To gate or not to gate, that is the question. Chelsea Wallis explores the arguments for and against locking up your content.

If you’re not already a tennis fan, living in Australia certainly has the potential make you one. As we look back at this year’s Australian Open, I find myself – a tennis-viewing newbie – looking at the the content strategies of the event’s sponsors and admiring some of their clever campaigns.

One that caught my eye is winery Jacob’s Creek and its ‘Made By’ campaign. It features video clips of Novak Djokovic and the people and events that shaped his career. But the campaign also features an equally prominent section where you can answer a series of questions to find out what you’re ‘made by’.

Jacob's Creek_gating content

The website leads you to a portal that asks questions about your entertaining and dining style, before giving you a simplified Myers-Briggs personality evaluation. The results categorise test-takers as driven by creativity, heart, determination or ingenuity. It goes on to describe three things you might enjoy – I was given performing arts, motorcycles and extreme sports, a few celebs that share my personality make-up, and, being a wine company, a white and a red suited perfectly to my style.

But in order to access the test, I had to fork over some information about myself: I could register with my name or access the site through Facebook. At the end of the test, those who register with Facebook can share the results with friends.

Jacob's Creek_gating content

The point is I was happy to provide my details. The overall user experience was near-seamless and the content was enticing, personalised and helpful. So helpful, in fact, that I’ll seriously consider the wine suggestions provided at the end of the experience the next time I’m after a cheeky drop or two. But had the experience been anything short of excellent, the hassle of providing my information would have cost Mr Jacob both my attention and my potential dollars.

What is gated content?

Gated content is your content team’s blood, sweat and tears presented in the form of an ebook, report, podcast, webinar or [insert here any piece of content, really] that you deem worthy enough of its very own gate. By gate, I mean a form or call-to-action that prospective leads need to fill out in order to access said content’s pure genius. In theory (and sometimes, when it’s done well, in practice) gating a piece of content entices people to trade their contact information to get their mitts on the goods.

The decision to lock up a piece of content can prompt either positive or negative marketing results, but before we draw any conclusions, ask yourself: What is my intended goal? And how good is my content?

Option 1: Don’t gate your content

Keeping your top-of-funnel content discoverable attracts eyeballs. It also increases your chances of engaging in meaningful conversations with your prospects and, ultimately, fostering connections that pave the way for new business.

Importantly, sharing keeps your customers keen on you and not your competitors; it would be a shame for leads to walk away simply because someone was a bit more generous from day dot.

Marketing wizard David Meerman-Scott supports this line of argument, saying “a whitepaper or ebook will be downloaded 20 to 50 times more without a gate in front of it.” With these numbers, the prospect of gating a piece of content seems counterintuitive.

Option 2: Do it. Gate your content

It’s important to note that while generosity is key to content marketing success, there is most certainly a time and a place for gating content and withholding expertise.

Gating content is a brilliant way to generate leads but only if you’re entirely confident that the content is good. Is that latest ebook so good that your audience will pay no mind to the hassle of entering their personal details? Content marketing expert Jay Baer coined the term “Youtility” to offer a definition for marketing material so good, so useful that customers are willing to pay for it – in their time and energy or literally by opening their wallets and forking out dollars. In short, if your content’s not hitting the mark, do you really want to force your prospects through the motions?

Your audience expects nothing less than the best so if you have in your hot little hand a piece of noisy, useless and fluffy crap, and a prospect actually takes the time to fill out a form to get it, you’ll lose them forever.

Dramatic? Yes. Factual? You can bet your latest ebook that’s factual.

A few words of warning

Be sure about your reasons for gating content because it has the potential to repel your serious prospects.

The customer experience can be significantly diminished if you’re forcing your audience to go against the conventional two-step process of content consumption (step 1: click on the piece of content you want to consume, and step 2: consume it). We have outrageously short attention spans, so don’t give your prospects one more reason to walk away from your content and into the arms of a competitor.

Gating your content might also land you in SEO trouble. Google’s bots – the invisible crawlers that navigate a site’s content, assess its quality and rank it accordingly – don’t like gates. Those little critters don’t have names, email addresses, job titles or phone numbers, so they’ll take one look at your landing page and its blank form and ignore it completely. If you’re looking to increase inbound links to your website, bolster website traffic or improve your search ranking, gating may not be the right strategy for you.

One last consideration: because a prospect downloads your latest ebook doesn’t mean they’re ready to strike up a conversation with your sales team, let alone open their wallets. Without access to advanced marketing automation software, any attempt to identify the precise stage at which a lead is in the customer lifecycle can be difficult. It can also present all kinds of issues: reaching out too soon and scaring them off, not reaching out soon enough and forcing them to consider a competitor, reaching out too often and through various points of contact – on this final point, marketing and sales alignment is key.

So, what’ll it be?

If you’re creating quick, easy-to-digest content to build brand awareness, don’t bother gating your content. It’s widely understood that if you’re not going to offer up your expertise, your prospects will simply turn to someone else – do you really want that someone else to be your competitor?

Having said this, if you are confident you have crafted a truly valuable piece of content and you’re looking to foster high-quality leads, go ahead and lock it up!

Still not sure? Check out Hubspot following their own advice with this flowchart.

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