Why people are turning against gated content (and how to get it right)
Last updated: December 5, 2022
To gate or not to gate? It’s one of the hottest sources of debate among marketers, and for good reason.
For years, gating content was seen as a mutually beneficial transaction. Marketers get more first-party data about their audiences, and in return, audiences get content they can use to improve their work/lives.
That’s changed in recent years. Privacy concerns and spammy marketing practices have many audiences turning away from gated content. A significant number of marketers have abandoned the practice entirely.
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That’s not to say that you need to get rid of your gated content – or that it’s a necessary evil that marketers need to endure for the sake of getting leads. Executed well, gated content can enhance the customer experience as well.
Some important benefits of gated content include:
- Marketers use gated content to generate first-party data about their audiences, which they use to personalize content recommendations, provide targeted offers/promotions and create more actionable audience segments. Done well, that improves customer experience, retention and lifetime value.
- Marketers also use gated content to identify what pieces of information are highest priority for audiences. With that, they can create more instructional resources around those topics.
- Media companies use the revenue generated by paywalls to finance long-term investigative reporting and writer salaries.
Why are people turning away from gated content?
Before creating your own gated content, let’s explore why it’s gotten such a strong backlash in recent years (and give you some examples to avoid moving forward).
- Gated content adds friction to the user experience: Imagine: You’re hooked by an article’s headline and anticipate that you’ll get some good insights. Then, wham! You’re blocked by a pop-up asking you to provide your name, company, email, social security number and mother’s maiden name before reading on. We’re exaggerating, but the point remains: Gated content disrupts the visitor’s momentum right as they’re ready to read your piece.
- Gated content often overpromises and under-delivers: If you’re asking people to give you their contact information to get content, there’s an implicit assumption that the content in question will be more useful than your average Google search. So, if your gated content isn’t actionable, well-researched and tactical, readers will likely feel cheated – and that’ll reflect poorly on your brand.
- Companies tend to misuse the data generated by gated content: If someone downloads an eBook by your company, it’s possible that they are interested in buying your product. But it’s much more likely that the reader wanted to learn something that’ll make their own job easier. They may not even have the authority to buy your product. Unfortunately, less savvy marketers tend to treat these two parties the same – and add everyone to that 27-email drip campaign. (This can turn previously neutral users away from your content. And when they are able to buy? It won’t be from you.)
How can I create better gated content?
If you’re going to gate content in 2023, you need to provide truly differentiated content and execute the follow-up tastefully. We’ll give you a few ways to do that below:
1.Reduce the number of required form fields
By nature, gated content adds friction to the user experience. Mitigate that by requiring the minimum number of responses on your forms (i.e., everything but name and email is optional). Another alternative is progressive profiling. Here, you put different prompts on different forms (e.g., you ask for someone’s title on one piece’s form and their company on the other).
Through progressive profiling, you can gradually add to someone’s customer profile as they read more of your content. This makes the exchange of information more fair to customers without depriving your marketing/sales teams of useful customer data.
2. Create differentiated content
When people exchange their personal information for content that’s not valuable, they often feel like they’ve been duped. So what makes good gated content? The best gated content does two things:
- Helps audiences solve concrete pain points. If people leave your article feeling like they can solve a problem, they’ll see the exchange of information as a good trade. (Tools and templates are also reasonable to gate since they reduce ambiguity and can be replicated quarter over quarter.)
- Supports your points with proprietary research and/or expert insights. Only gate content that can’t be found via a Google Search on the topic. Usually, this means injecting unique research or expertise into your piece.
For example, at Omeda, we gate our quarterly Email Engagement Report, since this combines industry insights with in-depth email reporting of more than 1 billion emails sent through our platform. (Pst: Even if your content meets those standards, people may hesitate to download because of previous bad experiences. Counter this by providing an extensive outline of your content on the landing page. This ensures that audiences won’t feel misled when they see your actual piece.)
3. Match gated content topics to sales priorities
Given the amount it takes to craft truly exceptional content, you should plan to use it only to advance a clear sales need. Think about your organization’s biggest sales goals, then think about the topics that will elicit the leads they need to meet those goals.
4. Use the data generated by gated content for good – and tell audiences about it
Skepticism around gated content stems from a lack of trust. I know I’ve looked at a contact information page and thought, “This company wants my name and email? They’re definitely about to put me in a 10-email drip campaign pressuring me to purchase a product I don’t have the authority to buy.”
But as discussed earlier in this piece, marketers can also harness that data for good, like offering personalized content and promotions. Counteract skepticism by telling people how you’ll use their information to improve their experience.
Also ask attendees to select whether they’d like a free trial of your upgraded membership. This reassures people that they won’t get the hard sell if they don’t want it, making them more likely to view your content. (And if they end up wanting that demo after consuming multiple pieces of content? All the better.)
5. Provide a limited amount of “free” views per month
News websites often allow readers to access one or two articles for free before putting up a paywall. If you implement this on your own site, the person who’s only interested in reading one article gets to read it without getting funneled into a sales campaign, whereas the person who’s reading multiple pieces of content gets prompted to provide their information. Besides improving the user experience, this also helps marketing and sales isolate product-motivated readers and target them with more specified sales messages.
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