Trick or Treat? Is Gated Content a Graveyard for B2B Content Marketing?

November 1, 2023

While gated content remains prevalent in B2B marketing, the evolving digital landscape—and the people who seek information there—demands a more nuanced approach.

As a B2B marketer, you must weigh the benefits of lead capture against potential drawbacks like reduced engagement, poor SEO performance, and reputation damage.

In this post, I’m going to briefly explain the pros and cons of gating, then describe four alternative pathways you should consider.

By choosing the best approach, you can tailor your marketing strategy to capture leads while also building lasting relationships and brand authority in an increasingly competitive environment.


Gated Content: The Balancing Act

As B2B content marketing evolves from traditional, paper-based, boots-on-the-ground tactics to a digital-first approach, the use of gated content seems to be a no-brainer.

Simply have a web form do the work where human salespeople used to control the flow of product information in exchange for prospects’ contact information.

Why wouldn’t someone interested in buying your product or service gladly provide their information in exchange for valuable resources like whitepapers, reports, and webinar tickets?

The short answer is that it’s more complicated than that.

B2B buyers researching and evaluating products online are doing so because:

1. It’s convenient.

2. They can remain anonymous, reducing the risk of getting spammed afterwards.

3. They don’t have to deal with a salesperson.

Coughing up their contact information reduces or eliminates all three benefits.

In the spirit of Halloween, imagine they are asking themselves, “Trick or treat?”

Will they get some information candy from you?

Or are you going to pull a fast one, give them something of little value, and then use their contact information to harass them afterwards?

Let’s examine each side of this balance.


The Benefits of Gated Content

The primary objective of most content gating is to generate leads.

By requiring interested visitors to fill out a contact form, your business can capture valuable information about potential prospects.

This can be used to start a conversation about their needs, where they are in their buyer’s journey, and what else you can provide to help them move toward a purchase decision.

Since prospects willing to provide their contact details are usually more serious and further along in their buying journey, this is a selective process that allows for targeted marketing efforts.

Importantly, having prospects opt-in to receive information from you relieves you of most privacy law concerns.

Unlike email addresses that are scraped or purchased, you’re free to send form-fillers marketing and nurturing emails.

Gating can also increase the perceived value of your content.

When users must 'pay' with their details, it subconsciously increases the perceived worth of the material they will receive in return.

Hold that thought while we shift our focus to the other side of the balance...


The Downsides of Gated Content

First and foremost, gating content creates an immediate barrier to engagement.

Potential leads can be deterred by the need to provide additional information, especially if they are in the early research stages of their buyer’s journey.

The longer the contact form, the higher the barrier.

Personally, if I’m asked to enter more than just my name and email address, I’m hitting the back button.

Next, gated content will struggle to perform well from an SEO perspective because search engines can’t access the content to index it.

Is it worth hiding some of your best content from the algorithms in return for contact information from a much smaller number of potential prospects?

That answer might be yes, especially if your content is only relevant to a narrow, specialized audience, but it’s important to think through the calculation.

Third, while gating content might increase the number of leads generated, it doesn't always improve the quality.

Some users will provide false information. Others will immediately unsubscribe after receiving the content.

Some will be downloading the content for a non-purchase reason—such as finding examples for their own marketing, gathering competitive intelligence, or researching a related topic with no intent to purchase.

Finally, let’s come back to that idea of perceived value.

A carpet, some velvet rope, and an imposing individual employed to check IDs can make a non-descript doorway look like the entrance to a swanky nightclub.

But, if what lies on the other side of the door doesn’t live up to “latest nightclub” expectations, the punters will quickly leave, disillusioned and feeling cheated.

The bigger the hype and the more difficult it is to get in, the greater their expectations and the higher the risk of disappointment.

The same holds true for gated content.

If you ask visitors to complete a multi-row contact form in return for accessing your “valuable” content, they had better feel satisfied by the value they receive.

If not, your brand reputation will be damaged, and they will be much less likely to return to your website or other digital properties—let alone to make a purchase.

Data gathered by Pestle Analysis showed that a single bad content experience made users 88% less likely to revisit a website and decreased the probability of a sale by 40%.

Importantly, it’s not about how valuable you think your content should be to the recipient; it’s about how valuable they actually find it to be.

