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A Beginner's Guide to Gated Content

Lauren Olson, June 12, 2017

There are a few distinct types of content.

First, there’s the kind that’s accessible with just a search and a click. Then, there’s the kind that jumps out at you from the endless feeds we scroll through at any given moment.

Of course, there’s also the rare, refined, content. Some people pay thousands of dollars (research reports), or travel halfway across the world to understand (World Economic Forum) for this type of content.

Other times, this content is available free of charge - you just need to cough up contact information to access it. Companies give their material away in the hopes that a reader will trust them enough to do business with them. They need information in order to communicate with readers.

As a business, you can employ the second strategy by creating and distributing content that’s so useful people will trust you, and eventually buy from you.

Gated content is anything that requires the user fill out a form to access it. Ungated content is just plain accessible with a simple search and requires nothing of the user.

Why Bother With Gating at All?

Gated content can generate leads, drum up potential customers and connect them to you. It can be anything you like, from guides to articles to video seminars, and the form can ask for as little as a full name and email.

It’s stuff that’s so good, so well written and so valuable that people will give you their contact information just to access it. In return, you will have the means to reach them in a way that just providing them with your own contact information wouldn't accomplish.

Effective gated content will include a call to action (CTA), telling the user to perform an action like “sign up for updates” or “take the world’s best courses.”

It can't just be a Call To Action (CTA) though. There has to be something more to attract your audience. Thankfully, there are several platforms that produce and share gated content to take cues and learn from. For example, the courses on Coursera are educational content that motivates readers to keep coming back.

If you publish a newsletter, you’ll connect with people far beyond just a one-time update. If you’re going to be reaching out constantly and taking their time, they need to get something back. Your relationship can progress from there.

Gated content should be high-quality and long-form, something worth handing over information for. The last thing you want is a customer disappointed with your content once they access it.

To Gate or Not to Gate?

Video shouldn’t usually be gated, as it tends to be short and entertainment-based. The only exception to this rule would be courses, because they offer a more instructional and educational advantage to your potential leads.

Short and fluffy content does not belong behind a gate either, it’s just not worth it. You also don't want to gate self-promotion (like ads or testimonials) or lure people into a sales pitch. 

On the other hand, feel free to gate any sort of PDF guide or ebook. Other resources, like forms or templates, can be tucked away as well. Tip sheets, educational material and research is useful content, and is a great draw for your clients.

Another pro tip? Don't gate simple infographics. They are designed to be easily shared and consumed across web platforms. Similarly, short ebooks won’t be worth the gate, neither will videos, podcasts, newsletters or blogs.

Remember that all this free-to-access content can point people to your gated content.

Whatever CTA works for your business, (for example, "like and subscribe") can be used as an incentive with your graphics, writing, audio and video content.

You can also use your less valuable content to lead to your gated content. Vice-versa, use your more valuable content to create spinoff material (the non gated content you can use to draw attention.)

While gated content should never be self-promotional, and must offer value to those who haven’t bought your product or service, drop hints about your capabilities.

Make a clear CTA at the end to draw attention to your business.This is an opportunity to connect with your leads and have conversations with them and earn their trust.

Designing Your Gate

Once you’ve figured out what you’re going to keep behind the gate, you need to figure out the gate itself: the mighty form.

First, you’ll have to decide on the look, like whether it will be a pop up or strictly a landing page. You also need to establish how much information you're asking for. Too much can push a potential customer away, so focus on what you need from them.

 Only ask for additional and sensitive information (like a zip code or phone number) if it’s so instrumental to your marketing plan that it’ll be worth the decrease in sign ups. If you can, hold off asking them up front. Leads will be more willing to share if you nurture your relationships.

When in doubt, stick to the basics: first name, last name and email. That’s all you need to start, and it’s information most people are accustomed to giving out on a regular basis without hesitation.

There are a wealth of platforms that you can use to build a newsletter subscriber list from the ground up, like MailChimp or its younger sibling TinyLetter.

You can also experiment with getting leads on other platforms, like how MeUndies uses an unlisted Medium post as a landing page. If you want to experiment with Medium specifically, you can use Upscribe, which embeds a form into Medium so people reading your posts can sign up for more.

If it’s an information product, you should be helping your audience, or others to exploit an opportunity or solve a problem. It could be an entire e-book focused on your process and the solutions you've developed.

Maintain Contact

Once you have a mailing list, keep in touch. It can be a periodic digest of industry news, a curated list of what’s caught your eye, or something you think your audience would like.

It can be more personal (if that’s your brand) or full of analysis of recent happenings on a specific topic (like international sports) if that’s what you’re bringing to the table. Definitely make it worth reading, engaging with and watching for.

Don't assume that because someone downloaded one piece of content they will want to buy from you right away. You can follow up, get their opinions, and learn whether your gated content was helpful to them. Alternatively, you can wait. By using lead scoring, you can reach out once a lead has expressed a certain level of interest through their downloads.

Final Thoughts

Gated content might not be beneficial for every business, but it's definitely an option worth exploring, especially as you set out to establish or grow your and services. The most important goal is finding the right balance. Striking a give-and-take relationship between your gated and ungated content is crucial. The ideal ratio between the two is different for everyone, and ultimately is the key to building deeper relationships and increasing sales in the long run.


Written by

Lauren Olson

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