Is 'Gating' Content Doing Your Business More Harm Than Good?

Why you should give the people what they want, when they want it.

As a B2B digital marketing consultant, the most common refrain I hear from businesses is "we need more leads".

The sales "machine" typically has an insatiable appetite, and the sales team demand feeding.

What this can often lead to is a scenario where the marketing side of the business (or management - in a smaller organisation) is incentivised to deliver as many leads as possible, no matter how stretched and tortured the definition of "lead" might be.

A common approach here is the use of "gating" in order to capture more leads.

You've probably experienced it yourself as an Internet user.

For example, you go on a business' website and want more information about a product. You're then asked to enter your name/email/phone/company name/inside trouser leg measurement in order to get that information.

Begrudingly, you do so, to be given a download link or access to some hidden page immediately thereafter.

"Whitepapers" (typically glorified articles in PDF format) are a common culprit. We've all done it - both asking for whitepapers or similar content, and probably gating something on our own websites.

Much as digital ad banners were an interesting novelty in the early days of the Internet and so click through rates were high, in the early days of content gating people were more likely to input their details, if only out of curiosity.

However, fast-forward to 2024 and just about anybody who has used the Internet for any amount of time knows that the nanosecond you input all that personal data, you are going to be subjected to follow up from a salesperson from the company - alongside probably being sent all sorts of poorly targeted "nurture emails".

It's the same as test-driving a car. Once you hand over your contact info and driver's licence, that car dealer is going to be calling you and messaging you non-stop until you buy (or somebody else buys the car first).

Gating is popular because it "feels good" in the sense you can see your system fill up with leads (even if they are poorly qualified) and there is an element of catharsis to this. It also allows for the marketing team to play defence against the sales team by taking the approach of "we are giving you leads - it's your [sales'] fault for not converting".

However, is somebody who has only a cursory knowledge of your brand and solution, and who is often looking for fairly low level information (from an intent perspective) actually a good lead?

No, probably not.

Somebody who has downloaded a whitepaper that is related to your industry isn't necessarily looking to buy right now, and you probably cannot accelerate that process no matter how many automated follow up emails you send.

Gating can also be detrimental in the sense that much of what businesses have a tendency to gate is information that should be given away with no expectation of value exchange. For example, product brochures or pricing for 'fixed price' products (that don't require quoting) should be distributed with no requirement to provide more information ... you just want to get that into as many hands as possible.

Imagine, for a moment, you walked into an electronics store only to be told that you had to hand over your personal contact info in order to be allowed to view the tech specs and pricing for the latest range of TVs. You'd walk straight back out again.

This type of "gating content that should be given away for free" leaves a poor taste in the mouth.

There's one other consideration as well. Whenever you place content behind a gate, you will reduce the number of prospective customers who interact with that content. For example, imagine you have a fantastic report you have published showing all kinds of industry insights. If you allow anybody to download that content with zero value exchange required (i.e. they don't need to give their name/email/phone) then it's a much easier ask to get them to take action. On the other hand, you can significantly reduce the "conversion rate" of getting your resource into prospective customers' hands by gating. For example, instead of half of the people who hit your page downloading the report when they can just click and get what they want, if you gate that same content you might only get five or ten percent of people downloading.

Now you'll get more "leads" ... but the truth is that prospective customers are almost certainly smart enough to figure out how to request a quote, or request a callback for a discovery call, or request a demo - once they have a problem that your solution solves, and once you have demonstrated sufficient value and credibility. And getting your content into targeted hands gratis is a better way of building that credibility and value.

I do think that sales teams need to take some blame here, insomuch that in my experience they are often more focused on the volume of leads than the quality and so the pressure is on for the marketing team to deliver that volume.

There are also some content types that make sense to gate, e.g. webinars as you typically need to send an invite, or free trials for software as you need to provide installation instructions. Very high quality informational content is OK to gate as well if you really feel you must, but be wary that most of the time - from what I have seen - the value isn't good enough to make the prospective customer feel the interaction was worth it.