Semi-gating content for high-quality leads

“To gate or not to gate?” It’s a question content marketers routinely ask when thinking about how to do lead generation well. But the choice here is more than either/or. Through adopting a semi-gating approach, content marketers can strike a tactical balance between locking off all assets and offering everything for free. The pay off? Better quality leads, and better relationships between prospects and brands.

Belting down the highway, your eye is caught by a signpost. It points down a small lane where, it assures you, you’ll find a waterslide park – and you’ve been wanting to go on a waterslide for a long time. You crank up the radio, spin the wheel and nose your car down the lane.

Only to be hit with a gate. Beside that gate, tucked out of sight, an unknown individual demands your details. “No identification, no access!” But you haven’t even had a peek at the waterslides. What if they’re rubbish? A little annoyed, you reverse. Before long, you’re speeding back down the highway. It’s as though you never left, and you have no intention of returning to that lane.

Now, imagine the wayfarer isn’t you, but your prospect, and the waterslide park your site’s content. By gating 100% of your content you’re creating that situation above.

Why gating everything isn’t a smart move

So, gating backfired there. But hold on a second, you might be saying. You’ve spent money on this content. And the whole point of it was to generate leads, right? What’s the return here? Why should any old Joe or Jane Bloggs get to access any of it for free?

Because, quite simply, user-centricity means giving before taking. And user-centricity is at the centre of everything that content marketing is about. It’s not governed by campaign-based transactional mandates, which demand immediate monetisation back from marketing actions.

Instead, it’s a means to develop a relationship with your prospects and customers, where audiences connect with your brand in meaningful ways through relevant, useful and high-quality material. Only once a solid base of trust has been established – when they are familiar with who you are and what you can do for them – should you be asking for anything in return.

There is, alongside this, a host of practical reasons why gating all of your content isn’t ideal. Here are the top three:

  1. Your traffic to the page will dramatically decrease. This means far fewer people will be exposed to your brand, and aware of what you can do. If one of their earliest interactions with your brand is with a paywall, those potential leads may turn into ‘never-leads’ in a flash.
  2. Your bounce rate will shoot up as people land on your site, then navigate speedily away without taking any action. Do this on too many assets, and Google will take notice – perhaps even hitting you with an SEO penalty by lowering your search engine ranking.
  3. It’s destined to have a limited spread. Post it on social media, and you might get flak either in the comments or in unfollows with disgruntled individuals annoyed that you’re wasting their precious Facebook time by sharing something – but not for free. For these reasons, it would be unwise (and kind of paradoxical) to put any paid amplification behind hidden-away content.

What content you should gate

One common-sense and widespread semi-gating scenario involves what is known as ‘big rock’ content. Also going under the name ‘hero content’, these are the content marketing initiatives into which much sweat, labour, research and money has been poured. Recent examples can be found in Contently’s ‘New Money’ e-book, Olapic’s visual user-generated content report, and Progress’s ‘Digital Ultimatum’ white paper.

Now, rather than just barricading these huge quality insights away in their entirety, savvy marketers will analyse them with a jeweller’s eye, and then take out the most delicate of hammers from their toolboxes. With them, they’ll proceed to chip off the most interesting, compelling chunks for different audiences, using targeted amplification to distribute them across various channels.

Each one of these gems – a snippet of survey data on Twitter, a summary infographic on Facebook, a short video with an expert interviewee on YouTube, a 1000-word blog post on their content hub – will be offered up freely. But they will all be working in concert to drive various audience segments back to the main rock. (Also, make your life easier – plan all of this from day one and create it alongside your big rock.)

Curiosity stoked and conversation around the piece humming, individuals are now far more likely to give you over their details in exchange for access to the big rock. Through earning engagement and trust before asking for anything in return, this is an increasingly popular ‘tease’ model favoured by content marketers today.

Semi-gating for secondary offers

Think of this semi-gated model as the ‘Like this? Here’s more!’ method. Essentially, site visitors get their hands on a piece of content that has stand-alone value (that bit is so important) and are then offered another related, more in-depth piece as a gated extra.

For example, perhaps they’ve just finished reading one of your blog articles on automation. In the form of a sidebar, pop-up or in-text call-to-action link, you could suggest they enhance their learning by registering to access your automation survey results.

Rather than harassing them for their details, you’re positioning yourself as helpful. You’re also more likely to generate higher quality leads through this tactic, as only those who are already intrigued and interested in the topic are likely to register.

Semi-gating using a ‘soft paywall’ model

If you read the New York Times, The Economist, The Monthly or pretty much any other digital news journal trying to survive today, you’ll be familiar with this model. As traditional sources of revenue dry up, legacy publishers are responding by creating new mechanisms to drive subscriptions and keep their fast-sinking bottom lines afloat. While ‘hard paywalls’ (where the majority of content is locked off) run the risk of alienating readers, the ‘soft, leaky or porous paywall’ is proving effective in converting readers into active subscribers.

Each publisher has built its wall a little differently, with no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Semi-gated models include micropayments (where users pay a small one-off amount for an asset), user-data exchange offerings, membership programs, metered paywalls (with a limited number of stories free per time period) and freemium models (where only premium content is locked off, like Slate+).

The idea is that each article read for free – so long as it is high-quality and relevant – acts as a kind of advertisement for content behind the paywall, which has the allure of being even better. The will to explore further is stoked – and so too is the sense of #FOMO (fear of missing out).

Currently, this model is more suited to news journals than content marketers. It’s nonetheless a strong argument for the reasoning and benefits behind semi-gating content – a practice which is increasingly being accepted as the norm by readers, and favoured by marketers as a cost-effective strategy for generating quality leads.

Articles you may also be interested in:
Gating content: should you do it?
Robert Rose: Now’s the time for content marketing to get serious

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About Hallie Donkin: Hallie Donkin is Mahlab's Managing Editor – Brand. In nine years with the company, she's planned and created content about dogs, mortgages, project management, retirement, marketing automation and CRM, financial services, cybersecurity, and more. There's a story floating around that she got the job because she said she loved dogs. Reader, she did not in fact love dogs; she just loved words. But things have changed – her life goal now is to live with a pack of Golden retrievers.

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