For inbound marketing to be effective, you have to create high-value content and use that content to entice visitors to take action. But within the inbound community, there is an ongoing debate about the practice of hiding content behind a subscription-wall—what’s known as gated content.
Of course, gated content is a pillar of effective inbound marketing. You need to offer something in exchange for the emails that your prospects and leads provide. The debate focuses on where you should draw the line. What kinds of content should require a subscription? How much content should you put behind a wall? It’s a debate that will probably go on for as long as inbound marketing is a popular digital strategy.
The other side of the argument is that companies would benefit more from simply giving the content they’ve created away for free download without requiring a subscription. There’s no doubt that it’s indeed the right choice in some cases.
If you go to any company’s website that’s been doing inbound marketing for many years, you’ll likely see old content given away for free or re-purposed for different mediums. It’s all a part of the content lifecycle. Sometimes a piece of content is more valuable when it appears in Google search than it is sitting behind a subscription wall. But often the opposite is true.
How much and what kind of content you put behind a subscription depends on your strategies. There’s no right answer, but there is probably a line. For inbound marketing to be effective, some articles and content have to be given away without expectation.
Before we dive into examples of different types of gated content and the strategies you can use to optimize for conversions, let’s start by defining what gated content is and what it isn’t.
What Is Gated Content?
Gated content is any content that your visitors can access only after providing their information. In most cases, this means an email address. Some have played with the idea of requiring social media follows or likes in exchange for content, which is a viable, but less utilized strategy.
Gated content works because it incentivizes lead generation. Typically, users will arrive on your site through a blog post. They may have been directed to that blog post by a search engine or social media site. If that first blog post does a good job of convincing them that you are a solid source of information, they may be interested in hearing more of what you have to say. By creating an enticing gated content offering, you give yourself another stream of valuable leads.
It’s also important to know what gated content isn’t. Gated content in inbound marketing isn’t content that requires your audience to pay to access it. Gated content trades access to the content in exchange for an action from readers. In most cases, this is providing lead information like their name and email address. You can also gate content behind social media actions like follows or likes. While paid content does have its uses in inbound marketing, it is a completely different strategy with other considerations.
5 Examples of Effective Gated Content Strategies
Now let’s dig into some of the more popular gated content strategies, and provide some examples of companies using each strategy well.
Content upgrades are a gated content strategy that have gained a lot of popularity in recent years. For good reason, too—they’re some of the most effective ways to entice your readers to subscribe to your mailing list without being invasive.
Content upgrades are simply an upgrade to the content that they’re already viewing. Typically, content upgrades are upgrades of additional content to a blog post that visitors have landed on. There are a few reasons why content upgrades have risen to the top of popular gated content strategies:
- Content upgrades are contextual. Opt-in forms can appear anywhere within the blog post, not just at the bottom. In fact, blog posts with a content upgrade will typically offer the upgrade in exchange for a subscription several times throughout the blog post. They’re minimally invasive and are less aggravating than the full-screen interruptions we often see.
- Content upgrades are as relevant as could be. If your content upgrade isn’t directly related to the subject matter of your blog post, you aren’t doing content upgrades right. Ideally, your content upgrade should expand on or improve the content that’s contained in the blog post.
- Your audience’s interest is predetermined. Because content upgrades add value to the existing content, the research can be baked into the writing of the blog post. You already know that visitors to your blog post will at least have some interest in the content that the content upgrade provides, which will improve conversion rates.
Now let’s take a look at an example of a great content upgrade. In this example, we’ll look at one of the originators of this strategy, Brian Dean from Backlinko. One of the most popular posts on his website, “Google’s 200 Ranking Factors: The Complete List.”
Visitors to this blog post are obviously interested in learning more about how Google ranks websites—and likely interested in boosting their own site’s ranking.
So, how does Backlinko build upon this content with a content upgrade? With a checklist that shows readers how to tap into the 10 most important SEO ranking factors.
Backlinko gives readers multiple opportunities to subscribe and receive the checklist throughout the post. Peppered throughout the blog post are link boxes that link directly to the offer.
Then, at the bottom of the post is a giant download box that really catches eyeballs:
If you click on the link within the link boxes or the big download box at the bottom of the post, you’ll be taken to a popup lightbox that asks for your email.
When you subscribe, you receive the checklist in PDF form delivered directly to your email inbox.
This is a great example of an effective content upgrade. It’s extremely relevant to the blog post that visitors find it on. It provides genuine value that builds upon the content that was already there, without watering down the blog post as a result.
eBooks and White Papers
Digital assets such as eBooks and white papers are a staple of inbound marketing, especially in B2B marketing where they’re typically more relevant. They’re great not only for delivering more value to your visitors but also for establishing your company as an authority in your industry. They’re an excellent way to explain difficult industry topics.
