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The Do’s and Don’ts of Gated Content


Chris Butler: Welcome to the Newfangled Agency Marketing Matters Podcast. I’m Chris Butler.

Lauren Siler: I’m Lauren Siler

Mark O’Brien: And I’m Mark O’Brien.

Chris Butler: And this is Season 2, Episode 9, not that anyone’s counting. I was listening back to the other episodes, guys, and we need to work on our pre-topic banter, hanging-out banter.

Mark O’Brien: Oh. Okay.

Lauren Siler: Will it seem rigid?

Chris Butler: Mark’s looking at me like, “What the hell?” Yeah, just-

Lauren Siler: It’s like, “Say something witty.”

Mark O’Brien: Exactly

Chris Butler: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t really have anything prepared to say.

Mark O’Brien: Can we talk about your almond cookies?

Chris Butler: We can. There are two sitting right here. You guys are welcome to eat them during the …

Mark O’Brien: That would be great.

Lauren Siler: Mmmm.

Mark O’Brien: That’s the thing. More chewing during podcasts.

Lauren Siler: Just what this is missing.

Chris Butler: These are a three-ingredient almond cookie. It’s just eggs, sugar, and almonds, but I added in-

Mark O’Brien: It’s so good.

Chris Butler: Coconut and dried cherries.

Lauren Siler: Delicious.

Chris Butler: You can make them in literally 15 minutes.

Mark O’Brien: It’s basically a cookie that tastes like the filling inside of an almond croissant.

Chris Butler: Yeah, that’s exactly right.

Lauren Siler: Oh, yeah. That’s true.

Mark O’Brien: It’s all the good. I was going to say with none of the filler, but it actually is the filler. It’s all of the filler with none of the other.

Chris Butler: It’s very easy. If you want to make them, it’s six tablespoons of sugar, one egg, and one and a quarter cup of sliced almonds. And you just-

Mark O’Brien: Six tablespoons of sugar, one egg, and one and a quarter cup-

Chris Butler: Yeah. You just mix all that into a paste. You have to act fast because it wants to separate really quick. Then you spoon them out on to parchment paper and bake.

Mark O’Brien: It’s a lot of sugar, but aside from that, it’s very healthy.

Chris Butler: Yeah. It’s six tablespoons, but you get a dozen or more of them, depending on how big they are.

Mark O’Brien: Better than a Snickers.

Chris Butler: You’re getting half a tablespoon of sugar, potentially, per cookie. We do like to start off by talking about what’s interesting right now. Besides the cookies, I’m sure that there’s lots of interesting stuff going. Who would like to go first?

Mark O’Brien: I’ll go. Speaking of pre-content banter, I’ve been in love with the 2Bobs Podcast that David Baker and Blair Enns are doing. It’s just called 2Bobs on iTunes. What I’ve really enjoyed about it is … I know them well. We all know them well, and it’s so them. They’re just being them. They’re so genuine, and it really does sound just like it sounds when they’re sitting around the dinner table talking. It’s fun. I texted both of them to talk about this, and to … I feel like I’ve spent a lot of quality time with them in the past month because I’ve been listening to the podcast.

Chris Butler: Yeah, I totally get that.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah. I don’t know. I think it’s a real sign of success where it just feels just like being with the person in person.

Chris Butler: Yeah. There are so many podcasts I listen to that I’ve never met those people, and I feel like I know them, intimately. Knowing both of those guy and listening to the podcast is a pleasure. Also, I’m really jealous of David’s microphone. His voice sounds so good-

Lauren Siler: It really does.

Chris Butler: On that podcast.

Lauren Siler: It really does. That’s true.

Chris Butler: So buttery. So warm and buttery.

Mark O’Brien: That’s just it. We might need to upgrade to the SM50. 

Chris Butler: I know. It makes our thing look kind of janky, but it’s a really good podcast. You guys should check it out. It’s I think.

