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Let your B2B content run free–the case against gating

Yesterday, in this very space, my friend Ruth Stevens made the case for “gating content”–placing your best stuff behind a registration or contact form so that you mine your Web visitors for those precious e-mail addresses and hand them off to your CRM system so they can be worked as “leads.” Ruth agrees that intelligent people can disagree on this one, so I am glad that she holds out the possibility that I might be intelligent, because I definitely disagree.

It’s not that I disagree with Ruth on principle, because I honestly think this is the first time I have ever disagreed with something she’s written. No, this is just an issue that I have a history with, going all the way back to my IBM days and with several clients since.

First off, I didn’t even know this was called “gating” content, which might immediately make you think that Ruth knows more about this than I do. But it seems like a good enough name. The idea is that a B2B marketer should offer up the juiciest content only to those that “pay” for it with some contact information. So, that white paper or that case study that customers are dying to see? Show us some ID first.

When I was at IBM, some made the wrongheaded assertion that we needed to challenge people so that our competitors wouldn’t see that valuable content, but that never works because your competitors are always much more dilligent about seeing your “secrets” than your customers are. Your customers actually give up rather easily, which is the first problem with gating content. Yes, it qualifies prospects, but maybe not according to their propensity to buy–more on how much irritation and loss of privacy they will put up with to see your crown jewel content.

I have a few problems with gates:

  • Your content doesn’t get found. When it is behind a gate, that content can’t be indexed by the search spiders and will never be shown in the search results. If the content is as good as you think it is, then why hide it from all that search traffic.
  • Your content doesn’t get shared. Most people won’t link to content behind a gate, because it is an annoying user experience that they won’t subject their readers to. And it likewise won’t be shared in social. These are too more big sources of traffic that you are missing out on. If you miss out on enough extra traffic, you’d need to get a very high conversion rate on those leads for gating to work out to more conversions.
  • Your sales force gets a lot of bum leads to run down. The most common e-mail address that was submitted on the IBM contact form was bill@microsoft.com–and he bought a lot fewer IBM products than you might think. People routinely made up an e-mail address just to get past the gate and then some schmuck in sales had to follow up and follow up until finally declaring the lead dead–a complete waste of time. The alternative, of taking down the gate and putting up a contact form for those who really want to be contacted, results in a solid set of leads that are a pleasure to pursue, and convert at much higher rates. Less time for the sales force and higher conversions–seems like a good idea.

But don’t listen to me (or Ruth). We have each given you our opinions. But opinions are like necks–everybody has one. Instead, you can easily answer this question because it is testable. If you’ve got all your content behind these gates, take a little bit of it down and watch your conversion rate. If it goes up, then take ’em all down. If not, leave things as they were. Your customers can tell you what works better if you let them. Alls I’m saying, though, is that every time I got a client to test, the walls all came down. But try it yourself and see. I only tested it three times, so that isn’t exactly overwhelming evidence. But you don’t care about overwhelming evidence. What you care about is what will work better for you. So just try it and come back here and tell us what you found it. Ruth and I are always looking to learn more.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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Discussion

  1. Avatar ChrisCD

    We do some of both. We put a lot of free content, but we also have a service that we sell. In General the service has higher rates than our free content. Our biggest competitor, Bankrate, however gives everything away and charges the bank if the bank wants to be higher in the list or sets up CPC like Google. They make a lot more $ then we do. :O)

    I did notice though that some marketers offer a juicy post (See hubspot in the sidebar), but then have a product they will let you view if you give up some contact info. So a little of both also.

    Some info may be better suited for “gating” than others. So as you suggested, test for yourself.

  2. Avatar John Shomaker

    Sorry, Ruth, I think I agree with Mike on this one. As a former strategy consultant to IBM’s go-to-market model, along with other large B2B enterprise, and now as a software executive and buyer of B2B services, I believe buyers prefer to provide their contact information when, in fact, they are ready to be contacted as part of a sales process. When we’ve been forced to provide contact information for content – before we’re ready to buy – we invariably get harassed by vendor salespeople via telephone and email. The alternative, which I’ve done, is to avoid the harassment and not pull down the content – thus, minimizing the vendor’s potential influence of the content. A reasonable hybrid is to require the contact information, BUT, offer a check-box to prevent contact by the vendor. This would at least provide firmographic data to marketing, while preventing the data moving forward to the sales team. This would also focus marketing on taking this unqualified contact and creating opportunities for 1, 2, or more interactions (more content, retargeted display advertising) in order to drive the buyer to re-engage on the site and ultimately select “Contact Us”.

    1. Ruth Stevens Ruth Stevens

      Thanks, John, for the good idea. Per your suggestion, we get the contact info for ongoing marketing purposes, but we reduce the annoyance factor by avoiding harrassing phone calls before the prospect is at the right stage in his/her process. What you’re wisely pointing out, in effect, is that too many marketers are mishandling the inquiry. Passing the contact’s name immediately to an inside salesperson for follow-up is the wrong strategy, and it educates people to avoid gated downloads altogether. Marketers should take note that downloaders need a kinder, gentler qualification process.

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