Gating or un-gating your B2B content needn't be an either or decision. There is a time and place for both approaches, each has its merits, and you could get the best results by combining them.
The popularity of gated content has skyrocketed in recent years as B2Bs realised the shift in buyer behaviour toward self-service and caught on to the content and inbound marketing movements. But lately a debate has developed as to whether gated content is still the way to go.
Read on to find out the arguments for gated and un-gated content, tips for getting the most out of both styles, and how to get the best of both approaches by combining them.
The case for gated B2B content
Gated content became so popular because it served as an effective way to identify potential prospects who are otherwise unreachable by sale people. Buyers in the awareness and consideration stages of the purchase process have become increasingly reluctant to talk to sales reps or respond to outbound marketing campaigns, but are willing to exchange some personal information in return for valuable information relating to their current challenges or purchase decisions.
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 citing that companies with 40 plus landing pages generated 12x the number of leads of those with 5 or less.
Image source: HubSpot
Contacts that are converted with landing pages can then, of course, be tracked and nurtured across multiple channels, using marketing automation tools, before being passed to sales at, hopefully, the right time.
In our experience, good quality gated content offers that are well signposted throughout other content (primarily blog posts) and with conversion optimised landing pages can consistently convert at well over 20%.
The conversion rates for our 5 most popular gated content offers, where we got all these things right, are consistently 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 gating content also has its down sides.
The case for un-gated B2B content
Making a potential buyer complete a form to obtain content that might help them to buy from you can hardly be called a great experience.
And, as any honest B2B marketer will tell you, a website visitor filling in a form to gain access to a piece of content rarely provides reliable signals as to their likelihood to purchase, their place in the purchase process or their purchase timeframe.
Some of your ideal buyers will also likely decline to submit your form, even if they are interested in your content, knowing what will happen if they do.
Now a lot of the content that would typically be gated is wonderfully rich, comprehensive material covering broad topics in depth. By gating it, we hide it from view, out of immediate reach to both potential buyers and search engines.
But the SEO value of long form content is massive.
A 2012 report by SerpIQ, no longer available online but widely reported, discovered that the average length of the content in the first 10 Google search results, for over 20,000 keywords, was over 2,000 words. In 2016, Backlinko analysed 1 million Google search results and observed that the average length of the results in the top 10 was 1,890 words.
Image source: Backlinko
Although it isn't just the length that helps long form content rank so well, 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.
In 2015, HubSpot discovered that higher numbers of internal and external links in a piece of content also correlated with higher rankings. When they combined this with the content length play, they discovered a new way to reliably ranking highly for competitive terms.
Image source: HubSpot
Therefore, hiding long form content behind forms is potentially a great waste.
The alternative is to open up this content to the world, un-gating it and letting both potential buyers and search engines read it in full, without asking for anything in return. By doing so, you let the search engines see, index and rank your most in-depth and informative content, helping you to attract more visitors, providing a better content experience and reducing the friction for your prospects.
Getting the most out of your gated content
If you are going to the lengths of creating great content and gating it, there are a few things you can do to maximise conversions and ROI. Since the content is invisible to the reader until submitting the form, the 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 as doing so will help you to get the mobile experience right.
Video is widely reported to increase landing page conversion rates by as much as a whopping 86%, but this stat could be misleading. The study that provided this value was a very specific, single B2C case where the video previewed the content of a video tutoring product. The stat doesn't reflect a varied sample of landing pages and may not apply equally to B2B lead gen content. By all means test, but be prepared for more moderate results.
Make sure your landing pages a well signposted, using internal links and CTAs, from the most relevant blog posts. Good alignment between blog topic and content offer will increase the click through and conversion rates.
While short forms do generate more leads, don’t fall into the trap of asking for too little information for it to be useful. In B2B marketing, it is possible to obtain a good amount of information from prospects in return for high value content. Beyond the essential personal identifiers like name, email, persona and company, chose to gather information useful for market segmentation and personalisation over more, granular demographic data. Knowing services offered, the incumbent provider, or a main challenge is more useful in nurturing than job title or city, for example.
Getting the most out of your un-gated B2B content
Getting the best results from un-gated content really comes down to two things; the content experience and the SEO implementation.
For the content experience, it’s a good idea to craft an enjoyable and easy-to-use layout for long form content. By ensuring the readability of the content and providing useful navigational aids, as well as logical next steps, you can ensure that time-poor readers feel they can get the value from comprehensive content quickly or in multiple tranches.
On the SEO side, your un-gated content really needs to 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 be internally linked consistently, using the same keyword/phrase, to the relevant pillar page. Your pillar page should also have your main navigation so that form part of an effective content hierarchy that will maximise the SEO impact. SEO success means more visitors to your content, more leads and more customers.
Image source: HubSpot
The best of both
Why not gate your un-gated content?
Un-gated content can still perform very effectively as a 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 un-gated pillar page is also one place where, otherwise loathed, pop-up forms can add value. If a visitor has made some progress through a pillar page and then moves to leave the page, using a pop-up form to offer them the downloaded version can actually be a help, rather than a hinderance. There aren't many good applications of pop-up forms in B2B marketing, but this is one.