To gate or not to gate — that is a question that comes up in countless association marketing meetings.
The resulting discussion is different in 2018 than it might have been a couple of decades ago. Associations remain bastions of thought leadership in their respective industries, but the competition for attention and the struggle to earn credibility are more fierce than ever before.
There is no one simple answer, partly because every content program comes with its own business objectives, goals and audiences. A program designed around mass awareness may skew toward open access, while a lead-gen program will use selective gating to gather information about your readers, for example.
But there are a few simple questions that can guide your thinking about gating.
Is your content better than what people can find for free?
When you gate content, you’re asking something of your readers: a member log-in, or perhaps a data-gathering form that provides you with fresh leads.
View that through your readers’ perspective. Are you likely to provide your personal information to get an article or list that looks exactly like 10 others that appear in Google Search? Or do you move on to the content that asks virtually nothing of you in return?
This mindset often leads to a “premium” approach to gated content. Comprehensive guides, data-rich white papers and similar premium pieces that promise to help readers in their professional lives feel more valuable and are less likely to be duplicated elsewhere. So be selective with your gating, and when you create premium pieces, think about what perspective only your organization can provide to set it apart from free resources that are readily available.
Is it valuable to people who don’t know you already?
This question comes down to the purpose of your content.
Associations often face the need to not only serve existing members but also cast a net to find new members. These two needs create a natural tension: You have the urge to gate your ongoing content as a pure member benefit, but if you do so, how will the people who aren’t members yet see your value? There’s an added challenge when you consider exactly how you’ll gather data on those prospective members.
The experts at Moz offer some helpful guidance. For any content program (or individual piece of content), weigh the importance of audience size/reach and ongoing marketing benefits versus the need for detailed information on readers. If the former outweighs the later, maintain open access. If the latter outweighs the former, consider gating.
That’s good as a general rule, but as Moz also points out, open access and gating aren’t all-or-nothing prospects. That’s where the funnel comes into play.
Is it part of a journey along the funnel?
The most sophisticated associations are turning to B2B techniques to grow their membership base and, in many cases, target specific products or services to both members and nonmembers.
That leads to the need to examine where content fits into the sales funnel. As a basic guideline, it’s wise to keep top-of-funnel content open and free to all. You want as many readers as possible to find your expertise and industry insights — all delivered in ongoing coverage via articles, infographics and other content types.
But as you go deeper into the funnel, and as readers trust you more after increased exposure, limited gating opportunities open up. A mid-funnel article with detailed how-to advice offers the possibility for a newsletter signup. And then, even deeper, a premium guide to a topic of interest to them is more likely to yield information via true gating such as lead-gen forms.
Even with those bottom-funnel pieces, there are ways to blend open and gated content to get users to supply the data you desire. You might offer a small portion of a white paper or guide for free, with a prompt to supply information to get the full guide, for instance.
The answers and approaches will vary based on your ultimate goals, needs and audiences. But in any case, be sure you’re asking questions before you ask too much of your audience.