From the June 2011 issue of Entrepreneur

Think you shouldn't offer something for nothing? Think again. Marketers who force prospects to turn over contact information in exchange for otherwise free content are doing their business harm, says marketing strategist David Meerman Scott.

The author of Real-Time Marketing and PR, Scott believes content gating doesn't make for a good getting-to-know-you phase between marketers and potential customers. "I liken it to a singles bar where some guy comes up to you and says, ‘What's your phone number?' without even introducing himself. It sets up an adversarial relationship," Scott says. Instead, consider collecting information after prospects get a taste of your expertise--and realize how much they can learn from you.

Scott has found that ungated content gets between 20 and 50 times more downloads. He says a gated piece of content that would be downloaded 2,000 times could skyrocket up to 100,000 downloads if you open the lock. So, when do you get to ask for their information? List a secondary offer at the end of the freebie. But before prospects can view that webinar or download the next PDF, they'll need to pony up their e-mail address. Even if just 5 percent of the 100,000 go for the offer, you'll end up with 5,000 leads.

And, adds Scott, "you know every one of them has read your white paper. When I talk to sales people, they want to have a person who has already read the white paper and wants to learn more rather than someone who just traded an e-mail address to get a white paper and has never seen it before."

Or maybe not ...
To gate or not to gate? Marketers weigh in on the topic.

Andy Parnell, senior director of account services at Terralever in Phoenix: As a rule, the more information that is required the more likely the end-user is to fall off and not provide their details. Only mandate information that is an absolute must from an outreach perspective. Otherwise the loss in conversions defeats the aim to develop a richer profile.

Debra Ellis, founder of Wilson & Ellis Consulting in Asheville, N.C.: We've conducted multiple tests to see which provides the best opportunities for our business. In one test, we offered a white paper as a download. We alternated daily between having it gated with an e-mail address requirement and ungated. On the days that it was ungated, downloads were 47 times higher. The initial response was that we shouldn't gate. That changed when we measured the people contacting us; 100 percent of the leads generated [had] downloaded the guide on a gated day.

Michelle Salater, president of Sumèr in Charleston, S.C.: Gating content is the best way to capture prospective clients and influencers. The key is to provide value in exchange for their information and then to continue to give them [worthwhile] content.