You create an incredible piece of content, gate it behind a beautifully constructed landing page and conversion form, and celebrate when you generate new leads from it, only to discover that your leads are from people with emails like:
My fellow marketers, I’ve been there and the struggle is real.
The reality is that the internet is flooded with ebooks, “ultimate guides to,” checklists and other content being tucked away behind form fills.
Buyers have grown tired of shelling out their private information in order to get a piece of content only to be bombarded with sales calls and spammy email pitches - or worse, to discover that the content they requested doesn’t really answer their questions or solve their problems.
In short, forms have become a “necessary evil” in the eyes of buyers and they’ve responded by providing fake email address (often with a dose of snark) as a way of getting what they want without having to deal with unwanted sales pitches.
There are even tools out there designed to give you a temporary email address to use just to fill out forms then disappear.
According to eMarketer, nearly nine in 10 business-to-business (B2B) companies in the US today use digital content marketing.
As Gary Vaynerchuk has said, “Producing content is now the baseline for all brands and companies.”
With so many companies creating content, and many of them doing so without much attention to detail or quality, buyers have taken note and approach conversion forms with an increasing level of skepticism.
This is with good reason, because — let’s be honest — there is a LOT of crappy content out there.
In an environment where buyers are suffering from form fatigue and conversion rates are dropping, it begs the question, should you still be gating your content?
As with many things, the answer to this question is, “it depends.”
When you should gate content
Despite the fact that conversion forms often get a bad rap in the eyes of buyers, there are still plenty of cases when it not only makes sense to gate your content, but your buyers will also be happy to fill out a form (with their real email address!).
When your content is extremely high value
There are definitely cases where buyers are more than willing to fill out a form to get content.
Often, this happens when the content they are trying to get is extremely in-depth or contains unique or original information or data that they can’t get anywhere else.
If you are producing original research or creating white papers with insights or thought leadership from sought-after authors, odds are that your website visitors will willingly fill out a form to get it.
When gated content is already performing well
If faced with the choice of what to do with existing content, let your conversion rates be your guide.
“If gated content is performing well, never ungate it. This is especially true for content that is research-based or has a high value associated with it. If gated content has high visit-to-lead rates, it's working. Conversely, if gated content is functioning as a bottleneck, or a detraction to users, then it's probably best to reduce the number of form fields or ungate the content completely.”
When you want to repurpose already ungated content
If you’re doing content marketing consistently, you’ve probably covered certain topics from several angles.
Where that is the case, you have an opportunity to make your content work even harder for you by compiling it together into a longer guide or ebook.
Michele Aymold of Parker Dewey did just this and had this to say:
“Where we had great performing blog post content, I packaged it up and offered it as a download (but kept the original post up and un-gated) - it gave me a new lead source and kept the content available for search.”
When you should not gate your content
While there are still a number of situations when it makes sense to gate content, there are also very compelling reasons NOT to gate it in certain circumstances.
When you need to generate more traffic
The purpose of gating content is to generate leads by requiring unknown visitors to enter their contact information in a form in order to get the content.
This works well when your website — and your landing pages — are already attracting a high volume of traffic. However, if this is not the case, and your traffic volume is low, then even a high-converting landing page might not produce a sufficient number of qualified leads.
Why put a ton of effort into writing an incredible ebook if you can only expect to get a handful of decent leads from it every month?
When content is gated, it is typically not accessible to search engines (though this is slowly changing), which means it does nothing to help your website rank organically and therefore isn’t going to help generate more traffic.
In this case, I would rather ungate that awesome ebook and put the content right on a website page so that Google and other search engines can crawl it.
This approach helps improve search engine rankings and increases the likelihood that more people will actually see your content - which in turn puts you in a better position to generate leads.
“We've done this with our first pillar piece and it is now not only one of our best performing pieces of content as far as traffic goes, but it also is becoming one of our top lead generators. It wasn't a hit overnight, but within 6 months it started to blossom! In addition, conversion rate is hovering just under 9% for already ungated content!”
When your gated offers aren’t performing well
It can be incredibly frustrating to create a great piece of content and then sit and watch as nobody converts or ever sees it.
Most marketers have experienced this and while the culprit could be bad landing page copy or something else, it might also be that you simply haven’t proven to your visitors that it will be worth their while to part with their contact information.
The best way to avoid this fate is to simply give away the content. Show your visitors how good it is without requiring anything of them.
Here’s the trick, though.
Even if you ungate it, you can still offer visitors the opportunity to download a PDF version by filling out a form.
And guess what? If your content is really good, they’ll do it!
I know, because this is exactly what we’ve done here at IMPACT.
We’ve taken a handful of existing ebooks and put them right on our website pages. We’ve also written a considerable number of new, in-depth guides that live ungated on our website.
These pillar pages are all available to anyone who visits our site and don’t require a form fill — BUT our visitors can request a PDF if they want to provide us with their email address.
Here’s what Liz Murphy, IMPACT’s Director of Web & Interactive Content, had to say about it:
“Ungating our content didn't hurt our lead flow at all. To the contrary, by sharing our content with our website visitors, we've been able to demonstrate the value that we provide through our content and if anything, it has resulted in a higher visitor-to-lead conversion rate, and more qualified bottom of the funnel leads."
Jennifer Shore of THOMASNET has also used this tactic to generate more leads:
“Huge ROI on this — even on bandwidth alone — taking that rich, long-form content we’d put so many calories into and using it for dual purpose (ungated for SEO, behind a wall for email). Additionally, did some A/B testing on social in dropping folks on a gated page versus the ungated page with links to download it as an eBook (along with newsletter signups and other ebook CTAs throughout the piece) and saw a pretty even amount on conversions for both. That said, this strategy contributed to an all-time high of conversion numbers, qualified leads and page views.”
You can have your cake and eat it too when you ungate your content in 2020
Since we started ungating content in 2018 and early 2019, our pillar pages have driven more than 25,000 website sessions and over 900 new contacts for the company.
But that’s not all. They have also influenced more than $550,000 in revenue.
John Booth, the VP of Marketing at Cipher Systems, had similar results:
“Eliminating the requirement for prospects to give us their email address when downloading our Guide to Competitive Intelligence may seem like a risky move for someone, such as me, whose job performance is judged by metrics like lead conversions. The good news is that my bet paid off and in the month since I implemented this change on our form, the number of new contacts we’ve gotten from the offer has increased by 900%.
Yup - you read that right - that is a 900% increase in new contacts simply by removing the requirement for prospects to give us their email address. Needless to say, I plan to roll out a similar change on several of our other top of the funnel forms.”
What I love about both our and John’s success is that not only did traffic increase, so did the number of qualified leads.
That’s right — qualified leads.
Anyone who is going to take the time to fill out a form and request content that they have already seen is virtually guaranteed to give you an accurate email address because the whole point of providing an email in this case is to get the content by email.
Bottom line — if growing top-of-funnel traffic is your highest priority or your current conversion offers aren’t performing well - ungating your content could actually kill two birds with one stone by improving your website’s organic visibility AND generating new, more qualified leads.