Gating content like white papers, ebooks, and webinars behind forms is now so common and widespread among inbound B2B content marketing programs, that it’s difficult to find a modern website that doesn’t do it. And here's why: it’s a proven tactic for generating new contacts and qualified leads, which are the top content marketing priorities for any growing business.
At the same time, there is an ongoing debate among marketers as to whether gating content is really the best approach for a brand’s most valuable content.
The Great Gate Debate: Which Way Works?
Before we take a look at the merits of gating your content vs. "free"/open access, let's share a definition and dispel a common myth.
Gated content is defined as content that cannot be accessed, by either a human or a web index crawler, unless the user provides some information in return.
Once upon a time, there was a myth that Google couldn't crawl PDFs. Creating fear that if you had your content stored as a PDF behind a lead form, it would never be found by search engines and damage your SEO. That myth has since been busted by Google. In 2011, the world’s most popular search engine said:
“Google first started indexing PDF files in 2001 and currently has hundreds of millions of PDF files indexed.”
So rest assured that lead forms and PDFs do not adversely impact your SEO efforts.
Now that we have that settled, let’s talk about the merits of both systems.
Merits of Gating Content
The main advantage to gating content is that it allows you to collect information about your visitors, and generate new contacts and inbound leads. Offering a highly technical piece of content targeted to your primary personas, incentivizes your users to share their data. And for your sales team, these self-qualified inbound leads are generally of greater value than those acquired through cold outreach.
Another advantage is that it can make your content seem more valuable. This is due to the psychological bias that causes us to attribute greater value to things that are more expensive. The fact that visitors must “pay” with their personal information makes them more likely to view your content as “premium” and more authoritative than something they might get for free.
One key aspect of gating content is to create a compelling landing page to set expectations of what prospects will gain from providing their personal information in the form on the right.
The biggest mistake we see companies make on landing pages is having a form that asks for too much information and includes too many fields.
Keep form fields to three fields only to increase conversions:
- First Name
- Last Name
- Business Email
Industry-standard conversion rates for landing page views-to-form completion (i.e. lead generation) is 20%. However, depending on how compelling the content topic is and how effective the landing page overview is -- I've seen conversions as high as 50%.
Merits of Open Access
On the other hand, openly accessible content has a number of advantages as well. Most notable among them is greater reach. "Free" content will be seen by more people and can be shared across platforms and can earn inbound links.
So, which approach is best?
The truth is there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Whether you choose to gate a piece of content or not should depend on a number of factors regarding the content itself, your marketing goals, and the audience you’re trying to reach.
It's important to make sure you have a content strategy in place that includes content along the buying funnel to ensure a frictionless buyer's journey. A content calendar does not equal a content strategy. Understanding what your team wants to achieve with your content can help you build a strategy.Recommendation: Create a balance of both "free" and gated content along the buying funnel.
Here are the top-of-the-funnel content types that TREW believes should always be "free":
- Blog posts
- Case studies
- Interactive graphics
Here are the middle-of-the-funnel content types that TREW believes should be gated:
1. The White Paper
HubSpot provides a great definition of a white paper: a persuasive, authoritative, in-depth report on a specific topic that presents a problem and provides a solution. It speaks right to the heart of a prospective lead because it delivers a thoughtful discussion of their pain points around their business challenge while offering some hope in the form of a solution.
Among the hallmarks of a white paper is it contains industry insights and third-party research lending credibility and an outside perspective. It’s academic in nature because it seeks to inform the reader and get them thinking “outside of the box” at a time when they’re eager to find a new way of doing things and open to change.
Importantly, the white paper does not contain a sales pitch. It’s not designed to “sell” your company’s solution. While it should definitely speak to your unique approach to solving the reader’s challenge, its main job is to deliver an essentially objective message—a message that, naturally, leads them toward wanting to learn more about your solution.
Here's an example of a white paper from Vertech.
2. The On-Demand Webinar
The digital seminar has become a go-to venue for today’s busy professional. And if that professional is investigating your marketplace to solve a business problem, you want to get in front of them with relevant, informative, thought-provoking content—and deliver it in a personal, high-impact way.
Content-wise, the webinar has a lot in common with the white paper. It provides participants with high-level insights into business trends associated with their pain points and gives some actionable advice on solving their problems. And it highlights just enough of your company’s solution to compel them to learn more.
While webinars can also be effectively leveraged to pull in leads closer to the middle or even end of the sales cycle, a webinar designed to attract early-stage sales leads shouldn’t make a hard sell. It should be crafted to educate in a way that’s at once persuasive yet non-threatening. At this point, potential buyers want to know what other companies are doing and get a lay of the land. They don’t necessarily care about you or your solution—and they certainly don’t want to be sold on it.
But showing them that you understand their challenges and have the resources to help them can keep them engaged. Your goal should be to establish thought leadership, share what you know, and invite participants to take the next step. And having participated in your webinar—they’re officially a lead—so you can guide them where you want to take them.
3. The Ebook.
Ebook is short for "electronic book," and uses either a computer, mobile device, or ebook reader to display long-form texts in book form. Think of ebooks as the cooler, younger sibling of the white paper.
An ebook is more conversational in tone, less scholarly, and may present an overall look at an issue, trend, or industry, rather than a deep dive into a particular problem or solution.
Like a white paper, an ebook addresses a hot topic. But while a white paper generally presents original research or findings, an ebook can include original content, or repurpose content that has appeared in other formats. For example, a common form of ebook repurposes blog posts and adds additional related information from industry experts and thought leaders along with visuals, charts, graphs, and pull quotes to make it more engaging and scannable.
Regardless of what stage your business is in, or what your overarching content goals are, you should aim for a healthy balance of both gated and "free" content.