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To gate or not to gate, that is the question

Marketers can’t be blind to the growing issue of ‘form fatigue’, argues Darren Atkins, head of campaign strategy and demand generation at Canon. Here, he explores how to use form gates effectively in your content campaigns.

The growth in content marketing shows no sign of abating.

It’s a proven model for generating leads and business with marketers focused on driving incremental improvements in performance. This typically involves enhancing content quality, refining tactics to reach target audiences more effectively or the improving quality of marketing and sales follow‐up.

But faced with continued pressure to generate as many qualified leads as possible, I wonder if marketers are ignoring the elephant in the room? In conjunction with the growth in content, form gating has also risen exponentially in order to generate the number of leads agreed at the start of any content campaign.

How else do we justify the cost of creating high value content, if we can’t acquire the contact details of prospects to nurture, score and qualify before passing to sales to convert?

I believe this ignores the growing issue of ‘form fatigue’.

Prospects are increasingly put off by forms, not just due to the inconvenience of completing them – but also the likelihood that they will receive a sales call a short time later.

Perhaps B2B marketers have spent so long convincing business leaders of the validity of this form gating approach that they are now blind to the clear flaws in the strategy:

  • We know content gates offer a poor user experience and are a barrier to engaging with the content we want prospects to see.
  • We know gating creates challenges in terms of SEO and even with GDPR compliance, due to concerns over the coupling of consent.
  • We can clearly see the scale of form abandons in our analytics data. Form abandonment rates of 90 per cent or more are not unusual!

Even when a form is completed, the contact details provided are often false, leading to frustration and wasted effort for sales or tele‐qualification teams.

In summary, marketers that use content gates blindly are in danger of purposely providing a poor brand experience – making it more difficult for prospects to find great content, losing them when they do find it and generating poor quality leads.

So long as they can continue to generate the required number of MQL’s and achieve their benchmark MQL‐SAL conversion rate, their activity will be judged a success. (Even though this will likely be based on previous conversions that utilised the same gating strategy.)

So, what’s the answer? Despite these issues, I’m not advocating that form gating should be abandoned entirely, but that their use can be reduced or limited by taking steps to focus on building engagement and trust first.

Don’t use forms when you don’t need to

Many marketers will be regularly reviewing form completion rates, but mainly from the perspective of driving small incremental improvements in form field optimisation.

Consider instead the total number of prospects that are abandoning your content and what impact this is having on your demand gen campaigns.

If you could engage with just 10 per cent of the prospects you are losing, you could likely double the numbers at the top of the funnel.

Re‐evaluate your current form strategy from this perspective, analysing performance across all forms and considering if it’s necessary to have gates on so much of your content.

Consider whether some content could be ungated to build engagement and trust. It’s also worth checking that the gates being used are not placed in front of known contacts.

Trust needs to be earned

As marketers, we are very aware of the importance of brand and the need to build trust. Even for established and well‐known brands, prospects can be put off by forms if it’s not been demonstrated or proven that the content being gated is likely to be of real value.

Offering more content for ‘free’, especially at the top of the funnel, will demonstrate your content marketing’s overall authority and value.

Signpost related content on each article or blog and gear your content distribution strategy towards building engagement and trust before presenting the ‘hero’ content piece that really is valuable enough to be gated.

When the time does come to ask for a customer’s personal details, remember that the more information you ask for the more trust you must earn before they will pay the ‘price’.

Consider implementing a ‘progressive profiling’ model using minimal forms with fewer fields for content towards the start of the buyer journey and then using other methods, such as tele‐qualification teams, to gather the additional data required.

B2B buyers have B2C expectations

The idea that buyers are in greater control than ever is not new and companies that are more buyer‐centric than their competitors are increasingly likely to win. In terms of content and user experience, this means customers and prospects are looking for highly personalised and relevant experiences.

Many B2B sites are structured by solution, industry or even job role. But on its own, this often relies on the visitor self‐selecting what they are interested in.

Instead, look to leverage first‐party intent data to provide a truly personalised approach that is informed by each visitor’s behaviour.

Various demand orchestration platforms can create a consistent taxonomy across all your content (typically using natural language processing or machine learning) and then combine this with behavioural data to deliver ‘next best’ content recommendations from the entirety of your content library.

With this kind of capability, it’s easy to envisage how a prospect would become much more engaged and willing to complete a form when you have demonstrated your authority and subject matter expertise.

One provider of such technology cites case studies where companies have seen a 289 per cent increase in content engagement and 219 per cent increase in form fill conversions.

Focus on prospects showing intent

In many cases where wide ‘spray and pray’ approaches to contact acquisition are being deployed, most of the people being targeted aren’t relevant, aren’t interested and certainly aren’t showing any intent to buy.

In fact, it’s likely that only 2 – 5 per cent of any given audience is actively seeking to make a purchase at any one time.

So even with the ability to provide highly personalised content when prospects arrive on your site, the chances of converting to a highly qualified lead are minimal.

This is where third‐party intent data can play a key role in terms of identifying at an account level which companies are actually in market for the solutions you offer right now.

Now more than ever, intent is more important than identity and demographics, and immediacy is more important than brand loyalty
Lisa Gevelber, VP for marketing at Google

Partnering with one of the growing number of ABM platform providers offers the opportunity to identify and target prospects demonstrating intent across defined keywords and terms, whether that’s at the initial awareness, consideration or decision stage of a buyer journey.

Combining this intent data with lists of accounts you have previously identified, allows for highly targeted, contextual and relevant messages.

Driving prospects who are already demonstrating clear intent in the solutions you offer into a website that delivers highly engaging and personalised content based on individual behaviour can only result in much higher form complete rates and in overall lead conversions.

Why not have a chat?

However, with a highly engaged visitor on your site with clear purchase intent, would you still want them to pass through a content gate and risk a form incomplete? Why not try to engage immediately through a chat session?

While there are clear resource limitations on offering live chat to all web visitors, when you can identify and prioritise those showing the desired behaviour and meeting your ideal prospect profile, the use of this technology becomes a far more viable proposition.

Even where this isn’t possible, deploying automated bots or allowing prospects to directly book time in a salesperson’s diary for a call back may offer a better experience than yet another form.

What have you got to lose? If the chat opportunity is ignored, gates can still be introduced at the appropriate point in the web session.

In summary

In my opinion, form gating as we know it is not dead – yet. The need to turn unknown into known contacts is still fundamental to B2B demand generation.

However, I do believe that the issue of form fatigue will continue to grow as part of a wider issue of communication overload and increasing expectations that the content should be highly personalised and relevant.

Marketers that ignore this and provide experiences that are sub‐optimal or continue to frustrate prospects will increasingly lose out to competitors – especially those who leverage first‐ and third‐party intent data to be even more focused and targeted.

This data will fuel content marketing engines that build increased engagement and trust with their brands.

Key takeaways

  • Review your existing form gating regime and distribution strategy to ensure you win your prospects’ trust before asking for their data.
  • Consider deploying minimal forms with fewer fields first and then using subsequent forms to gather the rest of the data you need.
  • Use intent data to ensure the traffic you drive to your site is engaged with the issues you can help with and in the market for a solution.
  • Utilise ‘live chat’ functionality to engage site visitors immediately, rather than risk losing hot prospects to a form incomplete.

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