How to Leverage Gated Content to Boost Conversions

Should we ask something from users before they gain access to this tool or content?

If so, at what stage should we gate it… when they go to use the tool for the first time or at another point?

Will people continue once they know it’s gated or will we lose a conversion?

These are just some of the questions that cross the minds of marketing professionals today when it comes to creating and protecting substantial content assets.

So if you’ve ever found yourself asking the same questions, know that you’re not alone.

In fact, if you try searching ‘when and how to gate content’, here’s what you’ll find:

That’s a lot of results, and many of them are from the biggest marketing publications on the internet.

Apparently, there are a lot of people with strong views on the subject.

Hang on, what exactly is gated content?

Gated content is online materials, such as ebooks, checklists, articles and webinars, that require users to fill out a form before they can access them. The form will typically ask for the user’s name and email address, or some details about their job and company.

Basically, it’s anything that’s locked away behind a virtual gate that requires the user to supply some personal information in order to see, read or interact with the content.

It makes sense for content marketing because most gated content is made specifically for lead generation. A registration wall can provide vital information for nurturing sales leads.

So in today’s marketing world, ‘to gate or not to gate’ really is the big question.

To find the right answer for your business, you need to approach the question with your sales funnel in mind.

Some marketers say it’s a smart move to gate at the top of the funnel – when prospects are first hearing about you, your value or your offerings. Others claim that gating at the middle or end of the funnel is what actually works best.

In this post, I’ll discuss how to boost conversions on your gated content by proving to customers (or users) that you provide content that’s worth signing up for. Let’s get into it!

Step 1: Align your business goals with your customer’s goals

Generally, getting conversions from gated or un-gated assets is dependent on two main things: your business goals and your customer’s goals.

And that was pretty much exactly what CRO expert Talia Wolf said when I asked for her opinion on gated vs. un-gated content.

“It all comes down to your business goals and your customer’s goals. I’ve seen amazing results with gating content like white papers, comprehensive guides, checklists and cheat sheets,” says Talia.

Your business goal is obviously to convert visitors into customers who actually buy something or invest in what you’re offering. No doubt that’s your primary reason for gating content in the first place.

But your customers (or users) have a different reason (or goal) for responding to your call-to-action: they want to solve a specific problem with the content that you’re requiring their personal details to access.

Before either of you can achieve your desired results, you need to align your two goals together. This means you need to assure your customer that they’ll be achieving the goal they have in mind with your specific piece of gated content.

In other words, you need to show them that the gated content can actually provide the solution they desire. Then they’ll be in the right frame of mind to convert.

Take Hunter, for example.

Customers (or users) expect to use this tool to find email addresses of business leads or long-lost friends. That’s their goal. And that’s why they’re on Hunter’s website.

For Hunter to get conversions here, they need to align their goal (converting visitors) with their customer’s goal (finding email addresses).

So here’s what happens when you enter a domain name into Hunter’s input box to find an email.

Hunter reveals a little bit of the info you are asking for – enough to provide a basic solution and assure you of the value you will get if you sign up for a free account with your email address. They put the better solution behind a gate; offering up to 150 searches per month for free.

So because the solution is right there, tantalizing users, they are highly likely to go ahead and sign up for a free account where they will be allowed to search up to 150 email addresses monthly for free.

In this example, you can see how Hunter achieves their goal (getting conversions) while helping users achieve their goal (finding emails) by aligning the two together so that everyone goes home happy.

The key lesson to take away from it is that gating content works most effectively when, as Talia puts it, “gating content brings the customer a step closer to achieving their goal, and as a result you achieve yours too.”

Step 2: Motivate users first, then gate

Now that I’ve explained why it’s essential to align your business goals with your customer’s, let’s talk about how and when you should gate your content.

The question of when to gate content isn’t really as confusing as some people think it is.

A simple rule to follow is: motivate users first, then gate.

Before gating any content or assets, ask yourself, “If I gate this tool, ebook or resource, will my prospects be motivated enough to become subscribers in exchange for their personal information? What is it that I am doing to inspire or drive them to convert?”

I invited Claire Vignon Keser, Director of Optimization Strategy at WiderFunnel, to share her take on this.

“I believe users’ motivation should be the one and only element that will dictate if the content needs to be gated or not,” Claire said. “Gated content is relevant only when you have created enough motivation that the user won’t mind giving away some of their personal information.”

So how do you ensure users are motivated enough to actually give what you are asking for?

Claire recommends this simple formula.

