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November 15, 2016

Should You Gate Your Content?

Watergate, Bridgegate, Content gate.

Fortunately, gated content isn’t as controversial as its predecessors, but it is a hot topic in the marketing community today. Gated content – content you need to pay, subscribe, or swap personal information for — is a popular tool among marketers who want to build their e-mail lists and generate detailed leads.

In some circles, though, the decision to gate content is a hot-button topic.

While gating content may drive away some users who don’t want to give you their personal information, it can also serve to build subscriber lists and help you connect on a more personal basis with the users who want to pay for your content.

Because of this, deciding when (and if) to gate your content can be a complex decision, and making it involves completing an honest appraisal of the benefits and drawbacks of gated content.

What are the Benefits of Gating Content?

First, let’s talk about the benefits of gated content. Gating your content offers many perks, including the following:

  • Gated content allows you to collect detailed information about your users. When you gate your content, you get more information about who is accessing it, where they’re coming from, and how they found your material. While naysayers point out that a great deal of this information could easily be faked, validated information (done through a double e-mail opt-ins and similar techniques, for example) can be massively helpful to your campaigns.
  • People who trade personal information for your content may find it more valuable. There’s something to be said for the fact that, when people give you something (like an e-mail address) in exchange for your content, that they may find it more valuable. This, in turn, may make them more willing to use the content, share it, or tell other people about it. Moz points out that people generally value things they’ve worked hard to get, and this could prove true for your gated content.
  • It may be easier to make additional sales to people who interact with gated content. People who interact with gated content already proved once that they like your material, and it may be easier to make sales to them down the road. In this way, gated content can help you build a reliable base of customers.

The Drawbacks of Gated Content

Just like gated content has its benefits, it also has its drawbacks. They are as follows:

  • Gating your content makes your potential audience smaller. When your content is gated, your potential audience becomes much smaller. Unless you’re already a massive, well-known company, it can be tough or impossible to get thousands of people to enter their e-mail, and you may find that gated content only serves to turn off some of your users.
  • Gated content makes it harder to earn links. If your content is gated, people can’t link to and share it as easily. This makes it more difficult to earn links for your content, and can damage your amplification over time. While this may not be a big deal for your company, it’s wise to consider before you make the decision to gate your material.
  • Gated content will drive some customers away. No matter how tastefully you do it or how valuable the content behind the “gate” is, gating your content will simply turn some people off. This may mean that you lose some customers, or that people who would have interacted with your free content are less willing to interact with your gated content. As always, it’s your decision to make and the route you choose will depend largely on your goals, current customer base, and priorities.

When to Gate Content (And When to Leave It Open)

So, should you gate your content? The answer is yes, and the answer is no. Gated content can help boost your e-mail list and make pre-sales easier, but it must be used carefully. Remember that customers who are that far along in your sales funnel are a rare breed — and you’ll likely get much more engagement, shares, and traffic for your content if you leave it open. This is especially true for a young company.

Imagine a startup that gated all of its content. Because the startup wouldn’t have much name recognition, and people wouldn’t be familiar with the company enough to understand what it was or where the content was coming from, they’d likely be hesitant to input their e-mail addresses. As a result, the company’s content could easily stagnate, and the company may even fail as a result.

Case in point? Young companies will do better with free and open content than they will with gated content. Because gated content provides more detailed leads, it’s a wonderful tool for any company who wants to collect as much information as possible from customers.

Older companies, however, or companies with an established customer base can afford to gate some of their content from time to time. As a general rule, content that is meant to drive a high number of leads, such as an eBook, report, or white paper, should be gated. Content that just aims to drive engagement, though, should be left open.

By fostering a healthy balance between gated and open content, a company can cater to its customers while also enhancing its own voice and marketing.

The Case for Gated Content

While gated content has its drawbacks, it can be a helpful tool for companies that are looking to build their leads and promote higher numbers of sign-ups and subscriptions.  By learning to use a mixture of gated and non-gated content, companies can gain all of the benefits of growing an audience while also promoting engagement and shares.

Gated content isn’t an either/or deal, and learning to balance it correctly is critical for the success of a company. By opting for gated or semi-gated content with a fair amount of free or open content peppered in, companies can grow audiences, build authority, and build closer relationships with customers all at once.


Julia McCoy is a serial content marketer, entrepreneur, and bestselling author. She founded a multi-million dollar content agency, Express Writers, with nothing more than $75 at 19 years old. Today, her team has nearly 100 expert content creators on staff, and serves thousands of clients around the world. She's earned her way to the top 30 worldwide content marketers, and has a passion for sharing what she knows in her books and in her online course, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course. Julia also hosts The Write Podcast on iTunes.