Mark O’Brien: Oh, is there a website?

Chris Butler: Yeah. I think it’s the number

Mark O’Brien: Or just as in the website, 2Bobs, number 2Bobs, on iTunes.

Chris Butler: Yeah.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah.

Chris Butler: Exactly. How about you, Lauren?

Lauren Siler: I’m really excited working with a client … I won’t mention them by name, but we’ve been working with a client for awhile, on their content plan. They’ve just gotten into webinars. They were a little skittish about it because I think they saw webinars as this mountain to climb. They’d never done them before, and they seemed kind of impossible or, at least, intimating, which is what a lot of agencies think when they first get into webinars for the first time.

They did pull off their first webinar. Not only was it very successful, just from a technological standpoint, which can feel like a bit of a hurdle, but, also, they were, pretty soon after, was able to enter into a conversation with a very, very large name brand that they’ve been wanting to work with for awhile. It’s generated a decent opportunity for them. So much so that they’re already jumping in, about four weeks later, and they’re going to do their next webinar. They’re all in.

It’s just continued validation that you don’t have to have a ton of experience to see success with this kind of thing, that there’s a process to it. I think it’s really about the expertise. If you know what you’re talking about, then getting over the hump of the technology can be really helpful.

Chris Butler: That prospect that they’re excited about, were they on the webinar live, or did they download it later?

Lauren Siler: They attended the webinar.

Chris Butler: Cool.

Lauren Siler: It was interesting because the client was a little bit discouraged about the number of attendees, which we hear a lot, but I think that that matters less and less. It’s not just about the … In this case, it was helpful that that person actually showed up to the event. But we’ve had clients who had low attendee rates that still use that asset as a downloadable asset later on and send it out to prospects, and it still works.

Mark O’Brien: Tell our podcasters about that. We should add it in our podcast.

Chris Butler: Right. Actually, it’s all about precision. We talk about this in so many other contexts. But if you can get up in front of a thousand people and hope that maybe one person might call you later, you jump at the chance because that seems like the way it’s meant to be done. If you could get in an elevator with one person that you know is the right person to talk to, why wouldn’t you?

Being squeamish about eight people attending your webinar is kind of like saying, “No, I’m not going to get in the elevator with that one person I know would hire me.”

Mark O’Brien: And nobody knows how many people are out on the webinar.

Chris Butler: Exactly. Exactly. I did a webinar once, a bunch of years ago, for a magazine, and I found out later that four people had attended that one. It did feel a little bit sad after that, but I’m glad I didn’t know going in. I’ll say that.

Mark O’Brien: Our first one, in 2009, I wanted 10 people to attend, and I think we had 13 attend the first one. Now it’s hundreds register regularly, so people build up after awhile.

Chris Butler: Yeah. It takes time.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah.

Chris Butler: My thing is that we begin our engagements with these audits that we put together of the client’s website. We use that as a foundation for analyzing a variety of aspects of their digital marketing. It produces a score, and there’s a lot to look at. We’ve been doing that for over a year now, and it was time to redesign it. That’s always a fun project, just to make all the improvements that have been piling up over the last year that I’ve thought about. Delivering this thing over and over again and realizing that, okay, it accommodates this level of detail well, but it would be visualized better. It just needed a fresh coat of paint, as well, so it’s been fun to do that. We’re going to present it to the first client next Friday, so I’m excited about that.

Mark O’Brien: The other problem with that is now I want everything to look like that.

Chris Butler: Yeah. That’s the problem. It’s like we got a new chair from West Elm, and now everything needs to change. We have to redecorate.Speaking of content … This is my delightful segue into a our main topic. Lauren, you prepared a main topic for us.

Lauren Siler: Today, we’re talking about common pitfalls to avoid when developing gated content. When you think about building a holistic content plan, you’ve got to think outside of just indexable articles and blogs, which are important from an SEO standpoint. But, when we think about providing points of conversion on the site to allow you to build up your lead database, we need types of content that are going to require form submissions.

