Gated vs ungated content is a surprisingly fiery debate. 

The ungated camp argues that ungated content casts a wider net, and offers the opportunity for wider distribution, creating more purchase opportunities. Some developers even feel content-gating is too self-serving and plain annoying. 

The gated camp argues that restricting access to exceptionally high quality content in exchange for an email address is a perfectly fair exchange, and a powerful tool for lead generation. 

So who’s right? They both are, of course. There is great value in both approaches. 

In a world with unlimited resources and no specific goals, all content could be open and free. But in reality, we’re not just striving to educate and entertain our audience – we’re ultimately looking to build a relationship with them and make sales. Both gated and ungated content help foster that relationship.

     Image showing screenshot of website with content summary and form to fill out to view gated content.

    Example of gated content form.

    What is gated content? We define gated content as any media that is locked behind a lead capture form. Gated content is your white papers, your months-long researched industry reports, your in-depth e-books – premium content that your target audience can’t find anywhere else, content that is worth shelling out their contact information for. There’s a lot of lousy content out there, so prospects are justifiably skeptical. Therefore it’s our responsibility to only gate content that is targeted, memorable, useful, and original. It should feature thought leadership from respected subject matter experts, include an actionable prompt for the reader’s next step, and leave the reader feeling like they’ve just been given unique, highly valuable information. 

    The reason gated content has developed a bad reputation is due to the sheer volume of mediocre content out there that is now gated, which has put a bad taste in many readers’ mouths. People cough up their personal information, only to gain access to common, uninspiring material, or a thinly veiled product pitch, leaving them feeling disappointed and tricked. The result is an increase in fake email addresses. While this deception is a risk in many gated situations, you can avoid this predicament by providing such compelling ungated content, that your readers will trust you and feel curious enough about your superb gated content that they’ll gladly share their information with you.

    Simple image showing screenshot of website with content summary and form to fill out to view gated content.

    Example of gated content form.

    Gated content is a very effective means to drive your inbound marketing campaign. Some other gated content examples include: gated video content, webinars, product demos, courses, templates, annual reports, and private communities.

    If your gated content is performing well – keep it gated. Leads generated from a gated content landing page may not be an instant sale or MQL, but from there your team can use lead scoring to determine who they should warm up for a sale, and you can proceed with your marketing efforts to nurture these leads into prospects. Likely, only the people who really want to see your content will get behind the gate, so it’s a great segmentation tool that provides quality over quantity. Ultimately, gated content should be so good that it sells for you.

    Image showing PDF of content and link to download - example of ungated content.

    Example of ungated content.

    When should you ungate content? Ungated content is equally valuable. It builds brand awareness and goodwill, and fosters a relationship with your readership before they commit to the next step with you. While gated content is a seller-led approach, ungated content is a buyer-oriented approach. Gated content will ultimately have fewer eyeballs, so ungated content is your opportunity to introduce your voice to a broader audience. If you would literally pay to have someone read a piece of content, keep it ungated. Ungated content is informative and helpful, but not necessarily completely unique. If a reader could get this information elsewhere, it’s not worth the price of an email. 

    If you’re a newer company without much of a reputation, you’ll probably have less luck with gated content than older, established companies whose readers know they’ll have high quality, worthwhile content behind those forms. Younger brands will likely have to give away more ungated content for free in order to establish a reputation and build relationships with potential customers.

    While gated content tends to be of greater substance, that doesn’t mean that ungated content should be low quality. Ungated content is how you improve SEO, and increase brand awareness and visibility. And if you consistently provide a wide variety and volume of ungated content that is engaging and helpful, prospects are much more likely to trust that your gated content will be of similarly high quality, but of greater value. 

    The key is being realistic about the value of your work. Did this blog take you a few days to complete? Is much of the information easily accessible from other sources? Is this product or service information that you want your customers to know? If yes, keep it ungated. Reserve the space behind gates for the truly valuable content. Is your work unique? Informed by a trusted leader? Features large volumes of investigative research and compelling visuals? Would you be excited to access this content and be readily willing to give up your contact information for it? If yes, gate it. 

    So, as with many marketing strategies, there’s a healthy middle ground for the gated content vs ungated content debate. Establish yourself as a source of valuable ungated content, and even more valuable gated content, and buyers will be far less likely to roll their eyes in frustration when the gated form pops up. Be honest with yourself about the value of your work – your audiences will appreciate it.

      About the Author

      Morgan McLintic is the founder of Firebrand. With over 25 years’ experience in the tech sector, he advises clients about their marketing and PR strategy. Prior to Firebrand, he was the founder of digital communications agency, LEWIS in the US, growing it to 250 staff and $35m revenue.