Study on Email Marketing in E-Commerce 202327. September 2023
Gebt den Content frei!
October 6, 2023
Why gated content becomes a boomerang for marketing and sales
Relevant content is pure gold for marketing – but unfortunately also comes with corresponding costs. Because companies would like to have tangible results in the form of leads for this investment, the content is locked up: Visitors are expected to pay for it with their contact details. This principle of “gated content” sounds like a fair exchange and is especially common in the B2B sector, where a lead can be worth many thousands of euros. Unfortunately, in our experience, fewer and fewer people are taking part in this “deal”, so that marketing and sales are driving away their prospects at great expense.
From a company’s point of view, it sounds sensible at first if you don’t simply give away your best content, but receive high-quality leads in return. And isn’t it a fair offer if prospective customers receive the elaborately created white paper free of charge for nothing more than their contact details? The problem here is that from the customer’s point of view, the deal sounds much less attractive. The price of revealing one’s own identity is no small one – many companies underestimate this central factor. Learned practice from private and professional life is that giving out contact details has consequences that one usually does not want at the time. This is why we see incredibly high bounce rates in practice wherever gated content is used – the hoped-for “lead magnet” turns into a “marketing boomerang”.
The main thing is leads
The main objective is leads
Let’s take a closer look. In our experience, the majority of B2B companies operate more or less intensively with gated content, which is provided on the website or a dedicated landing page, clearly serves the purpose of lead acquisition and is promoted with SEO and SEA measures. As a rule, users are asked to enter their contact details in a form with the promise that they will be allowed to consume high-quality content. In addition to the white paper mentioned, this can be a study, a video or a webinar. An e-mail newsletter registration is often optional or obligatory.
Why do companies do this? Because in marketing, leads are often counted as the most important KPI and because one wants to gain such significant contacts from the (organic or acquired) traffic on the website in order to feed them with further marketing measures and/or pass them on to the sales department for “further processing”. Although companies are usually aware that only a small minority takes up this offer – they are fishing with a net with very large meshes, so to speak – they see no better alternative and would rather take a few leads than nothing at all.
The fear of the blank form
But what is the problem – why do so many people spurn the offer? Because, first of all, the willingness to provide name, e-mail address and possibly further data (up to “Do you have a budget?”) is extremely low and, in our opinion, tends to decrease. This applies equally to B2B and B2C. The idea from content marketing is that with high investments there is a long decision-making process that the company can accompany with high-quality content. This is correct in itself: it is normal, not only but especially in B2B, to go through a long and intensive orientation and research phase.
But: Prospective customers do not want to be “fed” by a particular provider in this phase and are not (yet) ready to register anywhere. They first want to identify the relevant providers for the topic, consult experiences and tests and sharpen their own needs horizon. In this decision-making process, white papers or webinars can certainly be helpful. However, everyday experience shows that high-quality content is also available free of charge. This includes user-generated content, tests and comparisons. A potential provider is expected to provide guidance and information without having to “commit” and (often rightly!) fear being bombarded with e-mails or sales calls. Moreover, from painful experience, one is used to the fact that the advertised high-quality content often disappoints: the factsheet offers little that is new, the white paper is one-sided, the e-book is a better advertising brochure. Against this background, people do not want to go through the bureaucratic hassle of filling out a form and entering into the binding transaction of “identity against unknown content whose value I can only judge afterwards”.
Gated content locks out visitors
In sum, there is a lack of trust and also a lack of necessity to enter into the “gated content deal”. It needs a strong indication that the content is really absolutely useful or otherwise only available for a lot of money, such as paid studies by renowned market research institutes. Gated content is not bad per se, it’s just that the user experience leads to a high level of scepticism and therefore only a very small proportion of the people who get to see the “gate” are willing to step out of anonymity (or they make deliberately obfuscating statements ). And this is precisely the most crucial problem of gated content for us: the vast majority of visitors never come into contact with the content, but instead have a negative user experience. So marketing and sales create expensive content and then specifically prevent visitors (who are therefore likely to have some interest) from engaging further with the company and its offer – in short, the “fences” don’t lock the content in, they lock the customers out. And something else is locked out, namely the crawlers of Google and Co. that cannot index content behind the barrier. Thus, especially the most elaborate and relevant content does not pay off on search engines.
