We’ve all been there. We see an interesting looking ebook or whitepaper or webinar replay promoted through social media; it catches our eye, we click on the link and are immediately taken to a landing page where a request is made for your email details before you can access the content.
Usually all that is required is an email address, or email and name combination, although B2B companies that practise the science and art of inbound marketing will generally ask for more detail so you can be popped into their CRM system to be followed up by a sales rep down the track, or nurtured (don’t you love that word?) via a series of well-worded emails.
This practice is referred to as ‘gating’ your content. You might also hear alternative terms such as ’email gates’ and ‘lead gates’.
At its most basic, you’re added to someone’s email list (technically, you’ve opted in, in line with privacy laws) and over time you might receive a regular stream of e-newsletters they produce and/or the occasional product offer until you choose to unsubscribe.
Okay. Say you’ve invested time, effort and money to produce a high-value piece of content such as a whitepaper, ebook, tutorial, special report, guide or cheat sheet, webinar, educational audio or video series, or online tool.
What happens next?
There are a number of ways you can distribute your signature premium content but it will all come back to your goals and what you’re trying to achieve with your content marketing efforts. Essentially, there are two schools of thought.
Conventional wisdom is to gate the content so you can get a person’s email. Here is an example of what that looks like; you create a dedicated landing page, people provide an email and voilà, they get access to your ebook (or whitepaper or webinar replay etc).
Alternatively, you open up access to the content so people can simply download it without having to enter any details.
Which is better? I get asked this question a lot, so let’s unpack both of these options.
- You proactively build an opt-in email subscriber list that can be used to communicate on an ongoing basis with your audience via regular newsletters or, in the case of author Chris Brogan, a ‘personal’ weekly letter. This makes a lot of sense. If people are interested in the topic you’ve covered in your premium content piece, perhaps they’ll be interested in what you have to offer (for a price) further down the track, and email can be a powerful way to build a sense of connection and trust with people in advance of your pitch.
N.B. The way businesses handle people’s email details varies however. Online marketers often refer to the premium content pieces they produce as ‘lead magnets’, which gives you a pretty good indication as to what their motivations are. Savvy marketers will ‘nurture’ email recipients with a carefully planned sequence of emails, each providing incrementally more value to the consumer with a view to addressing their challenges and needs, relevant of course to the products and services they sell. Many do this respectfully but there are always those rogues who bludgeon their subscribers with hard-sell techniques (here’s a classic example). But I think you’ll find many fall somewhere in between – quite sophisticated but very motivated by ‘the sale’.
- You run the risk of reducing the effectiveness of SEO as search engines can’t get access to the content in order to rank it.
- People are far less likely to share gated content because it’s annoying to the person who clicks on it to have to enter an email address (although they can always use a temporary email address such as 10-Minute Mail).
- Undoubtedly far less people will read/watch/listen to your content because they refuse to provide email details. Best-selling author David Meerman Scott says: “The analysis I have done around form versus no form has suggested that there is a 50:1 ratio whether people will download or not. For example, if a behind-a-form offer enjoyed 1000 downloads, that same offer would have gotten 50,000 downloads if it were not behind a form. Why not spread your ideas to as many people as possible?” (SOURCE).
TOTALLY FREE (i.e. no email required)
- As per the point above, up to 50 times more people will download your high-value content plus many more will be more predisposed to share it as well (of course, both these actions feed each other) . By way of example, David Meerman Scott has a range of ebooks available for download, including this one, that has been downloaded over a million times.
- Of course, the more people who know about you and like your philosophy, ideas and perspectives, then potentially they’ll visit your website and sign up for your blog anyway, it just might not be right away.
- Harder to make a business case – no email addresses potentially lessens the ability to market to subscribers over the long term.
However, there is a third option.
Call it a hybrid, if you will, and that’s to gate your content for a short period when it’s first published and then remove the barriers and set it free thereafter.
This way, you (hopefully) will get a flurry of subscriber email addresses early, especially if you pay to promote via Twitter or Facebook, but then greatly boost the chances of your content being spread (and consumed) more broadly.
Ultimately, it depends on your goals and priorities.
If the objective is to build an email subscriber list, then put your content behind an email gate.
If it is to build buzz and awareness and get more people talking about – and engaging with – your brand, then it makes sense to set the content free (no email required to access it).
And if both options are equally important, then the hybrid option might be for you.
In terms of content marketing for PR, you would probably do one of two things:
- set free your premium signature content, requiring no registration of any kind, thus ensuring a bigger audience and hopefully more buzz around your insights, ideas and expertise, or …
- gate the content in exchange for an email, but use that email to provide further free information that builds your influence and thought leadership; any sophisticated sales pitch then becomes an email marketing issue and the copy experts can take over at that time, but hopefully some sort of emotional connection has been built up in the meantime.
What are your thoughts on this issue?
I’m tipping we’re already at that point where email fatigue has set in and the last thing we want to do is give out our email address willy-nilly, so we probably will start using a service such as 10-Minute Mail (I do, although it doesn’t work all the time as the big B2B companies have put in measures to counter such a thing).
That said, email is still critical in building a relationship with your audience and potentially generating leads and sales down the track.
Like everything with content marketing today, the bar is being lifted higher all the time.
If you’re going to produce premium signature content requiring an email address, it needs to provide sufficient value in the eyes of your audience otherwise you run the risk of losing them altogether.