Free, paid or gated content: Which option is right for you?

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What content should you give away for free, and should you charge for any?

One of the biggest questions online marketers have is what content should they give away for free (or in exchange for an email address/contact information). Sometimes it’s hard to know what you should share for free versus when you should charge for the information. This is an important strategic decision.

Free, gated or paid content? What’s right?

When you’re trying to decide whether or not to share content freely, gate it (require an email address or contact information) or charge for it, you need to think about your overall marketing goals. If you’re trying to build an email list and want to sell those people a product or service in the future, then gating content in exchange for their contact information may be the right option.

If you’re looking to boost your SEO efforts and build your website’s domain authority through earned links, then gating content may not be the best option, and sharing it freely might be better.

And finally, if you’re trying to drive revenue from your content, then you may not want to give everything away for free — however, you probably need some free content so that people get a feeling for who you are — your writing, teaching style and so on.

Work backwards

When you create each new piece of content, start with the end in mind. You should work your way backwards. What is the end goal for this piece of content? Do you want it to drive leads, attract links or generate revenue?

If you want to it drive leads, then you probably want to gate the content. And gating it means that your content has to be so good people will believe it’s worth trading their email address in order to access the piece.

If you want to build your SEO and your site’s authority, then your content needs to be engaging and so good that people will want to share it with their friends, family and readers. The content needs to solve their biggest issues.

If your goal is to drive revenue through your content, you need to determine if you want to drive revenue directly — for example, by selling your content or training programs — or indirectly, through ads or affiliate marketing links. In either situation, you’ll need to craft great content that people engage with and want to consume.

However, if you’re hoping to sell your content directly, you’ll need to have some free content available for people to read before committing to a purchase. You’ll also need to capture email addresses and nurture those leads for a period of time before attempting to sell your content.

Do your audience and your goals align?

Once you’ve identified your goal for the content, then think about the audience you’re targeting with this piece. Does your audience targeting align with your end goal?

If you’re not sure, I’d recommend you do a bit of research and ask your audience, or have several beta testers check out your content first. If you launch a piece of content that your target audience isn’t interested in or doesn’t think is useful, it’s not going to perform well.

What type of content is best?

When you’re creating content, you have multiple options: written, audio, video. You need to think about both your end goals and your audience. You can deliver free, paid or gated content via any of those content types.

What you need to determine is which type of content your target audience is the most likely to consume. Do they have time to read a blog post, or is it a topic that translates better to audio? Or would a video really pull it all together for them?

As with most content development, the most important factor in your decision for free, paid or gated content should be your overall strategy and your audience. You need to make sure your goals align with your audience’s needs.

It’s not enough to create a piece of content just because you want to build an email list, make money or attract a bunch of links. You have to make sure that your audience needs the information you’re sharing and that you’ve created it in a format they want.

Focus on creating great content that serves your audience and helps solve their issues. Don’t be afraid of giving away too much for free.

Sharing knowledge and becoming someone’s go-to resource can be a great content marketing strategy. The more frequently your website, blog or social media channel is visited, the more you stay top-of-mind for the consumer, and they’ll be more likely to purchase from you when they need your product or service.

Create great content on a consistent basis. Gate the pieces that you believe your audience will feel are helpful enough to warrant sharing their email address, and keep the pieces that you think will attract a lot of links free and easy to find and share.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Rachel Lindteigen is the President and Founder of Etched Marketing and the former Senior Director, Content Marketing for PMX Agency. Rachel has over 20 years of content writing, editing and strategy development and 10 years of digital marketing experience. She works with many top e-commerce retailers and crafts both local and national level SEO strategies. Rachel has a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from the Walter Cronkite School for Journalism and Telecommunications at Arizona State University and an MBA in Marketing.


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