When Should You Gate, Paywall or Ungate Content?

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From the beginning of time, every marketing campaign’s most important objective has been to generate leads. As relentless marketers invaded the serenity of mailboxes, prospects held onto their personal and contact information. 

Soon, marketers and website owners experienced a drop in user engagement and, as time passed, valuable marketing assets were completely open for website visitors to consume –no email subscriptions required. 

It was a really fascinating time for curious internet users. But nothing lasts forever!

In 2006, HubSpot devised the gated content methodology of inbound marketing. And, that opened the floodgates of lead generation. However, the methodology has proven to be more effective for B2B businesses. Today, over 80% of B2B marketing assets are gated content, creating value for readers and requesting their personal information as “gate passes.” 

While this method of content marketing is well past its adolescence, marketers are still unsure about when it’s most effective to implement it. This article explains the gated content methodology, explores its contrarieties with ungated and partially gated content, and highlights the best conditions to implement these content marketing strategies for tip-top conversion.

What is gated content?

Beyond the regular blog posts and surface content aimed at improving brand awareness, businesses sometimes create high-value marketing assets. Creating these high-value assets requires way more effort than surface content. And, except you’re a publishing house or celebrated indie author, it may not be a good idea to sell these assets. So, how do you compensate for your efforts?

By gating the asset.

Gated content are top-quality marketing assets that readers can only access after completing a form that requests certain personal information. Marketers collect these personal details as compensation for the time and efforts invested into creating the content. And use them to urge these readers onto eventual purchase.

But there are several other ways to generate good leads, why gated content?

Benefits of gated content

Incorporating gated content into your inbound marketing strategy doesn’t present a long list of benefits. However, it plays a few vital roles in the overall success of your campaigns.

It generates the highest quality of leads. 

Customers who are willing to part with their personal information must really be interested in the content behind the form. Therefore, they are very likely to be interested in your offerings.<

Gated content aids contact segmentation. 

Newsletter subscription forms collect minimal information for a good reason: to reduce bounce. A study showed that a 3-question form can reduce the signup rate by 80% compared to a 1-question subscription form. This leaves marketers with little information to understand their audience. 

With gated content, you can request a little more than an email address, including full names and names of companies. With these, you can segment your mailing list and get over 14.4% more open rate.

It increases your chance of turning leads into sales. 

The researcher and psychologist Robert Cialdini revealed that if a person makes small commitments like letting you have their personal information as an expression of interest in your content, they will most likely take further actions that are consistent with that commitment. So, if you design a sales offering around your gated content, you can convert a significant proportion of those leads.

As exciting as these benefits are, putting gated content at the forefront of your inbound marketing campaign may be counterproductive if not done right. 

When to use gated content?

There is a continuous question of when it is right to incorporate gated content into an inbound marketing strategy. There are three critical parameters for deciding when gated content is a good option to try.

Demographic-specific content: 

Gated content works best for websites with high traffic. With several monthly visitors, creating gated content that appeals to a very specific demographic or category of visitors will be helpful. For instance, you can create gated content suited for management-level readers.  

However, before you decide to gate an asset, you should clearly define the ideal reader’s persona. This would make it significantly easier for you to write appropriate pregated copy that will incentivize readers to give their contact information in exchange for the value on the other side of that lead generation form.

Unusually high content quality: 

When you put a lot of effort into creating top-quality content, driven by original industry research, you just don’t want to put it out there for readers to access for free. And selling it may not be a decent idea. So, asking readers to part with their contact information as a reward for the hard work seems like a fair deal. This applies particularly to case studies, whitepapers, and industry trend reports.

Sufficient ungated backup: 

Active user engagement is all too important for your website’s survival. So, earlier on, your marketing assets should be ungated and readily accessible to every website visitor. However, these assets should be geared towards creating awareness and increasing readers’ knowledge of your product. Only when you have sufficient ungated content to cater to the surface details of your business or industry should you consider gated options. 

What is ungated content?

Ungated content is the direct opposite of gated content. It describes marketing assets that are readily accessible to website visitors. However, lead generation remains an objective of this type of content. Businesses often include very brief forms to collect leads, promising to deliver more tailored content to them via newsletters or promotions. 

Ungated content is a vital part of every brand’s marketing strategy because it’s effective for building brand awareness and generating organic traffic through search engines. 

