There’s a pretty on-going debate in the content marketing world: how much free content should we offer?

Enter content gating, the process by which many businesses create some kind of barrier to their content. This could be something as simple as providing a name and email address to access additional material, or it could be something like paying for access.

On the one hand, if you give everything away for free, no one is going to bother investing anything in your company. Nor will you have any way of gathering data on your leads, as Anna Ritchie points out in an article for the Content Marketing Institute.

On the other hand, if you gate everything, you could be shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to building readership and generating leads. Unless a visitor has some kind of vested interest in your company already, he isn’t going to care enough to give anything away in order to get some info from you.

As with so many things in the marketing world, there’s a delicate balance to be found.

In a blog post for Kuno Creative, Chad Pollitt points out that the vast majority of visitors can’t yet be considered part of the sales cycle. Citing HubSpot research, he notes that 96% of visitors aren’t yet ready to buy.

So why are they visiting the site, then? Most likely they’re looking for a solution to a problem, information on a specific topic. Much of it comes down to the two Es: education and entertainment. That’s what people are looking for on the surface level.

And while this might all seem simple in theory, there’s a good deal of strategy involved. For example, you need to determine the worth of your content through the eyes of your visitor. Sure, you might have put your blood, sweat, and tears into that blog series last month, but should there be a barrier to consumption on it? Probably not.

Kuno’s content marketing sales funnel is a simple, but powerful model when it comes to determining first if there should even be a barrier to consumption, and second, how high that barrier should be. Just so it’s clear, that’s the model I’m using to frame this post.

Website Visitor

Have you ever gone to a website that asks you to provide some info just to get to the home page?

I kept hearing about LuxeYard so I thought I’d check it out because one of my guilty pleasures is browsing home furnishing items. Imagine my disappointment when I was greeted with this screen. To me, this says “commit now or get out.”

On the first date.

This was all moving just a little too fast for me. I couldn’t commit. How could they expect me to? I barely knew a thing about them. LuxeYard might be the best site ever, but I’m not joining anything without checking it out first (and I’m really not going to connect my Facebook account to it).

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think creating a barrier to your entire website is the way to go.

Let people see what you’re about. Let them read your web content and your blog with no barrier whatsoever so that they can get a feel for who you are, then worry about converting them to a lead. If that most basic of content is impressive enough standing on its own, you won’t have much to worry about.

Top of the Funnel

When your content becomes a little bit more complex than just a daily blog post or web content, then you can start working on your gating strategies. Content here might include white papers, guides, an infographic, or any other kind of quick reference download.

It’s not advisable to go too extreme at this stage. This is, after all, still the top of the funnel. You want to make it easy for your visitors to access more of your content based on their interest in your blog posts, say.

While you may be able to convert them to a lead at this point in the funnel, remember that you’re still likely very new to them, so don’t ask too much of them just yet. Small favors only at first.

And what does that look like?

This form for a download from Social Media Headquarters is simple and effective for gathering some information on your top-of-the-funnel leads. All in all, a good gating strategy for this kind of content.

Middle of the Funnel

You’ve managed to convert a web visitor to a lead, and now you’re trying to move that lead down through the funnel. After you wow them with your downloads and quick reference guides, it’s time to really turn up the charm and see if you can’t get them to the middle of the funnel.

This is where you bring your heavy duty content to the table: full-length eBooks, in-depth case studies, webinar series, and the like.

It’s appropriate, then, to have a heavier duty gating strategy to accompany this content.

Here’s a good example from HubSpot. They’re offering a step-by-step guide in the form of an eBook. This is all pretty elaborate and undoubtedly took a lot of work. It’s probably going to be consumed by people who are getting serious about their knowledge of HubSpot and its products.

The gating strategy? Still relatively quick to fill out, but provides HubSpot with a bit more information about you as a lead, including information about your line of work.

Bottom of the Funnel

These are the people who are getting really serious about doing business with you, and they want to access your absolute best content, whether that’s a webinar, research, an online course, or so on.

MarketingProfs is a good example of how to handle gating strategies at this stage. While it’s free to create an account on their website, you can’t access everything with a free account. Sure, you can see their blog posts and get access to some of their resources, but if you want their top notch content, you’re going to have to upgrade that membership.

If you’re going to charge money for content or for a membership to access that content on an unlimited basis, this should be the only stage of the funnel where you do that. By this point, your visitors are familiar with the kind and quality of content that you create, and if they’re willing to pay for this unlimited membership, they’re serious about the possibility of working with you or purchasing your products.

To Sum It Up

Content gating is a good way to organize and track your leads. But there’s some strategy involved, so consider yours before jumping into it. As you can see, different kinds of gating strategies are appropriate for different kinds of content.

How do you manage your content gating strategies? Let us know in the comments, please!