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Marketing Experts AJ Beltis and Ashley Faus Debate Gated vs. Ungated Content

Ashley Faus, Content Strategy Lead at Atlassian, believes in leaving as much content ungated as possible while AJ Beltis, Marketing Manager at HubSpot, sees value in gated content. Which type of content is more valuable, and who will win the debate? Let’s find out in this review.

AJ Beltis is a Content and Acquisition Marketing Expert at HubSpot, and his work involves finding new ways to grow quality traffic to HubSpot. In this debate, AJ Beltis stood in defense of gated content. Lately, the trend of gated content like E-books, templates, and kits has been on the rise. And through his work, Beltis has discovered that gated content is a valuable component of the proven InBound methodology. 

Meanwhile, on the other hand, Ashley Faus is a marketer, writer, and speaker and has been working in marketing for over a decade. Throughout her career, she’s used both gated and ungated content and admits that both approaches have merits. But in this debate, she argues the case for ungated content, urging us to see our customers like humans instead of leads.

So, let’s discover all of it together and learn about gated and ungated content.

What’s Gated and Ungated Content?

Before we dive into a review of this hot InBound debate, let’s define what gated and ungated content even means. 

Gated content is online materials – like E-books, articles, and videos – that require users to fill out a form before accessing them. The form’s purpose is usually to gain information about the viewer, such as their name, email address, job organization, etc.

Meanwhile, ungated content doesn’t involve any extra action from the user’s part. It’s presented to the viewer on request, and they can access it without providing any sort of personal information.

Now that we’re clear on the difference let’s delve into the debate and find out which type of content might be better!

The Case for Gated Content

Beltis acknowledges the merits of ungated content before he even begins arguing his case. According to him, not considering ungated content isn’t even an option because doing so would cut off an entire traffic channel and hinder you from being discovered by the search engines. But that aside, there’s also a lot of value to gated content. And that’s what the speaker explores further. 

For starters, visiting a website is only the first step in a customer’s or buyer’s journey. And without an actionable step that requires website visitors to show their intent, we can often end up creating a high bounce rate on websites and a low view-to-lead conversion rate. Simply put, people may visit your website, but they’re unlikely to find it enticing enough to stay. 

As a solution, the speaker recommends a tactical, thorough content strategy that combines the advantages of organic views and ungated content. Let’s explore his arguments for gated content.

Argument 1: Traffic Is Never Enough

Beltis’ first argument was that traffic is never enough. More specifically, it doesn’t lead to conversions. High-ranking websites may generate traffic to your blog and increase the number of backlinks your website has, but what does that add up to? 

In digital marketing, it has become easier than ever to track and credit conversion rates. We can see exactly how well a single piece of content may be performing and its ability to generate leads.

So, what happens after your audience reads your content? And if you don’t have a clear, actionable next step for them to take (such as filling out a form), why would they stay on your website?

Hence, when you gate your content, you get something in return for it. Whether that’s a simple name or an email address, it can still go a long way in eventually converting into a lead. As a result, your sales and marketing team end up equipped with a whole database of people who know and trust your brand and are familiar with your content. These people are the ones most likely to become customers afterward.

In short, gating content gives purpose to your traffic. With that, let’s move to the second argument for gated content. 

Argument 2: Some Content Is Meant to be Gated

By not gating content, you can sometimes waste away a significant portion of search volume. Beltis uses his own experience working at HubSpot to justify this argument. As E-books became obsolete, he and his team started creating pillar pages (longer-form, detailed blog posts) for the same content. And of course, this kind of content was ungated. 

However, despite the traffic it generated, the HubSpot team saw a decrease in their conversion rates. Ultimately, this ended up hindering the revenue-driving opportunities for their blogs. What once used to be gated behind a form and developed contacts for the CRM team was now ungated and not bringing any value to the organization in return. 

So, that’s how they came to realize that gating content was essential in order to drive real results for their sales team. And instead of making E-books as their primary form of gated content, they shifted to creating templates, such as planners, calendars, etc. All they did was use the material of their blogs and turn it into a format that readers could download or engage with. 

