Your B2B marketing department needs to deliver results, typically measured in sales-qualified leads that result in closed won deals. To reach that goal, you need to attract your target audience to your website, and then ask yourself these five questions on when to gate content.
As Phil Bosley, Act-On’s Customer Success Enablement Manager, wrote back in 2015 blog post on how to use web forms strategically:
“Behind each mysterious website visitor is a real person with a pressing business need. The key to successful digital marketing is being able to identify who these people are, so you can speak to them with personalized messaging.
If you can convert website traffic to known visitors as early in the cycle as possible, you’ll have a larger window in which to figure out what they’re interested in, and how urgent their need is. This helps you engage with content and messaging appropriate to their funnel stage. You’ll be able to create targeted segments, nurture campaigns, and much more to add personalization wherever possible.”
Seems simple, doesn’t it? So why does the question of whether you should be using gated forms keep popping up? Quick answer: You should. But you should do so strategically, and not for any old action a visitor may take on your site.
I circled back with Phil to ask if there was anything new to report on how and when to use web forms. Phil has consulted more than 1,000 companies on their marketing automation strategies, and has seen firsthand what works and what doesn’t. “With regards to forms, people make three common mistakes,” he said.
Those mistakes are:
- They don’t integrate their forms with marketing automation. Marketers often don’t understand there is critical value in the direct connection between forms and Act-On, and it’s bigger than just pushing contact info in.
- The gate content they shouldn’t. As a general rule, if it’s about you, your product, or your service don’t gate it.
- They get greedy. Contact info for knowledge is a financial transaction. Form fields are your currency. Don’t overcharge.
About a year ago, I wrote a post about when, why and how to gate content along the customer’s journey. Lauren McMenemy from Skyword recently referenced the post in her own article about using gated forms in your content strategy.
In the post, she cites a quick Twitter poll that asked marketers when to gate content. It wasn’t scientific, but the results are what you might expect: 55% said you should only gate any high-value content.
In his post, Phil defines the differences between sign-up forms, access forms, and contact forms; as well as, the differences between display forms and gated URL forms. He also states that the information you request in a web form be appropriate to the funnel stage (see his mistake #3 above).
The five key questions to help you decide when to gate content
As you can see, we’ve also developed a great decision-tree infographic you can use to help you understand when and when not to gate. Let’s walk through the five questions.
#1 Is this a “contact us” opportunity?
These are typically found at the bottom of the funnel and are a clear signal of serious buying intent. If it is, then you should have a contact form on the web page. If not, move on.
#2 Do we want the audience to register or sign up?
These display forms are presented alongside content and offer the viewer an opportunity to sign up or register for some future content, event, or resource. For example, this could be signing up for your newsletter, or registering for a webinar. Depending on the content, these can be top- and middle-of-funnel opportunities. If the answer is yes, then you should include the sign-up form on the page (but remember Phil’s rule to ask for only what you need at this point).
#3 Is all the content about you, your product, or service?
If your content is too self-promotional, then you shouldn’t be using a form (there are always exceptions). Your goal should be to create content that provides value to the prospective buyer.
#4 Will this teach the audience a skill or save them money?
If your content is going to provide value to the buyer, then you should use an access form. These could be white papers, eBooks, guides, and so forth. For example, I was willing to give up my name and email recently to receive a guide on how to start a B2B podcast.
#5 Is this proprietary information?
This could be a buying guide, competitive comparison datasheet and so forth. If the answer is yes, it is proprietary information, then you should use a gated access form. If it’s information anyone could find on the web, or is otherwise not proprietary, then the answer is to not use a form.
Hopefully, the decision tree helps you better understand when you should or should not be gating your content.
If you’re using a marketing automation platform, such as Act-On, you can also consider using progressive profile forms that allow you build up the information you know about a prospect as their engagement with you progresses. This helps mitigate the desire to ask a bunch of questions in your forms. Instead, you start with a name and an email. Your marketing automation then recognizes these prospects the next time they are on your site and want to see an on-demand webinar or download an email, asking for a title in one instance or a company name in another.
This month, Act-On will be announcing its Adaptive Forms, which will make it even easier to learn more about your customer, sooner in the sales cycle. With this information you can deliver more value and show your impact to their bottom line, as well as your own.