Content marketers seem to have a tit-for-tat mentality. I'll give you this alluring piece of content that is really useful to your buying process IF you give me your contact information for further use.
We allocate a significant proportion of our marketing budgets to craft engaging pieces of content only to lock it behind a lead form.
Gated vs. ungated content is an interesting point of discussion among B2B marketing strategists. "Gating", the term used to describe the process in which content masterminds lure readers to fill out a registration form before viewing or downloading a piece of content, is rife with unsettled questions.
Do we create extremely valuable content and gratuitously deliver it form-free in exchange for brand awareness and viral consumption? Or should we deliver equally valuable content shielded by a lead form in exchange for demographic or firmographic information to build databases and fill the pipelines?
The Barrier-Free Stance
Sometimes dangling the carrot in front of the horse works. Sometimes it results in a pissed off horse. Should attractive content be gated in exchange for information? And when should you just give the carrot to the irritated hungry horse?
While a steady income of potential sales may tempt you into gating every piece of content, prominent strategists discourage this move for the sake of brand awareness. David Meerman Scott, an industry-leading marketing and sales strategist notes that "a white paper or eBook will be downloaded 20 to 50 times more without a gate in front of it." (Tweet This Stat!) It's a reality- less people read gated content. Easily accessible content is more likely to be shared through social and email channels, thus building awareness and trust.
Not only does form-free content enable "content evangelism", claims Hubspot editor Corey Eridon, presenting free-of-charge information to the public also has added SEO benefits. Since content behind the gate is rarely optimized for search engine preferences, delivering products without a barrier can lead to better ranking, more inbound links, and added site traffic.
In Support of a Walled-Garden
The primary organization goal of content marketing is generating leads, according to 74% of B2B marketers surveyed for the B2B Small Business Content Marketing: 2013 Benchmarks, Budget, and Trends -- North America from the Content Marketing Institute (CMI). And although form-free content may harvest an exponential amount of site visits and fresh faces, gating content with lead forms will be a realistic requirement for B2B companies with this marketing goal. Logic has it that those who fill out a lead form are further along in the buying process and deemed qualified to speak with a represented or move forward in making a purchase. And, research agrees with this buyer's intent.
In TechTarget's report, When Worlds Converge: Similarities in Brand Reception and Media Consumption of IT and Personal Technology Buyers, B2B buyers were open to sharing personal identifying information when they were further along in the buying process. Of the 3,269 buyers surveyed, 43% said they were somewhat willing and 42% were very willing to share their contact information when they are ready to make a purchase (tweet this awesome stat).
A Look at a Successful Gating Strategy
Jon Miller, Marketo Co-founder and VP of Marketing explains the distilled process they implement when delivering content. At initial contact with a first-time visitor, they provide broad, ungated content that might add value to the viewer, regardless if they result in an actualized sale. This step establishes free brand awareness and sparks interest. Content appropriate for this stage includes:
- "Fun" content like humorous videos and curated lists
Secondly, their middle stage content is the "bait" content that educates potential purchasers, hooking them into learning more about the product. The content delivered in this stage is gated behind a form to gather lead information and allow for further nurturing. Example of content produced at this stage include:
- Detailed white papers
- ROI calculators
- Request For Proposal (RFP) templates
- Analyst Reports
When buyers reach the final stage of the process, which involves company-specific information, most of the content should be freely accessible. This is the stage where you are sharing content like:
- Third-party reviews
- Case studies
Others supply a much more algorithmic approach to content gating. Chris Jablonski of ZDNet, applies the following formula to their delivery process: 10% to 20% fully gated content, 20% to 30% name and email only, and 50% to 70% completely free.
The debate boils down to determining the purpose for each piece of your content. If your primary marketing concern is building brand awareness at the present moment, then deliver a higher dosage of ungated content. Conversely if one of your major marketing initiatives includes stockpiling leads, then determine a healthy mixture of both free and form-gated piece. Not all marketing strategies are the same so decide for yourself when it's appropriate to give the carrot to the horse.