers where your conversion rates are strong and there is a sufficiently high volume of traffic coming to the landing page, it probably makes sense to continue to keep it gated.
After all, if it ain't broke...
3. When you want to repurpose already ungated content
If you’re doing content marketing consistently, you’ve probably covered certain topics from several angles. This is especially true if you’re following Marcus Sheridan’s They Ask, You Answer methodology and using The Big 5 topics to guide your editorial strategy.
Where that is the case, you have an opportunity to make your content work even harder for you by compiling it together into a longer guide or ebook.
It's like essentially building a "greatest hits" album of all your content on a particular topic.
You've added value by gathering and organizing the content on behalf of the user so they can get everything they need in one place and know how to approach it.
(This is the exact reason why greatest hits albums always do well.)
This way, the individual pieces of content can still perform well in search — while the compilations are driving conversions at the same time.
A total win-win.
2 cases when you should not gate your content
While I stand by the examples above, there are also very compelling reasons not to gate it in certain circumstances.
In this case, I would rather ungate that awesome ebook and put the content right on a website page so that Google and other search engines can crawl it.
This approach helps improve search engine rankings and increases the likelihood that more people will actually see your content — which in turn puts you in a better position to generate leads.
After all, the internet is all about free access to information. So share your content with the world.
2. When your gated offers aren’t performing well
It can be incredibly frustrating to create a great piece of content and then sit and watch as nobody converts or ever sees it.
Many marketers have experienced this. While the culprit could be bad landing page copy, poorly placed CTAs, or even a lack of trust, it might also be that you simply haven’t proven to your visitors that it will be worth their while to part with their contact information.
When this happens, you not only lose a lead, but the visitor leaves never getting to see the value you had to offer behind the form and winning them over as a possible customer.
The best way to avoid this fate is to simply give away the content. Show your visitors your expertise without requiring anything of them. This is the difference between a helpful advisor and a ruthless marketer.
Here’s a pro tip, though.
Even if you ungate your content, you can still offer visitors the opportunity to download a PDF version by filling out a form.
Some people like to read their content offline or guess what? If your content is really good, they’ll want to have a copy saved.
I know, because this is exactly what we’ve done here at IMPACT. We’ve written a considerable number of new, in-depth guides that live ungated on our website. Visitors can read the guides online, or they can download the PDF version, which requires an email address.
Remember, ungated content can still generate leads
Some of our highest-converting content has never lived behind a gate.
Despite no requirement to do so, tons of visitors have filled out the form to download the PDF of the guide. So, in the end, not only did it generate traffic but leads as well.
You can have your cake and eat it too when you ungate your content in 2023
In 2022, we at IMPACT started taking a hard look at our marketing numbers, specifically the contacts we'd been getting through our gated content offers.
These were things like guides to social media marketing, digital sales, and inbound strategy.
While these brought in thousands of contacts, they were mostly people looking for reference materials — not qualified leads who were looking to buy our marketing and sales training.
So, we began to ungate them.
Since doing so, we have seen our volume of leads stay steady, while the quality of the leads who enter our sales process has gotten way better. We're talking to more people who are good-fit prospects than ever before.
The decision to gate or ungate your content will depend on your needs — but you should never live in fear thinking that gating content is the only way to attract potential customers.
You might find that ungating your content kills two birds with one stone: more traffic and better quality leads in one fell swoop.