When we talk to agencies about developing things like white papers or eBooks or webinars or whatever it’s going to be, it always feels like this is this big hurdle, like this is a bigger deal than just creating blog posts, and how do we actually do that on a regular basis? There’s some themes that I’ve observed, working with agencies on their content plans, that are just common missteps when thinking about developing gated content, that I think are easily avoidable, that we’re going to talk about today.

Chris Butler: It makes a lot of sense because I think a lot of them are coming from the perspective of, “Well, we write blogs, and who cares about those? They just pile up, and they’re casual. All of sudden, we’re now making it transactional. We’re asking somebody for something, and we have to give it back.” All of a sudden it has be exponentially more serious and more formal in some way. So I can imagine all the types of issues that you’re encountering.

Lauren Siler: Yeah, yeah. It’s really easy to become extremely precious about this type of content which is one of the things that gets in the way. On that note, I think one of the first things that is a common misstep that we see when working with agencies on this is taking too much time to produce whatever it’s going to be, whether it’s that white paper or ebook or webinar. It’s important to get it right. It’s important when you are elevating a piece of content to be this marquis piece for the month or the quarter, and you are asking for form submission. Of course, you want to be thorough about it and make it look good, but there is such a thing as taking too much time to produce it.

I think that manifests itself in two main ways. One, is being overly verbose with the content. Oftentimes, when I’m working with a client, and they’re introducing, say, white papers into their content portfolio, the idea, the perception, around that content type is that, well, because it’s a white paper, it actually needs to be a novella or a 30 page research project. I don’t think that that’s necessarily the case. For a gated piece of content to be valuable, I don’t think it needs to be 50 times the length of the average blog post.

Mark O’Brien: What if we were to think about this, not in terms of length, but in terms of topic matter, right? I don’t know. I feel like so many firms get so caught up in this idea of their content strategy and really buy into this educational model and end up falling too far on the benevolent side of things, like they’re doing this as charity work, almost. They feel like they owe their readership something, when in fact, it’s the opposite. The readership owes them something. Okay. You’re creating this content strategy in order to generate business for your firm. That’s really it, for the most part. Occasionally, you’re doing it for recruitment purposes and that kind of thing, but you should be getting a premium for your investment in your great content that you’re creating, this work you’re doing to create this educational content.

What if you were say, “Okay, the white paper isn’t the longest piece, but the white paper is the most attractive piece, like the topic. Okay. We’ve got these four article topics, articles of any kind, and we know this is the one that people are going to really care about, so let’s just gate it. It might be the shortest of all the article we have. But we’re going to gate it because we think people are going to be the most interested in it, and they’re willing to convert on it. Maybe it’s only 400 words, but who cares?”

Lauren Siler: Right. The point is to not forget the purpose of having gated content in your content plan in the first place, which is to entice someone to fill out a form so that you build up the lead database. It does come back to the message itself. It’s what is most likely to entice somebody to access this content. That has zero to do with the word count, I think.

Chris Butler: Length. Yeah. And they don’t know what the length is. I don’t know. It feels like white paper, as you start off, it has to be long. But, no, it just has to be interesting.

Lauren Siler: Well, I think the fear is that the reader is going to feel shortchanged, like, “Oh, I gave you my email address. How dare you return a 600 word article in exchange?”

Chris Butler: Right. But what’s better? A 600 word article that provides amazing insight or a 6,000 word article that has amazing insight, but you have to dig through 6,000 words to find it?

Lauren Siler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Butler: You’re really, again, doing the reader a great service by just getting to the point. We have plenty of really great long articles, and we’re big believers in that when the topic deserves it. But the gated thing doesn’t have to be the longest piece, and I think most everyone assumes it does.

Lauren Siler: Conversely, we’ve got really popular articles on our site that are quite long, and they’re indexable. They’re not gated at all. We’ve got-

Chris Butler: Not gated at all, yeah. We should gate more stuff.

