Content Gating: When, Whether, and How to Put Your Content Behind an Email/Form Capture – Whiteboard Friday
Have you ever considered gating your content to get leads? Whether you choose to have open-access content or gate it to gather information, there are benefits and drawbacks you should be aware of. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand weighs the pros and cons of each approach and shares some tips for improving your process, regardless of whichever route you go.
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about content gating.
This is something that a lot of content marketers use, particularly those who are interested in generating leads, individuals that their salespeople or sales teams or outreach folks or business development folks can reach out to specifically to sell a product or start a conversation. Many content marketers and SEOs use this type of content as a lure to essentially attract someone, who then fills in form fields to give enough information so that the sales pipeline gets filled or the leads pipeline gets filled, and then the person gets the content.
As opposed to the classic model that we’re used to in a more open content marketing and open SEO world of, “Let me give you something and then hopefully get something in return,” it’s, “You give me something and I will give you this thing in return.” This is a very, very popular tactic. You might be familiar with Moz and know that my general bias and Moz’s general bias is against content gating. We sort of have a philosophical bias against it, with the exception of, on the Moz Local side, some enterprise stuff, that that marketing team may be doing, may in the future include some gating. But generally, at Moz, we’re sort of against it.
However, I don’t want to be too biased. I recognize that it does have benefits, and I want to explain some of those benefits and drawbacks so that you can make your own choices of how to do it. Then we’re going to rock through some recommendations, some tactical tips that I’ve got for you around how you can improve how you do it, no matter whether you are doing open content or full content gating.
Benefits of gating content
The two. This is the gated idea. So you get this free report on the state of artificial intelligence in 2016. But first, before you get that report, you fill in all these fields: name, email, role, company website, Twitter, LinkedIn, what is your budget for AI in 2017 and you fill in a number. I’m not kidding here. Many of these reports require these and many other fields to be filled in. I have filled in personally several that are intense in order to get a report back. So it’s even worked on me at times.
The opposite of that, of course, would be the report is completely available. You get to the webpage, and it’s just here’s the state of AI, the different sections, and you get your graphs and your charts, and all your data is right in there. Fantastic, completely free access. You’ve had to give nothing, just visit the website.
The benefits of gating are you actually get:
- More information about who specifically accessed the report. Granted, some of this information could be faked. There are people who work around that by verifying and validating at least the email address or those kinds of things.
- Those who expend the energy to invest in the report may view the data or the report itself as more valuable, more useful, more trustworthy, to carry generally greater value. This is sort of an element of human psychology, where we value things that we’ve had to work harder to get.
- Sales outreach to the folks who did access it may be much easier and much more effective because you obviously have a lot of information about those people, versus if you collected only an email or no information at all, in which case would be close to impossible.
Drawbacks of gating content
Let’s walk through the drawbacks of gating, some things that you can’t do:
- Smaller audience potential. It is much harder to get this in front of tons of people. Maybe not this page specifically, but certainly it’s hard to get amplification of this, and it’s very hard to get an audience, get many, many people to fill out all those form fields.
- Harder to earn links and amplification. People generally do not link to content like this. By the way, the people who do link to and socially amplify stuff like this usually do it with the actual file. So what they’ll do is they’ll look for State of AI 2016, filetype:pdf, site:yourdomain.com, and then they’ll find the file behind whatever you’ve got. I know there are some ways to gate that even such that no one can access it, but it’s a real pain.
- It also is true that some folks this leaves a very bad taste in their mouth. They have a negative brand perception around it. Now negative brand perception could be around having to fill this out. It could be around whether the content was worth it after they filled this out. It could be about the outreach that happens to them after they filled this out and their interest in getting this data was not to start a sales conversation. You also lose a bunch of your SEO benefits, because you don’t get the links, you don’t get the engagement. If you do rank for this, it tends to be the case that your bounce rate is very high, much higher than other people who might rank for things like the state of AI 2016. So you just struggle.
Benefits of open access
What are the benefits and drawbacks of open access? Well, benefits, pretty obvious:
- Greater ability to drive traffic from all channels, of course — social, search, word of mouth, email, whatever it is. You can drive a lot more people here.
- There’s a larger future audience for retargeting and remarketing. So the people who do reach the report itself in here, you certainly have an opportunity. You could retarget and remarket to them. You could also reach out to them directly. Maybe you could retarget and remarket to people who’ve reached this page but didn’t fill in any information. But these folks here are a much greater audience potential for those retargeting and remarketing efforts. Larry Kim from WordStream has shown some awesome examples. Marty Weintraub from Aimclear also has shown some awesome examples of how you can do that retargeting and remarketing to folks who’ve reached content.
