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Everything You Need to Know About Gated Content

June 6, 2019

In some ways, gated content relies on that old cliche: you want what you can’t have.

Of course, gated content as a concept is a little more complicated than that, as are the underlying marketing principles at work.

Curiously, many of the assumptions we make about gated content turn out to be wrong. That’s why it’s important to take a sober, fact-driven look at how gated content can actually improve many of your current marketing initiatives, from increasing email opt-ins to building qualified leads.

What is gated content?

Part of the reason we might underestimate what gated content can do for us is because the term itself is often widely used outside of business and marketing contexts. When most people hear the term “gated content,” they’re probably thinking about paywalls. 

Commonly used by newspapers to encourage users to pay for the content they read, paywalls have become more and more prevalent over the years. And, to be clear, paywalls do create gated content. But they aren’t the limit of what gated content can be and don’t often apply to marketing goals.

Gated content for marketing

When you create gated content, you are creating an impediment between a user and your content (that’s the gate, in this case). But that doesn’t always mean that the user needs to pay to access the content. Instead, you can create a wide variety of custom actions that will grant a user access to content you have created. 

It might seem counterintuitive to take high quality content and make it harder to view. But most consumers and customers are more than willing to admit that content has value, and as a result, those same customers are usually willing to give up a little something in order to view that content.

Examples of gated content

Gated content is used in a wide variety of verticals. Some of the most common applications of gated content might include: 

  • Requiring a user to fill out a profile if he or she wants to download a white paper.
  • Prompting a user to sign up for your email newsletter if they want to access a specific blog post.
  • Requiring membership to a site to view specific tutorials.
  • Charging a monthly fee for users to be able to access specific content (this is less common when it comes to marketing, for obvious reasons).
A/B testing checklist

 Image courtesy of Startup DevKit

Benefits to customers

In most cases, consumers and customers are going to be after thorough answers and fresh content. If you have either one of those to offer, then asking for something in return is not going to be seen as overly presumptive. 

Which means that, in many cases, users who are committed to finding that information (and who, therefore, are good leads) are usually more than willing to offer an email address in exchange for good content. Some cases have shown that gated content can turn over 20% of readers into subscribers.

How to make gated content work for you

If gated content is not deployed or used properly, the consequences can turn quite negative quickly. Locked content can drive users and customers away. But when you use gated content properly (in a thoughtful and deliberate way) you can actually improve engagement and lead generation. 

The following tricks should help your business use gated content in the right way.

Use email addresses as the price of admission

One of the most common objectives for businesses creating gated content is to bolster subscriber lists. One company, called Whole Whale, was able to increase their email lists by over 100% by creating gates around content. The trick was making the consumer’s email address the entry fee for the content. 

This has several benefits:

  • Email addresses are incredibly valuable to marketing efforts, especially if those email addresses have a significant amount of contextual data to go along with them.
  • Most consumers don’t see their email address as particular valuable. Therefore, an exchange of one email address for access to several pieces of content feels like a bargain.
  • Growing email lists can generate significant long term benefits in terms of messaging and lead nurturing.
  • When users opt in to receiving your emails, they’re less likely to view them as superfluous or spam.

Whole Whale took their email-gated content to a new level in one important way: the double opt-in. Essentially, consumers were required to enter their email address in order to see the gated content. But they were also required to confirm their email addresses. This had the benefit of pre-qualifying leads while simultaneously improving subscription rates.  

Whole Whale homepage

 Image courtesy of Whole Whale

Using gated content to build email lists can be a remarkably effective way to build lead journeys and a loyal customer base all at the same time.

Take advantage of newer technology trends

The old standby examples of gated content are usually white papers and articles. Those examples are around for a reason: they still work. But it’s important to think about newer technological trends as well. For example:

  • Webinars have become a very popular form of gated content. In many cases, the first in a webinar series will be complimentary, but subsequent installments are gated. In other instances, an email address might be required for admission to an instructional webinar.
  • Podcasts are another popular form of modern media. Podcasts are easy for users to digest no matter where they might be, so they’re quite versatile forms of content. It’s not uncommon to place especially valuable podcasts behind a gate.

Placing webinars and podcast behind a gate is an especially popular strategy when the topics covered are complex and relevant. Webinars, for example, have the ability to cover topics in extraordinary detail.

Be selective about gating content

It might be tempting, then, to take your most popular content (white paper, web page, or webinar) and put it behind a gate. But that’s not always going to be the best course of action either. Your team will want to be selective about gating content.