Mark O’Brien: Something to point out is that our white papers do tend to be long, but another way that we tend to think of this particular piece of content is that it’s our opportunity every quarter to go on the record about something that’s missions-critical to our perspective on what we do. That’s why it’s worthy to be sold for information in that way. On the one hand, blogs, you can write about anything no matter how small the topic, and you can write it in a casual way. You can even explore ideas. In the way we’ve been thinking about white papers is it’s our perspective, our on-the-record perspective, on something that’s really important for a prospect to know and understand about how we do what we do and why we do what we do.

The reason they tend to be long is because we tend to gather a bunch of us together and each of us put in something about our perspective. Each individual piece is not really that onerous, but together, it becomes a pretty long piece. That’s just our style of doing it.

Lauren Siler: I’ve seen plenty of successful white papers that are quite specific in nature that don’t necessarily have to cover a broad range of topics of how it affects every area of your business. That’s not a requirement for a successful gated piece of content.

The other misstep that I see, in terms of taking too long to product these things, has to do with the design side of things. I think it’s great to create content that’s going to be aesthetically pleasing, and you do want things to be within brand. We work with agencies, and they’re very design-forward. I think that makes a lot of sense. But I think where the problem happens is when you let the design get in the way of actually producing the content, and it becomes an impediment to your strategic success.

When you think about designing a piece of gated content, especially if it’s going to be consumed on the site and not downloaded and taken away … That’s one of the things we talk about is you want the reader to be able to consume that content, within the context, within in the wrapper of the site itself, so that they can experience other things, things in the sidebar or crosslinking to other areas of the site, so they can continue to engage with you. Then the likelihood is that your CMS is going to only allow you design so much inside of that template anyway. Spending an inordinate amount of time creating this beautifully designed pdf that somebody’s going to download and share, and you’re not going to be able to track, you have to weigh that cost, I think, when you’re doing that.

Chris Butler: Yeah, that’s a huge point because, on the other hand, you also don’t want to fall in the trap of thinking that every gated piece you create needs to be the next snowfall. Right?

Lauren Siler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Butler: Cause what we’re advising is that that piece of content be on the site. The whole downloadable pdf thing, if you can do that as a fringe benefit, fine. But, strategically, you want to keep that person there, as you were saying. Thinking of it as downloading this tangible asset is wrong, but also thinking about in terms of downloading, or gaining access to, a page that is uniquely different from every other page on the site and has all kinds of interactive features, that’s wrong, too, cause it’s not what it’s about.

The snowfall reference is like the New York spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on that piece of content, and everyone got so excited about it. And it sort of set in motion this trend of web design where people want this custom piece, and that’s what all critical content needs to look like. That’s bogus, too, because nobody has that kind of resource.

Lauren Siler: Yeah.

Mark O’Brien: It’s a great point. Back to the follow-the-leader thing that you talk about, Chris, you talk about quite often, when one firm does something one way, and then all the firms want to do it that way. They’ll spend endless amounts of time to do it. They don’t have to time to write a blog post, but they have time to spend a hundred hours on a more key piece.

Chris Butler: Yeah. T and Lacks was kind of the leader in that regard and were creating these snowfall versions of their case studies that were beautiful and incredible, but, you know what? They got bought by Facebook, and they don’t exist anymore. They shouldn’t be the people you’re looking at. They’re site is still there. It’s nice for posterity but not for an example.

Lauren Siler: Right. I think, to summarize that, really focus on the message first and what’s going to be most valuable to your prospects and what would make sense to access through a form, rather than focusing on the design of it or the word count of it. That’s misstep number one, taking too much to produce the gated content.

