For all owners of businesses and organizations, there are a number of questions that must be answered in the process of setting up and managing a web site. One of those questions is whether or not to use gated content. Having gated content on your site, meaning content that must be unlocked via some sort of opt-in or paid subscription process, can be a smart move, allowing you to capitalize on your exclusivity and creativity. However, putting a paywall can also seem unfriendly or off-putting to newcomers. Additionally, depending on how you set up the gated content, you can inadvertently have a negative impact on your SEO, causing the site to be ranked low on Google’s search results or not show up at all.
When to Consider Using Gated Content
The most straightforward benefit to the use of gated content is, of course, earning an actual income from your viewers. However, there are several other benefits to consider. For starters, there’s the matter of customer loyalty. Someone who goes through the trouble of subscribing to your articles is more likely to consider them valuable and to continue subscribing in the future. Additionally, this allows you to collect more data on your users, which is critical when it comes to making beneficial changes to your services.
What Kind of Gated Content Should You Use?
If you’re seriously contemplating employing this particular strategy, the next step is figuring out what kind of gated content is best to use. You could opt for shutting all the information available on your site behind a paywall, but that means none of your posts can be indexed by Google Search, making it extremely difficult for new viewers to find you. A better solution is to find a way to display enough of your content free of charge to entice newcomers and be listed in search results while keeping the rest gated off.
There are three popular ways to accomplish this. The first is the “lead-in” option. This is where you provide the introduction to your content to your readers free of charge. If they wish to read more, they will need to subscribe. This is a common strategy used with academic journals, where an abstract or initial page is openly accessible, but the rest of the article is locked. The Wall Street Journal operates in much the same way. The idea is to get readers hooked with a very compelling textual appetizer of sorts, compelling them to sign up so they can finish reading the article. For this to work, you need to have a captivating title, followed by a well-worded, powerful introduction.
The second option offers a little more upfront to your readers. It consists of rationing what they are able to access based on the number of articles and posts. This means they can read full pieces from start to finish but are limited to only three or so per month, after which they are shown a notice asking if they would like to subscribe for more. An additional perk of this option is that it helps your readers keep track of their reading habits. If someone notices they are repeatedly maxing out their number of free articles, they might decide it’s worth it to pay for a subscription after all. This method is employed by organizations like The New York Times and The Washington Post.
The third and final option is the most openly accessible to readers of the three, also known as the “premium” option. In this case, most of the basic content on the site is freely available. However, there are additional premium or expanded features only available with a subscription. Statista is an example of such a setup.
Also worthy of mention is the fact that the “gate” locking away your content doesn’t necessarily have to involve money at all. Though most people assume there’s a cost when they hear the word “subscription,” that’s not the only choice you have. Some websites, such as Whole Whale, opt to use email signups instead of monetary pledges. In their case, getting people to join their network via an email list is extremely useful and less of a dealbreaker to new viewers. The use of email signups or forms filled could easily be used in conjunction with any of the three methods detailed above, as for which of the three you decide to apply to your website, that depends heavily on the type of content you provide, and how you want users to interact with it.
Is This the Right Choice For You?
Even with all the information discussed above, it’s possible that gated content is simply not the right move for you. There are several disadvantages to moving forward with this choice. People are less likely to spend time on a site that requires them to go through multiple steps to access what they’re looking for, such as filling out a long subscription form. Additionally, those that do subscribe are less likely to share your content with their friends since they would be unable to access the information, hurting your SEO
The other big factor involved when people are deciding to subscribe to your services is whether or not the product is worth the price. In this case, if viewers are able to find equivalent articles with the same sort of information elsewhere, for free, then they are extremely unlikely to be willing to pay for it. The content you choose to gate must be unique and valuable in order to be marketable.
Ultimately you need to ask yourself what you want to achieve most with your website. A large audience with a wide reach? Or long term commitment from a loyal consumer base? The decision is yours to make.