For example, content that is intended to raise brand awareness or the reach of your website would be wasted if it were gated. Additionally, gating content that is intended to be found via organic search engines, such as Google, would be catastrophic, as search engines often have a difficult time crawling content behind gates. 

Instead, you should be selective about what content you put behind gates. Whole Whale saw a 62% increase in overall conversions thanks to gated content, a huge increase that they were only able to achieve because they were intentional about which content to lock.

Develop clear goals

Being selective about what content to lock becomes much easier when you have spent the time developing some very clear and tangible goals for your gated content. After all, gating content will only increase leads and subscribers when it is specifically designed to do so, from the information offered to the price of admission.

Developing clear goals is essential if your gated content is going to convert readers into subscribers or subscribers into leads.

Content must be worth it

Gated content, after all, must be worth whatever price you’re imposing in order to be successful. There might be some trial and error (or A/B testing) involved in ensuring that you are not asking a prohibitively high price or giving away your content at too low a cost. But the important thing to keep in mind is that if you are placing content behind a gate at all, that content must be worth the cost.

Therefore, when you create gated or locked content, your team should consider the following: 

  • Create high quality content: Of course, there’s little advantage to ever creating low quality content. But when creating gated content, it will be in your company’s interest to ensure you’re spending the time and resources necessary to ensure the creation of high quality content.
  • Answer the question: Many consumers and users will come to your website (and engage with your locked content) in order to discover the answer to a question. It’s vital, therefore, that your content answer the question. If you don’t, the consumer may simply feel alienated, especially if he or she has already handed over their email address.
  • Make the content look good: Because the internet tends to be such a visual place anyway, chances are your website already looks pretty good. But it never hurts to spend a little time to make your gated content look like premium content. That way, the user will feel as though they are getting something special. Use custom colors, images, and infographics to make the content stand out in a way that looks premium.

Create a gated content landing page

Landing pages are nice tools for navigation, especially if your customer needs some orienting. That’s why it’s common to see landing pages used for Google Adwords campaigns, for example. They’re perfect for when you want total control over the messaging customers or leads receive. 

That’s why creating a landing page for your locked content can sometimes be a useful strategy. A landing page can: 

  • Make it easy for users to engage with your gate, so they need only enter their email address once, for example.
  • Make clear what the opt-in process is and what users will get out of it. This can be especially effective when paired with an excellent call to action. 

A landing page might not be the right approach if you’re attempting to tailor each call to action or opt-in action to the page or information you’re offering. But if you’re taking a general approach to gated content, a landing page can help orient new users in a meaningful and strategic way.

Use WordPress to lock your content

For many businesses and companies, the strategy behind gating content is sound; it’s the execution that can be daunting. Thankfully, if you’re already operating on a WordPress platform, there are some plugins that can make the task of locking content considerably easier.

There are several plugins, free and premium, that can be used to lock content on your website. One of the most popular such plugins is called MemberPress. Boasting an incredibly easy setup and flexible access rules, MemberPress allows you restrict access to nearly any page on your website. 

MemberPress dashboard screenshot

 Image courtesy of Srmeharanclub

What to look for in a WordPress gated content plugin

MemberPress is not the only option, of course, but most companies and business will look for a plugin that is: 

  • Easy for content teams to use on their own (without involving the development team past initial installation).
  • Reliable customer support so you can get help when you need it.
  • Able to gate or lock some content but not other content.
  • Easy to configure to allow for content “previews.”
  • Flexible in terms of setting how users and consumers can access pages.
  • Capable of supporting email lists or other list-building activities.
  • Follow best practices for security, given that you’re collecting personal data.

Ideally, once the plugin is installed and working properly, your marketing and content teams should be able to lock and unlock content with ease. Your team will be able to monitor the relative success of various campaigns and adjust accordingly.

Gated content means more engagement

It’s curious that gated content tends to improve overall engagement. One would assume the opposite would be true, that gating content or locking it behind a wall of any kind would significantly diminish overall engagement statistics. 

But case after case proves that gated content is more likely to produce significant, reliable, and qualified leads. This creates something of a win-win. Your customers and users get the benefit of the content you’ve created, and your business gets the boon of qualified email lists, all of which further enshrines your overall reputation.

If your company is not currently investing in gated content, it might be time to start looking into the possibilities. 

Everything You Need to Know About Gated Content Gated content can help grow your email subscriber count and gain new customer relationships. Learn how to take advantage of gated content with this in-depth guide.
Lizzie Kardon Lizzie Kardon is a content marketer at Pagely, flexible Managed WordPress Hosting for high-demand sites.

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