Content marketing is the hot topic these days, but lead generation marketers are faced with a conundrum: How do I get the visibility for my content via organic search while at the same time capturing leads?
Are SEO and gated content mutually exclusive? There’s no magic answer to this question, but there are some important considerations to address in order to decide your course of action.
First and foremost, from an SEO perspective, it’s important to understand that search engine robots and humans are not equal. Search robots navigate and read a site very differently than a human will, and search robots can’t always perform the same tasks that a human will on a website.
Gating content involves adding a lead generation form in front of the content in some way, essentially blocking human visitors from viewing the content without providing information via a form.
But search robots won’t fill out forms; they don’t have a name, email address or phone number. Search bots view most forms as almost a brick wall — gating the content from humans essentially walls it off to search robots.
When I’m deciding which content to gate, I think about what the content’s purpose is. What is its goal? For example, if the goal is to encourage inbound links, then gating the content will potentially hinder you as the gate presents a barrier to consumption.
Along with the goal, I consider how I’ll be promoting that content. For example, if the goal of the content is to encourage sharing via social networks, infographics work nicely. However, if I allow people to freely share the infographic via social media, there’s no incentive for prospective leads to visit the site and fill out the lead capture form, since they’ve already consumed the content elsewhere.
Finally, I consider the value of the content. Often, when I speak about landing pages and conversion, I talk about information currency. A site visitor’s information is a type of currency. When the visitor sees an offer, be it for a piece of content or otherwise, the visitor considers the value of that content. How much currency is it worth? Is it worth a visitor’s email address and name? Phone number? Is the content worth 20 form fields or three? As a content producer, I estimate that value, but I typically break it down into two categories: worth offering currency and not worth offering currency.
These three factors — purpose, promotion and value — may mean that some content may not be gated on the site but other content is.
Once you’ve decided to gate some (or all) of the content on your site, you’ll need to promote it. As mentioned above, if there’s no direct link path to the content so that the search bots can get by the form (as human visitors would), then you risk blocking the bots from this content — and thus blocking the content from being indexed and ranked.
There are, however, two creative approaches you can use to gate content and still provide a gateway to the search bots.
Preview/Summary Pages with Gates
Preview or summary pages essentially provide a snippet of the information — like an executive summary — to visitors prior to being presented with a gate. Preview pages also provide an opportunity to share a summary with the search bots which can then be indexed and ranked, drawing organic traffic to the preview page.
I find this to be one of the more common approaches to balancing both SEO and lead generation requirements. Here’s an example of Pardot’s summary page for a resource on its website:
The clear benefit of this page is that it allows the brand to add a keyword-rich summary page, well-optimized for SEO, and to provide a way for the visitor to sign up on the same page.
Tread lightly using this approach. If misused, search engines may consider this approach “cloaking” and may penalize your site for it. Nonetheless, this approach clearly makes sense in certain situations to help both the search robots and the user have the most streamlined experiences on the site.
First, what do I mean by “cloaking”? Google defines cloaking as “the practice of presenting different content or URLs to human users and search engines.” In other words, if you intentionally show a human visitor something different from what you show a search engine robot, this could technically be considered cloaking by Google’s definition.
In fairness, while technically this page is showing something to the human visitor (me) that is different from what search engine robots see, the New York Times feels this is a necessary approach to monetize its web traffic.
Google has said that paywalls may result in reduced visibility in the search results. In a 2009 interview with Danny Sullivan, Josh Cohen of Google News addresses paywalls, indicating in the article that Google isn’t necessarily opposed to them, but cloaking has to be considered and avoided.
If you do choose to gate content, here are a few tips you may consider following to improve user engagement as well:
Most importantly, remember that if you do choose to gate content, the search robots cannot get past the gate without one of these workarounds. So be sure to allow search robots access to some level of content (preview or the content itself) to help with indexing.
Stock image used with permission of Shutterstock.com