Gated Content: Why We Ungated Most of Ours and How We Decided to Do It

Chris Hawkins

Written by Chris Hawkins on Wed, Jan 20, 2016

As an agency that relies strictly on organic traffic to acquire visitors and leads, we’re serious about creating content we think will add to the content/inbound marketing discussion and content that will reach our potential buyers. Our survival depends on it.

One thing we noticed last year was how many “unqualified” visitors we had downloading our premium content, such as e-books. These are people who don’t fit our general profile as a marketing qualified lead (MQL).

In 2015, about 12% of those who filled out a form to receive premium content were who we considered an MQL. The remaining 86% were considered unqualified.

Why We Ungated Most of Our Content

After seeing these numbers, we made the decision to “ungate” 65% of our premium downloads. So when you land on Content Marketing 101, for example, all you have to do is click for instant access. That simple. No name, email, phone, or blood type.

The question we asked was straightforward. Why are we collecting info for people who wouldn’t qualify as a client? We wouldn’t need to nurture them to stay “top of mind.” And we’re creating more work for ourselves by constantly having to prune our database.

Which Content to Gate?

One of the first things we did when evaluating which downloads to “ungate” was to look at our MQLs and current and past clients to determine which downloads to “gate.” What content assets did these people typically download? Which ones did they never download?

We created a list of these leads, looking at the pages they visited, the content they downloaded (if any), the number of page views and a handful of other variables to see if any patterns emerged. We did the same thing for our unqualified leads.

We found that the qualified leads generally gravitated to downloads related to hiring an inbound marketing agency. Unqualified leads gravitated to downloads related to inbound marketing basics, and tended to visit less pages—more of a “one and done” transaction. 

Most importantly, we found that over 90% of the organic visitors who became clients never even downloaded a piece of content. They found us in search. Those visitors viewed an average of 9 site pages, contacted us directly and eventually became clients.

Will we miss some good leads who only download the “free” assets? It’s inevitable but for now worth the gamble, especially considering the above statistic.   

Which Content to Ungate?

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to ungating. Think of this as a process to get to know your site visitors and content…inside out. Start with an analysis of all your leads:

  • Identify anyone who has filled out a landing page, including the “contact us” page.
  • Define who your MQLs/SQLs are.
  • Separate your leads into buckets: e.g. unqualified, qualified, sales.
  • Determine what brought them to the site (organic search, referral, social, etc.).
  • Define the behavior of each group: e.g. first/last page viewed, all pages viewed, number of pages, number of visits, offers downloaded.
  • If you have lead nurturing set up, figure out how effective it is.

You can then re-ask questions about each download: Who is it for? Where does it fit in the sales funnel? What is the intent? Is it still relative? You should then have enough information to decide what to do with each content asset.

These insights can also start the lead scoring conversation if that hasn’t already happened.

Our Results

Because we ungated in mid-November, we don’t have any meaningful results to report yet. But one thing this exercise did do was shine a light on the content that matters to those who we consider leads.

We also found we need to get more targeted with our premium offers so that the net we’re casting is bringing in more fish that are keepers. Finally, it emphasized the need to keep focusing on the keyword phrases that those visitors who will become clients are likely searching for—the 90% of current clients who never downloaded anything.

What do you think of gating vs. ungating? Are we crazy? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop me a note at


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