Business Unusual: To Gate or Not to Gate?

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During changing times it’s hard not to second guess our instincts, and small business owners need to keep generating customers, as well as respect their bandwidth. In this 3rd part of our talk with Justin Dunham from Ercule, we discuss gated content and how to keep Google loving your website.

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Jill McKenna: Thanks everyone for joining us today. I am Jill McKenna. I’m the campaign marketing manager at Ruby. And I’m delighted to be speaking with Justin Dunham today from Ercule. Justin, thanks for joining me.

Justin Dunham:
Hey, Jill. Yeah, it’s great to talk to you today. I am, as you said, Justin Dunham, I started Ercule a few years ago and I work with the team and we are a content performance and SEO agency. So we focus on taking existing content marketing that people are doing and really making it work all the way up and down the content stack, and also optimizing the entirety of our client’s library so that they get the most out of that.

Jill McKenna:
So I just wanted to get your thoughts if you have any about gated versus ungated content at this time and how it’s working. And by gated, if folks don’t use it out there, asking folks to fill out a form or add their email to something in order to gain a piece of content like an eGuide or eBook. How’s that working in this environment and is that changing?

Justin Dunham:
Yeah, so gating is a very complicated topic. I would say a few things about it. Number one: just to get this out of the way, a lot of people are saying, you know, we don’t really think we should be gating our content. And the rationale there is that gating really hinders the performance of your content because all of your best stuff is unfindable by Google. It’s behind a form or somebody doesn’t necessarily want to fill it out, et cetera. And that’s kind of a bummer for all the best content that you worked really hard to produce. With that said, the way that if you did not use gating, you would engage customers, is you have to have a lot of faith and be very strategic that we’re producing the right things, we’re looking at metrics, and ultimately people are coming back and they’re reaching out to us. And that can take time to build and to know that you’re doing the right thing.

Justin Dunham:
So I think gating is kind of slowly going away, but I also think that it’s very understandable why people will be skeptical of not gating content. With that said, if you decide to gate content, there are a lot of things that you can do to make it work way, way better. So number one major thing, and I’d be saying this, even if I weren’t talking to you or talking to anybody, is having a live chat is really helpful for a couple of reasons; number one: if you can engage somebody through live chat, that’s a much more pleasant experience that having them fill out a form and get back to them. And so that could be a really good way to kind of make that experience better.

Justin Dunham:
Number two is when you have that experience with them, you’re typically able to move them through the funnel a little bit faster. You’re not relying on them to do their own education process you’re helping surface the right questions to them. So if you are going to gate content, live chat can really help. If live chat is not a possibility, and with the technology out there today, I have to say I think it is for basically everybody, and you are focused on the form or forms of just what you’re doing now, really the key things are you want to have as few form fields as possible. And there’s lots of technologies out there that can help you reduce the number of form fields you have. And you really need to explain, you need to do this whenever you post content, exactly why the content is valuable, what it’s going to help somebody do, and so on. That transaction of, you fill out a form and you get a content, is something you have to sell just like you have to sell your product later.

Jill McKenna:
Yeah, that makes a whole lot of sense. I hope this doesn’t get us too far into the weeds, but we’re going to see.

Justin Dunham:
That’s great.

Jill McKenna:
Something I’m curious about. I know a lot of young entrepreneurs or small businesses that are really quick growing startups, they build a really dynamic website. That’s very important of course. It’s the front page of their business or the front door of their business. But I also see them get paralyzed by this idea of Google’s algorithm changing and this fear around I’ve built all of this stuff and one day it might not matter. Can you speak a little bit to that fear and how that actually unfolds when it happens?

Justin Dunham:
Yeah. So a couple of things on that. First of all, absolutely justified. Like not absolutely justifying the sense of it’s definitely going to happen, but business owners have a lot of concerns and that could be one of them. And you could say the same thing about Facebook; cost per engagement on Facebook continues to go up. You can say the same thing about Twitter. You can say the same thing about all of these other channels. The nice thing about content is it really helps you build your audience so that you own your audience and get in touch with them without necessarily relying on other channels like that. However, it’s not really in Google’s interest to do that. And realistically, what we’ve seen is for people who are producing the right content, that’s again high quality and is authentic and intended to reach people and help them, we’ve only seen either neutral or mostly positive effects from algorithm changes.

Justin Dunham:
So if you are trying to hack Google, which we never recommend, and a lot of other SEOs do recommend it, we don’t, then yeah you might want to be a little bit concerned about that. But if you’re focused on consistently producing high quality content that comes out of what your value proposition is, that you’re uniquely positioned to provide, number one, probably don’t really need to worry about it because it’s not really in Google’s interest to deprioritize high quality content. Number two, content is an asset that you own and you can redeploy it wherever you want. So we don’t just talk about Google. We also think about social and Slack communities and email. We always tell our clients, you’re going to deploy your content everywhere, not just on organic search. And number three is it’s a good reason to focus on building your audience as quickly as you can, because the audience is something that you own. You can get in touch with them. And content and authority and trust are the best ways that you can do that.

Jill McKenna:
So when does a small business owner know it is time to hire a content creator for their team and when can they still keep using freelance and contract writers? What’s the right threshold there?

Justin Dunham:
Yeah, that’s a really good question. I would say that it really differs for every company. A lot of it depends on how complex the product is. And as a company matures, one of the things that tends to happen is the product gets more valuable, but also more complex and covers more use cases. And there’s lots of other things that at that point is where we see, Hey, we need to have somebody in house because we need to have somebody who has used the product, can talk to everybody and really understands it. So there isn’t one point that I would pick, but I would say the way to think about it is, do you feel like you have freelancers who are empowered enough to talk to customers and talk to people at your company and really understand the product at the level it needs to be understood and it has the potential to be understood at?

Justin Dunham:
And once you get to a point where you start building out these use cases, you start taking on enterprise customers that are larger and other things like that if you’re B2B, that’s again where you start thinking about, maybe I need somebody in house who can really have their whole brain dedicated to this.

Jill McKenna:
Great. That makes perfect sense. But that adds to the question of when does a company then know it’s the right time to use somebody like Ercule or call in a partnership with Ercule and create one? What’s the right point in time or development to start doing that?

Justin Dunham:
Yeah. And so we have the most success with clients who have usually, sometimes they’ll have a freelancer or two, usually having a full-time content marketer [inaudible 00:08:05] is a good time to bring us in. The way Ercule works is that we are meant to be a force multiplier for your content team. So we’ve designed our offerings that it’s extremely efficient, really focused on the fundamentals. Quite honestly, very competitively priced and much more effective than a lot of other solutions out there, agency solutions. And so the way we typically talk to clients is we say, well, you’re making an investment of X in your content. And if you think about the fully loaded cost of your content marketers, and you think about people are working on your website, you think about your demand generation people, put all of that in your content budget. And we come in and we’re a very small fraction of that larger cost, but we tend to increase effectiveness quite a lot, especially given the investment.

Justin Dunham:
So folks usually bring in Ercule when they’ve got, again, smallish content team. We’ve had clients who have a really good freelancer who’s focused. We’ve also had clients who have three, four or five full-time content marketers, and sometimes larger. And then we can come in and sort of answer very specific questions, help with the strategic aspect of things like how do we organize and think about our content plans? And also help with what is our strategy and what’s going to work to make sure distribution is effective. [crosstalk 00:09:23].

Jill McKenna:
All right. Thank you so much Justin. Take care.

Justin Dunham:
All right. Thanks a lot, Jill. It’s great talking. Bye.

Jill McKenna:
Have a good one.

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