- SEO benefits via links that point to these pages, via engagement metrics, via their ranking ability, etc. etc. You’re going to do much better with this. We do much better with the Beginner’s Guide to SEO on Moz than we would if it were gated and you had to give us your information first, of course.
Overall, if what you are trying to achieve is, rather than leads, simply to get your message to the greatest number of people, this is a far, far better effort. This is likely to reach a much bigger audience, and that message will therefore reach that much larger audience.
Drawbacks of open access
There are some drawbacks for this open access model. It’s not without them.
- It might be hard or even totally impossible to convert many or most of the visits that come to open access content into leads or potential leads. It’s just the case that those people are going to consume that content, but they may never give you information that will allow you to follow up or reach out to them.
- Information about the most valuable and important visitors, the ones who would have filled this thing out and would have been great leads is lost forever when you open up the content. You just can’t capture those folks. You’re not going to get their information.
So these two are what drive many folks up to this model and certainly the benefits of the gated content model as well.
So, my recommendations. It’s a fairly simple equation. I urge you to think about this equation from as broad a strategic perspective and then a tactical accomplishment perspective as you possibly can.
1. If audience size, reach, and future marketing benefits are greater than detailed leads as a metric or as a value, then you should go open access. If the reverse is true, if detailed leads are more valuable to you than the audience size, the potential reach, the amplification and link benefits, and all the future marketing benefits that come from those things, the ranking benefits and SEO benefits, if that’s the case, then you should go with a gated model. You get lots of people at an open access model. You get one person, but you know all their information in a gated content model.
2. It is not the case that this has to be completely either/or. There are modified ways to do both of these tactics in combination and concert. In fact, that can be potentially quite advantageous.
So a semi-gated model is something we’ve seen a few content marketers and companies start to do, where they have a part of the report or some of the most interesting aspects of the report or several of the graphics or an embedded SlideShare or whatever it is, and then you can get more of the report by filling in more items. So they’re sharing some stuff, which can potentially attract engagement and links and more amplification, and use in all sorts of places and press, and blog posts and all that kind of stuff. But then they also get the benefit of some people filling out whatever form information is critical in order to get more of that data if they’re very interested. I like this tease model a lot. I think that can work really, really well, especially if you are giving enough to prove your value and worth, and to earn those engagement and links, before you ask for a lot more.
You can go the other way and go a completely open model but with add-ons. So, for example, in this, here’s the full report on AI. If you would like more information, we conducted a survey with AI practitioners or companies utilizing AI. If you’d like the results of that survey, you can get that, and that’s in the sidebar or as a little notification in the report, a call to action. So that’s full report, but if you want this other thing that maybe is useful to some of the folks who best fit the interested in this data and also potentially interested in our product or service, or whatever we’re trying to get leads for, then you can optionally put your information in.
I like both of these. They sort of straddle that line.
3. No matter which one or which modified version you do, you should try and optimize the outcomes. That means in an open content model:
- Don’t ignore the fact that you can still do retargeting to all the people who visited this open content and get them back to your website, on to potentially a very relevant offer that has a high conversion rate and where you can do CRO testing and those kinds of things. That is completely reasonable and something that many, many folks do, Moz included. We do a lot of remarketing around the web.
- You can drive low-cost, paid traffic to the content that gets the most shares in order to bump it up and earn more amplification, earn more traffic to it, which then gives you a broader audience to retarget to or a broader audience to put your CTA in front of.
- If you are going to go completely gated, a lot of these form fields, you can infer or use software to get and therefore get a higher conversion rate. So for example, I’m asking for name, email, role, company, website, Twitter, and LinkedIn. In fact, I could ask exclusively for LinkedIn and email and get every single one of those from just those two fields. I could even kill email and ask them to sign in with LinkedIn and then request the email permission after or as part of that request. So there are options here. You can also ask for name and email, and then use a software service like FullContact’s API and get all of the data around the company, website, role and title, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc., etc. that are associated with that name or in that email address. So then you don’t have to ask for so much information.
- You can try putting your teaser content in multiple channels and platforms to maximize its exposure so that you drive more people to this get more. If you’re worried that hey this teaser won’t reach enough people to be able to get more of those folks here, you can amplify that through putting it on SlideShare or republishing on places like Medium or submitting the content in guest contributions to other websites in legit ways that have overlapped audiences and share your information that you know is going to resonate and will make them want more. Now you get more traffic back to these pages, and now I can convert more of those folks to the get more system.
So content gating, not the end of the world, not the worst thing in the world. I personally dislike a lot of things about it, but it does have its uses. I think if you’re smart, if you play around with some of these tactical tips, you can get some great value from it.
I look forward to your ideas, suggestions, and experiences with content gating, and we’ll see you next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.
Moz, Friday, October 21, 2016