Why You Might Want To Leave Your Content Ungated

My goal is to have you reevaluate your instinctive decision to gate your content (i.e., put it behind a form that the prospect must complete in order to get access to it).

The default is always to gate it: this gives you additional information on the prospect, painting a "progressive profile" that tells you two things: where is the prospect in the funnel, and thus how might we move that prospect further down, closer to an actual purchase of some type.

In my world, for instance, if a prospective client clicks a link or two related to a particular service, and then later visits that service offering page, maybe it makes sense to send them an automated email suggesting that they buy it? Or if someone consistently expresses interest in financial management topics and I have an event coming up on that subject, maybe I should suggest that they attend?

As you can see, there are still excellent reasons to gate content. Maybe one of your clients is selling an expensive service or product that requires a considered purchase. In fact, any complex purchase path should probably lean toward gated content. And if you want to measure your impact and thus the value of your work for clients, you're going to want to gate things. But, because I have come to believe that there are some significant downsides to gating content, I no longer do it, and I'm not sure you should, either, if you are selling expertise in a value-generating ecosystem. That's it: I'm not saying that no one should gate content, but rather that you might think about it differently for yourself.

Here are my reasons for ungating everything:

  1. Ungated content gives Google even more searchable content to work with. I'm guessing you know that nothing behind a form is indexable, and so here's how that would work. Say you tease a prospect with one-third of the actual article; if you ungate that, you're tripling your indexable content.
  2. Ungated content removes some friction from the prospect's experience. They can read it without jumping hoops. (Oh, and technical issues are less likely to crop up.)
  3. Ungated content is really sort of an admission that you probably aren't doing much with the data, if anything at all. You can't see me, but I'm raising my hand and admitting that. We are so in love with the promise of digital marketing, but it requires discipline and tweaking to take advantage of it. And even then, the promise often falls flat. I was doing lots with the data for years, but it's never been super useful to me. If you're going to hire me for something, you'll figure that out, and little nudges are more likely to be annoying to you than beneficial to me.
  4. Ungated content makes me feel like I have direct access to my audience. There are no bouncers or ushers or ticket checkers: just you and me. I spend 20-25% of my time writing for you, at no charge, and this ungated perspective is really motivating for me. I stand in a public square and start talking. If you like what you hear, you move closer and maybe tell someone. If you don't find it helpful, you'll move on. Gating feels like stanchions and ropes. (I know. I know. This feels like a silly point. How hard can it be to click a form?)
  5. Ungated content allows a (possibly) skeptical audience to sample the thinking without sending any indication that might be interpreted as "sell me." I'm not going to sell to them overtly, but they don't know that, and your prospects won't know it, either. Philosophically, I believe very strongly that the more you charge, the more prospects have a right to understand how you think and how you approach issues that are important to them. That'll be especially true if your terms or access are skewed more in your favor.
  6. Ungated content makes later selling more efficient. As noted in the previous point, they have already learned a lot. They know how you think and how you approach challenges. The "sales call" is more of gut check, a chance to explore more specific challenges that can't be addressed broadly, and so on. In fact, how else will your proposals be shorter? By the way, if you've been putting in extra hours building a fat, templated proposal because you soaked up everything in this satirical episode on Secrets Behind a Killer Proposal, I need to break the sad news: that was all satire. But it's still fun to listen to!
  7. Ungated content makes real my legal promise to be a Public Benefit Corporation. As far as I can tell, I was the first service business to make that election when the Tennessee legislature created it in January, 2015. In doing so, I made a public commitment to raise the tide for all boats, and not just the ones who rented a slip from me. And when I quit doing this, the plan is to leave everything as is indefinitely.

What are the downsides? Well, there's only one main one: I don't have as much data about what prospects are doing or what they want or don't want. I can live with that. Oh, and you might want to consider a very tasteful, ignorable pop-up that only appears after a bit, and only if the reader isn't already cookied.

But the odds are very low that I've converted many of you to this perspective. So if you are going to keep gating your content:

  • It better darn well be amazing stuff so that people don't just shake their heads after clicking through a form just to find some nonsense listical stuff they could have found on any lame site.
  • You might want to supplement the crippled organic search fodder you've giving Google with something else, like a thoughtful SEM spend.
  • You might do something with that data, and regularly, or it's not worth the added user friction.

So if nothing else sinks in, here, I hope you are writing stuff that enough people want to read, because nobody really wants to read our newsletters. Clarity comes in the articulation...and not after it.

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