Gated content: The what, when, how, and why

Estimated reading time
7 minutes
30th November 2022
Author: Sabrina Stubbs
Posted in: Content Distribution & Promotion, Content Operations, Content Production, Strategy & Planning, The Turtl Product

It’s an age-old marketing dilemma. You’ve created a brand-new piece of content, and you’re about to publish it online. All that’s left is to decide if you want to gate your content or not. The traditional thought process behind gating content goes:

I’m going to gate my content because I want to capture lots of leads.

OR

I’m not going to gate my content because I want to see lots of readers.

Luckily, it turns out that the decision isn’t so black and white. It all depends on the type of content you’ve created, how well it’s performing, and what kind of gate you place on it.

What is gated content? 

According to The Scoop, “80% of B2B content marketing assets are gated.” Gating refers to moments in a content experience where registration is required for access. However, all this gated content creates a rift between marketers who prefer leads vs. reads.

At one point, gates were a reliable way to gain qualified leads. However, in 2020, the ‘gates = self-qualified leads’ equation stopped working as well. Audiences are getting smarter, which means they use false information like noname@nomail.no.uk or avoid content altogether when encountering a gate. 

Therefore, placing a hard gate at the front of your content won’t immediately guarantee qualified leads. Similarly, un-gating content does not immediately guarantee high readership. Currently, 9 in 10 B2B companies in the US use digital content marketing, which means there’s a lot of content out there fighting for attention. As a result, gated content has to be on a case-by-case basis.

a table showing reader behavior among different generations when confronted with gated content

Why might your content be gated?

When asking yourself To gate or not to gate? there are a few strategies to consider that might work for your content and audience.

Gating by content value

It makes sense that unique thought leadership and research are more highly sought after. We’re more likely to trade our details for something which we are sure we won’t be able to find elsewhere, and which will help us solve a particular problem.

The Scoop reports that “infographics and case studies are less likely to be gated, but over 90% of B2B marketers find them useful to increase brand awareness and demonstrate results among existing leads.”

That means gating is less likely to be successful in content that is considered to be “lower value” because it lacks original research, is published frequently, and is easiest to create. This encompasses content like blogs, case studies, and infographics.

Gating is more successful in high-value content, which is rarer and harder to put together, like whitepapers, ebooks, and webinars. Ultimately, if your content includes data or information which is original and sought-after, people are going to be happy to trade their details for access. 

Gating by content performance

Gating vs un-gating content can be a useful iterative element of a content strategy. If a piece of content is underperforming, un-gating can lead to higher traffic. That means that gating a piece of content is by no means an irreversible decision. Impact suggests looking at the metrics and weighing up the options:

As a piece of advice, Impact suggests, “Where your landing page conversion rates are less than 3%, try un-gating them to see if the increase in traffic you experience outweighs the number of leads you were gating.”

Chris Barr, Director of Marketing for Taradel and Every Door Direct Mail, suggests a similar approach of reviewing performance and adjusting accordingly:  “If gated content is performing well, never un-gate it. This is especially true for content that is research-based or has a high value associated with it. If gated content has high visit-to-lead rates, it’s working.” Conversely, if gated content is functioning as a bottleneck or detraction to users, then it’s probably best to reduce the number of form fields or un-gate the content completely.

Gating by buyer journey

It’s also essential to think about gating in terms of where your reader is in their buyer journey. This is the best way to maximize opportunities for success and minimize the chances of friction

As we mentioned earlier, gating content is typically less successful at the awareness stage. This is due to the reader being unfamiliar with your brand and the value your content offers. As you prove your worth and relevance to them, they might be more inclined to offer something in return.

Regardless, you should ensure your content offering reflects the stage of a given visitor. Someone at the awareness stage is likely to go through a gate in a report with statistics they are interested in. Whereas, someone at the decision stage is more likely to come across a gate in a case study and provide their details for a different reason. Matching the right content with the right people at the right time is key to ensuring a gate’s success.

a funnel illustrating content throughout the buyer journey

How should you gate? 

Once you’ve decided whether you’re going to gate your content, you have two more options to decide on: soft gating vs. hard gating. 

Hard gating means that readers cannot view the content until they have filled out the required fields. Soft gating means that readers can navigate away from the form and continue to the content. Therefore, the difference is if entering details is optional or compulsory.

At Turtl, we experiment a lot with hard and soft gating in our digital documents, referred to as Turtl Docs. When we promote content with third parties, we’ve seen more conversions from soft gating. Using cognitive psychology, we can tell this is likely because offering something for free to the reader that they get genuine value from makes them more inclined to reciprocate by sharing their details later on.

The best way for you to decide between soft and hard gating is to run a few tests with your audience and see how they respond. However, generally speaking, there are three key advantages to soft gating:

  • Better quality leads: If a reader has the option to remain anonymous but offers up their contact information anyway, they’re clearly much more interested in the subject matter than someone forced into it.
  • Lower bounce rates: Many people will outright refuse to engage with you when you hard gate something, which is why soft gating encourages people to stick around and check things out.
  • More engagement: A soft gate allows even the most risk-averse readers to take the time and engage with your content, increasing your chances of persuading them to take action further down the line.

Where should you gate? 

After you’ve decided whether you’re going to gate or not and whether to use a soft or hard gate, you finally need to decide where you’re going to place it. Ultimately, this will require you to consider your audience’s emotions and buyer journey.

The most traditional approach is to place a gate right at the beginning of the content. This means that readers can’t access the content until they’ve handed over their contact information. This tactic works for well-established companies that have a strong reputation for producing original research. Most of their readers are confident the content will be worth the data exchange. Otherwise, a hard upfront gate is asking a lot of readers.

An alternative is to place a gate deeper within the document. It could be after the introduction or much later. The idea is to show enough value for free so that you reduce the uncertainty over what the reader will receive in exchange for their contact information.

If you wanted another workaround, you could also develop a really detailed landing page that gives away enough information for the upfront hard gate to seem like less of a risk. But either way, be careful you don’t give everything away in the free sections, or they’ll feel resentful about signing up when they realize all the value was pre-gate.

The Turtl Takeaway: Look for leads beyond the gate

There is no easy answer for whether or not your business should gate its content, as well as how or when the gate should appear. However, now that it is clear why content creators might gate a report or thought leadership piece, it is easier to make the right decision. 

And if what you really want is leads, then gating might not be the answer. Pop-ups, back cover forms, contact buttons – all of these can also help you diversify and increase your lead capture opportunities. 

We explore modern tactics for demand generation in our guide below, so check it out and find the right strategy for your business goals ⤵

the Turtl Doc cover for our modern demand marketing guideReady to experiment with creative gating in your digital documents? Get in contact with our team to book a Turtl demo.

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