Using gated content to improve marketing opportunities

Using gated content to improve marketing opportunities

Oliver Kennett

Oliver Kennett
30th August 2019

If you are like every other business out there, roaming in the wilderness of the internet, you are constantly looking for ways to increase your brand awareness, develop leads and find new customers.

There are many such methods including leveraging social networks, advertising through more conventional media streams such as radio and TV, or simply tracking down potential customers and connecting with them.

What if there was a way of not only making potential customers come to you, but also for them to hand over their contact details so you can contact them in the future?

Well, pull up a chair, sit back and let me tell you about gated content…

In a nutshell, gated content is used by businesses to exchange interesting content with visitors for their email address and a few contact details. The content can be anything from videos to white papers or downloadable articles.

As the more astute of you might have already spotted, this needs to be done right. If done wrong, for example providing inferior content, asking too much in exchange or abusing the data provided by your website visitors, you might not only damage your image, decrease the number of visitors to your site, but also be treading on the thin blue line of the law.

Why use gated content at all?

In the eternal struggle to gain traction with new audiences and customers, direct connections via well planned email marketing campaigns are essential. Email marketing certainly still holds its own against social media engagement or outright advertising and has a firm place in overall marketing strategy.

The problem is, you need to legally obtain email addresses in the first place to populate your mailing list, even before you get started. Unless you have a solid customer base who actively seeks out updates about your business and feel compelled to sign up to your mailing list without any prompting, it is unlikely that you will have a usefully large database of names.

This is where gated content comes in. If I, the customer signs up to this mailing list, you, as a content provider, will email the recipe for the elixir of immortality, a map to the sunken city of Atlantis and a video of a racoon eating grapes from a bowl… Whatever it is, it is something that I want enough to allow you to add me to your mailing list with the understanding that I can always unsubscribe in the future… Spoiler alert, I probably won’t, I’m lazy like that.

But more interestingly, rather than using this as a system for populating mailing-lists of customers, it can be a fiercely effective tool when it comes to finding B2B leads. 80% of business to business content is exchanged for contact details and other information.

The obvious benefit of this is generating leads to upsell other products and services that the visiting business might want such as a masterclass, for example, or a new and exciting product that can improve their productivity.

When not to gate content

If you’re attempting to increase your brand awareness, locking all the proof of your genius behind gates is pretty pointless. Furthermore, private individuals will be loath to pass over contact details, not only because they worry about being pestered but also because there is a question of trust.

Handing over key details about themselves to a random site in the more dismal back streets of the internet is not something a wise website visitor will do.

You must consider the mindset of visitors to your website. If it were you, would you be willing to jump through hoops to get this golden content, I mean the racoon is super cute… But there are loads of cute videos out there, and Atlantis isn’t all that, believe me, it’s kind of like Blackpool.

It is, in essence, another type of sale though, in this case, its personal data that you are buying with exclusive content and, as such, you need to induce the visitor or customer to convert and make that transaction.

If you want your visitor to simply browse your site, learn about your offerings, placing such information behind a virtual gate would not only be pointless, but would most likely drive potential custom away to one of the many other sites offering the same product, service or information that you guard. In short, you need to consider whether the juice is really worth the squeeze for website visitors.

An example

I’ve finally realised my life long dream and set up a website that allows members to rate French fries, chips and potato wedges. It’s called ChipAdvisor… Genius, huh?

To spread our crispy cause we have decided to use a gated content system to obtain names, email addresses and, so we can get an idea of the sort of people that like chips, age, gender, location and income… Spoiler alert, everyone likes chips!

But what can we offer that our visitors will be willing to give up their time and personal data for?

Well, they are here to find out the best spud product as well as add to the quickly growing list of reviews. We decide to hold back the all important “Top ten places that do chips good”… We also make a note to talk with the marketing team to tidy this title up.

Our plan is simple, we will email the list of the highest voted restaurants, takeaways, roadside barrows, canteens, pubs and fast food joints to our visitors in exchange for their details.

It is possible to have gated content that will simply send the visitor to a page containing the relevant information or download, but this would be daft. It would allow the less honourable seekers of piping hot potato perfection to enter erroneous data whilst still getting their reward. By sending the list directly to their inbox we can be sure that they will give us a working email address.

But what is wrong with this model? How might it fail? Worse, how might it damage us?

Balancing the value of the content against the value of visitor data is difficult. On one hand, we don’t want to be giving away valuable content which could generate revenue in a different format.

Moving on from my chip advisor example, we are setting up a site to help new chip shop restaurants become successful and we’re calling it ‘Champion Chips’. We are a B2B provider of content, in this case, our visitors are enterprise customers. Our goal is to get all their contact details, their business size, budget, age, market demographics etc., which we can use to upsell other products.

We have put together an excellent ebook that works as a step by step guide to setting up, running and promoting a successful chip shop. The ebook has taken months of research, interviews, drafting and redrafting as well as many chipped spuds.

This content is worthy of being sold as a standalone ebook or becoming part of a paid course and giving it away only belittles the amount of effort that has been put into it.

And, in this case, it’s right. Though this ebook would certainly work fantastically as gated content and we would quickly be swimming in leads but, what then? What product or information do we have to upsell?

Like the synopsis for a book or a trailer for a film, we need to tease the visitor with what is to come by providing just enough information to be on the edge of usefulness possibly with one or two key ingredients missing, like potatoes. In this way we retain sellable content, give our visitor the chance to see what we have to offer whilst populating our database of leads.

Use or abuse of data

In any case of dealing with data of businesses or individuals, it is important to remember that there are legal issues attached to procuring and using data. For example, if we manage to collect some solid leads with and, heaven forbid, the business goes under, we are not allowed to use those leads for anything other than what we have already stated to our engaged website visitors.

The key word here is ‘consent’. They have to actively agree to the use of their data. So, if we said, during the gated content process:

Do you agree to receive marketing materials from our carefully selected 3rd party associates? This would be fine, though in my experience ‘carefully selected’ is usually a questionable term.

Before we can even use this data, we have to be certain that we’ve been transparent regarding its use:

  • Who we are, how we can be contacted and who is in charge of the data.
  • Why we want their data and what we intend to do with it.
  • How long we intend to keep it on file.
  • Who else will have access to the data.
  • A full rundown of their data protection rights including access, amendment and deletion as well as who to complain to should we, as a business, misuse their data.

Naturally, this all needs to be presented in an easy to understand format. This is not only a legal requirement, but when website visitors start stumbling over words and convoluted sentences that leave them scratching their chef’s hat, they are unlikely to be comfortable with handing over their data, especially if they don’t exactly know what is going to be done with it. Learn more about GDPR here.


Gated content, especially in the B2B world, is a useful tool but, as with any tool, it needs to be used correctly to be effective. In general, the content to offer should be:

  • Valuable and of high quality
  • A tempting prospect
  • An indication of further paid services that are offered by the business
  • Exclusive

The content itself needs to be seen, not just as a marketing tool to say how great and wonderful the business is, but as a product in its own right. It is a transaction of valuable information, the site visitor who signs up to the gated content gains value from the content whilst the business gains value in the collected data which can be used for either analysis or future marketing.

Both parties emerge with something of value, which is what good business is all about.

Right, that’s enough potato jokes. I’ll go get my jacket…