Is It Time to Rethink Gated Content?

06.03.16 // Mike Nierengarten

Gated IconThe number 93 is haunting. 93% is the average number of visitors you lose in your paid search and social campaigns due to gating content. Surely, we can do better.

With lead gen campaigns, we have been willing to trade over 90% of our traffic, traffic we paid for, in exchange for the ability to readily measure campaign performance and provide contact info to our sales teams.

Losing the vast majority of our media spend is a broken system.

We have gained insight into attribution and increased scale through automation, but we have lost sight of customer experience. We have forgotten about trust. We have forgotten most of our visitors from paid search and paid social campaigns are encountering our brand for the first time. It’s time to slow down, gain credibility, and capture attention before asking for contact information. Let’s highlight our thought leadership and expertise before asking for direct access to a visitor’s inbox.

Rehashing an Old Debate

“””For many people the first interaction they have with a company is via a sterile, lifeless lead gen ad that takes you to a prison landing page where you are forced to enter in your life’s information (and you know you will get immediately called by an overbearing sales rep before you are ready to have that conversation” ~Bill Macaitis, CMO at Slack.

The idea of ungating content isn’t new. The debate of gated vs ungated has continued for the better part of a decade. Past arguments for ungated content include:

  • Increased lead conversion rate
  • Lower cost per click due to a high Quality Score
  • Improved SEO performance

1. Ungating content doesn’t have to mean losing leads or lowering conversion rate. Ungated content can actually generate more leads. Ion Interactive completed an A/B test, and the ungated landing page generated 33% more leads. By removing the form, more folks engaged in the content, decided the content was valuable enough to “own”, and provided their contact information to download a PDF.

Furthermore, providing the content first increases lead quality. Visitors are more likely to provide actual information if they find the content useful, and there will be less Mickey Mouse leads. Less but more qualified leads for your sales team and nurturing programs is always a good thing.

2. Ungated content has the added benefit of higher Quality Score. Quality Score takes into account “ease-of-navigation” of landing pages, and gated landing pages are pretty much dead ends in terms of navigation purposes. Past tests have shown moving forms off landing pages to a second step has increased Quality Score and conversion rate. Even breaking a form into less threatening form fields can improve Quality Score and conversion rate.

Form Threat Level. Image source: Optimizely

3. Gated landing pages used in paid search and paid social also tend to make horrible SEO landing pages. We often recommend no-indexing PPC landing pages because of their limited content. However, ungating content and converting to indexable pages can significantly improve SEO. Juniper Networks was able to increase organic traffic to its case studies by over 2500% by converting them from PDF to HTML. Indexing your long form content, improves your visibility in search engines.


For SEO landing pages, providing valuable, educational content on the SEO landing page and then offering more in depth content in exchange for contact information provides both fodder for search engines and contact information for nurturing. Graphic Products has done a great job with their SEO landing pages pushing longer form, relevant content. Their pages rank for their target terms, and they are able to capture leads. Graphic Products earns the trust of its visitors through ungated content, and so visitors are more likely to provide contact information to access high value content.

Ungating content has clear benefits, and we should be incorporating more ungated content into our lead gen campaigns. Top of funnel search terms and paid social campaigns are especially ripe for testing ungated content as these campaigns tend to drive visitors less familiar with your brand.

Avoid Going Overboard with Ungated Content

More use of ungated content in lead gen campaigns is needed; however, jumping too far down the rabbit hole is a bad idea. Gated content is necessary and, in many cases, will outperform ungated content in lead gen. You need to be nuanced in selecting how to capture lead information depending on stage of the buying cycle, type of content, and distribution channel.

Companies such as Kapost and Marketo adhere to the idea of a content pillar: creating “substantive and informative piece of content on a specific topic or theme which can be broken into many derivative sections, pieces, and materials” where some pieces of content are gated and others are not. This is a solid strategy.

As you start to consider interactive content from companies such as Ceros and SnapApp, be conscious of where this type of content is most effective. Easily consumed “millennial” content such as quizzes, surveys, and interactive video, has a clear place in nurturing, community building, and awareness campaigns, and we need to embrace the opportunity interactive content provides for lead gen, but exhibit caution in using them in lead gen campaigns.

SnapApp Campaign
Brightcove Interactive Video Captures Lead Info

We cannot ignore the added value of white papers, analyst reports, and buyer’s guides. Paid search campaigns address a solution search. They are meant to educate and empower the prospect. Your prospect wants to fully understand the solutions and make the best recommendations for her company. Figuring out her Silicon Valley character doesn’t help identify a solution. On the other hand, a prospect would happily provide their contact information after completing an in-depth survey in exchange for the results.

Utilizing a mix of ungated, partially gated, and fully gated content is necessary to run optimal lead gen campaigns. Lower funnel, high touch offer such as webinars or a product walk-through should be gated. You want to limit your time to only the most promising prospects. Limiting access is the purpose of a gate. Top of funnel, low touch content may be better ungated. Provide your content for free, not your time. If ungated content increases your leads, embrace it.

It’s time to test giving content away for free and asking for contact information later. Free your content.

About Mike Nierengarten

Mike has been in online marketing since 2004 and started Obility in February of 2011. Mike is a numbers geek who feels more comfortable staring at Excel spreadsheets & Google Ads Editor than sitting in lengthy meetings. Mike saw Obility as an opportunity to rethink SEM management and focus solely on the unique needs of B2B clients. Mike enjoys board sports, exploring restaurants, and lively discussions about the economy. He is also a passionate traveler. His long-term goals focus on spurring economic growth and addressing inequality in the Portland community. View all Mike Nierengarten’s posts >