Practical Ecommerce

Gated vs. Ungated Content

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.

Imagine you are finishing up your latest content marketing project. Let’s say you have a terrific new ebook, video, or recorded webinar that you know your prospects will love.

You upload this content to your site. You set up the landing page. Now you add the form to the landing page so you can build your list and follow up with people who downloaded this content.

You just reduced your potential downloads by 95 to 98 percent of what they could have been.

That’s not a typo. Let’s put it another way. For every 20 downloads you could have gotten with that expensive, hard-earned content, you’re going to get one. One download.

The Most Counter-intuitive Tip in Content Marketing?

For most marketers — especially those who have to prove results — the idea of not requiring some kind of sign up information for viewing content sounds outright crazy. Yet one of the most significant thought-leaders of content marketing, David Meerman Scott, has said ungated content gets 20 to 50 times more downloads than gated content. He said it most recently at this year’s Branded Content Conference in Miami.

What Is Gated Content?

Gated content is anything behind a form. It is any content that requires a user to give some information — usually personal information, like an email address — in order to see, read, or interact with the content.

For example, almost all B-to-B ebooks are gated. Just about every webinar is gated. Even email newsletters are gated content, unless their publishers offer an online archive of past newsletters, which most don’t.

Ungated content includes videos on YouTube, blog posts, and Facebook pages and posts — though some of this content is gated as well.

Gated content likely makes up most of content marketing. Much of that gated content was made specifically for lead generation, whether that’s an email address, or filling out a survey, or getting your name, title, company, email and phone number, like so many B-to-B forms require.

The whole point of a lot of content marketing is, in fact, to get that information. However, Mr. Scott reports that requiring that information means you’ll drastically slash your download rate.

Who Is David Meerman Scott?

David Meerman Scott has written several highly-regarded books about marketing, including The New Rules of Marketing and PR, Newsjacking, and World Wide Rave: Creating Triggers that Get Millions of People to Spread Your Ideas and Share Your Stories. World Wide Rave is available free for Kindle through Amazon and as a free download on David Meerman Scott’s blog, with no email address required. He is a regular speaker at major conferences, and is followed by more than 97,000 people on Twitter.

Reduce Form Fields to Increase Signups

Almost every marketing tutorial on increasing form completions will tell you to reduce the number of fields you require people to fill out. This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to get more people to fill out a form, whether you want them to sign up for an email newsletter, for a webinar, or for anything else.

There are plenty of A/B tests proving this principle, but here’s just one. The image below is a segment of an infographic put out by QuickSprout. It shows how the company Imagescape cut the fields in its contact form from 11 to 4 fields, resulting in a 120 percent increase in conversion rate.

The conversion rate for the form when it had 11 fields was 5.4 percent. When it was pared down to 4 fields, the form had a conversion rate of 11.9 percent. That means Imagescape received more than two times as many forms completed with the short form than with the long one. That’s not the 20-to-50 times increase Scott gets when he removes all the fields, but it does give you an idea of how a long form, or even any form, can suppress downloads.

This segment of an infographic from QuickSprout shows how reducing the number of fields in a contact form from 11 fields down to 4 fields generated a 120 percent increase in conversion.

This segment of an infographic from QuickSprout shows how reducing the number of fields in a contact form from 11 fields down to 4 generated a 120 percent increase in conversion.

Scott doesn’t shun all gating. He just advises to let the first breadcrumb of content be completely free. At the end of that piece of content, he suggests marketers offer another tempting piece of content, but this time require an email address.

Downloads Aren’t Sales — or the Whole Story

Debra Ellis, founder of Wilson & Ellis Consulting, a marketing firm, spoke to Entrepreneur Magazine about gated versus ungated content. She saw Scott’s 50 times increase in downloads during one test, but discovered it wasn’t the whole story.

“We offered a white paper as a download. We alternated daily between having it gated with an email address requirement and ungated. On the days that it was ungated, downloads were 47 times higher. The initial response was that we shouldn’t gate. That changed when we measured the people contacting us. 100 percent of the leads generated downloaded the guide on a gated day.”

Gated or Ungated?

As with most marketing principles, you’ll need to test whether gated or ungated content works best. You’ll also need to be careful how you measure “best.”

Does the “best” performing option mean the most downloads, or the most new customers? Does “best” mean the most new customers, or the most overall sales revenue? How you measure success can have a powerful influence on how you construct your content marketing strategy, and how you promote your content.

Pamella Neely
Pamella Neely
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