Misstep number two, that I see a lot, is an inconsistency in the tone of the language used when you’re creating gated content versus everything else on the site. An example would be, working with an agency and the copy on all of their positioning pages or in their blog posts is really in-line with the culture of the agency and how they do business. So if they’re a fun and funky agency, that content reflects that. If they’re a little bit more subdued or, maybe, analytical or thoughtful, their content reflects that tone. That’s fine. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but what I see a lot of the time is that when an agency goes in to create their white paper, suddenly, it’s because it’s elevated to this other status of this is much more formal, the tone of the content itself doesn’t match the rest of the site. So fun and funky on the blog, and then it completely removed, in almost inaccessible and overly academic in the white paper, to where there feels like there’s a brand disconnect. Like, did someone else write this entirely? Is this the same company?

Chris Butler: Right. If all of a sudden you pull out the MLA Handbook, and you’re putting footnotes in your piece, something’s not quite …

Lauren Siler: Yeah.

Chris Butler: I’ve seen that, too, and that is weird. I think, just be yourselves. It doesn’t matter. If there’s an info gate in between you and the content, it doesn’t matter. You should still be on the other side.

Mark O’Brien: Right. A sub point, that’s outside of these three main points that Lauren is making, is, first and foremost, you have to have gated content in your website. That’s really the headline is, that no matter what it is, gate something. We see this. We write lots and lots of content, but the gated content, namely for us the white papers and the webinars, when we review our conversions every single week, those are the things that really move the needle. Without those, our marketing would be rather weakened.

Chris Butler: They’re the primary engine that drives progressive profiling.

Mark O’Brien: They are.

Chris Butler: Without repeated access to content, repeated form submissions, you’re not going to get that fifteenth item in your progressive profile. Because someone might subscribe to your newsletter once or contact you once or contact a team member once, but if they’re accessing gated content, they might do that seven or eight times. And that is where you get the info.

Mark O’Brien: The point of even getting rid of your blog in favor of gated content, if you had to do one thing … That’s an extreme statement. In my mind, I can think of 20 counterstatements to that, but, to put things in proportion, everybody has a blog. Almost every single firm who gets in touch with us has a blog. Almost none of them have gated content, and that’s a real problem. It’s nice cause it’s part of the reason they need to hire us, but still …

Lauren Siler: Yeah. It goes back to the point you were making earlier about this. You’re not doing this just as a charitable endeavor. The whole point of your content marketing strategy is that you want this to be a lead development tool for you, and it can’t be if there aren’t gated pieces of content on the site. I agree. It’s non-negotiable. If you’re going to include it into your content plan, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be who you are naturally. You don’t have to change the voice of your firm. You don’t have to contract out other writers to do this for you. You can do what you do, and then just put it behind a form. That’s entirely acceptable and, really, preferable.

Mark O’Brien: With the two primary kinds of gated content, what is called the white paper, basically filling out a firm to get text access, or filling out a form to get a webinar. Of the two, the text access is a lot easier cause, again, it can be this exact same content as a blog, just with a form in front of it, which is really easy for any agency to pull off. A webinar is an entirely different deal. It represents a whole lot more value in a lot of ways. Again, we should have a separate podcast just about that. But any agency listening to this this week could put a form in front of their top-five most interesting blogs.

Chris Butler: Yeah.

Lauren Siler: Yeah.

Chris Butler: Absolutely.

Lauren Siler: Okay. We’ve got taking too long to produce the content. We’ve got being inconsistent with your language, and the third misstep that we see all the time is rushing the development of the main title and abstract of the piece. Again, you’re elevating this content to this other status that you feel like you need to invest all this time, and it needs to exist on this other level. What I see again and again and again is that the agency finally gets that white paper written, and they’re ready to publish it to the site. But the process has been so laborious to that point that, when it comes time to actually think about the elements that a potential reader is going to use to evaluate whether or not they should even fill out that form, they just rush it.

