Gated vs. non-gated content: When to use which?

Kristina Liebute



6 min

Ah, that question B2B content marketers come back to again and again - to gate or not to gate content? 

And with AI making it easier than ever to get the content you need without giving away your details, it's fair to ask: does gated content even work anymore?

It all comes down to how well you know your target audience and how well you help soothe their business pains. 

Here’s an overview of how gated and non-gated content differ, when it makes sense to use each, and how to improve the quality of your gated content to generate more leads.

What is gated content?

Gated content refers to content valuable enough to the recipient that the recipient is willing to provide some of their personal details or contact information in exchange for it. So gated content is of transactional nature. It is content deemed worthy by both the company and the prospect, where both sides know what the transaction is about.

Gated content examples: white papers, ebooks, templates, guides, webinars, etc.

What is non-gated content?

Non-gated content is freely accessible to anyone without the need to provide any personal details or contact information. Readers can browse and consume information to educate themselves on your product or industry.

Non-gated content examples: blog posts, social media, infographics, landing pages, etc.

When to use non-gated content?

Non-gated content is typically top-funnel. Here the primary purpose is brand awareness. You can use non-gated content to reach a wider audience and build your brand and drive traffic. 

Such content is often used for blog posts, social media posts, and other content with more of an informational purpose. Due to its availability, non-gated content can reach a much wider audience than gated, making it great for driving traffic to your website and establishing yourself as a thought leader in your industry.

When to use gated content?

It depends on what you want to do. Do you wish to get the content out there to be seen by as many people as possible, or is your purpose to get people’s contact details and generate some quality leads?

Only gate content if the transactional exchange is essential to what you're trying to achieve. The lower down the funnel you are, the more transactional your content becomes. So the ideal time to take advantage of gated content is in the mid and lower-funnel stages when users are more likely to make a purchase or take some other action. 

At the same time, bottom-funnel content such as product information or pricing info should never be gated as you want to make it as easy as possible for the prospects to research your product and make a decision.

There are nuances to it, though. What’s too often overlooked, especially in B2B companies, is that the most important reason to publish content is to gauge the interest in the market and see which segments respond to your content. Of course, gated content allows you to collect contact info, but it also lets you see where prospects are in their buyer’s journey and whether they are interested in what you say.

Once you release some gated content, see how the market reacts to it, and identify which segments resonate with the topic the most. It might be different from what you assume initially.

If your gated content isn’t performing, should you ungate it? 

Let's say you produce a piece of premium content intending to gate it and use it as lead-gen. You run multiple promotional campaigns and LinkedIn ads, but nothing works. You cannot get people to download it. What to do?

Take a closer look at your content. Did you target the right audience? Are you talking about your solution in the wrong way? Or are you not addressing the pain points most relevant to your potential clients?

Read more: How to generate hot B2B leads with a low search volume

If you are still convinced that the piece of content you've done is valuable, it might be worth to ungate and use as a traffic driver. The simple reason why it is not downloaded might be because more or less the same information is freely available elsewhere. So if people are finding the answers they are looking for, you could be the one to provide them.

Once you ungate and start seeing that the previously gated content drives traffic, you can confirm that people are interested in this; you just needed to make it available. If the content is valuable, but users are hesitant to provide their personal information, ungating it may help increase traffic and broaden reach.

How to boost the quality of your gated content?

All that sweat and tears and no leads. It is every content marketer’s nightmare to work hard on content only to see it not deliver results. Luckily, there are ways to prevent it from happening.

Make sure you know your stuff

As you set out to create a piece of gated content, take a look at your marketing efforts and ask yourself: Does your company have enough expertise on this topic? If not, could you partner up with someone? Or maybe do your own original research, such as a survey? 

Early startups are usually good at this. They start small, with two co-founders at the most. The founders have deep knowledge about their industry and the problem they’re solving. You could say that there is a direct link between the business and its content efforts. So the founders are doing content marketing but might not be aware of it.

As the company grows, and content production is now done by the content marketers, it is their responsibility to extract that founder expertise and convey it in ways that are valuable to the audience. The trick here is to build relationships with the experts in the company to avoid producing generic marketing content that will not allow you to be seen.

Get your subject matter experts, product people, evangelists, and visionary people in your organization and activate them in terms of generating content. Only then can you produce gated content valuable enough for prospects to submit their data to get it.

Find a critical pain point

Conduct market research and buyer persona interviews to find a critical customer pain point you know a lot about. It should be content that 90% of your website visitors would be interested in. It could, for example, be a whitepaper based on some of the concepts and ideas that are the foundation of the problem your product or business is solving. 

Set clear goals

Have a content strategy and clear goals for your content, know what you want to achieve with it and how you will get there. As you set your goals, remember that now you are competing with AI technology that can quickly answer generic questions. The more specialized and knowledgeable you are in your field, the more you can differentiate yourself.

Which gated content formats work best?

Regarding the best gated content formats, it comes down to value. As long as your content is perceived as valuable by your prospects, they will download it. 

What works great is original research, such as an industry report. Gated videos, such as webinars, talks, or seminars, are also becoming more popular. For example, people can watch the first 5 minutes of the video and then have to submit a form with their details to access the rest. 

Educational material, such as, for example, HubSpot Academy, works excellently. You provide content and learning courses in one, which is a great perceived value by the user.

Why is gated vs. non-gated content even a discussion?

The discussion of gated vs. non-gated was always there, but AI brought it back with renewed force. If people can easily get the information they need from something like ChatGPT, why would they bother giving their emails to a vendor to get it?

The silver lining here is that it sets higher standards for content. The web is filled with too much irrelevant, mediocre content on any given topic. This level of content is bound to become obsolete, especially with AI getting more intelligent. It requires people who want to do content marketing to provide more quality, original research.

AI can only use what’s produced over the last couple of decades and is publicly available. This is where you can stand out with your gated content. People will read it as long as you can provide something that is original and high-value.

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