Let’s Talk About Content Gating

Ewww… Right? At least the way most people implement it. We’ll start by looking at the Wall Street Journal.

Let’s say you’re on Twitter, and a friend shares a WSJ link with you, you click it, read like 1-2 paragraphs and then you hit this bad boy:

Yuck! What a terrible experience.

Seriously. I have no idea how many people they convert with this tactic, but it can’t be more than 0.001%.

Let’s look at it from two different angles:

From the WSJ’s perspective

  • The WSJ creates content.
  • Their print newspaper is one of the most widely respected sources of information in the world.
  • They charge money for their print newspaper.
  • Clearly they can’t just give the same information away for free online, else no one would pay for the print newspaper.
  • So what do they do? Well, they aggressively gate their content, and try to get anyone and everyone to subscribe to a paid plan on the first visit to their site.

From the users perspective

  • You see a WSJ link on Twitter.
  • The title looks interesting, so you click it.
  • You hit the page above and get about a paragraph in before you’re slapped in the face by the subscribe/sign in blocker.
  • The WSJ may have earned your trust over the years as a reputable source of information, but they’ve failed to deliver any semblance of value before asking you to commit to a paid subscription.
  • So naturally, you bail and go back to your Twitter feed.

If you look at this interaction visually, going straight for the paid subscription is so clearly the wrong approach:

Honestly, content gating feels like a classic case of trying to optimize for the short-term over the long-term, something I can never really endorse.

But what do you do if you find yourself in a situation where the company you work for wants you to experiment with content gating?

Well, we know that there are wrong ways to do it, 😆 but are there any options that might potentially work for both the company and your users?

Truthfully, it’s a fine line to walk, but if you’re going to test gating you should check out the First Round Capital blog.

Out of all the content gating examples that I’ve seen over the years, this one feels the least offensive. Check it out:

You can see it in action below:

The reason why this approach feels somewhat acceptable is that they give the user the option to opt out by clicking the “No thanks!” link. In doing so, the person is able to continue reading the article.

To reiterate, I’m not a fan of content gating. That said, if I was put in a position where I had no choice, this is the approach that I would probably lobby for.

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