A B2B marketing trend I’ve observed over the past couple years is the “ungating” of premium website content like eBooks, white papers and other high-value resources. Gating refers to the practice of placing a form in front of a piece of content on your site in order to capture the contact information of the person looking to consume it. Typically, these forms reside on a landing page that introduces the content and describes its value, serving to entice the visitor to “convert” – i.e. enter his or her information and become a potential lead.
Ungating, as you might expect, refers to removing that sign-up form. Sounds like a great idea, right? Well, if you’re a B2B marketer tasked with generating leads from your website and measured by your website conversion rate, ungating may seem like the opposite of what you want to do! In this article, I’ll describe why we at Evergage decided to ungate the vast majority of our premium content, how we went about it, and what benefits we’ve begun realizing from it.
The Case for Ungating
Until the end of 2017, all of our eBooks and white papers (24 in total) were gated. And up until a couple of months ago, all of our on-demand webinars (30 in total) were gated as well. To produce this volume of content, meet our quality standards, and keep all of it up-to-date requires a significant investment of time and money.
We generated several hundred leads per month from people downloading these assets. By traditional website demand generation standards these were pretty good results. But for Evergage, we needed to drive a lot more value from our investment.
We knew our content had much broader appeal and value than the numbers we were seeing. What we needed was for our thought leadership content to provide greater brand value. In addition, an important part of the Evergage brand promise is to enable better customer experiences, yet here we were putting up annoying forms in front of our content!
The theory was that if we unshackled our premium content, we’d get far greater consumption of it and hence better brand exposure for Evergage. No forms would mean more downloads, more shares and more backlinks. Personalization is also still a new and competitive market, so we wanted to maximize the reach of our content to potential prospects and influencers.
Furthermore, just as our platform is used to improve customer experiences, we wanted to improve our prospects’ experiences consuming content on our website. We know that buyers today prefer to self-educate and conduct research on their own terms, without the fear they’ll be hounded by a sales rep before they’re ready to engage. And like many B2B tech companies these days, Evergage has adopted an account-based marketing (ABM) strategy, so it’s less important to convert high volumes of visitors; rather, quality and fit are more important.
Speaking of quality...let’s not forget how much of the data collected on these forms isn’t accurate! If someone really wants access to a piece of content that’s gated but wants to remain anonymous, they simply enter false data. In 2017, a whopping 25% of leads who filled out eBook forms on our site were classified as “bad data.” I believe the most popular first name in our system was “asdf”! Meanwhile, another 30% of leads were classified as “not a fit” – in other words, they didn’t meet our qualification criteria to pursue. And, of course, a large number of leads were “not interested,” “unresponsive,” or fell into other buckets that indicated they weren’t good leads.
Lastly, we analyzed our lead flow and found that the highest quality leads generally did not originate from a gated content download. In fact, In 2017 only 1.6% of leads that we considered qualified and pursued actually started from an eBook download. Most prospects did, however, download one or more premium content assets at some point in their journey. It’s just that for very few was it the first thing they did. And those who did download an eBook as their first interaction with Evergage also engaged with us in other ways later in their journey, so we felt confident we would have eventually captured those leads via some other method.
In the latter part of 2017, based on the initial analysis we conducted, we decided to take action and kick off the ungating initiative — starting with our eBooks and white papers and, later, tackling our webinar replays. These categories represented 94% of all of our gated assets. Like most initiatives in marketing, we pursued the ungating process in stages. We began in late 2017 and continued through mid-2018, testing our assumptions and measuring the results along the way to ensure we were making the right decision and achieving the intended goals.
In order to get meaningful data quickly, we started with a major new asset we published last fall, our full-length book One-to-One Personalization in the Age of Machine Learning. The download numbers blew the doors off anything we’d published previously, which I wrote about in this blog article. It was a unique kind of asset, though, and we put a lot more into promoting it compared to typical eBooks and other content. Nevertheless, what we learned from the process affirmed our confidence in the value of ungating.
Next, we decided to test one of our most popular traditional eBooks, “35 Ways to Do Real-Time Personalization.” Yet ungating it wasn’t as simple as just removing the form. This was an existing asset with a carefully constructed workflow: visitor reads about asset on landing page => visitor registers for asset => data flows into Act-On (marketing automation system) => Act-On creates or updates lead in Salesforce => lead receives an email with a link to the eBook. This whole experience and workflow needed to be re-evaluated and re-engineered. We also wanted to introduce an optional lead registration form, but more on that in a bit.
We weighed the pros and cons of turning our eBooks into webpage content, and while the latter certainly has definite benefits particularly for SEO, we wanted our eBooks to remain intact in their highly professional, nicely designed and readily printable form. We felt the best way to present them to visitors was to embed each one as a PDF on a dedicated webpage where the viewer could read it online or click to download it.
