Of course, there are benefits and drawbacks to either option. But as technology has evolved, it’s no longer a black-and-white question. There are other options you may not even know you had.
Keeping your particular business goals in mind, let’s look at some of the arguments on both sides.
Is your white paper worth paying for?
The first thing you should do is give your content an honest evaluation. Ask yourself: is it valuable enough to gate?
When you gate your white papers, your readers are essentially “paying” with their contact information and thus will be expecting something good.
Keep in mind that, often, a white paper download is the first real interaction someone will have with your company and its value proposition. You don’t want readers to give up their contact info and then leave them with a negative experience.
Now, assuming your white paper is good enough to even consider putting behind a gate, let's look at some of the benefits.
Benefits of Gating Your White Papers
#1. Lead Generation
The most obvious benefit to gating your white papers is lead generation. Forms let you gather critical data for qualifying leads and building better customer relationships.
Collecting your visitor’s name, email, company name, industry, job title (and more) will help you determine how closely they fit your ideal customer profile and warrant a follow-up.
If a visitor is willing to give up personal information in order to view your white paper or ebook, it’s likely they have a specific pain point, are looking for a solution and are hoping you can help them. In other words, they may be a hot lead.
#2. The Ability to Personalize
Another benefit to gating is that you can personalize your white papers for the viewer once you have their data. For example, you could use merge tags in your white papers and insert your visitor’s name: “Hi John, This white paper will show you how to optimize your landing pages.”
This kind of simple personalization can lead to a huge increase in the average time your readers spend with your content.
#3. Gauging Interest
A final advantage of gating is that it provides clues into the general level of interest visitors have in your white paper's content. If a large volume of users are submitting a form to get your content, you know you have a gem. It also indicates that they believe your organization to be a trustworthy source.
Benefits of Not Gating Your White Papers
#1. Increased Viewership
While the biggest drawback to not gating your white paper is losing out on lead information, the greatest benefit may outweigh that: increased viewership.
Some visitors simply won't give up their personal information on principle, no matter how interested they are in the topic. By allowing open access, you will automatically increase views, meaning greater exposure for your brand.
#2. Better Shareability
Ungated white papers have the potential to boost traffic from all corners of the web, including being listed in search results. There’s also more potential for influencers, or others in your space to promote your ungated content via their own channels; or for your visitors to share it on social media.
White papers and eBooks that are freely accessible on the web will be found and indexed by search engines, potentially increasing your rankings on SERPs. If it's behind a gate, on the other hand, web crawlers that follow links on your site simply won't find it.
An important exception to this is if you use interactive white papers, you can optionally set them up to allow crawlers through even if it has a gate!
Clever Options You May Not Have Considered
Gate your white papers using social media integrations
If you are set on gating your white papers, there’s a way to get even better data from visitors while allowing them to skip filling in a form altogether! With the click of a button, visitors can gain access by logging in with their LinkedIn or Facebook profiles.
Using social login allows you to collect much more data and will give you more insight into the interests and demographics of your viewers than a traditional form would provide. (Tweet that!)
On top of that, it eliminates the problem of "fake leads" — users that fill in bogus contact info when they download your white paper. Social login ensures that the data you get is always accurate.
Can't Decide? Use Semi-Gated White Papers
When you order a nice bottle of wine at a restaurant, your server gives you the opportunity to taste it and ensure it meets your expectations before committing to the whole bottle. Well, why shouldn’t you offer the same sort of experience with your white papers and ebooks?
Semi-gated white papers allow you to prove your worth by letting visitors access the first couple pages, and then presenting them with a form or social login to continue reading.
If your readers have already had a taste of your content, and then choose to opt in and keep reading, it tells you that their level of interest is higher, potentially making them an even hotter lead!
Another similar option is to provide a “skip the form” option to allow visitors to read your content without providing their personal information. You will still gather details from those who are highly interested, but you'll also avoid turning away those who'd rather not share their info.
Capture Info With Ungated White papers
If you decide not gating your white papers is the way to go, there are still ways to capture data about your readers. Consider inserting compelling call-to-action forms within your content for additional or related offers. Some visitors might opt in after reading what you have to say.
If you use interactive white papers, you can (and should) also add a retargeting pixel so that you can reach readers later with additional content or offers on other channels.
So, as you can see, the decision depends largely on the goal you have in mind for your ebooks and white papers — and this will vary depending on your larger business objectives and marketing strategy.
If lead generation is what you're after, gating makes a lot of sense. If your primary goal is to create brand awareness, boost your SEO and get your name out there, not gating is a solid option.
Luckily, the decision "to gate or not to gate" no longer has to be a matter of either/or. With digital white papers, you can both increase brand awareness and simultaneously collect visitor information using clever options like semi-gating and social login.
Daan Reijnders is the co-founder and CEO of Foleon, a content experience platform that amassed 1000+ clients all over the world in under 3 years. He's a digital marketing veteran with years of experience in managing both SaaS companies and creative agencies.