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Balancing act: the pros and cons of gated content for nonprofits

Deciding to gate content? It's more than a simple yes or no. Weigh the benefits against potential impacts to balance resource value with accessibility and engagement.

February 22nd, 2024
By Seth Giammanco

You've created a wonderful PDF, either on your own or with your team. You think it is going to be a great downloadable resource. The marketer in you starts to wonder. Should we gate this content? Should we ask someone to sign up to our email list to get it? Or should we make it available with no barriers? These are all great questions to ask.

A lot of time and energy goes into creating content. The desire to have it do as much as it can to help your organization's cause is strong. Wondering if you can get more than just an eyeball on your content is natural.

Let’s explore gated content and how to decide if and when it may be right for your content and marketing strategy.

The idea behind gated content

From time to time you will have content that you consider to be special. Through significant work you create a new guide, report, or case study. The content feels like more than an article you’d put in your blog. A common marketing strategy is to gate this content. Gated content typically requires visitors to provide an email address in exchange for access. Gaining a new, interested subscriber to nurture is a great result from a marketing perspective. However, with the pros there are also cons to gating content.

Pros of gated content

  • Growing a list of engaged potential supporters.
  • Opportunity to personalize follow ups given you know these people have interest in the topic of the download.
  • Opportunity to gather analytics on visitors by counting form completions as conversions.

Cons of gated content

  • Fewer people will see your content.
  • Visitors may often use fake data to access your content.
  • Loss of search engine optimization (SEO) benefits provided by the content itself. If it is publicly available on your website, Google and other search engines can access and consider it in search results.
  • Increased friction caused by requiring a visitor to complete extra steps to get content.

What types of content have gating potential

There are certain types of content that will make more sense to consider gating than others. If you decide to put content behind a form, ensure it offers significant value. And not value to you, but rather value to the audience it is uniquely crafted for.

If a visitor is going to take the time to complete a form you want to make sure there is a great payoff for them in doing so. Below are thoughts on different types of content and their gating potential. However, remember that content types, length, and format alone do not warrant gating. It is about its perceived value to the intended audience that matters most.

Content with gating potential

  • In-depth guides on mission-related challenges
  • Series of related resources
  • Reports
  • Exclusive case studies
  • Educational webinars or workshops

Content less common to gate

  • Inspirational stories showcasing your impact
  • Educational blog posts about your cause
  • News updates and achievements

Questions to help you decide to gate content

Here are some questions to help you think about your content and gating it.

  • Is the content a very high value piece of content? The higher the value the more likely a gated delivery can work. Is it a report, white paper, webinar, course, or ebook that took notable effort to create and that offers value beyond what a blog could deliver?
  • Does your high value content solve a specific need of the audience you want build your email list with? Does your content meet a broader need of your target audience that might lead to a higher engagement rate. This question digs deeper into the value of the content. The more it connects to a persons needs the better.
  • Is it more important that your content help generate leads and build your email list than building brand awareness? If content is only made available via completing a form, you can expect to get a smaller percentage of folks who see your content. This is okay if your content is intended to gain qualified people to engage with you. But, if you want to use the content so more folks get to know you, don’t gate.
  • Is there any benefit to doing both? Making it freely available online and offering a download that is gated?Sometimes a hybrid approach might make sense. You can share the content on your website for everyone and then offer an alternative version for downloaded. Maybe the same or more robust version of the content in a PDF or eBook format for those that would appreciate accessing offline.
  • Do you already have gated content you are offering? For the purposes of building an email list, a current best practice is to have one notable piece of gated content at a time. Often referred to as a lead magnet, your goal is a piece of evergreen content that is so good and so valuable that it can serve your audience and marketing efforts for a while. Having lots of content to sign up for can be a bit of a brand perception buster if people need to give their email multiple times. When you have that much content you want to gate, a membership website is likely what you need to think about. This way visitors can log in and access all the gated content undisturbed. An exception to this would be events. It's acceptable for people to have to register and provide basic contact information for multiple events.

Considering brand perception and gated content

Brand perception refers to how a brand is viewed and understood by its audience. It encompasses the beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions people have about a brand based on their experiences, interactions, and exposures to the brand's communications, programs, or services. This perception shapes the audience's impression and feelings towards the brand.

The pros/cons and questions shared above help you consider how gating a piece could impact your organization’s brand perception.

  • If the content is not seen as having high value to your audience, this could negatively impact your brand. Completing a form only to be disappointed with the content is not ideal.
  • If the process to get past your gate is cumbersome (lots of questions in a form for example) it creates friction.
  • If you have lots of content that is gated and you make visitors complete the form each time is tediously repetitive.

It is safe to assume that given the choice, a visitor would prefer not to complete a form to get what is otherwise free content. If your visitors feel disappointed, experience friction, or find the process tedious, these negative feelings will reflect on your brand. To turn that frown upside down, you must confidently deliver great value, ensuring both the content itself and the process to access it are seen as worthwhile.

Making downloadable content available to all? How do you make the most of it?

What if you’ve decided to not gate your resources. Here are some tips to consider to make the most of them.

  1. Include your organization’s logo on every page. This helps make sure that value of the resource gets attributed to you.
  2. Include a URL to your website on every page in case someone wants to find you. Consider using a QR Code that when scanned goes to your homepage or other key landing page on your website.
  3. Using your website analytics tool, track downloads to learn. This can be helpful to consider future content to build your momentum and leadership on a particular topic.
  4. Use a PDF to share on social. Carousels for files are a great post type on LinkedIn, for example. If you are making your content available freely, might as well spread it as far and wide as you can.

Making the Right Choice for Your Nonprofit

Done well, gating content can be a great opportunity to build your community of engaged people. The risk is when you miscalculate and build a community of people thinking more negatively about your organization. It’s a decision to be thoughtful about. If you do opt to not gate your special content, do all you can to make the most of it. Brand that content and include call to actions in links and QR Codes.

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