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Field Notes

Field Notes #61: Is Gated Content Dead?

Is gated content dead?

I love talking about gated content. For content folks, it’s either a PITA or your silver bullet—or both. 

(In fact, if this blog stirs up some hot takes or contrarian opinions, please reach out and let me know! I want to learn from you.)

Lately, I’ve been reading and hearing about how gated content is going away. A few of our clients are un-gating their content in an effort to establish trust with readers upfront and hoping to increase chances of converting. (You can imagine how interesting this makes our job, especially when the only remaining CTA is “Talk to Sales”…)

Anyway, I can understand the sentiment, but the marketer within disagrees.

Content marketing is all about delivering value to your customers. I know that; you know that.

But it’s also to leverage that content to gauge audience interest, understand how to better deliver value, and nurture interested folks closer to purchase. It’s also to drive revenue—content is a performance channel, after all.

You can’t do this without tracking and analyzing the actions that visitors take among your content. To do this, you need “gates.”

Some marketers argue that a blog or newsletter subscription is a viable alternative to gated content.

Sure, it’s not as strong of a buying signal as a content download, meaning more readers may be willing to part with their emails. But what do you do with those emails? More leads don’t necessarily matter if you don’t know what they’re interested in or if they’re even qualified.

At Shopify, I worked alongside a brilliant demand gen marketer. She was responsible for creating our gated assets (we called them content upgrades) and building our post-download nurture flows.

Hannah wisely leveraged our content upgrades to learn more about what our readers wanted to learn from us. 

She created at least one gated asset for each blog category, and our blog categories were aligned with product features or audience features.

This allowed us to be more predictive of our MQLs’ pain points and interests, which she then acknowledged and nurtured in the follow-up emails.

For example, the folks who downloaded our content upgrade about inventory management received a three-part email series that followed the theme of the download:

  1. The first email was a funny “thank you” that acknowledged common struggles with inventory management. There were no asks, just an “I see you, and I hope our guide helps”
  2. The second provided additional resources about inventory management—top-performing blog posts, forum pages, and even external content that we thought might be of service
  3. It wasn’t until the final email that Hannah even mentioned the Shopify product, about which she only mentioned the inventory management-related features and offered to answer any questions. No cold handoff to Sales; no “Can you hop on a quick call?”

As you can see, the key to a successful gated asset strategy is 1) great content that appeals to your audience—no, not a repackaged blog post—and 2) a well-designed, trustworthy follow-up series that nurtures your leads.

When discussing what types of content would perform best for clients (B2B, mind you) and what’s worth the investment, I ask a series of questions.

What “actionable” downloads can we create? 

Can we provide any assets that immediately help readers do their jobs better? I’m talking about top-of-funnel templates, checklists, or free tools or quizzes. (This quiz experience provided by one of my favorite podcasters is a phenomenal example of this.)

In my experience, readers are more likely to download or engage with something immediately useful, and they’ll start to build trust in your brand if the asset is uniquely valuable—like our organic growth traffic model.

The risk here is that these leads may not be as qualified as they may be looking for a “quick fix” asset. But this is also a chance to demonstrate how a “quick fix” isn’t as sustainable as your product.

Also, these actionable downloadables often map back to a keyword, e.g., “content calendar template,” which has 2,400 monthly searches. If that’s the case, you can search-optimize your landing page to expand your distribution efforts. 

This includes original research, data-driven reports, webinars, and even virtual events. Like those actionable downloads I mentioned, these also provide a unique asset or experience that only your company can give, thereby increasing the likelihood that someone will provide their data and convert.

Our clients have had great success with the original data reports we’ve helped build, especially for clients targeting C-suite audiences. Original data is also super impactful for driving backlinks through blog posts or PR—another benefit of this type of gated content.

What topics would make great ebooks? 

For written content, it’s tough to discern between what should be a blog post and what should be a gated piece.

Rule of thumb: Any content based on a keyword should be published on the blog so it’s discoverable via search. 

Otherwise, ebooks are great platforms for contrarian opinions or hot takes, especially if those topics don’t have search volume yet.

We typically produce ebooks using executive or expert interviews—something only that company can provide. Producing more “provocative” gated content makes for an enticing landing page and CTA copy, which can lead to more downloads. This approach also helps avoid the “Ebooks are repurposed blog posts” trope.

Lastly, don’t forget to leave some good stuff ungated, too. This is the stuff that gets people’s attention and helps generate that trust—that feeling of “I can’t believe they’re giving this away for free.” 

  1. Mastering the Art of Interviewing — If you haven’t yet subscribed to Tracey Wallace’s Contentment, stop what you’re doing and subscribe…now. This is just one of many awesome newsletters she has written, and it’s a favorite of mine.
  2. A Practical Guide to Content Amplification — Content amplification is the secret weapon to reaching wider audiences without overwhelming your marketing team with endless content deadlines. Read more about how in this guide we recently published.
  3. The guys and I also did an interesting Kitchen Side episode about this that will be released soon. Keep an eye out!
Allie Decker

Allie is co-founder and Head of Client Success at Omniscient Digital. She previously led content initiatives at HubSpot and Shopify.