It’s a favourite of many marketing companies and marketing managers, but gated content has always had its critics. The idea, of course, is to offer something to people who visit your website – an informative white paper, perhaps, or a quirky infographic – in exchange for their contact details. If your visitors do as you wish and fill out the contact form, there’s a tacit agreement that you’ll be in touch in the near future, trying to sell them something.
In theory, it makes sense. People like free stuff, and what do they care if you’ve got their name and phone number?
But the fact is most people just want the free thing, and they’d much rather you didn’t try to sell to them. If they want to, they can easily fill your form in with fake information, just to get past it and at the content. Or they can give you real information, knowing full well they’re just going to brush you off when you contact them.
Even worse, they might simply see your content is gated and decide it’s not worth it. They’ll get their information from somewhere else. And guess what? You get nothing. No lead and no good will.
Give The People What They Want
Now consider you put the same content up without any obstacles. People could simply come to your site and download it, without the inconvenience of filling out a form and without the leap of faith it might require them to give up their information to total strangers.
Sure, you wouldn’t get any phone numbers or email addresses out of it, but you’d be far more likely to gain a reader – someone who will actually look at that content, who then might be persuaded that your business is right for them. If the content is good enough, it might also get shared and then shared again, and someone who likes it might then get in touch with you. That, surely, must be worth more than the contact details of someone who probably has no interest in talking to you.
Gated Content And GDPR
Nevertheless, gated content does have its fans, and if your content is truly compelling, then it could be an effective form of lead generation for you. I’m still not a fan, but I accept that it can work. But even if you manage to gather thousands of contacts details from your gated content, would you even be able to use them without breaking the rules of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)?
I’d be the first to admit that I’m neither a legal expert nor an authority on GDPR, but from what I understand, you would need a lawful basis for contacting anyone who filled in your form to get to your content. You might think the notion of tacit agreement would be enough, but that would be a mistake. If you want to use consent as your reason for contacting people, they actually have to explicitly agree to it. That would mean your form would need a tick-box or something similar to allow them to opt into marketing.
From my own experience of filling in such forms, I know this isn’t the case for the majority of them (although as we reach the GDPR deadline that might be changing).
Could there another lawful basis for contacting people who complete your form? Perhaps. The idea of legitimate interests sounds like it could provide the answer, until until you realise the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) says marketers can only hide behind legitimate interests if they don’t already require consent under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).
No prizes for guessing what the PECR says about calling, emailing or texting people without their explicit consent. It’s a big no-no.
So if legitimate interests is of no use to us in this situation, it brings us right back to consent if we want our gated content and GDPR to get along. Like I said, you can do that by getting people to explicitly opt in when they fill in your gated content contact form, and that might work for you. Alternatively, it might act as a deterrent, stopping people from downloading your content. Or they might still fill the form in but not click the tick-box to accept your marketing, so you’ll have their details, but you won’t have any lawful reason to use them.
There is still some debate about the rights of marketers to contact people in this way, and it’s not surprising that gated content specialists seem to think everything is rosy, but I’m definitely leaning the other way. I was already unconvinced of the value of gated content, but now with data protection taking centre stage, I’m even less likely to use it in future.