Content Gating Is Overrated; Here's Why

Daan Reijnders
by Daan Reijnders 16 Jan, 2023
Lead generation has become the top content marketing priority for businesses and the result is that many of their most exceptional and substantial marketing assets are now being used as lead magnets.

Things like e-books, whitepapers, ultimate guides, checklists, toolkits and other tempting content offers are more frequently being gated behind contact forms.

Content gating is a popular technique for generating inbound leads. The idea is that with a tantalizing title, a strong call-to-action and a low-friction form, website visitors will flock to a piece of content like fish to bait and hand over contact information before one can say "please." Marketing and sales teams can then enjoy a steady inflow of hot leads.

At least, that's how it's supposed to work.

While offering something of value in exchange for contact information is a solid strategy for lead generation in theory, content gating has drawbacks, too. One of the most pervasive of these is fake lead data. Increasingly more Internet users are using temporary email addresses to access and download content - meaning that instead of swimming in hot leads, marketing and sales teams may find themselves swamped with low-quality or even fake ones.

In addition to this, the rapid proliferation of pop-ups, slide-ins and intrusive overlays has become so maddening to many people that it's now one of the main drivers behind the widespread adoption of ad-blocking software. In other words, the same lead magnets that are intended to capture lead data may also be driving website visitors away.

Because of these trends (and more reasons outlined below), many marketers are starting to question whether "hidden behind a form" is really the best place for their first-rate content assets to be. Inbound marketers should therefore be asking: Are the leads I'm currently generating really worth it, or are there more effective ways to put my best content assets to use?

Let's dive into three reasons why marketers might choose to raise the gates and consider making their content openly accessible.

1. Expanding Reach
According to marketing strategist David Meerman Scott, ungated content gets downloaded between 10 and 20 times more than gated content.

Lots of time and resources are invested into researching, writing and designing quality e-books, whitepapers and other content offers. Those efforts are squandered if the resulting work is made inaccessible. If a company limits their audience to the small segment of visitors who respond positively to popups and overlays, it means they're severely restricting the potential reach of their content.

On the other hand, if this quality content is made freely accessible on the Web, far more people will find and consume it. If the content is really good, they will be impacted enough to move further along the customer journey and initiate contact on their terms.

Ungated content also has a higher chance of being shared, and thus being seen by more people. While a gated PDF might occasionally be emailed to a friend or colleague, it's not exactly easy for users to share with their larger networks. But with an open-access digital piece of content, sharing options can be incorporated right on the page, drastically increasing potential reach and engagement (while also keeping it measurable).

2. Boosting SEO
Content assets like e-books, whitepapers, brochures and guides are often keyword-rich, substantive and authoritative pieces - exactly the type of content that is likely to rank high on search engine result pages. It's the type of content that other websites and authors are likely to reference and link to. However, if the said piece is accessible only after filling out a form, search engine crawlers will not find or index it; and no SEO benefits will be derived.

Conversely, if content is made openly accessible, search engines will discover and index it, third-party websites will link to it (if it is of sufficient quality), and it will contribute to the overall domain authority and visibility of the website on which it's hosted.

3. Improving Lead Quality
It might seem that there is a big tradeoff here, as if choosing not to gate content means forgoing the opportunity to collect leads but that's not necessarily true. If content is helpful and engaging, readers may very well be willing to opt in somewhere in the middle, or even at the end. The advantage here is that readers now have a better idea of what to expect. If they are sufficiently impressed by the content they're reading, they will be more likely to want to continue receiving updates; and the chances are higher that they'll be leads worth following up with.

Including opt-in forms within content assets instead of using them to wall content off also creates less of a transactional feel for new visitors. Starting a customer relationship with a request for contact information does not contribute toward the trust-building, getting-to-know-you phase. Allowing interested prospects to opt-in on their own terms may decrease lead volumes, but it will inevitably have a positive effect on lead quality.

Content gating in its current form is both overplayed and overrated. It may be effective for generating leads, but the disadvantages that come with restricting top-notch content are substantial. The generally low lead quality, the fake lead data, the reduced reach and the forfeiting of SEO benefits are argument enough for marketers to knock down the gate and make their content openly accessible.

About the Author
Daan Reijnders ( @daanreijnders) is a digital marketing veteran and the CEO of Instant Magazine, a content management platform that amassed 1,000-plus clients all over the world in under 3 years.