Do your homework on prospects’ information needs (e.g., buyer’s journey mapping) and what else is out there (e.g., Google search) before convincing yourself that a piece of content is worthy of the gated “nightclub” treatment.


Alternatives to Gating Content

We’ve established several reasons why gating content might be counter-productive, so, what to do instead?

There are four primary pathways to consider:

1. Leave the content ungated (the inbound marketing approach)

2. Employ a hybrid model (the freemium approach)

3. Provide a different opt-in (the newsletter approach)

4. High-grade your gated content (the value-add approach)

Let’s briefly explore the benefits of each.

Which one (or combination) you choose will be highly dependent on your situation—the market you serve, the type of solution you offer, the size and specialism of your audience, and the uniqueness and value of information you are writing about.


Capture mind share and build trust by offering high-quality information "candy" to your prospects

Ungated Content

Offering valuable resources without hiding them behind a gate can help you attract a broader audience.

It improves SEO, as more of your content is available for indexing, and it encourages others to share it, helping you to build trust and domain authority.

However, the opportunity for lead generation is inherently less direct, and you will have to work harder to track engagement and eventually capture prospect information.

This is the world of inbound marketing, where you consistently publish relevant, helpful information for prospects at each stage of their buyer’s journey.

You rely on capturing mind share and establishing a trust relationship with prospects based on the quantity and quality of relevant information they find from you.

This is the essence of content marketing.

Done well, it stands the greatest chance of winning high-value, loyal customers because it focuses on helping them make the right buying decision, without requiring them to work with your business.


A Hybrid Model

In much the same way that app developers produce featured-limited versions of their tools for people to try, with more feature-rich versions requiring an in-app payment, you can employ a mix of gated and ungated content.

Consider offering introductory resources freely, then gating more in-depth materials.

This “freemium” approach balances lead generation with audience building and thought leadership.

It is different from simply gating your most in-depth, valuable content because it explicitly links a simplified “try before you buy” version to the gated material.

I’ve seen an increasing number of survey reports being gated behind a free summary of key findings.

Sometimes you can download the first chapter of a report (or book) before having to provide contact information (and sometimes payment) to access the rest.

The main downside of this approach is that it can be complex to manage and requires a keen understanding of which content should be gated.

Give too much away for free and no one will pass through the gate; too little, and the value won’t be sufficiently clear to persuade people to give you their information.


The Optional Gate

Instead of gating specific content, invite interested visitors to subscribe to a newsletter or email list.

This builds a direct line of communication with prospects without restricting them from accessing your content.

Rather than simply slapping a sign-up button on every webpage and blog post, which tends to attract less-qualified leads and spam, consider using a pop-up form linked to time on page or embedding the newsletter signup part-way into your content with a clear tie-in to the interest they’ve shown by reading that far.

The downside of a newsletter approach relative to gated content is that it will take time for you to convert subscribers into leads.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Relationships built overtime tend to be more lasting and more likely to convert into significant orders.


High-Grade Your Content

If you’re still convinced that gating content is the right approach for your situation, focus on maximizing the value-add for your prospect.

Consider what type and format of content will be most valuable to them, both in terms of the information it conveys and how easy it is to ingest, understand, and apply.

Alternatives to information-dense documents, such as quizzes, assessments, or calculators, are often inherently more valuable to the user—and therefore a better bargain in exchange for their contact information.

This type of content can be both engaging and provide immediate value, encouraging users to share it with their peers as well as feeling good about having revealed their information to you.

The downside to this approach is that creating quality interactive content takes a lot of time and effort.

And that’s the bottom line…


The Bottom Line

When prospects see you offering something of interest but then run into a form demanding their contact information, they ask themselves, “Trick or treat?”

If they suspect you’re trying to trick them—by providing too little value in return for their details—you risk being labeled a witch and never seeing them back on your website, let alone buying your solution.

Instead, figure out the best way to treat them nicely.

It will require more time and effort on your part to either:

1. Stick with content marketing and allow the inbound leads to come to you, or

2. Develop more complex freemium content, or

3. Work harder and longer to convert newsletter subscribers into leads, or

4. Produce higher-value gated content.

Gated content that sits behind a long contact form is off-putting to visitors and blocks the content from search engine crawlers.

Before you automatically condemn your best content to a gated graveyard, ask yourself “trick or treat?” and make sure you’re being as helpful to your prospects as possible.


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Image credits: Adobe Stock


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