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Why Gated Whitepapers Don’t Work - or Do They?

Whitepapers, originally, were how legislative documents explained and supported solutions in politics. Today, they are authoritative, convincing and in-depth documents or presentations outlining a problem and supporting the solution - often with evidence - across any industry that wants to produce them.

Fundamentally, they are about educating an audience, and ‘gated’ whitepapers for marketers now embrace many formats. Research reports present data and research findings, and ultimate or buyer guides offer content that covers a topic in-depth or holistically. Then there are ebooks or long-form content that can cover anything, and case studies that present the how, what and why of complex business outcomes. They come with support links, images, graphs, infographics and other media enhancements.

Hours, days, and, in some cases, weeks are spent researching, cross-collaborating, writing and editing these illustrious pieces of content. They are valuable documents and, in the past, we were encouraged to put our most valuable online content behind a form or a ‘gate’ to convert our equally valuable customers and visitors into qualified leads.

Whitepaper Whitewash

One of the realities in 2022 that begets the opening question is that the internet is inundated with ebooks, ultimate guides, checklists, infographics and every other type of content garrisoned behind forms. The result is many buyers or customers are fed up with shelling out their personal details to receive content that doesn’t help them, doesn’t answer their question or doesn’t solve their problem. Producing content is now a central aspect of marketing for many businesses, which has resulted in mountains of questionable online content not worthy of being gated.

To add insult to injury, the frustration of the customer or buyer increases with an onslaught of incessant email pitches and phone calls trying to push even harder for a conversion. Buyers are now smarter, more web-savvy and view forms like a black cloud. With increased levels of suspicion towards forms, and the secreted content that’s behind them, they’ll often abort engagement or use fake personas to gain access.

To Gate or Not to Gate?

The glaring overarching question should be: is your content valuable enough to be gated? Is the content worthy of someone paying for it with their contact and related details?

Most experts on content believe that long-form content - including whitepapers - is the most suitable to sit behind a form. A whitepaper can also include images and infographics to complement. Topics that are presented should be developed for the specific audience that you want to attract and engage with. Whitepapers and content that’s gated should be unique, as should be the lead you are aiming at. A great whitepaper or eBook can be a lead magnet, in some cases those who seek this type of content are a step closer to deeper conversations or even conversion.

Whitepapers should also serve the company or business that produces them. If the content is on topic - it’s researched properly, includes meaningful and relevant data, and is organised and structured logically - it can offer the business that puts it out there credibility, authority, and trust.

While the benefits of gated content for the publisher can be increased sales, analytics and insights into your audience and better segmentation for marketing, there are also a few downsides. Benefit to your SEO when content is behind forms is varied, depending on the type of content and gate. Coupled with form abandonment sitting at around 67% in 2021, benefits from page views or increased traffic is redundant.

B2B Behaviour is Changing

The overuse of gated material, as mentioned before, has made consumers - especially businesses and professionals - more suspicious of content promotion behind forms. Under-delivery of promises has abused the trust of end-users, as forms for gathering data became a default content marketing strategy.

In a LinkedIn (ungated) report, only 25% of B2B customers were willing to share their contact details to access interesting content. It’s definitely worth taking the time to consider why you are gating your content, and if it’s justified. Buyers and users are now very aware of the value of information, so the value of that content should be justifiable before you consider it a fair trade for an email address or mobile number.

Valuable or Not?

Making the right choice will increase your qualified prospects. If you are publishing original research with insights and thought leadership pieces, odds are your audience will part with their details. Look at the performance of existing content; if you have gated content that's doing well, leave it alone. What about the traffic on your ungated content? Repurpose it in more depth, make it more valuable, more targeted and gate that.

If you need to generate more traffic to your website and business, don’t put your content behind barriers, because search engines at this stage won’t rank it. It needs to be out there front and centre. Those whitepapers, ebooks, and ultimate guides that you spent so many hours sweating over and creating could be just the right content for search engines to find. Let somebody actually read your whitepaper to start generating qualified leads that are closer to conversion.

As buyers get smarter and content marketing trends adjust to accommodate user behaviour, some say that gated whitepapers and content may have outstayed their welcome. In the interim, being guided by your data and applying a little common sense is the best way to decide whether you gate your content or not.

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