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.
- As we stated earlier, marketers like this approach because it typically generates many more leads than simply having publicly available content on a site with an optional contact form.
- Sales teams like gated content because, aside from generating leads, it provides context to those leads. If we can see what types of content the visitor is interested in we probably know what type of problem they are trying to solve, which will help in the sales cycle.
- To be a little critical of some organizations, gating content means you don’t have to worry as much about the quality of content. After all, the visitor has to provide their contact information before they can even read it.
- Gating content implies that the content is valuable. This may seem foolish since there is a lot of horrible content out there sitting behind lead forms. But the truth is that when you gate content on a site, you are implying that this content is valuable and that you don’t just give it to anyone.
- In some cases gated content exposes something about a product that you wouldn’t share with the public. For example, it may show product specifications that you definitely don’t want your competitors to see. Gating the content gives a small (and we mean small) reassurance that your competitors are not seeing your secure content.
- Gating content stops the content from being taken by bots. Large media publications sometimes gate content to keep it from being stolen and this is a very real threat that B2B sites should be mindful of as well. Bots are constantly out on the Web scraping content from sites and then using that content without permission in many ways (i.e., phishing). You can imagine if organizations such as Forrester, ComScore, and Gartner didn’t gate their content how many different sites would be offering their expensive research for free.
- Often a visitor will assume that if they provide you with their contact information they will be pestered with phone calls and emails for quite some time. Whether this level of persistence is true about your organization or not cannot be determined by the user at the time of the form fill. This likely causes some undecided prospects to forego completing the lead form and therefore avoid seeing the whitepaper at all. This can be seen in Web analytics data, which often shows lead conversion rates on whitepapers to be below 10 percent.
- Most lead forms do not require a verification that the person filling out the lead form is in fact who they claim to be. If they want to read the whitepaper but don’t want to be contacted by sales, there is nothing to stop them from entering bogus information into the lead form, which perpetuates into the CRM, and then into the hands of the sales team. This can be verified by the number of records in a typical CRM that have no response rate (also typically below 10 percent).
- Many folks that fill out the white paper lead forms only want the white paper. They may not be at the point in the sales cycle where they want to be contacted or they may not be looking to make any purchase at all. This again can be verified by the low response rates on records in the CRM that originated from lead forms on the website (this is no different from leads at conferences, contest entries, or other lead-generation techniques).
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.
- If search engines can index your white papers, then your prospects have a significantly higher likelihood of finding the content and finding your organization.
- The more strong content you make available to your users typically coincides with all sorts of positive engagement variables on a website, such as repeat visits, page views per session, and time on site. Strong engagement typically has a very direct correlation with strong lead generation. This provides some awesome opportunities for personalization over multiple visits.
- Remember that Google researchers and just about any sales survey will tell you that prospects do more research before they fill out a lead form than after it. Getting whitepapers out there in the open means that your prospects are more likely to read it while they are forming an opinion about your organization and products than after their opinion is solidly formed.
- If the site is not pushing every visitor to convert to a lead and is instead only getting contact form fills from genuinely interested prospects, then the sales team is able to focus more attention on the leads that they can actually convert and therefore should have a higher customer conversion rate.
- This may seem overly critical, but there is a lot of bad content out there. Exposing bad content to prospects before you get a chance to talk with them may actually drive them away before they are leads.
- On the other hand, if your white papers are excellent, making them publicly available on the website means that you are making them available to competitors as well as prospects.
- As we stated before, gated white papers are great at generating leads. If you make all the white papers publicly available, you will likely see a steep drop in leads generated from the digital channel. The hope is that this decrease in leads does not correlate with a decrease in qualified opportunities or aggregate customer conversions.
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.
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