There are strengths and weaknesses to both models (gated or un-gated) but neither one is necessarily the perfect fit for all organizations.
Marketers and demand generation specialists love white papers. A white paper with a strong title that is well publicized is like catnip for marketers, especially B2B marketers. There is good reason for this: When the goal is lead generation, white papers that force a user to fill out a contact form (gated) before downloading the document typically generate leads better than site content that merely invites the user to provide contact information. Marketers are looking for an effective exchange of value to communicate to visitors that if you give us your contact information we will give you something cool, and white papers are great at providing perceived value.
In February of last year, Google and CEB published some brilliant research that shows in the B2B space that the majority of prospects have already reviewed your website and learned about your products and your organization as well as the products and organizations of some competitors before they filled out the lead form on your website. The research found that prospects were, on average, 57 percent of the way through their buying process before they reached out to the potential vendor. While this shouldn’t surprise anyone in B2B sales or marketing, as many of us have already talked with prospects and customers about their buying cycle and we understand how prospects educate themselves, it brings up a great question: Should marketing websites demand that visitors provide contact information before they can see white papers? Let’s look at some pros and cons of each.
Gated content is typically white papers, case studies, research documents, product documentation, webinars, etc. that visitors access by completing a lead form that asks basic information about them. It’s common that the content has a really great title (i.e., 10 Really Awesome Things You Need to Know to Rule the World Right Now) often accompanied by a document description and/or some great imagery. When you click on the title, you are pushed to a page with a form asking you for information that identifies you, your company, and at least one method to contact you (i.e., email, phone). If you complete and submit the form, you can usually download the document in the form of a PDF on the very next page. In some cases you will have to verify that your email address is correct.
Public Content (Un-Gated)
Public content is obviously the majority of content out on the Web. Many companies publicly offer their white papers and other research documents without requiring any contact information.
We’ve reviewed a few of the pros and cons with both gating content and making it publicly available. Now let’s look at two simplified hypothetical return on investment (ROI) models.
Impressions on Search Enginges or Referring Sites
|Visits to Your Site||Contact Form Fills||Sales Contacts||Customer Conversions|
|White Papers Gated||5,000||250||25||5||1|
|White Papers Un-Gated||10,000||500||25||5||1|
In the first model, the white papers are gated and therefore not attracting as much traffic as the second model. Because the white papers are gated in the first model, it has twice the lead conversion rate (%) as the second model. In the second model, the whitepapers are not gated (public) and so the site is getting more traffic from search engines and referring sites but because the whitepapers are not gated, the second model has half the conversion rate of leads on the site. In both models we assume a similar rate for sales contacts and customer conversions.
The question of whether or not to gate white papers comes down to how much traffic you think public white papers can acquire (which is a question of content quality and SEO strategy) and how well you think the site with gated or public whitepapers can convert visitors into leads (which is a question of site efficiency). In this example, an organization that is highly proficient at SEO and other channels of traffic acquisition would likely benefit more from gating white papers. On the other hand, an organization that is highly proficient at onsite lead conversions would be receiving more value from making the white papers publicly available.
As we reviewed, there are strengths and weakness to both models and neither one seems to be the ideal fit for all organizations. The Web has allowed early prospects to quickly educate themselves on new markets and the services and prospects of the leaders in each market. It will be interesting to see as the Web continues to evolve how content strategies and lead-generation initiatives innovate to meet the needs of a more demanding and educated base of potential customers.
Mark leads the analyst team to develop ROI goals, data strategies, digital channel reporting, and establish processes for data analysis for EXTRACTABLE clients. Since joining EXTRACTBLE 14 years ago, he has worked on numerous high-profile websites including Yahoo, DirecTV, Visa, FedEx, and HTC. The most trafficked web page that he's ever worked on received 15 million unique visitors in one day, he has run analytics analysis on over 150 sites, and the biggest ROI he's ever seen on a corporate website redesign was > 800 percent. He is an active member of the Digital Analytics Association and has contributed to the DAA Education Committee for over five years.
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