Are we in the golden years for gated content?

by Sep 7, 2017

As the digital content strategist at Shelton Group, I read a variety of articles on content marketing to stay up to date on best practices and the state of the digital industry. A recent article about gated content from Search Engine Journal caused quite a bit of discussion across some of the forums I follow.

(For those who aren’t as familiar with digital marketing terminology, “gated content” means online materials, like a research report or white paper, that require you to provide some contact information to download. The company offering the content wants your contact information for marketing and sales purposes.)

That article discusses the “slow, drawn-out, exceedingly painful death” of gated content. The article goes on to comment on the sometimes convoluted paths we marketers create for people to work their way through. Ultimately, it wraps up with the conclusion that gated content still has its place, but it might not continue to work much longer.

There is a problem with this conclusion.

At Shelton Group, one of our core capabilities is conducting proprietary research. In fact, next week, we’re releasing a new report on Millennials and their beliefs and behaviors related to sustainability. This proprietary research is far too valuable to give away without collecting some information in exchange. It’s the same for many of our business-to-business clients. We spend hundreds of hours collecting and synthesizing data to provide insights that they themselves, their customers and other businesses will find interesting and valuable.

The idea of creating a tripwire (offering a low-priced product or service to get the customer in the door) isn’t feasible for many of our clients. Take utilities, for example. Regulations would prevent them from offering a “loss leader” on their services in order to create engagement and/or a marketing funnel with their customers. They could, however, offer white papers and how-to guides on renewables or energy efficiency – and those utilities would want to know who’s downloading that information. That way, the utility can follow up with specific solutions related to the information they downloaded. The result of capturing this information is two-fold: the utility knows who the potential customer is and what information this person is specifically looking for.

But what to do?

I agree that many companies are overusing the gate in the hopes of capturing leads, and I agree that there are smarter ways to do it. A good pressure test I use when deciding on whether content should be gated is asking, “Can a person find this information/tool/resource somewhere else easily and without providing any information?”

If the answer is yes, then drop the gate and find other ways to try to drive prospects (readers that could potentially be interested in your solutions) to leads. Consider other non-intrusive ways to capture their email by having a form where readers can enter their email and/or embedding links to other offers on your site that are gated. When you offer high-quality, valuable content that solves a reader’s problem, then you are establishing yourself as a leader in their mind – and they will come back in the future.

It’s about making sure your efforts work together.

For truly effective marketing to happen, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. The best marketing strategies explore the problems your ideal customers have and provide the answers while showcasing the unique ways you can solve that problem and, hopefully, those in the future. From there, it’s about making sure that all your efforts (even beyond marketing) across all channels are working together. Simple to think about, harder to execute.

This requires a fully thought-out plan and strategy. It is channel+channel+channel – with each having their own voice, POV and audience. For example, your followers from social media are slightly different than those on your blog and are looking for different things. While there is some overlap, each must be looked at as an individual while considering how they can work together to amplify each other.

The challenge is that it can quickly look like a mountain of work with not enough resources to get it done. If you’re looking for a place to start, check out my previous blog post, 3 Digital Strategies for Telling Your Sustainability Story. There I outline a few of the major hurdles companies face in digital marketing and how to get started.

If you’d like some more help telling your story, get in touch.

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About the Author

Jacob Rouser

Jacob is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.


  1. Ronnell Rock

    Great post Jacob. As a marketer I find plenty of useful information through gated content and am always happy to exchange my info or take a sales call as my contribution to the presenting organization.

    Unfortunately, more often than not I’m not in the market for the service provided, which means I not a lead at all.

    Net – the gates should open to more sophisticated mapping that aligns the content to a user journey that makes sense for a variety of follow up tactics.

    This would save sales people time and demonstrate strategic thinking that makes any business service more attractive.

  2. Jacob Rouser

    Agreed. When doing research for clients, I’ll occasionally have to download something from a company where I wouldn’t be a lead. I personally will unsubscribe from their emails or show some other type of behavior that would pull me out of the funnel.

    My hope is that as technology gets better, we’ll be able to better understand user intent when they engage with our content so we know sooner who is a lead and who isn’t.

    I didn’t really touch on it, but it is important to have some system in place to help you rank your leads and try to understand where in the buying process they are.

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