Benefits of ungated content

As a fundamental part of content marketing strategies, ungated content has several benefits among which include the following.

  1. Impact on search engine optimization (SEO): Since ungated content is not hidden behind a wall, search engine algorithms can freely crawl through the page and index the asset for the right keywords. 
  2. Increased accessibility and user engagement: Ungated content is accessible to everyone that visits the webpage, whether they provide contact information or not. For this reason, more visitors will stay on your page and engage with the content. 
  3. Shareability ease: If a website visitor finds a piece of content insightful, they are likely to share it with their network. With ungated content, there is no barrier to sharing since a simple shared URL confers complete access to the content. 
  4. Increased traffic: With its impact on SEO and ease of sharing, ungated content tends to attract more organic traffic than other content marketing approaches. 

When to use ungated content?

There are several reasons to leave your content accessible to every ‘John’ and ‘Jane’ that visits your website. Here are three major reasons to consider when it’s about right to pull down your walls for viewers. 

Reaching a larger audience: 

Ungated content isn’t only accessible to visitors to your website. It is equally accessible to their referrals across all platforms. With ungated content receiving way more traffic than gated content, the ripple effect of referring visitors can make a huge impact.  Moreso, the content is indexed by search engine crawlers since its gated counterparts are hidden behind a wall that often restricts search engine crawlers from getting through. 

Reduce bounce rate: 

More people will exit a website when they find out that the content is hidden behind a wall. Interestingly, these bounces have a significant impact on a website’s performance. Sadly, 79% of visitors that bounce from a website are very unlikely to revisit it. 

Implementing a product-led growth strategy: 

If your company’s growth hinges on the adoption of its product, you might want to deliver ungated content using the product as a channel. This increases organic traffic to the product and consequently improves adoption. Using ungated content in your product-led growth strategy gives you way more user data to track. With these data, you can understand the hurdles that users face while using the product and work towards improving their experiences. 

Increase user engagement: 

Since ungated content receives way more organic traffic than gated ones, it is normal to see higher engagement in ungated contents. As a matter of fact, you can gain 20-50 more engagement on ungated content.

The difference between gated and ungated content

 GATED CONTENTUNGATED CONTENT
SEOExperience high bounce rates that may have an impact on other search engine ranking parameters. Also, search engine crawlers do not index content hidden behind a wall.Shows lower bounce rates and can be indexed by search engines.
Lead qualityGenerates higher quality leads.May include higher qualified leads
EngagementEngagement is low20-50 times more engagement
ConversionGenerates up to 52% higher conversion rate Conversion rate is relatively low
AccessHidden behind a wall (or form).Readily accessible to website visitors.

What is a paywall (also known as mid-gated/smart-gated content)?

Since the beginning of the 17th century, the media industry has used the advertising model as its revenue generation tactic. As the digital age blew up in its full glory, advertising became intrusive and was getting in the way of quality journalism. So, in 1996, The Wall Street Journal put up a paywall to partially gate its content. However, the concept of a paywall is still poorly defined to some.

A paywall is a digital blockade, restricting access to content until a fee is paid or a subscription is purchased. Sounds like gated content, doesn’t it? 

Well, paywalls are quite different. While gated content requests contact information in exchange for access, paywalls require monetary commitments. Also, gated content is a lead generation strategy that helps brands sell a product or service to prospects that goes through the funnel. With paywalls, the content behind the paywall is the product being sold. 

The Wall Street Journal incorporating paywalls revealed that the news articles provided by journalists can be sold as products. Immediately, it was considered a more consistent revenue stream than auctioned advertising. By 2019, over 69% of publishers in the US and Europe had implemented a paywall to their websites.

Benefits of putting up a paywall

Simply adopting the paywall model as an alternative and more reliable revenue generation model isn’t enough. Paywalls present more benefits than that, as well as avoid limitations that plague the gated content method. Here are some of the benefits. 

