Why We Should Rethink How We Gate Website Content

I’ve been researching and capturing my thoughts on this subject for more than a year, hoping to achieve a new level of certainty, but it’s just not happening. So I’ll pen some thoughts on this anyway–lack of certainty has never stood in my way before, right?

I’ve been coming around to the opinion that this whole gated content thing (which I’ve been using for decades, frankly) is missing some larger points in the content marketing universe. I’ve landed here based on this assumption: everyone is, to some extent, a little like me, and since I’m annoyed at the usual practices employed by content developers, maybe you are too. And I also don’t trust content people, and so maybe our prospects don’t trust us, either.

More than that, I see that most firms who gather all this data don’t really do anything with it, anyway, so why create the user friction in the first place?

Before providing some perspective on this, I’m going to freely admit that I’m in the minority here. You can dive very deep on this subject, and pretty much everyone is saying the same thing (and it disagrees with me). Largely because they are just parroting the same stuff…and because they wouldn’t know how to write a good insight piece to save their lives. This data comes from my own experience in drafting content for many tens of thousands of people who have received it over two and one-half decades, and from seeing deep inside many agencies who are all across the spectrum on this front.

From my personal perspective, I dislike gating when the content on the other side of the gate is lame and I resent the bait. I also don’t appreciate it when I am immediately thrown into a salesy email sequence. Most of all, I hate someone reaching out to sell me something in spite of the fact that I’ve not raised my hand and given someone permission to do that.

So here goes. These are the principles that I’m going to follow moving forward, until proven otherwise, and I hope you’ll join me.

  1. Only gate content late in the funnel. This makes sense because trust builds as someone moves down the funnel and experiences what you have to offer. So the earlier the prospect is in the funnel, the more you should reduce any friction and just give it away.
  2. Quit disappointing prospects with content that is not gate-worthy. I just feel so strongly about this. I know we all have our own standards, but I usually feel like the content I’ve worked a little harder to get is worth it about one-third of the time. The other two-thirds of the time I feel duped, and my interest in anything that the firm offers diminishes immediately. There are so many great options to hire out there that we don’t need to mess around and play the games that other people design for us in the sales process.
  3. Your CTA should only request information that you will actually use. Yes, it makes logical sense to gather a dozen or more pieces of information. But are you really going to do something significant with it? Progressive profiling (pre-filling forms and asking for the next bit of information with each visit) is a wonderful invention. But every three months, I’d look at the gap between your intentions and your actual use of the data and then adjust accordingly. All of us–including me–have the best intentions with all this voyeur-like data, but in the end we get busy. So instead, maybe we should just trust the process a little and not force it. A marketing automation system is like a little puppy–it’ll eat everything in the bowl. Whatever time you devote to your marketing efforts will get sucked up, and in the end it’s better to make ruthless choices. I’d rather you take some of that time you’re using to perfect your system, and climb the ladder of lead generation, instead, as we talk about all the time over at 2Bobs (yes, shameless plug). I keep seeing firms spend way too much time on their system, in part by trying to do something with that data, and it’s not a good ROI on their time.
  4. Be careful with pillar articles if they are merely disingenuous attempts to gate things. I’m starting to experiment with these with the help of an expert who really understands the subject, and I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m learning a lot so far. If used too aggressively, it feels like they can be a sneaky way to garner better Google search authority while still retaining the gating. The concept is good, in that it supposedly works, but is it good for your brand? I’ll watch it carefully, and your feedback is always welcome. The first experiment will center around my work in valuations and acquisitions. (I could have linked to that page, but why? If you are interested in hiring me to help with that, you’ll figure it out.)
  5. Never ask for a phone number. Nothing triggers nervousness in a prospect more than asking for their phone number. If they want you to call them, they can signal that in another way, or simply reach out to you first. Except in very rare cases, I do not think you should be doing outbound sales calls to prospects who have not given you permission to do so. It’s intrusive, interruptive, and it’s not what experts do. But even if you don’t intend to use the phone number, why ask for it if doing so will raise the prospect’s shield and make it harder to earn their trust?
  6. Trust the process. Trust Google. Quit operating from a scarcity viewpoint. Do we really need to work this hard at it? Are we so nervous about new business that we have to chase people? Operating from a scarcity mindset says that you can’t waste anything, and that you’re just months away from going out of business. Prospects sense that stuff, though, and smell the fear in your tone and actions. I believe that you’re either good enough or you aren’t. I believe that your positioning should warrant interest–even at a pricing premium. If these things aren’t true, don’t turn up your salesyness–fix what ails you.
  7. Have a privacy statement if you want, but don’t pretend that it’ll reassure anyone. They aren’t going to read it, they won’t believe it if they do, and everyone says the same thing. Yes, you need a privacy statement, but it’s not going to help prospects relax and let their guard down.
  8. Make it easy to sign up for your stuff. I suppose this goes without saying, but make sure there’s a friendly form for a new prospect to sign up for your regular insight pieces. I’m frequently surprised at how many firms don’t make this central.

What will happen if I gate less content?

  • I’ll have less data to sort through.
  • I’ll have lead scoring that is less useful.
  • I’ll get more organic traffic.
  • I’ll build better trust with prospects.
  • I’ll have fewer stats to judge the impact of my content, though the most notable stat is money earned, anyway, and then working backwards to determine attribution. I can’t take “clicks” or “opens” to the bank.
  • I will be true to my brand: a very helpful expert who gives away unapplied insight for free and charges a fair amount to apply it directly. (Yes, I linked to this article because it’s a good one and I’m not selling you anything directly.)

Maybe the biggest argument for gating is that I have your email address and can stay in touch with you this way–if I hadn’t gated stuff at least a little you probably wouldn’t be getting this! But that’s not a valid argument for over-gating content. Once I have your email address, and maybe your first name, do I need the rest? Will I do something with it? Does the extra friction you experience pay off with how I can personalize the content? No.

I haven’t changed much on the site, yet, but look for a few changes to practice what I’m preaching.

If you’d like to read more from this perspective, I’d recommend Mark Schaeffer (link to a competitor who is worth reading, to build your trust), especially. And don’t miss my earlier article on leaving a digital breadcrumb trail (link to another good article worth reading–nothing would make me happier than if you started doing this for yourself).

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