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Ann Handley: Should You Ungate Your Content in 2021?

May 19, 2021

Here at Greystone.Net, we just love Ann Handley! We are pleased that Ann has given us permission to share this blog with you. We think you’ll find it useful and entertaining. A special shout-out, too, to Ahava Leibtag and her company, Aha Media Group, for their take on this topicphoto of Ann Handley

Last week I walked by a storefront. From the outside, I liked the vibe of the place. The products on the shelves looked… promising.

As I stepped just inside the door, a foot-tall robot jumped out of nowhere: “HI WANT TO CHAT? I’M HERE TO HELP YOU FIND YOUR WAY.”

I kicked him aside. I browsed the aisles. Something caught my eye.

As I reached out to look closer, a salesperson slid directly in front of me. “TONY,” his name tag read. He had a tattoo of an onion on his neck.

“Not so fast, sister,” TONY said. “You want to touch it? Look closer? See if it’s right for you? Give me your email address first.” His neck veins bulged. The onion pulsed.

Before I could respond, a voice crackled over the P.A. system: “THIS WEBSITE USES COOKIES TO ENSURE YOU GET THE BEST EXPERIENCE. DO YOU AGREE!”

“Yes…?” I murmured. Not sure exactly what I was agreeing to.

Oh god, the robot is back. “WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO DO?” it shouted from somewhere by my knees. “LEARN ABOUT PRODUCTS? LEARN ABOUT PRICING? GET EDUCATIONAL CONTENT?


* * *

Should you ungate your content?

Is it possible to grow your list and get better leads by giving away your content without asking for an email address? Without forcing a data shakedown? Without harassing people? Without keeping your content locked up, like the shaving razors behind lock and key at CVS?

About 90 days ago, Ahava Leibtag removed the lead-capture forms on her agency’s website.

That means when you visit Aha Media Group, you don’t need to fork over an email address to download a content strategy e-book. There is no data shakedown to access a whitepaper; no coercion to get that planning checklist. She ungated it all.

See something you like? Take it! It’s yours! TONY is nowhere to be found.

That shift was radical for Aha Media Group, a D.C.-based agency of 45. It had used lead-capture forms for most of its 16 years in business.

Covid has changed the game for a lot of companies—challenging conventions on how work gets done and delivered. And, for forward-thinking companies—putting the people we do business with at the center.

Not segments. Not leads. PEOPLE.

Ahava works with healthcare organizations (among others). Both during and post-Covid, hospitals have needed her help and will need it more than ever. So, she ungated—partly as an experiment.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic,” Ahava wrote. “Our resources can help healthcare communicators do their jobs better. We want you to have access to those resources.”

So here it is, 90 days later. What happened?

  • Pageviews increased 143% between Q1 2020 and Q1 2021.
  • Social media followings increased 45% for the same period.
  • Email newsletter signups increased 55%.
  • One prospect she’d been talking to for 4 years finally became a client. Anecdotal, Ahava says. But still.

* * *

Gated content is the default in B2B marketing. But when the world changes, you need to rethink everything. Even TONY’s job description.

“Our marketing changed because my mindset changed,” Ahava says. “I wanted people to trust us. To see us as a healthcare communications and content resource. To be in service to people who needed our services more than ever.”

* * *

Does this now mean you should ungate all the content on your site?

Not necessarily. But Ahava’s story suggests a more nuanced approach.

Marketing used the presence of a gate to communicate value: “This is so valuable that I need something in exchange for it.” And the email address was a fair trade.

The problem is that too many bad players have exploited that exchange.

And people (you, me, our customers) are hyper-aware of the value of our data now.

Instead of hiring TONY as your front-line salesperson, ask yourself:

1. Are you putting humans and relationships first? Will ungating your content help you build trust and meaningful relationships?

>> In a post-Covid world… trust is everything. Gates and lead forms at the first touch don’t communicate trust.

2. Do you need a gate at first touch? Or does it make sense further into the relationship? Can TONY get a desk job somewhere? Perhaps in Procurement, closer to the sale?

>> Can you use a combination of other nurturing techniques—scoring leads, profiling progressively instead of all at once, taking a tiered approach that gates only content that’s closer to a sale?

3. Are social shares and brand awareness important? What about SEO? “No matter how great a piece of content is, it’s unlikely to gain traction on social media or get forwarded if it requires people to give up their information,” Ahava points out.

4. Might you give before you ask? If you still want those emails, test asking for them after you’ve provided the content.

5. What about yes/and vs. either/or approach? Can you ungate your long-form content pieces… but offer them in PDF packages that can be downloaded in exchange for an email?

6. What business are you in? Ungating makes more sense in demand gen (like Ahava’s agency) than others (like MarketingProfs, which relies more on a publisher’s model).

7. Can you gate selectively? This flowchart from HubSpot (originally from 2014) remains surprisingly relevant.

8. If you experiment like Ahava, can you tell me how it goes?

Finally: A word to TONY. Thank you, TONY, for your years of service. Now that’s talk about growth opportunities for you: Where do you see yourself in five years…?

  • marketing strategy
  • HealthCare Digital Marketing
  • Content Strategy
  • content marketing