The Secret Power of Ungated Content

Stop gating your content. Find an alternative way to secure leads.

I have a fun story for marketers.

It’s about the most popular blog post I’ve ever published. It has generated nearly 200,000 views on my personal blog, nearly 3,000 likes and more than 100 comments. This is a lot for a girl, who only had 400 Medium followers at the time and no email list.

This evergreen post of mine has spurred a multitude of valuable relationships, and it compelled publications, like Business Insider and Inc to email me, asking if they could republish it to an even a wider audience or interview me.

Here’s the irony… A few months earlier, I created a landing page on my website to advertise a free ebook. Get this — that ebook was this post I’m talking about, and the landing page had the same exact headline as the blog post.

Guess how many subscribers I hacked from that baby? Two. Two subscribers — one of whom was a former professor.

Today, this blog post still resides in my website’s top three sources of referral traffic in Google Analytics (GA) each month since publishing it last summer. You know what’s also funny — referral traffic is ALWAYS my top acquisition channel in GA. Direct traffic is my second.

Here’s the point of my fun story, marketers: UNGATE YOUR FREAKIN’ CONTENT ALREADY. If not for your customers, do it for yourselves. Imagine all the benefits you could be missing out on from gating your content.

Keep reading if you want to learn more reasons to ungate your content and a few alternative solutions.


6 reasons to take down your content gates

For those unfamiliar with the term gated content, it’s simply a premium content piece, such as webinar, course or ebook, which lives behind a form. In other words, you must input your information (email, phone number, etc) to get the piece of content.

Gated content is — for lack of a better word — stupid for a few reasons.

1. You’re taking a risk with gated content.

Bad gated content is like a man saying to a woman at a bar, “Hey, I’ll buy you this Patron shot if you give me your number.” Then the guy comes back with a sugary, water-downed lemon drop, which leaves you with a bad hangover.

Think about it for a second. How much effort have you put into your gated content offers? How sure are you that people actually enjoy your content offers? You aren’t because you’re measuring number of leads, and the number of leads has zero correlation to how good the premium content offer is.

Jay Acunzo makes a great point on Contently.

“If someone gets this big promise on a landing page and converts into a subscriber, but the piece they then open is terrible, why would they want to hear from you again? So many marketers lose sight of treating people like people instead of leads.”

Who cares if a visitor converted but thought your content sucked? Embarrassing, which leads me to my next point.

2. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Well, only to get that ebook, then I’m unfollowing you.

Gated content makes me think you’re a user — a taker — that you have a “me first” mentality. And I can’t stand those types of people. Can you?

Asking for visitors’ emails literally seconds after they learn about your company is like a man asking for sex after the first “sup?” It’s just plain rude. It makes people uncomfortable. And it scares visitors away. All of which combined makes for a terrible first impression.

And did you know that first impressions matter more than facts? It’s true.

3. You’re collecting a bunch of bad leads.

“More leads are only good when those leads are all qualified.” — (Contently)

How many people are downloading your premium content that are totally unqualified? I’m willing to bet the greater majority.

Here’s an example. I’m going to pick on HubSpot for a minute even though I love the company a lot. Every time I want to download something from its resource library, I must re-subscribe to the blog, which I always unsubscribe from. It’s not that I don’t like the content — it’s just I don’t want another email newsletter in my inbox.

A lot of people are like me, and download premium content to learn something — not to even think about buying a product — especially a high-priced product, like HubSpot.

How I feel subscribing and re-subscribing to blogs.

For HubSpot, I’m not a marketing qualified lead (MQL), yet its sales team wastes its time on me every time I re-subscribe to its blog, just to get a damn piece of content.

Instead of focusing on leads as a metric, why not focus on customers as a metric? This means focus on quality over quantity and/or find a different, more customer centric way of securing leads.

To go a bit further, you could even be losing money on gated content and lead scoring because you’re employing all these extra salespeople to follow up with useless leads.

Trust me, people will make it around your gates.

