Gated vs Ungated: which content is best?


June 12, 2023

bird's eye view of a curvy road

Have you ever driven past a lush, posh gated community, one of the ones with its own security booth, and wondered what it would be like to live there? That’s exactly the feeling that good, effective, gated content should stir up inside your customers and potential leads. But it’s a thin line to walk between luring people in to providing their information and receiving a service/product in return and scaring them off by asking for too many of their private details. Let’s take a look at how to walk this line, and the different times to use gated and ungated content.

First let’s refresh what gated and ungated content actually is. Gated content is any form of locked content that can only be unlocked after the viewer enters some form of information, usually their contact details. From this definition, I’m sure you can work out what ungated content is; ungated content is made up of freely available information and resources. Both have their own pros and cons, but they generally work best at different points during the buyer process and when they are designed to work together in tandem. Generally, ungated content should be designed with the purpose of increasing visibility for your brand, whereas gated content should be created with the purpose of generating valuable leads. Neither is worth too much without the other, hence why it is the best thing for your marketing strategy to employ both forms of content on a simultaneous basis.

Let’s first take a brief look at ungated content and what it’s all about before we start getting into the more mysterious, gated stuff. Ungated content isn’t just any old thing you splash on your homepage, it still has to provide the viewer with information about you, a service, or a product. In other words, it still has to present them with a solution to an issue they are looking to solve. Key examples of the most common types of ungated content (that work the best) are blogs, videos, and case studies – to name a few. As well as improving your SEO (I’ll go into more detail about that later on when discussing the cons of gated content), ungated content is also crucial when trying to build trust between you and your audience. It shows you want to help them without wanting anything in return, which in turn increases the likelihood that they’ll follow through on the buying process. Plus, once you’ve built up this trust, they are also more likely to follow through on your gated content (see, I told you they worked best when used together!).

Now for the gated content. Again, the main purpose of this is to generate leads by providing them with high value information in return for their contact details. And it has to be high value. People aren’t going to want to give up so much as their first initial unless they deem it worth it. Gated content, such as ebooks and webinars, should be a considerable length and provide in depth information about it’s particular topic. It’s also a very good idea to put a disclaimer on any gated content forms that let the person know how and why you are collecting their data – never underestimate how much trust honesty will bring you. Even if people fill in your form, you may encounter another issue – false information. We’ve all signed into a public wifi with an email address like (if you haven’t, you are a saint). You’ll find that unfortunately the same might occur with your gated content forms. People want the content without giving anything up in return – but how do you avoid this?

Easy; email. You only want the leads that are fully interested in what you have to offer anyway, so you can create the form to, once filled out, send them the content via their email. This way you ensure they are using their real details, and they can receive the content they are truly invested in. You’re also more likely to have more people download your content if it’s intriguing enough, so save the most exciting content for your gated areas, and drop some very inviting hints to get that form filled out. One type of content that will always work best gated is competitions. Especially in the case of you offering a very grand prize, you don’t want someone with no interest in your brand or services winning it, do you? Keep those competitions gated to ensure the winning user is someone you actually want as a customer.

Now I mentioned SEO briefly before, but let’s go into a little more detail about without a doubt the biggest con of gated content. Gated content doesn’t just fail to help your SEO, but could actually be harming it. Google and other search engines can only do so much, and the fact is that most of the time they cannot process downloadable content on your site. Whoops – nearly all of your gated content will fall into just that category. You can try and circumvent this by creating a script for your gated content that is readable to google but still keeps the content locked to people – but it’s a cheap trick that search engines are more likely to punish you for than reward you. If you want your gated content to assist your SEO, make sure you create an informational landing page that leads to the content, don’t just present the person with a form and nothing else.

It’s safe to say that the best approach is probably a mixture of gated and ungated content. But have you tried a hybrid form of content? This means that it’s still gated and requires the input of information, but only half is locked away whilst the other half is freely available. Take the New York Times for example. Whenever you read one of their articles, you’ll notice only half of it is visible. They then ask ‘want to keep reading?’ and give you the option of entering your email address to access the rest of the article. This is a perfect example of how to lure leads in with intriguing content, that they can decide whether they want more of it or not. Whilst hybrid content might not work in every scenario, it’s definitely something to consider.

So there you have it. There are pros and cons to both gated and ungated content, and it’s healthy to have a mixture of both. I’d recommend utilising some classic A/B testing to see whether a piece of content should be gated or not before exposing it to your audience. Good luck!

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