Hubspot Inbound 2020 fuels marketing debates - inbound vs outbound. To gate, or not to gate?

Profile picture for user barb.mosher By Barb Mosher Zinck October 1, 2020
Summary:
Hubspot Inbound 2020 sparked a classic content marketing debate - gate your content, or set it free for search and social? Inbound for the win, or outbound with an ABM twist? Here's what we learned.

professor-questioning

Anyone in marketing loves a good debate, and at the HubSpot Inbound conference, there were a couple that marketers everywhere regularly have.

It probably wasn't that long ago when marketers gated all their content except the website behind a form. Many still do it today.

After all, lead generation is all about getting leads, and you can't get leads if someone doesn't sign up for something, right? But does it make sense to gate all your content? The answer is no. There's a little more to it than that, though.

In this Inbound debate, AJ Beltis, Marketing Manager at HubSpot, sat on the Gated side of the argument, kind of. He acknowledged that you don't want to gate everything because it will mess with SEO and organic traffic. However, he said you do need a "next step best action."

Beltis argued that traffic to your site isn't enough. And measuring performance on traffic metrics is simply looking at vanity metrics, especially if that's all you are looking at. When you gate content, you are giving customers something in return for their information. You are getting a database of individuals that know and trust your brand.

Some content is meant to be gated, Beltis said. He talked about the pillar pages that HubSpot created (also known as Skyscraper pages). These are in-depth web pages packed with information on a topic. They are great for SEO, but they hurt HubSpot's conversion rate. His recommendation is to use these types of pages still but to offer something gated along with them, like a set of templates. The idea behind this additional gated content is to provide that clear next step in the form of helpful resources.

Beltis said that the right gated content would drive an increase in leads. And, if you are in the camp of marketers who are struggling to prove the value of their content programs, gating content can help. 

Ashley Faus, Content Strategy Lead at Atlassian, took the opposite stance and is a firm believer in not gating content (although she did admit that some of Atlassian's content is gated). Her perspective is that there is a huge SEO impact of ungated content. A key thing you need to do, she said, is enable social sharing, giving people who read your content the ability to share and republish that content elsewhere. 

Faus said that your audience is hanging out in places you aren't. This is not a field of dreams movie: "if you build it, they will come." She also talked about using content within your product to make it stickier (this is primarily for SaaS-product companies like Atlassian). 

Her best argument was that marketers need to talk more about humans and not leads/customers. We have to build relationships, and we can do that by providing content that helps people learn or do something. Faus said that gating educational content is not a signal of BANT (budget, authority, need, and timeline). There's too much work to figure out if that lead is truly in-market, and most of the time, you are wasting your SDRs time.

A few more points from Beltis:

  • Backlinks are great, but you need that next step.
  • It's great that people are reading your content, but sharing isn't necessarily great - "it's traffic for the sake of traffic."
  • You need people to nurture - "5% is better than 0%."

From Faus:

  • You shouldn't put up barriers to prove your content is worthy of attention.
  • Always pair gated and ungated content.
  • If you are going to gate, make sure that content is high quality, tiered content.
  • If you are only focused on bounce rates, clicks, and conversion, you will have trouble with the "human to human" relationship you need to build.

Inbound vs. Outbound

An interesting debate to have an inbound conference, but many marketers question which tactic is better to focus their attention on. I didn't like this debate as much as the gated one; it was a little hard to follow the benefits of one over the other. And the truth is most brands do both (and a little account-based marketing as well). 

To clarify, inbound is about creating content and experiences that drive people to you, particularly your website. Outbound marketing, or demand generation, is focused on actively reaching out to people you think would want to buy your product. 

George B. Thomas, Inbound Evangelist for Impulse Creative, was, of course, pro-inbound. Whereas Doug Davidoff, founder, and CEO of Imagine Business Development, was on the side of outbound marketing. 

To start, Thomas talked about the need to know your audience when developing inbound marketing. He said to focus your SEO on problems people are trying to solve and provide them value. Inbound, he said, is about them, it's not about you. It's also about being human (there's that discussion about being human again). Inbound is easier to measure than outbound, Thomas said. 

On the outbound side, Davidoff acknowledged that bad outbound should be illegal. Good outbound is about finding fit and searching for pain. It's about building relationships. Davidoff said that inbound is a great philosophy, but tactically it's expensive. He called it "bulging funnel disorder." And, he pointed out, even Google offers ways to keep people off your website.

Outbound is also focused on your ideal companies over personas, Davidoff said, making your marketing more effective. His final point that I noted was that with inbound, you measure everything; with outbound, you measure what matters. 

My take

First, when I work with clients, I approach the gated vs. ungated as a combination. I do have to try to convince some clients not to gate everything. I have worked on pillar pages, providing a gated ebook version as part of the page, but I like the idea of offering something more than the ebook instead. One of my clients ungated all their ebooks and shifted to pillar pages with a gated version, and they are finding it's working. But in their case, the focus has become less on getting leads and more on finding the right companies that are showing intent to purchase. 

As for inbound versus outbound, we need both. But inbound is much more about building and maintaining brand awareness than it is about getting leads. An outbound program works well as part of an ABM program, reaching out to companies and key contacts within those companies who are in-market or could be in-market at some point. 

These debates will continue for a while. There will always be marketers who find more success with one approach than the other. As long as we are all focused on what's best for our audience or customers, I'm okay with that.