That is, when the perceived benefits outweigh the perceived costs to the user, you can successfully gate your content. Expert Growth Marketer Sam Hurley of Optim-eyez also has some great insights on this.

“Gated content is an ingenious way to capture relevant data and forge stronger relationships between the visitor and your brand,” he says, “As long as it is deployed tastefully (and the content is exceptional).”

And rightly so – because great motivation is built when content is truly exceptional (in other words, valuable and relevant content that’s not easily found anywhere else).

Now, as much as it’s probably tempting to start gating your value like Hunter does, it’s important to note that if your content is not truly exceptional, it doesn’t need to be gated. You can share some but not all of it instead.

For example, take The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ lets its unregistered users see the first few parts of the articles they publish. Then they gate it.

The concept being that if a user is interested in what they’ve read in one or two paragraphs, they’ll most likely be motivated enough to submit their details to see the rest of the post.

Another relevant example that comes to mind here is Pinterest. They also allow their users to see a few photos before putting up a gate.

The bottom line is, you should gate at the middle or bottom of your funnel. Why? Because at this point, you’ve had the chance to convince them you have exceptional content. Your users have a feeling of who you are and what you do, and are hopefully motivated enough to convert.

As Claire points out,

At the top of the funnel, users have not yet had the chance to evaluate your brand and your offering. I have seen gated content on products specification and pricing pages, and it does not make sense to me. Why would you gate content that is meant to help your users evaluate your offering and your company?

It’s already painful enough to have to make a decision and evaluate all the available options, so don’t make it harder for your customers or you will risk losing them to your competition.

LinkedIn’s Marketing Lead, Mike Weir, echoes Claire’s sentiments, saying, “It’s especially important to keep your top of funnel content open and discoverable. It’s like dating, you want people to find you interesting and say, ‘I like your point of view. Let’s schedule a time to talk.’”

So, to recap: first, ensure you are creating exceptional content (i.e., content that’s not easily found everywhere). Second, let users have a feel for that content. Then, go ahead and gate it.

Step 3: Build a solid follow-up strategy

Most marketing efforts end up nowhere because they lack a solid follow-up strategy to close the leads they generate.

According to HubSpot, 80% of sales require five follow-ups. In other words, 44% of salespeople aren’t putting in 1/5 of the effort needed to close the deal.

That’s how crucial follow-ups are to conversions. And personally, I’ve had some amazing results with them in my business, too. I recently received this message after sending a follow-up email.

“Hi Victor, thank you for your [follow-up] email. I had not seen your previous email until now, so I do apologize…”

If I hadn’t sent that follow-up email, the prospect would have missed my initial message entirely.

So how do you build a solid follow-up strategy for customers (or users) who have signed up for or subscribed to a piece of your gated content?

Here’s a great five-step formula I learnt from HubSpot:

  1. Determine your objective. ‘Just checking in to see if you received my last email’ isn’t good enough. You have a goal to achieve – is it to motivate them to check out an additional resource? Let them know about a related case study? Request a face-to-face meeting? Whatever it is, be sure of your objective.
  2. Include relevant context. Help your customers (or contacts) remember you by recounting how you got their email and the value proposition you offered. Clearly reiterate how you connected while offering some new information to entice them.
  3. State your purpose. You have already determined your objective, now you need to encourage your recipient to take an action that will help you achieve that objective. And more importantly, you need to be straightforward about it – put your call-t0-action out there.
  4. Use a good subject line. It should be short, catchy and precise. For example, if they have downloaded gated content relating to email templates, just make the subject line something straightforward like, ‘Some really good email templates’.
  5. Act with speed. It’s best to follow up within an hour of receiving a contact’s info. According to Harvard Business Review, marketers that tried to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving a query were nearly seven times as likely to qualify the lead as those who tried to contact the customer even an hour later.

What about un-gated content?

If you want to balance things out by un-gating some of your content as well, you can still reap great results from it.

A smart way to do this is by adding contextual forms or calls-to-action (CTAs) in-between sections of your content (landing pages, newsletters, blog posts, etc) so that you’re not restricting users from seeing the entire content.

The key word here is ‘contextual’ – the CTAs should be directly related to the content your users are already reading.

This technique proves that gated content and un-gated content can play nicely together – it doesn’t have to be one vs. the other.

Wrapping up

When all is said and done, if you have a solid content offering and follow the above steps, you will be able to increase your conversions on gated content.

And on that note, after users submit their forms, you might want to direct them to a special thank you page or ask them to take another action that’ll help move you closer to your goals.

After all, you want to thank them for becoming a part of your business.