Creating an eBook or white paper can be a powerful way to grow your email list over time. They lend themselves well to being promoted alongside blog posts that cover related subjects, in the same way as a content upgrade. Many companies also create their own resource pages that include a variety of whitepapers for customers to access.
One prime example of creating a white paper repository comes from BrightGauge. By clicking on their “Resources” page, you are taken to a page that gives you multiple types of resources that you can check out.
When you click on “Whitepapers,” you’re taken to a repository that includes all of their available white papers for you to choose from.
When you click on the white paper of your choice, you’re then directed to a page that prompts you to enter your information to receive access to the white paper. Once you do, you’ll receive an email with further instructions.
This is a pretty straight-forward way to use white papers to generate leads, but they’ve executed it really well. Take special note of the subscription page above.
They’re asking for a lot of information, but they’re also providing a lot of information about the white paper in the description. The “Take a Closer Look” section does an excellent job of breaking down what the reader can expect to receive in exchange for their subscription. eBooks and white papers are such a robust gated content strategy because they build upon themselves over time. When you have a full catalogue to offer, it’s easier to find a piece that would interest each visitor. Later, you can also repurpose the content or make it freely available to your readers.
Webinars have become a very popular gated content strategy in recent years, especially as the tech behind recording and broadcasting live videos has become more accessible. Webinars give you the unique opportunity to deliver content in a live online setting while taking questions from your audience as you go along.
Webinars typically have higher conversion rates because they have a higher perceived value than other gated content types. While you can go live on platforms like Facebook without requiring an email, those platforms don’t provide the same tools that you would receive from a webinar-focused software choice.
Typically, webinars will have their own landing page to capture lead information. Later, you can put pre-recorded webinars on a resource repository page like those mentioned earlier.
Let’s take a look at a great example of a gated webinar:
This webinar opt-in page by Kissmetrics does a lot of things very well. Like our earlier example with the BrightGauge white paper, they’re asking for a lot of information from their visitors. This isn’t just a quick email capture form; they want all of the relevant information about each person that signs up for the webinar. But in this circumstance, that’s fine—even expected—because webinars have a high-perceived value.
Their webinar description does a great job of breaking down what they can expect to learn in the webinar. Pay special attention to the bullet points, which help to set expectations for those that sign up.
Webinars are the perfect example of effective gated content. Because webinars typically focus on high-value subjects, it makes sense to put them behind a subscription wall rather than give them away for free. They can be a quick and efficient way to grow your email list and reach new audiences.
Email series and courses are excellent choices for gated content. Everyone uses email, so the medium is a great choice for casting a wide net. One of the best ways to put email content behind a gate is to deliver it in the form of an ongoing class or course. Delivering an email per day or once per week can be an innovative tactic to break down complicated subjects in a way that’s easy to digest.
Our example of gated email content does just that. Brendan Dunn from Double Your Freelancing has grown his list to more than 25,000 subscribers through gated email courses. Here’s an example from his homepage:
Brendan makes his gated email courses the focal point of his home page. His main course, “Charge What You’re Worth” is delivered as one email per day over the course of nine days. It spells out all of the basics of growing your freelance business based on his own experience.
For SaaS companies, scheduling demos is one of the most important steps to take with a prospect. Showing them the power of your software offering and letting them get familiar with it is a huge step in the process of converting them from a lead into a customer.
The typical process is to schedule a demo with a prospect either over email or the phone. But Infusionsoft takes it to the next level on their “Choose Your Demo” page.
Here, they have several different types of product demos. Each type is gated behind a subscription form that users are required to fill out. They can choose to start with an online demo, which is pre-recorded and goes over the basic features. They can also sign up for a live webinar demo, which gives them the opportunity to ask questions throughout the process. Alternatively, they can also schedule their own live one-on-one demo with a member of the Infusionsoft team.
This is a creative way to get the most out of the demo process. Not only do they give the customer multiple choices but they also gate each option behind a subscription form to grow their list.
Gated Content Is an Inbound Marketing Pillar
Inbound marketing relies on gated content. The entire strategy is about trading high-quality information in exchange for a subscription and lead information from prospects. These examples illustrate some innovative ways to get the most out of the high-value content that you produce. In fact, just putting your content behind a subscription gate can be a great way to increase its perceived value and make your audience clamor for it. However, before diving into gated content, companies should probably develop a reputation for non-gated content, and use that as a springboard to grow their list.