When and how to gate your content

Estimated reading time
6 minutes
22nd September 2020
Author: Natasha Keary
Posted in: 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 this goes:

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


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

Luckily, it turns out that the decision isn’t so black and white. You can have your cake and eat it too. 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.

The problem with leads vs. reads

Let’s start by debunking a myth. According to The Scoop, “80% of B2B content marketing assets are gated (require registration to access)”, but is all of this content generating qualified leads?

At one point, gates were a reliable way to gain qualified leads. However, in 2020, the ‘gates = self-qualified leads’ equation doesn’t work as well. The table below shows how generations are getting better and better at entering email addresses like noname@nomail.no.uk to view content.

gate your content - table showing reader behavior among different generations when confronted with a gate

Source: LinkedIn survey of B2B buyer teams as featured in a medium article by Manpreet Wadan

That means that 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. Instead, gating has to be on a case-by-case basis.

To gate or not to gate?

Gating by content value

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

“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” – The Scoop

That means that gating is less likely to be successful in top-of-the-funnel content, which is published frequently and easier to create. This includes content like blogs, case studies, and infographics – unless they contain original research.

Gating is more successful in middle-of-the-funnel 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 and 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:

“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” – Impact

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 a 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 the buyer journey:

A chart showing the three different awareness stages in the funnel

Source: Hubspot

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 you offer content that reflects the stage of a given visitor. Someone at the awareness stage is unlikely to access a gate to a product-heavy guide. Someone at the decision stage is unlikely to access a gate to a more general content piece. They’re past that and looking to learn the details about your product. Matching the right content with the right people at the right time is key to increasing a gate’s success rate.

Soft gating vs. hard gating

Once you’ve decided whether you’re going to gate your content, you have two more options: hard gate or soft gate. 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. With soft gating, entering their details is optional.

At Turtl, we experiment a lot with hard and soft gating. When we promote content with third parties, we’ve seen more conversions from soft gating. For us, 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, but 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 to place your gates

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.

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 who have a strong reputation for producing original research. Most of their readers are confident the content will be worth the data exchange. But for most of us, a hard upfront gate is asking a lot of our 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 a workaround to this, you could also write 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.