Is Content Gating a Smart Strategy for B2B?
In B2B demand generation, content gating is a highly popular strategy for capturing leads. According to Jeff Zabin of Starfleet Media, over 80% of B2B content is gated, requiring either form-filling (i.e. providing personal information) or registration to access.
Done well, content gating can generate a reliable source of quality leads for your pipeline. Done poorly – like gating too much of your content, or gating content too early – will reduce your pipeline, hinder your abilities to develop customer relationships and absolutely tank your demand gen efforts.
How can you use a content gating strategy without alienating great prospects, or gathering false information?
The topic of gated content best practices came up recently in an interview with Carro Ford, the author of The Smartass Marketer’s Handbook. Carro is a long-time B2B content marketing strategist for tech companies like Lexmark and Xerox, and she ran her own content and PR firm for years.
Our conversation about content marketing took off when we got to gated content. She offered a thoughtful framework for thinking about this aspect of B2B content strategy.
Carro sees the disadvantages in gating so much of our content without approaching it from a strategic standpoint. “It can easily become a method for a company just to capture bad data. I think, most of the time, that’s what happens.”
She avoids those disadvantages by considering the motivations of prospective customers. At what point do they have enough trust to give up their information? The right content gating strategy attracts prospects and encourages them to share their real information.
Build a winning content gating strategy by asking and answering the 5 Ws: who, what, when, where, and why.
When Content Gating Doesn’t Work
According to Carro, a poorly implemented content gate strategy can waste budget, alienate prospects and yields data you don’t want and can’t use. A lot of that bad data is false right out of the gate. Consider this, how many times have you given false or incorrect data to get past a content gate on a site you didn’t know or trust?
Carro says, “It can be intentionally bad information. When people give you their name as ‘Mickey Mouse’ or they go with inflated titles, it’s very suspect.”
To stop getting bad data, you have to stop gating content indiscriminately. You have to ask yourself when a content gating strategy is the right addition to your overall B2B demand gen campaign.
When Content Gating Does Work
Content is ready to gate when it meets these conditions:
- You know exactly how you’re going to use the data you gather.
- The prospect has already spent enough time in the sales funnel to trust that your company can provide them with a good solution.
- The content value is high.
Hard Stop: If you don’t already know what to do with the information you’re gathering with gating, what’s the point?
Carro says, “Do you have a process in place for what you’re going to do with it? If you don’t, you may actually get a perfect form-fill, but if it’s just going off and sitting somewhere in your form-fill metrics folder, it’s not going to help at all. It’s just a waste of time. So, you’ve got to have a strategy for your data and how you’re going to use it.”
Content gating needs to happen at the right time for your potential customer. Per Carro,
“As you get lower into the bottom of funnel, where people are more serious, that might be a good place to put some gated content out there. They’re more willing to work with you if they’re that far along.”
You’re also primed for a content gating strategy when you have high-value, unique content to offer – like sponsored research, proprietary market data, webinars and design guides.
Carro says, “We get people, of course, to register for those. To me, that’s a sort of gated content. Or a design guide that’s very detailed and lengthy. Very high value. I don’t think people mind giving you information for that.”
Who? Content Gating & Knowing Your Buyer Personas
Who are your ideal buyer personas? Speak to your sales team so you have a deeper understanding of who exactly you’re wanting to sell to. Who do they really want to talk to? Whose pain points can your company solve? Whose data are you trying to capture?
Carro advises, “Reach out to your sales team. Ask them what questions they get asked over and over again. If they could put questions in their customers’ mouths, to bring out a differentiation, what would they want to ask? If you can nail those down, even if it’s just a couple questions for each of the three stages, and focus content on that, you will make a difference.”
Use the “perfect lead” profile you get from sales to create content that is useful to that persona.
“To be useful, you have to know what problems your customers are having that you can solve. Then write about it in a way that helps them understand the problem and figure out what to do about it,” Carro says.
Knowing what questions to ask and how to answer them will give you further clarification on when it would be most effective to use content gating in a buyer’s journey.