Templates like these still drive traffic to the website too, so it’s not like they threw away any traffic opportunities by gating them. And for readers, it served as that next actionable step that they could take after reading a piece of content. By taking such an approach, you can create a better user experience for your readers because you offer them more resources.

In short, gate the right content, and your website visitors will reward you for it.

Argument 3: People Do Still Convert

Gating content helps streamline and impact the customer journey. When Beltis and his team at HubSpot incorporated a strategy to convert readers with the right gated content, they saw a 30% increase in average monthly leads for their content. In addition to this, there was also a 54% increase in their monthly average traffic numbers!

So, by creating a much more holistic marketing strategy dependent on gating content, it was beneficial to the readers and the company. And the company’s revenues increased dramatically.

By not gating the right content, you can miss out on converting your traffic to leads and website opportunities, and it doesn’t allow you to prove your content’s monetary worth to your leadership team.

The Case for Ungated Content

When it comes to having a “next actionable step” for the customer, Ashley Faus refuted this argument by explaining the importance of ungated social shares. Whenever you publish ungated content on social platforms where people can easily access it with no ‘gates,’ it allows you to broaden your traffic and reach.

Argument 1: Reach Wider Audiences

Ungated content enables people to share and discuss it with wider audiences. It also allows the author of that piece of content to re-publish it on their LinkedIn profile, which may give you access to their network. Moreover, it also allows other sites to re-publish your content, giving you access to their audience, in addition to hopefully getting you a high-quality backlink. So, by gating content, you can miss out on all these opportunities to widen your reach!

Moreover, with easier access to content comes wider reach, and as your content reaches more people, you can have a greater impact. So, the “next logical action” for an individual in their buyer’s journey should be social shares and social engagement. 

Argument 2: What Actions Can Your Audience Organically Take?

According to Ashley Faus, marketing may have lost its true definition. In her opinion, marketing is about meeting your audience with the right content at the right place at the right time. Therefore, it’s crucial to consider and be mindful of what actions your viewers can organically take, instead of making them convert from a blog post by filling out a form.

That aside, you should also consider how your audience can be in places that you don’t know. The people you may want to reach could be in dozens of different places (digitally), like social platforms and other blog sites. To reach your target audience, you must un-gate your content; otherwise, you can drastically limit your reach.

Argument 3: People Want to Learn, Not Buy

Educational content can engage both the audience and the algorithms. And if you gate such material, it isn’t doing your business any favors. People read educational content to learn about things, not to purchase them (and you must be there for them in that stage of the buyer’s journey too).

To explain this, Faus uses data from a case study that her organization Atlassian, conducted on their Agile Coach Series. The team disclosed all the relevant subject matter via a YouTube series and their blogsite, completely ungated. And they ended up receiving over 400,000 views and 18,000 hours of watch time! They were then able to re-purpose that content into social media posts and share it with their community in various ways.

So, not only did they get effective SEO and traffic results from this ungated content, but they were also able to use the material as educational content for their audience. The point is that as you share a wide range of material that functions to help and educate your viewers (and guide them on how to use your product or service better), you can also attract more customers. 

Argument 4: Your Customers Are Humans

Moreover, when it comes to the argument of conversion rates, let’s remember that you can’t track the kind of benefit ungated content brings you because, as Faus emphasizes, it’s about speaking and appealing to humans. 

Instead of users, leads, or customers, we must see our audience as humans, because at the end of the day, they’re the ones who make decisions. By offering them material that can help educate them free of any catches, they may often end up purchasing from you or forming a deep connection to your brand that will bring you benefits in the long-term.

In other words, we may have the wrong definition of what “a lead” means. Just because we can’t measure it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Winner of the Debate

Unfortunately for anticipating readers, the debate ended a tie between the two speakers, according to the viewers’ votes. However, fortunately for marketers, this shows us the value gated and ungated content both hold for us in our content strategies! To leverage website traffic to its utmost potential and build a successful, significant relationship with our target audience base, we can and should use both these types of content structures to help us. 

As justified by this friendly debate at Inbound, gated content holds significant value for an organization and its potential clients. Therefore, we must utilize it alongside ungated content to extract high conversions from our blog traffic. 

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