When you’re thinking about the title of the content, when you’re thinking about the indexable abstract, the 300 word-ish copy that goes ahead of the form to tell the user what this is going to be about and why they should access it, those are critical points of copy that’s really your number one way of getting conversions to this piece. It should not be an afterthought.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, we actually learned that our … We’ve learned that many times ourselves. We did a white paper, I think, what, three white papers ago, about common obstacles?

Lauren Siler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark O’Brien: We had developed that title in the initial brainstorming session for that and our general idea of what it was going to be about. We were all done with that, catalyzed the writing, and then when it came around to actually getting ready to send that email to promote it, we started to realize, like, “Uh, how’s someone going to feel when they read this title? Is that going to be mostly negative? Is that really the right tone we want to set because it means everything. It’s the first thing they read.” We ended up changing it, I think, twice.

Chris Butler: It was something like, Things You’re Doing Wrong with Your Marketing.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, yeah. It was something pretty aggressive.

Chris Butler: Cause we’re jerks.

Mark O’Brien: Yes. We ended up changing it to something softer, and I think that was the right call. It required that we took that time and to really think about that and to shop it around between ourselves. We didn’t just write-

Chris Butler: Things that are not strengths about your market.

Mark O’Brien: Right. It was like, “You’re doing great, but … “

Chris Butler: But …

Lauren Siler: It makes sense. You get so close to it. You invest a lot of time into your content. I think it’s common, and it’s understandable that when you get to these last little finishing touches that you rush through them in an effort to get it to your list or get it up on the site.

One way that I’ve worked with agencies to alleviate that is I’ve just built more time into the process. If you’re planning further out, and you’ve got mapped out the steps to developing this type of content, just build in a few extra days to really think about those finishing touches, like the title and the abstract, and getting it situated on the site just right. It doesn’t take that much extra time, but if you build it into the process, you won’t feel like you were dragging your feet.

Mark O’Brien: Cool.

Chris Butler: Well, with that, let’s move on and share some content and get people on the road. What we like to do is wrap up with things that we think you should check out. What do you think, Mark?

Mark O’Brien: I think that we just put a white paper out about the relationship between sales and marketing and really starting the marketing process with the sales reality. That’s the newest white paper on our site. Go that section on our site. It’s the first thing to download there, speaking of gated content. It is roughly 5,000 words long. Five of us contributed to it. It’s deep, but it’s one of those articles that merits that length of content.

Chris Butler: It’s also when you can take your time with-

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, absolutely come back to. You don’t have to fill out the form each time. It’ll pre-fill for you when you come back.

Chris Butler: Very cool.

Lauren Siler: I’m going to recommend that you read a blog that I’ve recently posted about this topic, called, Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Developing Gated Content. It goes into each of these three points, but it elaborates on them a little bit more and also talks about ways that we have advised our agency clients to avoid these missteps and solutions to these problems. So check that out.

Chris Butler: Very cool. In our last episode, we talked a lot about how we use themes as a way of guiding our content strategy every quarter. I know that was new material to probably a lot of people who were listening and people who read the site, but one thing that we’d been hoping to do for a long time is visually elevate that on the site because once we move to the next quarter, that theme isn’t as visible unless you dig into a piece of content and follow the related content.

So we came up with something that’s now on our homepage that I’m pretty excited about that says we’ve thought a lot about, and it’s collections of content based on themes that we’ve curated over the years. Right now, there are three themes. They’re different every time we refresh the page. Each one has, probably, somewhere around ten articles in it, but you can skim through that, see the articles, see who wrote. Check it out. It’s a pretty new feature for us, pretty interesting. If you use it and like it, we’d love to hear about that.

Mark O’Brien: Now, it’s time to wrap up so we can eat the cookies that have been sitting on the table since we introduced the idea of these almond things.

Chris Butler: Except that there’s only two, and there’s three of us.

Mark O’Brien: They’re closer to Chris and Lauren than they are to me.

Chris Butler: All right. We’ll see y’all next time. Thanks for joining us.

Lauren Siler: Thanks for listening.