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To gate or not to gate (content): That is the question

When gating content first became a thing, it caught on like wildfire. It spread and spread and spread until as much as 80% of B2B content assets were gated. Clearly, putting compelling content behind a webform was seen as a savvy way to get information about leads and add new prospects to a database. But is it always a good idea? Or are there scenarios in which gating your content can do more harm than good? 

This is a debate that’s been reignited recently, thanks to advancements in intent data. With more insightful information about buyer behavior at our fingertips, we don’t need webforms as much as we once did. But while intent data is reducing the inclination to capture information in this way, the practice of gating content is still alive and well. Here’s our take on how to decide whether you need to gate or should consider it, or if there’s a better way. 

What’s your goal? 

Before you jump down this very long and winding rabbit hole, pause a minute. What type of content is in front of you? If it’s short form or something you’d like everybody and their actual mother to have access to, like blogs, case studies, and infographics, there’s no reason to gate it. Pretty much ever. Ungate those babies. 

But what if it’s long form and something of inherently more value, like white papers, webinars, and research papers? Well, consider your goals. Are you releasing this piece of content out into the wild expressly so you can gather new leads to nurture and pursue? Or are you simply hoping to get more awareness and reach? If it’s the former, and you don’t have or can’t rely on intent data alone, that’s about the best reason there is to throw it behind a gate. But if it’s the latter, even if it’s an e-book that took a year of your life to create, ungate it. Seriously. 

Put yourself in your audience’s shoes

Here’s the thing about gating: it can be annoying AF. Truth be told, if someone comes to your website and finds a topic they want to read about, there’s a good chance that putting a webform between them and the content will deter them. They’ll not only abandon your content, but they’ll likely leave your site altogether. 

Even if they stick it out and exchange their personal information for a chance to read or view your content, gating decreases shareability. If a reader thinks your white paper is the most important one they’ve ever read and wants all their colleagues to know about it, you’re limiting their options for spreading the word. Usually, the best they can do is send a link and hope their friends will also be willing to part with their personal information. In some cases, they can download and share the PDF, but that leads to metrics, like visits and engagement, that you can’t track.

There are certainly times when gating makes sense and your content is valuable enough to merit it. But before getting your gate on, you need to make sure your audience is big enough. Only a relatively small percentage of people will fill out your form, so if your audience is itty bitty in the first place, you may end up with drastically disappointing views. If you have a robust audience, however, you could still get a good amount of folks taking the time to pass through your gate. When in doubt, think about the numbers. 

Also, you can consider using a hidden gate. If you know your audience and they’ve filled out a form in the past, this method allows you to capture the information that they’ve read your new content without requiring you to recapture their full information (thus sparing them the hassle).

A third option

Throwing a wrench here into this seemingly black-and-white discussion, gating or not gating or using hidden gates are not the only approaches you can take. Let’s call it the other course of action, which is actually pretty effective, the ungate-plus-smart-CTA-power combo. What you do is leave your content ungated (and, ideally, interactive). Then, put a call-to-action (CTA) somewhere very visible, giving readers the option to complete your form and receive a PDF version of the piece or reach out for more information. 

This makes the form filling voluntary, and something that is user-driven based on the person’s desire to convert. If they want you, you’ll know. And if they don’t, you should never have their details in the first place. Uberflip actually did an A/B test of this method, comparing a gated white paper landing page to an ungated interactive white paper experience that visitors could freely navigate. We included a “smart CTA” in the upper right hand corner. The result? Bounce rates dropped and conversions increased. 

The proof is in the pudding, as they say. This doesn’t mean that gating is going away; it still has its uses. But if you think gating is the right choice for your content based on the type of content it is and your ultimate goal is to collect leads, take the time to envision other paths. Could you take the alternate route and make the form optional? More often than not, the answer is yes. And if you decide you must gate something, we suggest opting for progressive profiling. Ask for the information over time rather than all up front. 

As we all continue to make experiences better for customers, we need to evaluate how we collect—and use—their information. Let’s keep open minds... and make rich content experiences the norm for all of our visitors.