When Should You Put Content Behind a Form?

A common issue with content creators is when to gate content and when not to. (Gated content is defined as a content asset that lives behind a landing page—someone has to enter their information into a form to get to the page.)

If you’re talking to a search engine optimization firm (SEO) that measures their performance only on traffic (number of unique visitors to your site every month), they would tell you not to gate anything because the Google bot can’t fill out the form, hit the submit button, and read the information that lives behind the curtain. 

So if you have really great information sitting behind that gate, from an SEO or traffic-only perspective, you wouldn’t expect any search results because they want the Google bot to see everything. 

If you’re just starting out with content marketing and need to generate traffic to your site, it probably makes sense to have most of your content un-gated so you can build some following and brand awareness. 

But there’s a balance—especially for the companies that are already generating thousands or hundreds of thousands of unique visitors every month. If there are no forms to fill out to get to value-added content, that means you have no conversion mechanism to turn those anonymous visitors into leads—and worse yet, you’re relying on them to fill out a Contact Me form or call the 800-number on your website. 

As a side note, B2B companies that are producing lots of content with no conversion mechanisms are a good example of what we talk about when we say the marketing’s function in the new world can’t be only about branding and positioning. We need them to generate leads for salespeople—and conversion mechanisms are the only way. 

Back to the balance between non-gated and gated content—the value of non-gated content being that it's instantly available to the audience. This is especially necessary when there are early and mid-stage buyers that need to find your information easily when they're searching for it so that you're top of mind as they look and start evaluating solutions.  

Non-gated content also serves as the primary vehicle for finding the gated content in the first place. It’s also easy for them to share that non-gated content, and that’s what you ultimately want. A good rule of thumb for non-gated content would be:

  • All of the company's general product information or services
  • Assets that are considered thought leadership such as blogs, tip sheets, checklists, infographics, and videos
  • Product data sheets and company overviews

Once you get them to your site, then you need to provide some valuable assets that are worthy of filling out a form to then convert that anonymous traffic into leads. 

First and foremost, the content that is gated must be good and it must add value!

When someone fills out the form, they’re giving you their email and phone number—if the piece on the other side of the gate is crap, they’re going to feel tricked and ask themselves why they clicked on it in the first place because now some sales rep is probably going to try and call them. They probably won’t be clicking on your stuff again, and it can sour your brand in the long run. 

So what forms of content are typically valuable to the consumer? 

It’s usually some sort of in-depth educational piece or some type of information that demonstrates more advanced information about the product solution or service that's being offered.  Examples include:

  • Analyst reports
  • White papers
  • Webinars (which by their very nature are gated because you have to register)
  • eBooks
  • Product trials or online product demos.

In a B2B context, that usually means content that’s educational in tone and is very informative. For example, lots of media information, good statistics, and scenarios—all pieces that can help the prospect sell it internally if you're talking about a large enterprise purchase of some type. White papers generally fit into that category, but not exclusively.  

I would also add one thing which is I think it's really important as a best practice — make sure that when you're promoting gated content that you accurately describe the asset. Having a thumbnail of the asset on the registration page that they’re filling out works well, especially for the visual learners. 

Creating video snippets that promote the contents of the white paper works well also. We've created short video summaries about a white paper or webinar (an elevator pitch) and were able to increase the conversions substantially. The idea is to get them interested quickly and then let them move quickly to the download.

The bottom line is that if you have something on the other side of that gate that really adds value and gets them thinking about a solution to their problem in a different way—now you’re talking! (And they’ll be talking about you too by distributing it to their friends and colleagues which builds buzz and energy about your brand.)

But don’t be fooled into thinking that your non-gated content can be all light and fluffy stuff.

Google and other search engines are not going to reward you for that because they’re looking for sites to send people to that have demonstrated added value (through links, shares and traffic). You still need meaningful, journalistic type content that is un-gated for people to want to come to your site in the first place. 

One last comment about non-gated content: Be sure to only ask for the information that you really need to know. If all you really want is the email address to further nurture them, then just ask for that.

If this is a form for some kind of quote, then you’re going to have to ask a bunch of questions to understand those specifications—but just know that every single field you add to a form is additional friction that is going to reduce your conversion rates.