“Focus on answering the questions your customers have at each stage of the buyer’s journey. If you can figure out what the questions are and their answers, you’ll keep engaged with the customer, and you’ll make a difference in their journey.”
Consult your Analytics and find out what website visitors are searching for. Who is hitting up your web page, and what information are they looking for? What are the concerns, pain points, and hoped-for solutions that the perfect qualified lead is seeking?
Answering those questions will help you understand who to gate.
Why: Provide A Compelling Reason at the Gate
If you give the right content at the right time, the prospect may initiate contact on his or her own. If the prospect stalls or obfuscates, it’s likely you’re not offering valuable content, or they think you’re being pushy.
Leads have their own timeline and won’t submit to your content gates with accurate information before they’re ready. Carro recommends not gating the content necessary to begin the customer relationship.
She says, “I think that there are some things that are important and almost imperative to gate, but there’s far more stuff that I would not bother gating because I think it gets in the way of a relationship on that journey more than it helps.”
Nurturing the prospects with valuable and useful content will make them more amenable to giving up their info.
When you build up that trust, prospects will be more willing to give you the information you need to turn them into leads that sales is looking for.
What Content to Gate and Where to Do It
Carro’s advice is that you should only gate content at the bottom of the marketing funnel when the prospect will talk to sales.
What kinds of content should you use in each stage of the sales and marketing funnel?
Top of the Funnel Content:
Carro shares her thoughts on the types of content that will interest a lead in moving closer to a well-planned gate: “Case studies, how-to articles, blogs, infographics, videos. I never even mention my company’s name or products specifically. It’s more practical advice, useful, listicles, or checklists for your buying team, things like that. I think if you can keep serving that up to a buyer as they’re going through a process or a buying team, you’re going to build up a perception of being someone who gets it, and someone who’s a trusted partner.”
Middle of the Funnel Content:
Drive interest with content unique to your company. Think of a topic in your industry that you have all of the answers for and own it. Carro said, “It may be relatively down the long tail content, but if you own the best resource on that, as far as Google can tell, you’re going to be picking up good eyeballs on things which may turn into leads.”
Carro doesn’t call it “pillar” content, she calls it “anchor” content, content that anchors your prospect in the funnel. Anchor content is intriguing to the solution-searching prospect who is now primed to interact. Carro explains, “If you can send people you would normally gate, perhaps, to a page like that, where you give them a variety of good content, they may be more likely to stay there, stay with you. Instead of forcing them to form-fill to get that content, maybe ask them to complete a short survey or register for a newsletter or a blog or something. You can get some insights into their problems,”
Bottom of the Funnel Content:
When the customer reaches this stage, they’re leaning into making decisions. They’re so close, and now they trust you. This is where you put up an easy-open gate to get to the good stuff: webinars, eBooks, sponsored research, etc.
Keep this simple with an email opt-in for gated content. Don’t get greedy by asking for too much information, too soon. All you need is a contact name and email address.
Carro says, “Just keep it to the bare minimum of a name and an email. I think that helps you capture more contacts. Then you can always put those people in a nurture program and capture additional information about them.”
Useful Always, Gated Maybe
Carro ultimately believes that marketing is spending too much time on gating and not enough time on providing useful content. “It’s all about making it useful, not making it gated. I think sometimes we spin our wheels and overthink the gating piece.”
Content that is more confusing than useful is being gated and that can drive prospects away. They filled out a form only to be rewarded with logo-filled infographics that are too complex to decipher. Prospects are after answers to real questions and needs.
Complicated content doesn’t help your team either. Don’t overwhelm your team, sales, and especially not the prospect with overblown content like complicated infographics. Keep it useful, easily digestible and actionable.
When your gate captures the perfect qualified leads that sales wants, Carro recommends, “Provide sales with the right content as they take this lead and continue a conversation with them. They’re out there toughing it out and we really need to do a better job helping them.”
Carro leaves us with these thoughts on B2B content strategy:
“Make the content useful, make it answer good questions, and don’t gate all of it.”
Check out the full podcast interview for more of Carro’s insights on a killer B2B content marketing strategy.