Alternative strategies to gated content
As explained, gated content can work – as long as the content is relevant and as unique as possible. This is easy to say, because really good content is incredibly costly (and soon outdated, so it has to be constantly recreated). At the same time, useful content should be as neutral as possible and not penetratingly aimed at lead acquisition. And for a “nurturing” strategy in the sense of a lead generation route, this applies to every content piece! This means: effort and thus costs are huge. The question is whether staff, time and budget are optimally deployed at this point, because these resources are inevitably lacking in order to produce freely available “ungated” content, such as blog articles that generate traffic.
Our recommendation is to develop content in the content marketing strategy that contributes to organic findability; content that can be sent to known contacts as well as embedded on a landing page for prospects. Content, in other words, that can be used multiple times and that reinforces each other without leaving the user at a dead end or in front of a closed gate. This means “giving away” the entire content (with a few exceptions). Instead of paying with contact details, prospects then pay with longer time spent on the website, through SEM with higher traffic, through more interaction with newsletters and promotions, etc. Good content activates existing leads for cross- and upselling and increases customer loyalty – as e-mail marketers we know exactly who consumes our content! (In which use cases and channels marketers can do without forms, you can read in the article “Lead qualification without the roadblocks“).
Leave visitors alone – and identify them without pestering them.
What if we don’t know? What about the “bad visitors” who simply take what they can and remain anonymous? It doesn’t matter, in fact it’s a good thing. Because as described above, decision-making processes sometimes take a long time and every point of contact is positive. At least the visitor has heard of us and had a positive experience. Maybe she or he will come back in half a year. And if the offer simply wasn’t good enough or a good fit, it (usually) doesn’t help to exert pressure with marketing e-mails or sales calls. It’s like in the Apple Store: it’s not important that every visitor buys an iPhone directly – what’s important is that the brand is present and is associated with a good feeling as soon as the need for a new phone arises.
There is also a very good alternative to forms to bring visitors out of anonymity: Lead identification. There are now several useful tools for website visitor identification. With these tools, we can identify 15 to 25 per cent of the companies whose employees have visited our website. This is an excellent way to measure how interested someone is in what we have to offer without annoying users: Which visitors read our higher-quality content? Who reads what and in what depth? Is it worthwhile for the sales department to get in touch with this company? You don’t get unique users with this method, but in B2B there is often a buying centre made up of several people that decides, so the specific contact is often not crucial. What is more important is what you do with the identified visitors to qualify them as leads.
Conclusion: Freedom for content – with some exceptions
A company that gives me real orientation, that helps me instead of pressuring me, that doesn’t want to persuade and convince me, but where I can look around in peace, such a company becomes more attractive.
This is why gated content should only be used where the content really is a unique must-have – here one should honestly admit that this only applies in the rarest of cases. Of course, a registration form is also perfectly appropriate for processes that require a transaction. This could be setting up a demo account, making an appointment or registering for a live webinar. Users also understand this (it’s even better if you explain it to them: “Please enter your name so that we can reserve a time slot for you at the trade fair without having to wait).
Instead, we recommend making good content freely available and making the most of it. Build modular content pieces, for example blogposts with long-tail keywords instead of huge monolithic pieces (thirty-page PDFs to print out are no longer up-to-date). Use the knowledge within the company for this, ask engineers and customer advisors what the customers are interested in. Link the content internally and externally with related content and use it on social media and for search engine marketing as well as for e-mail marketing. If you offer webinars, make them available “ungated” as an on-demand recording – and turn the registration process around by integrating a form at the end of the webinar where people can sign up for a notification list for the next webinar. This applies not only to webinars, of course, but to any content pieces. This way you can continue to collect leads without alienating hesitant users.