4. It’s good for SEO.

Zapier has a lot of phenomenal content. Because the content is so phenomenal, Google usually includes its content in Knowledge Graph answers, which means many times, Zapier’s blog gets the very top spot in Google without paying for ads.

As marketers, we know that the more high-quality web pages your site has, the more chances you have to rank on the front page of Google. Your premium content is just the type of meaty content Google likes to see because it answers searchers’ questions, and just like you, Google is trying to provide the best answers for its browsers.

If you Google “remote work guide,” Zapier appears in the top spot on Google because of its stellar, 14-chapter, ungated ebook — The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work.

5. You can track it.

It’s much easier and way less creepy to track online content than offline content. Think about it. You could use Hotjar to see which parts of your content people were interacting with the most.

Another benefit: You’d know if your content sucked or not.

6. The future of marketing doesn’t include forms.

I hate to be the barer of bad news but the future of marketing isn’t CRO, SEO or any other cute, easy-sounding acronym. The future of marketing is good branding and storytelling.

Only the most real, authentic and helpful, customer centric organizations will win. I promise you. These orgs definitely have a “you first” mentality.

Wildly loved companies, like Slack, Mailchimp and Zapier, all don’t gate its content. Interesting, right?


5 alternative solutions to gated content

By now, I hope I’ve convinced you to at least consider alternative solutions to gated content. Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with.

1. Be omnipresent.

You may not be God, but you sure as hell can be everywhere at once online. Just ask Serial Blogger Neil Patel.

Patel is a prime example of someone who doesn’t gate his content. He doesn’t need to because he’s omnipresent. He blogs for Forbes, Inc, Fast Company, HubSpot, Kissmetrics, CrazyEgg, etc. The man is everywhere.

Be everywhere. Become a thought leader, and engage with your readers in the comments, which brings me to my next point.

2. Build relationships.

As busy as Patel is he still finds time to reply to every single comment he gets on his articles. By doing this, he’s built strong relationships with his readers; therefore, he doesn’t need to force them to subscribe to his blog because they do so willingly.

How else do you build relationships, you ask? Here’s how.

3. Deliver value first.

“Instead of hooking prospects on the anticipation of value, the ungated strategy hooks them with delivered value.” (Contently)

Write one really remarkable piece of content. Then write one more remarkable piece of content. And I promise you people will eventually take notice.

I gained 1,000 followers on Medium in less than two days by simply writing really good content. Every time I write a really good piece of content, I’m flooded with new followers, who wind up hearting article of mine after article of mine, after discovering my profile.

I didn’t ask for their email. I didn’t annoy them with some spammy pop-up. I delivered value FIRST, and I won a new follower and supporter because of it.

You have to trust that your content is great enough to make people want to opt-in to your emails on their own. If you don’t, then maybe, deep down, you know your content isn’t good enough.

4. Create optional lead forms.

Beware: Optional lead gen forms will make users excited.

I’m not telling you to remove all of your lead gen forms. What I am saying is make them optional. Place easy-to-find (and subscribe) lead gen forms around your content, in a non-evasive way.

5. Find alternative ways to source new leads.

Yes, really.

Gated content has made marketers and salespeople lazy. What happened to doing some manual, creative research? That’s what I do to generate new leads for my company.

For example, when I worked at Inbound.org, I knew I needed to get 15 percent MoM growth for new job applications and new job posts. I did a lot of creative things to meet those goals each month — none of which included gated content.

One way I secured new job seeker leads was by syndicating our posts on ZipRecruiter. This helped a lot actually.

Just think outside your gated content box because there’s certainly other, less annoying ways to generate leads for your company.


Pretend you’re talking to visitors IRL.

Again, I hate to tell you the bad news, but there is no easy, get-rich quick marketing scheme. You have to put in effort. You have to secure high caliber writers, who promote their content. And you have to deliver A LOT of value way before you ever receive anything in return.


Lauren Holliday is the founder of Freelanship, a marketplace with pre-packaged marketing gigs, and Full-Stack Marketer, the first course on full-stack marketing.