Once the “35 Ways” eBook was ready and placed in its own new, ungated page, we could start tracking the results. We checked in weekly for several weeks to see how things were going, and the results were great. Downloads were up 4-5x. Based on these results – in addition to the results we saw from the full-length book – it was full steam ahead with the ungating initiative.
Of course, we couldn’t ungate everything all at once. We had to take the same care and follow the same steps as we did with the first ungated eBook and do the proper QA to ensure everything worked as desired. And there were bumps along the road like choosing an optimal embed method that was fast, reliable and responsive. Once the eBooks and white papers were done, we moved on to the webinar replays, which had its own unique aspects since those were embedded Brainshark video presentations rather than PDFs.
Keep on Tracking
Ungating doesn’t mean throwing your hands in the air like you just don’t care. There’s no need to give up on tracking visitors who engage with your premium content and saying, “oh well, I guess we can’t know who our higher quality visitors are anymore.”
You definitely want to continue tracking what you can and capturing new leads when possible. Since we use Evergage on our own site, of course, we were still able to track on-page clicks and time spent to assess the level of engagement by each visitor on our newly ungated content pages. And if visitors arrived to these pages from emails or were already known visitors, we still update Act-On and Salesforce using “blind form submits” to ensure proper campaign tracking and attribution – all done behind the scenes. (Implementing this level of tracking is also part of the reason why the ungating process can take a little longer than you might expect.)
We also wanted to provide the opportunity to visitors to optionally register for our content. We didn’t want to disturb people with a form of any kind when they obtained their first premium piece of content on our site, but once they go for a second item, we present an optional form with just three fields presented in an unobtrusive way on the right side of the page. They can simply dismiss the form or fill it out if they want to opt in to future communications – which some do! And these are often the better quality, faster-moving leads.
We also include an optional checkbox on this form asking if they also want a demo of Evergage. We’ve always had this on our forms, and in 2017 it was checked 11% of the time on eBook sign-up forms, generating hundreds of demo requests for our sales reps.
We also use Evergage to progressively profile those leads who provide their information. If we’ve already captured or know the person’s email, first name and last name, the next form they see asks for a couple additional pieces of information: title, company and industry.
And once we have that, we politely request phone number and “primary challenge” on a third and final form. Few fill this out, of course, but if and when they do, they’re of high quality!
As of a couple months ago, we finished ungating all 54 assets we planned on ungating! We finished transitioning the webinar replays more recently, so I don’t have data on those, but I do have good stats on consumption of our eBooks and white papers which we completed earlier in the year:
We generated nearly 5x more downloads of our ungated eBooks and white papers compared to when they were gated. This translated into thousands more people consuming this content than we’d have experienced otherwise. At the same time, we saw a 50% drop in leads captured or visitors identified. This, of course, was not a surprise and frankly wasn’t as bad as expected. It’s also not as bad it that may sound; it only represented a few hundred “lost leads” compared to several thousand incremental, anonymous downloads who’ve been introduced to the Evergage brand, informed by our content, and potentially influenced as a future lead or referral source.
Additional Thoughts & Resources
Not to be forgotten in an analysis of the numbers, an overriding consideration in moving to ungate our content was to provide a better overall experience for our prospects. With the traditional model of gating content, you make a fundamental assumption that you will deliver value in exchange for someone’s contact information. But they don’t know that and you may be wrong. Shouldn’t you instead deliver value first in order to earn the opportunity to engage with a prospect? I believe so. Martin Karlowitsch from Netronic addresses the the topic of engaging your audience based on the anticipation of value versus delivered value nicely in “The One and Only Reason Why We Ungate All our Content.”
For another good resource on the “gate or not to gate” debate, check out Moz Co-Founder Rand Fishkin’s comprehensive and balanced assessment at https://moz.com/blog/content-gating-whiteboard-friday.
When we first entertained the idea of ungating our content, our analysis and discussions led to a fundamental question: if we ungated our thought leadership assets, how much would we lose in terms of quality lead generation compared to how much would we gain in brand reach and mindshare? We could measure the former but not really the latter. A big boost in consumption of content is the closest we can get at this point to assessing the impact on brand exposure. So, like many other programs and ideas, you test and measure what you can, but ultimately you still need to take a leap of faith.
Oh, and one more (important) thing...even if you run marketing (as I do), be sure you get sales leadership and CEO buy-in early on! It may require a leap of faith, but you don’t want to go it alone on this one.
If you go down this path as we did, remember to plan accordingly. Ungating is not as simple as just removing your sign-up forms. You want to be more sophisticated and thoughtful about it, provide a seamless experience for visitors, track what you can, capture leads when possible, and sync it all up in the relevant systems.
And, finally, big props to my colleague Zach Skole on owning and driving this initiative for Evergage. We couldn’t have done this without him! #ungated
Learn how Evergage can play a key role in improving the prospect experience on your site, whether your content is gated or ungated, by requesting a demo today.