The Basics of Gated Content for School Marketers

What is the point of creating and sharing valuable content — content that often provides insights and information that  your school has taken years of experience to cultivate?

To build a trusted relationship with your audience. 

While giving away your knowledge may seem counterintuitive, it’s a great way to prove your expertise and create a meaningful connection with prospective families and students. But a trusted relationship doesn’t need to be one-sided: if you are providing your audience with true value, you can ask for something in return.

This is theory behind gated content, or content that is only available once a user submits requested information, such as a name and email address.

What makes good gated content?

Your gated content should be a step above the content your audience can find in an ungated format. It should be…

Unique: Gate perspectives and insights that people can’t find anywhere else.

Substantial: This doesn’t necessarily mean long. Your gated content can be an eBook created out of a series of related blog posts or a short but insanely helpful checklist. Either way, your audience has to immediately see that there’s value in giving you some information in exchange for what’s behind the gate.

Pretty: If you haven’t taken the time to make your content look professional, it won’t be taken as seriously. Make it look as good as it is!

Where do you begin?

What will your gated content be about? Ask yourself these questions to get your brainstorm session started:

What is the most popular post/article/video you’ve created in the past six months? Take that and build it out into a larger, more comprehensive piece of content.

What are the most common questions your prospective students and families ask? Write down as many as you can in five minutes. Now, answer those questions. Could your answers be turned into a short guide to your school?

Is there a process your prospective students and families typically go through when choosing a school? Write out all of the steps in that process, providing helpful tips where possible. Turn that into a checklist or template for them to follow.

Do you have a series of blog posts or other pieces of content on the same topic? Consider combining these into a larger ebook.

What is the reason you most often hear from students and families who DON’T choose your school? Use that barrier to create an opportunity by directly addressing it in a piece of content that counteracts that concern.

Is there more information you wanted to add to an existing post or article that didn’t make the cut? Perhaps you had to leave some information out for brevity, or because of its complexity. If the post is a popular one, consider creating a piece of gated content specific to that post. Turn the extra information into a checklist or tips sheet, so readers can continue exploring the topic.

What advice or knowledge do people always ask you to share? Your school’s expertise in various areas—from admission to academic subjects—represents valuable knowledge you have to offer! Use those insights to create content you can share in lieu of your valuable time, and that will demonstrate what makes your school great.

What format should your gated content take?

Often, choosing the topic will help lead you to the best format for your gated content, but here are some of the best ways to turn your knowledge into powerful lead magnets:

Free eBooks
Provide a document that’s substantial and valuable at a price point that can’t be beat (FREE!), and your audience will pay you with loyalty and personal insights.

There are endless possibilities for creating gate-worthy eBooks, from combining blog posts on a topic, to writing a how-to guide, to crafting an illustrated story book and more. Want additional inspiration? Download our Big Workbook of eBook Ideas.

Cheat sheets
There’s one thing you can learn from browsing Pinterest for a few minutes, and that is that people love hacks (or, “cheats” that make a process easier).

If you can show your audience how to do something faster, easier AND better, you’re on to something. Create a worksheet that outlines those simple “cheats” that have allowed you to take the friction out of a common process prospective families encounter, and offer it as a gated download. Make the layout user-friendly so that they can check off steps or take notes.

Secrets & tips
Do you have success secrets that you can share with your audience to help them get ahead, or to gain a new perspective on a common topic? Give away your insights! Put your best secrets or tips together to create a guide that helps your audience learn.

If you can provide your audience with easy-to-follow steps that will help them solve a problem, you can create a valuable piece of gated content. Step-by-step processes are extremely popular because they allow readers to follow a logical sequence to get to their desired end result.

Webinars are a fantastic way to boost audience engagement and capture insights. They give your prospective students and families the opportunity to learn and ask questions, right from the comfort of their own home.

Webinars can be used as gated content for both the live version and by offering past webinars as gated content on-demand. A lot of research and resources go into developing and promoting webinars, so you want to make the most of this content.

While you definitely do not want to gate all or even most of your content, a balance between gated and free content will prove your expertise and heighten the value of your relationship with your audience.

What information should you request?

While it would be nice if we could find out every detail of a prospect through one piece of gated content, that’s not going to happen. The simpler it is, the more likely your audience is to give you their information. Entering a name and email address takes a few seconds, but entering a name, email address, mailing address and phone number takes twice as long.

Besides time, there’s the general annoyance factor. Why do you need to know someone’s phone number if they just want to check out the school guide you created? You don’t want to frustrate your audience or make them wary of you, so make sure you’re asking for necessary information first.

HubSpot’s progressive profiling tool provides a phenomenal solution to this problem by asking new questions of repeat visitors, but if you don’t have access to such a tool, make sure your ask is in alignment with what the prospect will get.

How should you promote gated content?

If you’ve created a piece of content that’s unique, substantial and pretty, you’ve invested a good chunk of time into its creation and need that time to pay off. Once you’ve created and gated your piece, it’s time to promote it.

Consider adding a sidebar call out to your website and blog. Reference the piece where it makes sense to do so, whether that be in copy on your website or a call-to-action on your blog. Share it on social media. Include mention in your enewsletter.

A well-done piece of gated content can help create more opportunities for lasting connections with prospective students and families, giving you better chances of taking them from curious to interested to enrolled.

Need some help brainstorming the gated content idea that your prospective students and families will love? There’s more help in the Big Workbook of eBook Ideas.


Comments are closed for this post.
  • Hi, Stacy,
    I appreciate your article. I think requested something like email sign up is a very fair trade for Gated Content. I also agree that you have to offer something special with exceptional information. Thank you, again, for your reminder to use Gated Content. This will be added to my Content Steps List. It’s basically a to-dolist which includes everything that needs to be done to effectively create and promote my content, so I don’t miss a step. I am a lists person. 🙂

    roxann souci - November 9, 2014 at 4:01 pm
  • Roxann, your Content Steps List is a great idea! We create something similar for our clients. You’re right, it’s easy to forget something and a checklist can provide peace of mind that you’ve covered everything, even on the most hectic days!

    Stacy Firth - November 17, 2014 at 9:05 pm

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