Gated content—ebooks, reports, and other downloads hidden behind a form—has long been a part of the B2B playbook. If you’re going to take the time and effort to put together a great PDF download, you should be getting something of value (contact information) in return, right? ...Right?
The argument for and against gated content has been going for years, with pendulum-like shifts in marketers’ attitudes and beliefs. So why are we taking a look at this now? What’s stopping this article from merely reflecting the current whims that may change in the near future?
What’s changed is that we now have powerful data that should yield insight on the debate. We can now accurately look beyond just the clicks generated from gated content compared to ungated. In this article, we’ll look at the data for both sides of the argument so that we can finally answer the question, Should B2B marketers use gated content or should all content be ungated?
The Case FOR Gated Content
Gating content is a lead gen tool. It transforms content from being merely a means to attract prospects to your website (via social media, ads, etc.), to a tactic that converts anonymous visitors into leads.
Now, just about everyone who believes in gating content believes that the gating tool is just one of many in the marketer’s toolbox. Certainly not all content should be gated. Blog posts, for example, are rarely ever gated. It’s free content that builds awareness and trust in the expertise and quality of one’s content. But once that trust has been built, more qualified readers should be primed and interested in more down-funnel content, which, according to this argument, should be gated.
Using the contact information gained from the form, the sales team can follow up, marketers can send nurture emails, and the demand machine rolls on.
As for the experience, those in favor of gates tend to believe that forms are so widely used in B2B marketing that it’s become an expected step—few blink twice at the site of a form gate.
Essentially, marketers in favor of gating see it as a necessary step in the marketing funnel.
The Case AGAINST Gated Content
The case against gating content primarily revolves around creating a better experience for prospects. Research suggests that the majority of the B2B buying process takes place online and before engaging with a sales rep. That’s a lot of research: reading blog posts, white papers, research reports, etc.
If buyers like to do this self-serve style of research before buying a product, why break up the research process by requiring forms? If they are really interested in the content of your latest white paper, but don’t feel ready to fill out a form (knowing that a sales rep will more than likely reach out), they may decide to not download the whitepaper. It’s a high quality engagement that’s now lost.
It comes down to the B2B marketing experience: those against gating content believe that marketers should optimize the experience (no gated content) with the belief that prospects will eventually become leads when they are ready, rather than optimize the short-term volume of leads generated.
What does the data say about the B2B marketing experience?
Since we currently serve ads to both gated and ungated content, we took a look at our data from the top of the funnel all the way down to pipeline revenue.
We found that gated content has a lower click-through-rate (CTR) and a cost-per-click (CPC) more than double that of ungated content. This would suggest that the argument against gated content has some merit. Clicks come easier and cheaper, showing that ungated content is a smoother B2B marketing experience—at least at the top of the funnel.
But as we move down the funnel, gated content shows its merits. The click-to-lead ratio was much greater for gated content. Even though ungated content may be a smoother experience, the long-term payoff, at least to leads, didn’t make up for it.
And as we move to the bottom of the funnel, the pipeline generated from gated ads proved to be greater per dollar spent than the ungated ads. While the data shows that gated content delivers more business value, our ads to ungated content still delivered leads at an acceptable cost, as well as positive ROI.
After running our analysis, the data supports the pro-gated content camp. Even though the top-of-the-funnel experience isn’t as great for prospects, it still delivered leads and pipeline more efficiently.
However, at least for us, running ads to ungated content is still a worthwhile component of our paid media mix. While the performance wasn’t as great, it generated value at an acceptable cost.
This is our data. Every company has a unique customer journey, so I encourage you to take a look at the data yourself. Does a better experience at the top of the funnel pay off at the bottom? You’ll have to do the analysis yourself to find out.