Gated vs Ungated Content: Getting The Most Out Out of Your Content

The debate for and against gated content has been raging particularly fiercely the last few years. Marketers have arrayed themselves on both sides of the issue in a climate where business owners are constantly claiming that users just want everything for free and content marketing doesn’t have a clear ROI.

The fact is that content costs money to create, and in business there needs to be a focus on results and return on investment – ultimately both gated and ungated content can result in exposure to potential clients, leads, and sales if implemented correctly. We’ll show you how.

Winning with both strategies

The debate on gated vs. ungated content is silly, there is no one right answer for every situation. It’s really all about your end motives and balancing the investments you make externally with internal needs for exposure and leads.

As a rule of thumb we often recommend against using gated content. If you need exposure or realistically want more conversions you’re better off using ungated content, and the best of leads will still come through (if not more).

If you run a well known company, with a strong conversion path and a unique piece of content that is legitimately exciting or useful, then gated content may make sense. But there should be some kind of content that steps users into the funnel. See for example how Sonatype has an infographic and full on eBook for its yearly report on the supply chain. Or Search Metrics infographic and full on ranking report ranking factor report. In both of these case an infographic is shown for free and used as ‘bait’ to drive downloads of the ebook – the gated content.

If you’re a thought leader in a niche with little chance of mass-market appeal anyways, gated content may make more sense as a general rule since there you’re really not losing out on exposure – You aren’t going to get a lot of shares and buzz by giving away something for free, but those who are interested will find your content and do what it takes to read it – whether it’s buying  or submitting their email address.

For anyone else, more exposure – especially surrounding high quality content – should lead to more conversions. If you must gate content, aim to do so selectively around content that is part of a conversion path and is actually likely to be downloaded by prospects. Offer part of this content, preferably presented in a creative medium like a infographic, slideshow, or video, as a teaser to build interest.  

This comes down to the basic balancing act is between maximizing your attempt at exposure with your need for leads. While exposure could lead to leads in the long term, the short term implication of all of this is balanced out by whether or not you have an audience already. Even if you’ve made a significant investment in content, if you don’t have a solid amount of email subscribers, a built-in blog audience, or just need traffic and industry exposure you’re better off just getting more people on the site (and more net leads) than turning everyone that downloads a resource into a lead.

Do you need exposure?
Don’t Gate Your Content!

In most cases sites actually see more leads through ungated content. I would say that is heavily contingent on the quality of content and whether people like it enough to share and enjoy it enough to convert in the long run, but if they do, you’re better off getting as much traffic out of your content as you can.

Here are some wins from ungated content from around the web:

  • David Meerman Scott (of Newsjacking and The New Rules of PR Fame) has said ungated content netted him 20-50 times more downloads than previously gated content.
  • Ion Interative found that their gated content was 33% less effective at converting visitors.
  • Obility saw a 2,785% increase in organic traffic to case studies pages in 8 months after moving case studies from PDFs to web pages.
  • Vertical Response reported that ungated content led to a 7% increase in downloads within a month.

At the same time:

That’s right, ungated content will definitely get you more eyes on your piece, and in some cases more leads. (But not always!)

When you gate your content you take away the opportunity to make a connection with customers.

Finally when you leave content ungated it can get indexed by Google and continually grow traffic for you.

Good Reasons to Gate Your Content:

If you’re going to gate your content make sure you do it well. The trick here is to make sure that you’re walking customers into your funnel and using gated content only for the most qualified customers  – and as such, offering content to customers who need your expertise. The reason why this strategy works is because a large piece of content worth gating clearly demonstrates authority by its very existence.

Conclusion

Use gated content wisely. For the vast majority of businesses who are new to producing content and trying to get their name out there, gating content is going to lower your exposure and ultimately slow lead growth.

As a rule of thumb you should use this criteria: Is this gated piece of content the only item in your funnel? Then don’t gate. Otherwise be conscientious of the fact that gated content is best used near the bottom of a funnel where leads have already been qualified.

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