  1. Build a loyal community of readers: To set up a paywall, you are confident that the quality of your content is worth paying for and your website visitors can confirm that by subscribing to read your content. With this, you can filter out those readers that are unwilling to pay for the value of your content. Only very loyal customers who see and appreciate the content will stick around. 
  2. Strengthens your brand: Brands associated with paywalls are almost automatically considered to be a credible source of information. Platforms like The Times, New York Times, WSJ, WIRED, The Athletic, and many others are considered trusted sources of information for this reason. 
  3. SEO-friendly: Ironically, keeping content behind a paywall doesn’t stop it from being indexed by search engines, especially if the headline and a few sentences are accessible to readers.  

When to smart-gate content?

While it’s an effective tactic for media companies, it may be well suited for many types of businesses. Nevertheless, many marketers and content distributors have found smart-gated content to be useful in some cases. 

Limiting access: 

Using a partially gated content approach, marketers can limit the number of times that each user can access an asset. Requiring them to sign in before accessing content can help you keep track of how many times they’ve viewed or downloaded that asset. Stock image licensing platforms, like Adobe and Shutterstock, make good use of this approach.

Distribution control: 

Geo-restricted content is usually partially gated. Netflix and Prime Videos use this approach to comply with location-specific copyright laws by restricting users outside a region from viewing content restricted to that region. However, users are allowed to view the trailers and excerpts of that content. 

What content should you gate, ungate, or smart-gate your content?

In inbound marketing, there are three categories of content. The Top of Funnel (TOFU) content is used to create brand awareness and drive in as many raw leads as possible. This type of content focuses entirely on your target audience, identifying their needs and interests, and addressing their pain points. At this stage, reaching a large audience is best practice.

On the flip side of the sales funnel is the Bottom of Funnel (BOFU) content. Here, the objective of the content is to convert as many leads into paying customers. Most BOFU content is characterized by discount offers, free trials, and stirring CTAs.

Somewhere in the sales journey, between TOFU and BOFU, exists the Middle of Funnel (MOFU) content. The primary objective of MOFU content is to test lead quality and segment them accordingly. This testing and segmentation will inform marketers on when to move a segment down the funnel or readdress the nurturing approach. 

It is within this MOFU stage that the hard decision of whether to gate, ungate, or partially gate content comes in. However, you can figure out which approach is best for you in 5 steps. 

Know your audience 

Inasmuch as this step is crucial, it’s a relatively easy one because any audience that you are considering in your ‘gating’ plans is likely to be in the sales funnel already. However, you might have limited knowledge of them since most TOFU content collects nothing more than email addresses.  

Despite only having their emails, there are several other ways to segment your audience. You can focus your research on returning website visitors who have expressed some level of interest in your business through engagements (e.g. button clicks and downloads).

Understand the business case 

If a user is returning to your website, they must find something truly beneficial. To figure out whether to gate or ungate your MOFU content, you should take an extra step to precisely understand how your product is meeting their needs. If you decide to go with gated content, this knowledge will help you create top-quality pregate content that will convert. 

Have a smooth transition plan 

Simply collecting more contact information through gated content is not enough. You should know how to take your customer to the next step of the sales funnel. If you are yet to figure this step out, it’s best you go with ungated content. Either way, though, you still need to help them transition. 

Use data to make decisions 

If you are still not sure which approach to take, you can try A/B testing by segmenting your audience into two categories and analyzing the outcome. You can use the data from this test to make a website-wide decision. Who knows? Maybe more traffic doesn’t exactly translate to a higher bottom line. 

Be consistent 

Consistency drives the final nail in the decision coffin. So, whichever direction you decide to follow (gated or ungated), you should maintain that track for a while. This will give your users some time to get used to your methods. An inconsistent approach may affect user experience and increase sales funnel leaks. 

Conclusion

If high website traffic and user engagement have direct impacts on your product adoption, keeping your content ungated can be an advisable direction to follow, especially if it’s platform/product-based. However, when offering high-end products, you may find yourself filtering your audience to focus your efforts on top-quality leads. In this case, using gated content proves to be the best strategy. 

Interestingly, not all published content is created to boost brand awareness or convert sales. In the media industry, for instance, the content itself is the product to be sold. As such, using a paywall to partially gate the content and collect payment from consumers before accessing “the product” is a very effective revenue generation model to consider. 

Even though the paywall model provides a more enticing incentive in the form of consistent revenue generation, you have to truly understand its compatibility with your business case before choosing to implement it. Otherwise, it would be smarter to first experiment with a small segment of your target audience to see how they respond.

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