Free, Gated, or Paid: Which Is Right for Your Content?

free, gated, or paid content which is best

So, you’ve been working hard at developing stellar content. You’ve been consistently putting out content across your various channels: a blog, a podcast, an ebook, a webinar, infographics. You’ve cultivated a unique voice and personality. But how much thought have you put into the way you’re delivering that content to your audience?

Content marketers are endlessly discussing whether it’s more effective to give content away, to gate it behind a subscription sign-up, or to use a paywall. For some using a combination of the three, it’s a question of which content to give away and which to gate. Others advocate that all content should have no strings attached.

Here’s a rundown of the benefits of each content model—free, gated, and paid—as well as some tips for deciding whether (and when) to gate your content or offer it for free.

First Things First…

None of these content models are one-size-fits-all. What works best for your company (and your particular type of content) at a given time won’t necessarily work for everybody else or indefinitely. When considering how best to get your content out in the world, it’s important to take several factors into account. Think about

  • The Medium of the Content
    Not every type of content works in a paid or gated model. Blog posts, short articles, podcasts, brief videos, infographics—anything short and fairly casual both in tone and in the amount of audience engagement required—are best suited to a free model. Webinars, online courses, and long, thoroughly researched articles and ebooks work well as gated or paid content.
  • The Value (and Perceived Value) of the Content
    Customers are willing to reciprocate for true value. If your content is robust and useful, customers will consider subscribing or paying for it a fair exchange. And while everybody likes to get free stuff, we don’t necessarily value it very highly. Charging for content can increase its perceived value to customers.
  • Your Investment in Creating the Content
    Content like webinars, ebooks, or online courses take a lot of time and resources to create. Not only are you getting return on your investment by gating or charging for content that’s required a significant investment on your part, you will more accurately represent its value to customers.
  • Your Company’s Current Development and Goals
    If you’re in the early stages of your company’s development—growing your clientele and building a trusted reputation—sticking with a free-content model primarily (or even entirely) may be your best bet. Free content increases visibility and lets customers get to know and trust you. Offering high-quality free content can also give you an edge over your competitors who don’t do the same. At the other end of the spectrum, if your company is established and has a loyal customer base, those consumers are probably willing to pay for the product or service they’ve come to love.

Free Content

Personable, personality-filled free content humanizes your company and makes it relatable to consumers, building customer trust. Directing visitors to other valuable resources helps establish your authority in your field.

Content with no barriers in front of it is easily found through search and shareable with readers’ networks, making it extremely conducive to growing your audience. It’s also more likely to be downloaded than content that requires a sign-up to do so.

If a particular piece of content is short, useful, and quickly actionable—a blog post, a podcast episode, a form template, or infographic, for example—and doesn’t ask too much in the way of reader attention span, offer it for free. More good choices for free content offerings are repurposed excerpts (such as lists of takeaways or short video clips) of more in-depth content. These can also be used as a free teaser or promo for paid content.

Bonus: Free content is a great way to test-drive content you can later compile in a book or ebook, repurpose as a course or speech, and more.

Often free content can act as a “breadcrumb” to entice visitors to sign up: offer a morsel of helpful free content, proving the quality of what you have to offer, and your audience likely won’t mind subscribing to receive more. Which brings us to…

Gated Content

At a point in your company’s development where you have a wide reach but are looking to increase conversion (moving website visitors or audience members to actual site users or buyers)? Gating content is a good strategy for this situation. Using a gate to restrict access will increase leads, as well as help you to identify and better connect with your particular niche audience—those who subscribe in order to keep your content coming.

Again, consider the type of content and your investment in it. Any articles on the longer side, long-form video or a video series, and similar forms are good candidates for gated content.

Paid Content

Thorough, information-rich content—especially content you’ve invested considerable time and resources into creating—is worth paying for. Webinars, ebooks, and online learning courses are good bets for the paid content model. This model also allows you to provide customers with one-on-one consultation or in-depth education. Customers view personalized attention and game-changing insights as worthwhile investments.

Your paid content may overlap with information scattered across content you’re sharing for free. But customers are often willing to pay for that information bundled into one convenient package, particularly if you guide them through it in a clear and intuitive way.

Paid content can give customers the feeling that they’re an insider, a part of an exclusive group with a competitive edge. Customers who pay to continue their education are also more engaged learners (wanting to get what they paid for!) and more likely to actually implement the information in their own lives.

Only you know which of these models—or a combination of the three—will work best for you. Taking a good look at the types and value of your content, your investment in creating it, and your company’s current goals can help you decide what’s right for your company.

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