Is gated content considered a negative by users?

Posted by Rebecca Appleton on 26 May, 2016
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‘To gate or not to gate’ is a classic marketing question that’s still pondered over by those who consider themselves expert content marketers and digital marketing practitioners.

Should you hide your most valuable content behind some form of obstacle, or should it be free for the entire world to consume? What is the value in gated content, and – a crucial question – is gated content actually looked upon unfavorably by users?

The basics of gated content

Gated content is essentially content hidden behind some form of obstacle. One of the most common gates is the requirement to enter an email address on a contact form before you can download an ebook or white paper. Other gated content is hidden behind a paywall, a common tactic of publishers such as the New York Times.

Using the email address example, data gathered through the contact form is often used for soft lead generation or mailing list building by the marketer. This can be hugely effective. Hiding great content behind an email-activated gate like this allows you to grow your leads enormously and develop a database of web users that have already engaged with your site in some way or another. Arguably, this means they are likely to do so again.

The pros of gated content

Gated content can work

Many marketers and organizations implementing a gated content strategy achieve good results. Gated content helps get the conversation between business and consumer started. By entering their information in that contact form in the first place, the user is signalling that they’re interested in the business in some way, and they’d like to hear more about what it offers. Genuine contacts generated with this method are much more valuable than page views or any other metrics you might be measuring on your non-gated content.

The cons of gated content

Beware the wrath of the reader

The flipside  of gated content is that it can annoy some readers. While some readers are happy to supply contact details in exchange for good quality content, others aren’t. 
Neil Patel, co-founder of Kissmetrics and Crazy Egg, is famously against gated content, and has said, “From my experience, gating content creates a lot of backlash. Opt-in forms give me three times the leads of any other method, but they tick people off… by a lot.”

Is ‘ticking people off’ the best way to nurture leads? Probably not. Content without a gate will generally generate more leads, purely because, in this age of identity fraud and endless spam email, users may be reluctant to part with their personal information as ‘payment’ for the content they wish to access. 

Some people perceive gated content as negative, and will do whatever they can to circumvent it. They’ll offer up fake email addresses to gain access to that content, meaning as a marketer, you risk your shiny new mailing list returning a series of bounced messages. 

Those who feel very strongly about gated content might sign up with their own email address, gain access to the content that they want, then immediately unsubscribe. This makes the effort of gating content in the first place a waste of time and resources.

Any brand gating its content will likely come across a mix of views amongst its client base. There is no universal opinion and no right or wrong answer. If you want to gate your content, having weighed up both sides of the argument, consider these points next:

Make your gated content valuable

If you come down on the side of gating your content, your first task is to make your content valuable. The best way to keep your readership on-side is by ensuring that the content placed behind the wall is really worth the user handing over their personal contact  details. 

If your content is the type of easy-to-digest content that builds brand awareness and wouldn’t seem out of place on your regular blog, it’s not worth gating. Fewer  people will actually see the content, and if those who do enter their information feel cheated they’re unlikely to return.

You should also make it as easy as possible for users to enter their information when they reach the gate. If your contact form is asking for too many details, you’re pushing users to drop off. If they can sign in and hand over their email address with a social login, which takes just a few clicks, they’re much more likely to proceed.

Evaluate regularly

Be sure to implement a review process and regular evaluations. You should be constantly analyzing how effective your marketing techniques are to adjust wherever necessary, and that includes your gated content.
If you’re not getting as many good quality leads from your gated content as you expected, you’ll need to change something. Try raising your content game and offering higher quality pieces, or look at your gate process and see if it can be simplified or streamlined in any way. 

It could be that your particular customer base is firmly on the ‘no’ side of the gated content divide and isn’t happy with your wall. If this is the case, your readers would be better targeted with free, easily accessible content. 
Every gated content strategy is different – there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Where some gates will simply require a name and email to build mailing lists, others may require payment and be used as a means of driving revenue.

The only way to know if gated content will work for you - and which form of gate to use - is to test, test, test. Be ready to adapt to the results of your testing to get the right outcome for your business.

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