Originally published on Medium.
For more than a decade now people have been proselytizing the death of email. As early as 2004 there have been articles on the subject, one by John Dvorak titled The Death of Email that starts, “Has e-mail peaked and become more useless?”
But a quick look at Google’s recommended searches reveals that regardless of how consistently we say email is dying, it refuses to go gentle into that good night.
And while messaging platforms have created some disruption in personal and corporate communications, email remains the most dependable, though perhaps boring, mass communications channel.
Now, many marketers are quick to say that gated content is next in line.
But will gated content really die, or is its trajectory closer to that of the long-maligned email? “Gated content isn’t dead. It’s just dying. A slow, drawn-out, exceedingly painful death,” Brad Smith writes in his post Why You Should Kill Gated Content Once and for All.
This view more closely matches the track of email and the article goes on to lay out a series of tactics you should try instead, which may be worth testing for your organization. And while in theory I am in favor of ungating all content, I tend to agree with Smith’s view of a gated future, “It will always be around in one shape or form. It will always serve a purpose.”
Gated content vs. ungated content and retargeting
Let’s play devil’s advocate and focus on one tactic that is more and more popular as an alternative to gated content, retargeting. For those unfamiliar, the general idea of retargeting is to cookie web visitors, show them display ads around the internet, and hope they will eventually click on one to come back to your site.
Retargeting is now used as a popular way to hedge an ungated content bet. Someone gets your content, you get to show them display ads. Here, however, are three reasons why gating content in the first place might be better.
Filling out a form to receive content amounts to an online handshake. If I fill out a form (and give you my real information) I know what I am signing up for. I know you will probably drop me into an automatic drip campaign with the hopes of turning me into a sales-ready lead. If your company has a super ambitious team of inside sales reps, I know I might even be getting a call within 15 minutes of downloading the asset. I know this. So, if I want to avoid it I can just use fake information — no harm, no foul.
Cookies, on the other hand, aren’t transparent (at least in the U.S. where there are no cookie disclosure laws in place like in the E.U.). Unless you install a plug-in like Ghostery to control ads and tracking technology, you may not know a site has marked your browser with the intent of showing you ads.
To see this in action, go to a few retargeting software sites and then take a look at some of the display ads you are served up as you browse the internet. I visited Perfect Audience, for example, and was shown this ad on the very next site I visited:
Because there is no opt-in, no handshake, no permission — this can be irritable at times and creepy at worst depending on how the campaign is set up.
Once a company has your information and can contact you, they have more visibility into what you are interested in early on. This can help determine what assets you receive next and in what order you will receive them.
Without that information, there is less visibility and control over the next steps. They can set up what ads you will (potentially) see, determine where you might see those ads, and hope that you click. But for the most part, the next step in the process is out of their hands.
Shortened sales cycle
As previously mentioned, if you have an eager team of inside sales reps gating content can provide the information they need to contact a new prospect. Knowing what content was downloaded can help them guide the conversation, learn more about the pain points a prospect may be experiencing, and figure out ways to help.
Alternatively, they might determine it’s not a good fit. This is good information to have too because it means you do not have to waste budget marketing to those who never had the intention of buying in the first place.
So, what is a marketer to do?
It makes sense to first consider what sort of organization you are and where you want to go. If you are marketing for a company with strong brand equity and want to be a thought leader, it makes sense to ungate. Your goal is to have the biggest potential audience read and share your content. Alternatively, if you are marketing for a scrappy startup and need activity, then you might lean more towards gating. Not as many people will download your content, but those that do allow you to reach out to and personalize their next steps.
The overall trend seems to be moving more towards a mix. Gate your most valuable content, while freeing up other resources. This is where I anticipate many organizations will move in the future.
Where am I at? I certainly want to jump on the ungate train. I feel ready. I think our content at Marsden Marketing stands on its own and I want to make it easier to access. But at the same time, I want to stay in touch so that we can build a relationship and I want that relationship to begin as transparent as possible. And secretly the old lead generation manager in me still gets a little bit of joy from seeing a download come in.
Which leads us to...
Optional content forms
At Marsden Marketing we have been experimenting with optional forms for content. These are essentially forms that you can fill out if you want. We would love to keep in touch, but if you’re not ready, we still believe that our content is valuable and want you to have it.
We tested it out on our resource, The Essential SEO Checklist for Websites. Here's how the form looked:
We saw, as expected, an increase in downloads. However, we interestingly saw the same number of form completions. Since running this test, we've completely opened up the resource by removing the form. We were so pleased by the increased activity on the checklist that we're hoping no form at all increases downloads even more.
Where do you sit on the ungated content debate? Do you have any plans to ungate more content in 2018? Let’s keep the conversation going.