Gated and ungated content: Is one really better than the other?

Phil Vallender avatar
Phil Vallender

Jun 20, 2019

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Railway turnstiles, representing gated and ungated content

Let me say this right off the bat: it doesn't have to be an either-or decision when it comes to gated and ungated content. There's a time and place for both approaches. Each has its merits and, in most cases, you'll get the best results if you combine them.

The popularity of gated content has skyrocketed in recent years as more B2B companies have become aware of systemic changes in buyer behaviour and the benefits of inbound marketing. But lately, people have begun to question whether gated content is still the way to go.


The case for gated content in B2B

What is gated content?

Gated content is any type of content that viewers can only access after exchanging their information. Essentially, the content is hidden behind a form. Companies use gated content to generate leads and ultimately, sales.

HubSpot

Gated content was originally viewed as one of the most effective ways to identify potential prospects who are otherwise unreachable by salespeople.

Buyers in the awareness and consideration stages of the purchase process are increasingly reluctant to talk to sales reps or respond to outbound marketing campaigns. Today, customers will only hand over their personal information if they get something valuable in return. A whitepaper that addresses a current challenge or need, for example.

During the height of gated content's meteoric rise, HubSpot found that increasing the number of landing pages had an almost exponential effect on the number of leads generated. Companies with 40 plus landing pages generated 12x the number of leads than those with 5 or fewer.

A graph showing the impact of gated content landing pages on lead generation
Image source: HubSpot

This is because you can more easily track and nurture contacts that convert on landing pages across multiple channels using marketing automation tools before you pass them to sales.

In our experience, you can consistently convert at well over 20%* when you advertise high quality gated content offers across your website (primarily via blog posts) and with conversion optimised landing pages.

*Conversion rates on our 5 most popular gated content offers, where we got all these things right, sit consistently at over 20%. We have pages that convert at far higher rates, as high as 52%, but they don't attract as much traffic so the net number of leads they generate is much lower.

But gated content also has its downsides.

Read our Introduction to B2B Inbound Marketing to understand what inbound is,  what it means to you, and the opportunities it offers.

The case for ungated content in B2B

What is ungated content?

Ungated content is freely available, meaning users don't have to enter their personal details to access it. Companies use ungated content to improve SEO, increase brand awareness, and build trust with their audience.

Blend

Making potential buyers complete a form to access content that might help them buy from you doesn't make for a great customer experience.

Besides, ask any honest B2B marketer and they'll tell you that the information you get from download forms rarely provides signals as to:

  • The likelihood that the visitor will buy from you
  • Their place in the buyer's journey
  • Their purchase timeframe

Some of your ideal buyers will also likely decline to submit your form, even if they're interested in your content. They know what will happen if they do.

Much of the content that companies would typically gate is rich, comprehensive material that provides valuable, in-depth coverage of topics that matter to your audience. By gating it, we hide it from view and out of immediate reach to both potential buyers and search engines.

The SEO value of long-form content

A 2020 report by Backlinko discovered that the average length of content in the first 10 Google search results was just under 1,500 words. But It isn't just length that helps long-form content rank. It’s the other things that long, comprehensive content makes possible - such as more structured internal linking and increased opportunities for external referencing and link building.

A graph representing the SEO value of long-form, ungated content
Image source: Backlinko

In 2015, HubSpot discovered that the more internal and external links in your content, the better it ranks. When they combined this with content length, they discovered a new, more reliable way to rank for competitive terms.

A graph highlighting the benefits of internal linking in ungated content

Image source: HubSpot

So, hiding long-form content behind forms is potentially a great waste. The alternative is to ungate it and let both potential buyers and search engines read it in full, without asking for anything in return. This lets the search engines see, index, and rank your most in-depth and informative content, which, in turn, helps you:

  • Attract more visitors
  • Provide a better content experience
  • Reduce friction for your prospects

Getting the most out of your gated B2B content

If you decide to gate some of your content, there are a few things you can do to maximise conversions and ROI. Since the content is invisible to the reader until they submit the form, creating a strong landing page is key.

Well-designed landing pages that work effectively across devices are vital for optimal search engine ranking and conversion rate. Consider a single column layout over the traditional side-by-side approach. This will help you to get the mobile experience just right.

Reveal as much as you can about the value of your gated content in the landing page copy so that visitors feel well informed and compelled to convert. The visual aspects of the content also help to improve conversion rate.

Trust and privacy is another important factor, so openly share how and why you collect data, what you'll do with it, and include links to your privacy policy - in addition to meeting any GDPR requirements.

Ensure your landing pages are well signposted by including internal links and CTAs from your most relevant blogs. Good alignment between blog topic and content offer will increase the click-through and conversion rates.

You can generate additional leads by including a short form on your landing pages - but only if you ask for the right information. Most prospects will be happy to hand over their details in return for high-value content.

Beyond the essential personal identifiers like name, email, persona, and company, try to gather information that's useful for market segmentation and personalisation over more granular, demographic data. Services offered, incumbent provider, biggest challenge; these are more useful in lead nurturing than job title or city.

Getting the most out of your ungated B2B content

Getting the best results from ungated content really comes down to two things:

  1. Content experience
  2. SEO implementation

For the content experience, it’s a good idea to craft an enjoyable and easy-to-use layout for your long-form content. By ensuring the readability of the content and providing useful navigational aids, as well as logical next steps, you ensure time-poor readers can quickly and easily access the value of your content.

On the SEO side, your ungated content must perform the role of the pillar page in what HubSpot calls a topic cluster. Topic clusters are groups of content organised by, you guessed it, topic. Crucially, all the content in the cluster should use logical and consistent internal links, using the same keyword/phrase, that direct the reader to your most relevant pillar page.

Your pillar page should also include your main navigation to form part of an effective content hierarchy that will maximise SEO impact. SEO success means more visitors to your content, more leads, and more customers.

Topic cluster diagram: This model is built on a mix of gated and ungated contentImage source: HubSpot

Gated and ungated content: a match made in heaven

Despite the perceived drawbacks, ungated content is still an effective lead generator. You just have to make downloading or saving the content an option, rather than mandatory. By building the conversion into the same page as the content itself, you give your prospect the choice to convert and take the content away to consume it in their own time.

An ungated pillar page is also the one place where the often derided pop-up form can add real value. If a visitor has made some progress through a pillar page and then decides to leave the page, using a pop-up form to offer them the downloaded version can improve rather than impair the user experience. There aren't many good applications of pop-up forms in B2B marketing, but this is certainly one.

Should you gate or ungate your content? The answer is both.

This article was originally posted in 2019 It's been updated to reflect the latest best practice.

Inbound Marketing

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