If you build it, they will come. Right?
That was the strategy The New York Times – and nearly every other newspaper – followed when it built an online presence. Back then, readers didn’t have to shell out a dime for access to the Grey Lady of the Web. More recently, the Times has experimented with pay structures – from putting a price tag on columnists’ opinions to delivering curated stories to subscribers’ iPads – as it became clearer there wasn’t enough money in those Gucci banner ads.
Next year the Times will begin charging for unlimited access to its site, effectively putting a white picket fence around its yard. The paper is doing some pretty obvious math here. No doubt, it will lose some of its readership online, said Jeffrey Seglin, a professor at Emerson College and author of an ethics column that was syndicated by the Times. But it hopes any loss in audience will be more than made up for with a gain in revenue.
“Something has to change,” Seglin said. “Clearly, advertising is not supporting” the business.
The free vs. pay-wall debate taking place among the mainstream press mirrors a similar discussion among those adopting a content marketing strategy. When is the best time to make your content publicly available and when should you throw up a registration form? Should your content live in an open, mixed-use environment or a gated community?
There are pluses and minuses to both tactics. If you go mixed-use it increases the likelihood of your musings, videos and research going viral, but collects less information on leads. If you move to a gated community you get more detailed leads but create roadblocks to your content getting passed around.
There’s no hard and fast rule to guide B2B marketers here. But that doesn’t mean there are no guidelines.
A solid lead generation strategy does both, Craig Rosenberg, author of the blog Funnelholic, told me. The appetite for content online is insatiable so marketers would be wise to indulge the public with registration-free content, Craig says. “I do believe that if people are addicted to content without the reg-path and you path stuff, it better be remarkable.”
Rosenberg says the “vast majority” of your marketing funnel should be free without asking potential clients for personal info. Save the registration forms for further down the funnel where more research-heavy content like whitepapers resides.
After I asked Craig his thoughts, he posed the question on Focus and received some pretty intriguing answers from some very smart people. Probably the most succinct reply came from Chris Jablonski, author Emerging Tech blog on ZDNet, who provided the following formula: 10% to 20% fully gated content, 20% to 30% name and email only, and 50% to 70% completely free.
At Eloqua, our policy is the further down the funnel the prospect gets, the higher the gate. But that corresponds with raising the bar on the overall quality of the intelligence we share.
Of course, maybe the most important point in this debate is determining when your content is valuable enough to lure a lead. Organizations should always aim to produce the best content, whether it’s publicly available or gated. But if you’re going to ask someone for their info, you definitely want to make sure you don’t waste their time with a lightweight, unimaginative product.
So what’s your strategy? Does your content live in a mixed-use environment, a gated community or both?