“The right way to sell… is to give away the house… and sell the backyard.” Derek halpern, Social Triggers

I’ve got a question for you. It might seem a little odd at first but just bear with me. I promise you’ll find it useful. Imagine you’re buying a house.

You’ve gone to meet the estate agent and he’s shown you around. You like it. But you’re not 100% sure.

And then he says something that shocks you: “It’s yours, for free.”

So you move in. You make it your own, get to know the local area and fall in love with the place. Then there’s a knock on your door. It’s the estate agent again.

And he’s got an offer. The free house you’re living in, he tells you, didn’t come with the garden. But you can buy it now. It’s a fair price and it’s totally optional.

What would you do? You already love your new home. And who wants a house without a garden?

The big problem for people that create great content

Now you might think this whole example is silly. Fair enough, you would probably keep that house in either case, with or without the garden. Who’s giving away houses for free anyway? But there is an important point here.

The story describes the way content marketing often works nowadays. People expect the house. They want all the important information for free. They want to move in, unpack their belongings and get to know what it’s like. Only then do they want the extras.

And this presents a big problem for people like you and me. It’s difficult to know when to make content free and when to ask for something in return. And the thing is, it’s not just any old freebie. This is valuable content, stuff that would easily be worthy of a book or paid training. So what should you do?

In this article, I’ll answer the question of when and when not to gate content. And i’ll explain why it essentially comes down to one question.

What is content gating?

Gated content is any form of media (blog post, eBook, video, infographic etc.) that is only accessible after a visitor to your site has handed over their contact details. The purpose of putting information behind a wall is to generate leads.

At an enterprise level, this can involve getting lots of specific details like company size and even marketing budget. At the other end of the spectrum, you have things like opt-in forms placed within blog content (or on a sidebar) that collect an email address in exchange for a lead magnet like a free eBook.

Marketers like gated content because it acts as an important KPI (key performance indicator) for their lead gen efforts. It’s proof they can go to their boss with.

It gives them a concrete metric (leads acquired) that they can link to their marketing spend. Some enterprises also prefer to have a lot of data about a small number of prospects over lots of prospects with limited data.

The main benefit of gated contact is that it lets marketers collect detailed information about their prospects. Even just an email address can be used to find lots of further information. The main drawback, as I’ll explain, is that it usually limits your traffic sources.

1. Which are more valuable: leads or views?

The choice between gated or ungated comes down to one simple question: for a specific piece of content, is an engagement or a lead more valuable to you?

In a large number of cases ungated content will guide customers to some kind of gated opt-in or free trial further along the customer journey. The real question for marketers is about which comes first. Does allowing people to engage with your content before asking for their details (or making a pitch or free trial offer) make them more or less likely to turn into a paying customer?

If the answer is yes, then you’re far better off using your content to garner views. If, on the other hand, a direct lead is more valuable at this stage of the customer cycle, then the purpose of that same piece of content should be to get those all-important contact details.

An example from Albacross…

Let’s take a hypothetical example. Suppose that here at Albacross we’ve created an in-depth piece of content for our blog. We know from historical data that for every 1000 visitors we drive, 100 will convert to leads in the form of free trial sign-ups, giving an overall conversion rate of 10%. Of those 100 leads, a further 30 will convert to paying customers. So that’s 3% overall ROI (return on investment).

Now let’s flip the example. Let’s say we completely gate the content. We package it as a guide, create a landing page to collect lots of lead data, and drive the same amount of traffic. It converts at at a lower rate of 5% for every 1000 visitors.

This time, however, the extra details we have about our leads enable us to craft personalized marketing messages, thus achieving a lead-to-customer conversion rate of 50%. The overall ROI is now 2.5%.

It’s clear that we want to optimize our content for views rather than leads. The more views we get, the more paying customers we’ll eventually have. Alternatively, if we gated out content, we would end up with a lower rate of success in the long run.

Do you want views or leads?

Your overall ROI is the only barometer by which to measure the success of gated vs. ungated content. Because other factors come into play, such as a visitor’s remarketing value and the cost of “free” search engine and social traffic, the math can get tricky. But it’s vital that you view things through the lens of this key metric.

Is it easier to go straight for the conversion?

The purpose of gated content is to generate leads for a nurture cycle. These marketing qualified leads (MQLs) have an interest in your product but they’re not necessarily viable future customers.

Lead nurturing, however, isn’t always necessary. And it can be counterproductive.

For many companies, profitable conversion events, whether a sale or a sign-up to a free trial, exist several steps down the sales funnel. But you may not actually need to make your prospects jump through those intermediate hoops.

At Albacross, for example, we rarely bring people onto our mailing list with a view to offering them a free trial further down the line. It just doesn’t make sense. The drop-off during a nurture sequence means that we have a far better conversion rate by offering our free tracking app straight off the bat. It works even better because what we offer is valuable, free and low-friction.

The purpose of our content is purely to build trust and engagement. We know that optimizing for views will drive more revenue than using that same content solely to collect contact info. A nurture sequence would be superfluous to our customer’s needs and our bottom line.

3. Does gated content fit with your traffic strategy?

Whenever you put content behind a wall, you’re automatically limiting its chances for exposure. When you increase friction to entry, you’re restricting that exposure even further. In the vast majority of cases, gated content simply doesn’t work effectively for certain types of traffic generation methods.

When’s the last time you clicked through to an opt-in form from Google? Or shared the landing page of a free guide on social media? I’m not saying it never happens, but it’s the exception rather than the norm.

Gated content, whether it’s a blog post, video, infographic etc. works best for either paid or redirected traffic, where people are guided from ungated content on your site to a gated offer (such as the opt-in page for a free resource). If you’re building content for search or social, it’s unlikely that you’re going get much traction.

4. Can leads be acquired in any other way?

It’s impossible to ignore the growing level of ad blindness and disenchantment with opt-in forms.

But there is an alternative. And it’s one that savvy marketers are increasingly taking advantage of.

A host of new lead generation apps allow you to target your website’s visitors without ever getting their contact details. Most ad platforms now offer some kind of retargeting function (especially Facebook). And tools like Albacross’ Tracking platform allow you to identify which companies are visiting your site.

The benefit of this new tech is that it allows you to paint quite detailed profiles of your prospects without ever speaking to them. This is particularly the case with ABM-marketing, where company info and email addresses are freely available.

What this means is that you can have the best of both worlds. This type of tracking isn’t a fit for every business, however, so it’s important to evaluate it in the context of your unique needs.

Remember, testing is the only real way to measure success!

In many cases, a mixture of gated and ungated content is going to work best, especially when you need to nurture your leads. This middle-of-the-road strategy is one that many marketing experts swear by.

Alternatively, you may actually be losing customers by including any form of gated content, and are better off going straight for the conversion.

To further add to the confusion, there are cases when gated content is clearly the preferred option. This can particularly be the case with enterprise clients and when traffic is paid for.