Gated VS Ungated content: Should you open up your inbound funnel?

Nikita Smits by Nikita Smits   29 Jun


gated vs ungated.jpeg

From day one of my inbound marketing journey I’ve had discussions with other marketers about the advantages and disadvantages of gated content. For years I’ve been working with businesses and telling them to gate their valuable content in order to drive sign-ups and build a database of people who are interested in what you have to say. But as with a lot of marketing practices, it might be time to rethink how we do it.

It’s not unusual for the inbound methodology to evolve. A few years ago, blogs received comments and social posts saw a lot of ‘real’ engagement. Now, most of us only receive spam comments; offers for services and conversations on social happen in our inboxes rather than on our posts. It doesn’t mean that your audience doesn't engage with your content anymore, it just happens differently.

I see something similar happen with gated content. I do think that we as inbound marketers are partially to blame. In our enthusiasm to gather new contacts we may have become a little less critical about how good ‘good’ content has to be before we ask you for your contact information. Personally, I’m reluctant to sign up for an ebook or webinar if I don’t know your content is good. I’m also quite unforgiving with that handy ‘mark as spam’ button in Gmail.

Conversion and email results stagnate

In some industries we see that marketers struggle with conversion rates that stagnate and emails that don’t get opened or don’t even make it to an inbox. Fair enough, your email database does depreciate year on year but it seems to get harder than before to stay in touch with your audience.

It all comes back to your persona and buyer journey

When we talk about personas, we like to remind you that they change. Your personas are based on your real customers and real customers change their behaviour over time. When your persona is likely to have a marketing or IT job, how fond are they of forms and emails? Has their behaviour changed? When was the last time you critically looked at your persona and the way they consume content? Chances are that it’s been a while. Sit down with your team and review your persona again. Keep in mind that your persona doesn’t only inform the type of content you create but also how you promote and share this content. Make a judgement call on whether your current process still resonates with your updated persona.

Review what content you offer at each stage of the buyer journey and if that content is still engaging enough to move a contact through the funnel. You may have a brilliant worksheet or whitepaper available but if your blog promoting this content isn’t compelling your contacts won’t read it which defeats the purpose of gating content. A colleague used to have this advice: "Would you pay EUR 1 for the content you are gating? If yes, go ahead and gate. If no, you have work to do. It's not good enough."


The European General Data Protection Regulation has been in effect for about a year and you have until May 2018 to comply with the rules. GDPR boils down to a set of practices around privacy and data collection. You cannot contact anyone without clear consent and individuals have the right to see what data you’ve collected and ask to be forgotten completely. Non compliance has severe consequences. If your contacts database has been growing organically and you have recorded opt-in’s from all your contacts GDPR doesn’t necessarily have a lot of bad implications for your promotional activities. However, if you’ve been adding personal contacts, contact list from events or data from your CRM system without a clear history, you are stuck with a large group of contacts you are not allowed to contact after May 2018. In this previous blog we’ve outlined some steps to take to prevent this.

What about your content

As mentioned before, sometimes all we need to do is critically look at the content we offer behind a landing page and a form, and decide whether it’s good enough. In our case, I don’t find that for example the checklist below belongs behind a landing page. However, if we write a guide on how to review your HubSpot portal in order to set new inbound marketing priorities, that’s pretty valuable for your marketing and I’ll ask you to fill in a form. This is content based on a service we provide and we give you the option to get to work yourself rather than hire us to do it.

When you do choose to ungate your content, consider how you make it available. Does it belong in a blog post or a dedicated page on your website? Our solution on this blog is to write longer, more in-depth articles and save worksheets and guidebooks to be gated. You can choose to promote this content on Medium or as a LinkedIn article if you feel like your blog doesn’t get enough visits without sending blog notification emails.

If you’ve written a larger piece of content such as a book, you can choose to make a few chapters available ungated and gate the rest. If you are unsure about the content, make it available on your website without a form. Enjoy the added SEO benefit of having these pages indexed and offer your readers the option to download a copy in exchange for their email address.

When is a good time?

But then there is a question of timing. You’ve worked hard on building your funnel and you have an SLA in place with your sales team where you agree on a number of qualified leads you supply them with every month. If you are coming up to a specifically tough quarter, it might not be the right time to mess with your process and run a test with your best performing content. If you have a good month and you’re close to your targets or if you have a particularly slow period (such as summer vacation!) it’s a good time to try and break things to build a better process.

How to track and nurture?

How on earth do you know how you are doing if you can’t track conversion rates on your landing pages? How do you know who has consumed what content? In all fairness, this part is a bit easier when you have been running inbound campaigns for a while as you should have learned a lot about your prospect’s behaviour.

If you are just starting out, it can feel like you don’t know what is happening with your content but that doesn’t have to be the case. Inbound marketing is so straightforward because it allows you to connect the dots. This can still happen at a later stage. Before a contact converts on one of your forms you can still work on understanding their behaviour. We like using Hotjar to understand how a contact navigates through a website.  

Facebook and Twitter offer options to retarget your website visitors through social advertising and you can get very granular about targeting people who’ve seen specific pages.

In true inbound spirit you should make it easy for people to find you rather than you to find them. This should apply to your CTA’s and contact options on your website as well. Chat pop-ups are annoying when I try to read your blog post. However, when I click a ‘see more’ button on your pricing page I might appreciate some help from a business development rep through a chat message. The same goes for your help page when you offer a freemium vs. paid paid product. There is no better BOFU offer than an show of solid customer support.

Testing the process

I know, we don’t give answers but usually ask you to test a new idea before you run with it. The same goes here. The steps below could help you on your way with testing ungated content. The idea is to

  1. Review the current database of customers to understand behaviour that signals purchase intent.
  2. Have a conversation with your sales team about point 1. Do they agree?

  3. Update and review your content library (internal document) and add a column for gated versus ungated content.

  4. Create a matrix of leadscore vs. behaviour to determine how a lead should be treated; do they see a chat window pop up when they visit the website or not? Do you offer the option to book a meeting with a sales rep in a follow up email?

  5. Review your lead scoring. Over time your lead scoring tends to get a bit convoluted. Start from scratch with a spreadsheet before you dive into your lead scoring tools.

  6. Rewrite gated content and turn it into articles or pages on your website where relevant.

  7. Review your landing pages and your follow up email to make sure you fulfill your promises and don’t mislead your audience about the content of your follow up.

  8. Critically look at your form fields and consider whether you aren’t asking for too much. Use progressive profiling and pre-filled form fields where you can to make things easier for your contacts.

  9. Make sure to offer more content easier to your ‘nurtured’ leads that are with sales or your existing customers. Please don’t ask them to keep filling in forms.

  10. Rebuild workflows and leverage branching logic in order to serve different types of contacts in the right way.

  11. Setup chat and ‘book meeting’ functions for the relevant contacts to make it easy for them to reach out to you.

  12. Brief and teach sales about your new inbound approach. Provide them with a full overview of the new funnel and email templates for suitable follow ups.

Topics: Inbound Marketing, GDPR

Nikita Smits

Written by Nikita Smits

Marketing strategist and GDPR specialist. Nikita was one of the founding members of BusinessBrew but is currently working as a digital marketing specialist at a Copenhagen startup.