Will 2020 Be the Year We Open the Gates on Content?

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One of the things I’ll be listening for at this year’s B2B Marketing Exchange next month is discussions about gating strategy. At the 2019 conference, keynote speaker Steve Casey, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, shared some startling research about the impact of putting content behind gates: 81% of surveyed Millennials and Gen-Xers had decided not to download offered content because they didn’t want to fill out a form.

Wow. That’s meaningful on multiple levels.

First, think about the lost engagement and impact on performance. Content is expensive. An obvious question is, Are the leads worth it? Are they so valuable that it’s okay to spend lots of hours and budget on content and then put it behind an unapproachable barrier? Additionally, how can any analysis about content performance be accurate when so many people walk away before they even get in the door?

Going deeper, what are the trends behind this dislike of forms?

Certainly, supply and demand is at play. I couldn’t find a statistic on the growth of B2B digital content alone, but the global digital content marketing industry is growing at about 10% to 13% annually, according to several sources.

There’s simply much more available to answer buyer questions than when companies first started putting content behind gates to generate leads. Today, buyers can frequently find answers without taking time to fill out a form, and each year they become less likely to enter the data.

This brings up another risk of putting content behind gates: Search engines can’t find it. So not only are lots of buyers turning away from gated content, but they’re getting answers from competitors that are easier to discover. Again, this raises the question: Are the leads coming in from gated content worth this risk?

Another thing that turns people off from gating is that it can be impersonal and disruptive, the exact opposite experience of every other way we consume digital content. What if you had to fill out a form before looking at a preview on Netflix or Hulu? Or before comparing interest rates on lender websites? Or before you got the daily forecast form your weather app? It would be weird.

Of course, having a no-gating policy is not realistic for a lot of marketing teams, because their organizations prioritize lead generation. I don’t think gating should necessarily go away, but I do think it’s worth it to revisit gating strategies and make sure there’s solid reasoning behind gating content.

For example, sometimes people choose which assets to gate by format of the content, i.e., We always gate e-books and white papers. A better approach is to look at the planned or available content from the buyer’s point of view and identify what type of information they would consider valuable enough to commit to filling out a form.

Another consideration is when to use gating in the buyer’s journey. This is a tricky question, because buyer’s journeys are so different. Here, I suggest using gating to your advantage to refine leads.

For example, let’s say you want to target three specific high-growth verticals only for your products and services. You could make one level of general content available without gates. All assets in that level could include CTAs offering more detailed information by vertical — but offer only the three — and that content is gated. The leads coming through the second layer will be more refined, but you don’t have to sacrifice top-of-the-funnel needs like SEO, and you’ll be more effectively using content-creation resources.

There’s still a place for strategic gating in content marketing, but trends are indicating that gating is less effective than it used to be.

If you’re rethinking your gating strategy and are attending this year’s B2BMX conference, drop by our booth and let me know your thoughts. I’d love to write a follow-up to this blog with more insight and tips.

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