Gated vs. Ungated Content: The Debate Is Over

By Rhen Wilson

With so much debate and campaigning between the two sides, I’ve decided to weigh in on a topic that has all but split the content marketing world into two divisive camps: Gated vs. Ungated Content. Who will win? Let’s find out.

The past couple of weeks has been tumultuous. I’ve had many sleepless nights, tossing and turning, wondering why. We’re all trying to figure out what went wrong and how we might get everything back on track. “Why?” I repeat to myself, “Why are we still debating about gated and ungated content?”

Gated vs. Ungated Content - America Decides

I know you’re upset. I, too, thought the long-fought war between gated and ungated content had been waged and the winner had been decided. Heck, I’m still picking out the shrapnel from David Meerman Scott and Mike Volpe’s battle.

Yet despite my assumptions, I’m still running across blog posts deliberating the pros and cons, sparking the flame wars, and driving the stake further into the back of my skull. It seems this controversy dominates the 24-hour news cycle. My inbox is filled to the brim, and I keep shouting, “Enough with the emails!”

So let’s put the kibosh on this feud. Let’s all agree to no more debates after this.

Because here’s the truth about gated vs. ungated content: You use both.

*gasp*

I can just hear you whimpering as you read this: “But, Rhen, I thought this debate was black and white—a dichotomous dispute with only one clear winner!”

I know. It seems shocking, but it’s quite possible for two seemingly conflicting ideas to work in mutual support, complementing each other to create an effective marketing symbiosis.

Sure, that philosophical waxing may seem ludicrous—divisiveness has pretty much set up indefinite camp in our world*—but I promise, it’s possible.

*(Seriously, I’m only talking about content marketing)

Gated Content—A Refresher

Before I can move on to the meat of this post, I need to make sure we’re all on the same page. If you know when to use gated content and know how to avoid annoying people with your “gate,” skip this section.

For all of you who would like a refresher, give me a couple of minutes more of your time.

Gate Your Valuables

You use gated content only when you have content valuable enough to warrant a sizeable group of people to exchange their personal information for said content. In other words, don’t slap a form on a sparse post about the top ten best places to grab lunch for less than $10.

Gates should be used to protect valuables. They’re not to make things appear more valuable. Vice versa, an ungated, million-dollar property will look less valuable to a gated property of the same value. In other words, if you’re just giving away all your great content, your recipients may not perceive it as valuable as it actually is.

Form Requirements Must Reflect the Buyer’s Place in Journey

Simply stated: The higher the value, the bigger the gate you can build.

The sensitivity of the information required to submit the form must not exceed the intentions of the user at his or her stage in the buyer’s journey. This is an important one, so let me explain with this embarrassing graph I quickly sketched:

Gated Content - Relationship Between Value of Content and Sensitivity of Form Requirements

If you’re gating top-of-funnel content, your form should be short and simple: Name, email address, and maybe job title/function—but nothing more. At the top of the funnel, a user is not ready for to divulge everything. A lengthy form asking a number of sensitive and personal questions is a huge turn-off.

However, as your gated content moves down the funnel, and your prospects are themselves getting more prepared to make a purchase decision, you can ask for more sensitive information. For instance, if I want to download a pricing sheeting that’s gated, I don’t mind answering a company’s question about my timeline or budget because I’m clearly considering their business. But I would never give them that information if all I want to download is an infographic.

The Problem with the Gated vs. Nongated Debate

(If you skipped the section above, welcome back. Now, where was I?)

I think the reason the gated vs. ungated content debate persists is that people see content creation as this long arduous process that results in some definitive product. And once you have the blood-and-sweat product, they ask themselves: Do I want all this work to result in profitable leads or brand-worthy views?

I get the conundrum. You might have spent weeks researching, interviewing, surveying, writing, designing, sitting in internal feedback meetings, and on and on to finally, at long last, hold in your hands the finished product. Perhaps it’s a massive ebook or stunning marketing video. Whatever it is, I know the prospect of just giving that content away for free (ungated) sounds ludicrous. But at the same time, putting it behind a form (gated) could mean no one reads it. And if no one reads it, what’s the point? A tree falling in the woods, right?

But that dichotomous approach to content marketing is myopic, and likely one of the reasons businesses struggle to get their content marketing efforts off the ground . Forty-nine percent of marketers fault the process of creating content as their main challenge, according to the Content Marketing Institute.

This is why I take the symbiotic approach: Gated and ungated content must work together to accomplish both goals of lead capture and expanding reach.

How do you do this?

How to Use Gated and Ungated Content as a Team

You do this by repurposing your content.

For every piece of gated content you create, you likely can repurpose that into a myriad of ungated content pieces—free to reach eyeballs, stir conversions, and drive traffic back to your gated content.

Let’s use that behemoth content example we discussed above—the one with the all the research, survey data, and interviews. Think about all the ways you can repurpose each data point and insight from the behemoth into dozens of smaller, standalone pieces. And each piece can, in turn, be published as a blog, an infographic, a tweet, a LinkedIn post, and on and on. With each repurposed piece you publish, you include a link back to your gated content.

I like to think of these repurposed, smaller pieces as the canvassers for a political candidate (this analogy is completely random and apropos of nothing). The candidate herself can’t go door-to-door or make every phone call to voters. She’ll need a large team of canvassers to do the job on her behalf. And while those canvassers are able to take the spirit of her message and find the right audience for it, they each act as individuals with their own personality, own insight, and own charm.

The same is true for your repurposed content.

Gated Content - Repurpose for Greater Reach

10 Ideas for Repurposing Gated Content into Ungated Content

Keep the GIF above as a reminder of the types of content you can repurpose from your original gated content. However, I have a few more I’d like to offer:

  1. Convert portions of your gated content into a slideshow you can post to SlideShare.
  2. Take a small section of your gated content and expand it into an op-ed on LinkedIn’s blog platform.
  3. Turn the graphs and charts from your gated content into an easy-to-digest infographic.
  4. If your gated content is a webinar, record and cut the webinar into smaller pieces and share after the event.
  5. Rework the gated content piece into a presentation for conferences (promote the gated content at the end of your presentation).
  6. Interview peers or industry thought leaders for their insight into the topic of your gated content.
  7. Answers questions on Quora related to your topic and link to your gated content to encourage users to learn more.
  8. Design quotes or stats as shareable photos on Twitter or Instagram.
  9. Film yourself recapping the most interesting or salient portions of your gated content and post to YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
  10. Host Twitter or LinkedIn Group chats on your topic.

Spread the Symbiosis

I hope by this point, we can finally put to bed this lengthy debate between gated and ungated content. For too long, the arguments and bitter rivalries have corrupted what should be a benevolent and peaceful marketing tactic. Now more than ever, we must put aside our differences and realize the only path forward is one built on mutual effort and respect. We must bring both gated and ungated content together so that we may all benefit and make our content marketing great again, knowing that we’re stronger together.

(And, yes, I swear—I am still only talking about content marketing.)

Have more to add? Share your thoughts in the comments below.