Should You Restrict Content to Collect Email Addresses?

Photo by Mael BALLAND on Unsplash

As I’m building out some of my own lead magnets and doing research, I’m interested in a variety of types of lead magnets because I know that different lead magnets will appeal to different users. People learn in various ways. In fact, the school system tested kids at my kiddo’s school. 

Turns out he’s an auditory learner. And that’s so different from me – I like to read information if I’m going to have to remember it. I’m guessing that lots of my audience will also have different ways of learning. 

I’ll get to video and audio, but so far, I’m focusing on written content. And, when I research written content I continuously come across the practice of restricted, or gated content as a method of lead generation.

Also called locked content, I’d bet you’ve come across it too when you click on articles friends link on social media. I find it ridiculously annoying when someone posts an awesome-looking article I really want to read but it’s to a newspaper that requires of subscription (paid or not) to continue reading.

What does gating content mean?

Gated content is when you must take some action to continue reading an article online. Your locked out or restricted, and the content you want to read is behind that gate. You are asked to take an action to unlock the remaining content. Sometimes, it’s joining a membership or course, and sometimes it’s giving your name and email address.

Gated content as a lead magnet

Why would someone want to lock their content? To collect email addresses for their email list of course. Proponents of locked content acknowledge the fact that not everyone who starts consuming their content will opt-in and unlock the gate. But, they believe those that do opt-in are folks who really want their content and are highly qualified leads. The value of the leads that do opt in outweighs the number of people who abandon the article.

Popular lead generation software platforms make it easy to set up locked content. OptinMonster, Sumo, and MailChimp all have a way to lock content. 

You just have to be very careful using this. You have to know your audience really well to know how they would react. And, you have to build out your strategy so that you’re using locked content effectively. 

woman and child standing in front of a gate. Text: Should you use gated content?

When you don’t want to use gated content

In the middle of every blog post

Ok, every blog post – I know that’s extreme. But I’ve seen it. I’m not going to subscribe to New York Times. I don’t want to subscribe to things just to read them. I don’t have the time to filter through my emails as it is.

There’s absolutely a place for entirely free blog content. At the very top of your sales funnel, you have people coming to your articles who don’t know you and don’t know what kind of value you can give them. They don’t know if you can help them with their problems. Until they consume some of your content and see what you’re all about.

Cutting someone off in the middle of reading without warning doesn’t build the kind of trust that most of us want to build with our audience. It’s an irritant, and leaves users with a negative impression of your brand.

If you want your content to rank on the search engines

The search engines don’t crawl your locked content, so they can’t learn about what great information you’re providing. So, if you do have some locked content, you’ll have to find another way to drive traffic to it. 

If you want people to share your content

Many folks won’t share locked content. It doesn’t “feel” sharable if a user has opted in. Remember, when a user opts in with an email address, they’re really paying for a tiny product. Once they perceive the content as a paid product, they’re less likely to share like they would free content.

And, like my newspaper example above, clicking on shared content and getting the surprise of the opt in is a negative surprise. I don’t want my audience to have that experience.

When you might use gated content to gather leads

Extra bonus content

If a gated bit of content is treated like a bonus, then gated content can make sense. My personal take is that an article should come to a logical conclusion, give a complete thought to the reader, and help them with one (at least) idea. If after that, you want to offer an extension or bonus bit of content behind an opt in gate, I think that can make sense and work well. 

You have to give what you promise, and a shared link or a blog post title indicate that you’ll get to consume the content. They don’t mention bonus, so the user doesn’t have an expectation to get that bonus information for free.

This scenario isn’t much different than a promoted lead magnet that expands on the content it’s associated with. The method of the offer is just different.

Promoted as an opt-in 

If, by the way the content is promoted, you set expectations of a sign up or opt in, you can use gated content as a successful lead magnet. It’s those user expectations that you need to manage.

Just a simple, “sign up” or “opt in” wording ahead of a link can completely change your user’s experience. Personally, I’m much more willing to opt in when I’m expecting it. Your audience knows you’re running a business, and they should expect to be asked to sign up and to purchase at some point. As long as you’re giving value along the way and not acting like you’re trying to trick them in some way, you can still create a positive impression AND ask for opt ins.

Will you use gated content on your site?

So do you have restricted content as a lead magnet now? I don’t, and truthfully, I’m not planning to do so. I’m planning to create content that’s complete and then offer additional, helpful tiny products as lead magnets. That will appeal the most to the type of audience I want to be speaking to, so I’d be silly to do differently. I might collect some more email addresses, but they wouldn’t who I want to work with.

Think hard about your overall strategy and how your audience perceives what you’re doing. Those two bits of information will guide how you should build out your lead magnets and what types to offer.

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