CM 101: Offers: The Next Step in Content Marketing
What Gated Content Is and Why You Need It
Without offers, you are not content marketing; you’re just producing content. Great content will get your brand out there. Great offers will bring in leads and eventually, sales.
In this post we will discuss:
- Why offers matter
- Creating an offer
- Ideas for content to offer
- Landing pages
- Calls to action
- Promoting your offer
The goal of your content is to educate potential customers and build trust, but if people only come to your site to read your blog, you probably aren’t capitalizing on this readership. You need some way for engaged readers to show their interest and give you a little more information. That is why you need offers.
Offers will look different depending on your company and industry, but they are all built on the same premise. The point of an offer is to give a reader more value, in exchange for more information.
A typical marketing offer that you might see is subscribing to a company’s blog or newsletter. In the example below, you are giving a Hubspot your email in exchange for the convenience of getting marketing knowledge curated and delivered to you.
Offers allow you to get to know your website visitors. Google Analytics can give you a lot of information, but it’s not a great way to get to know someone on a personal level. Once you have the contact information of a visitor, you (or the sales team) can do some more research. These visitors, having taken some action and shown interest in your company, are now referred to as leads.
Some leads are going to be ready to buy right when they first view your website. Other leads are researching and won’t be prepared to buy for 6 or more months. The beauty of having these leads is that you know their information, and you can nurture them. You can keep an eye out for how they interact with your company in the future. Opening emails, clicking links and favoriting tweets are all good signs.
What do I have to offer?
There are two major parts to an offer: content and a form. The content is what you promise the person who fills out the form. The visitor receives great content and you receive the information of a potential customer. Forms don’t change much from company to company, but your offer is going to depend heavily on your content.
Since the answer to this question lies in the content, let’s dig into creating your offer.
A note: you will often see the content used in an offer referred to as “gated content.” Gated content is not free and open to all, but instead behind the “gate” that is your form.
You can’t take an average blog post and offer it up to only those who fill out your form. That’s just silly. An offer has to promise content that brings some extra value to the reader. If they’re going through the effort of filling out the form, it has to be worth it. Great content will make visitors eager to fill out your form whereas mediocre content will cause visitors to hit the back button and try again somewhere else.
Here are some ideas for content that you can use in an offer:
Whitepapers are a common form of gated content. A whitepaper answers a specific question in a long-form, downloadable document. Whitepapers are often data-driven deep dives into a topic. An example of this type of offer would be “Enter your email to receive our whitepaper on the best types of content for each social network.”
Also very frequently seen as gated content, ebooks are more casual and concept driven than whitepapers. There are typically more graphics and visuals making this type of content more skimmable. Ebooks do not need to be nearly as long as print books, though they can be. One way to create an ebook is to repackage some of your most popular blog posts on a given topic into a cohesive piece of writing.
Reports are similar to a whitepaper in the sense that they are data driven. There is less text in a report and more graphs and tables. Reports are a great form of content because primary data is often linked to when other companies are writing. The challenge is gathering this primary data. Many of the companies who are producing reports are ones with access to thousands of people to survey. The scale of something like this can make it a somewhat prohibitive for smaller companies.
Calculators work by prompting the user to enter some inputs and their contact information on your website. Then, the user receives an email with a pricing estimate. Calculators play into people’s natural curiosity and can increase time spent on a website. The other major benefit of this of this form of offer is that it shows a higher level of interest than downloading an ebook or whitepaper.
We’ve gone in depth on newsletters earlier in our Content Marketing 101 Series. Here is an excerpt explaining this form of content: A newsletter is an informational publication that you send out routinely. They come in many forms, but a few possibilities include collections of links to articles or a summary of recent news. Building your email newsletter will take a commitment to delivering consistent value. It can pay off in the end when you have hundreds or thousands of people hearing from you each week and trusting your company.
Consultations are consideration or decision stage offers that get qualified leads in the door. While this isn’t exactly a type of content, it certainly is an offer. Allow the user to fill out a form, and you will contact them to set up a free, 30-minute consultation. This doesn’t cost your company until people start signing up. If you’re inundated with providing free consultations and these leads aren’t converting into paying customers, you’ll have to rethink this strategy to better filter out freeloaders. Until that happens, there is a minimal downside as a company and the huge upside of bringing in new customers.
Now that we’ve discussed a bunch of ideas for content, we need to cover a few more mechanics of a successful offer.
Psst.. Your homepage isn’t a landing page
Unbounce brilliantly defines a landing page as: “standalone web page distinct from your main website that has been designed for a single focused objective.” Landing pages house your offer. Landing pages are the place to utilize your copywriting skills to get readers to take action.
Offers live on landing pages. These are pages that have the sole purpose of “selling” your offer. “Selling” in this case is filling out a free form, but this still takes a lot of convincing for a user to spend the time. Here is an example of a landing page from Wix, a company that helps people build websites.
Notice the focus of this page. It exists solely to display this offer of a free landing page. To get my free page, I have to sign up and make an account. There are no menus, no links to other sites and nothing to distract me from the offer on this landing page.
“CTA,” for short.
One of the most important parts of your landing page is the “Call To Action” button. This is the button that customers should click. In the Wix example, the CTA is a purple button that says “Start Now.” The CTA should make sense with the flow of the page and encourage users to click through. No matter how great your landing page looks, if visitors aren’t clicking your CTA, your page isn’t working. For more on creating good calls to action, see our post on CTA design.
Have a bold CTA
Your CTA should stand out. Contrasting colors are a great way to accomplish this. Notice how on the Wix homepage the purple button stands out on the background.
People are on your landing page for one reason: to click your CTA and get the offer. Don’t put links in your writing. These can distract visitors and cause them to leave your page.
CTA Above the Fold
The fold is the line where the screen ends. It will obviously vary depending on the device a user has to view your page, but making someone scroll all the way down to the end of a page is a good way to lose the interest of your visitor.
Keep it Clean
A busy page will lead users astray. Clean and simple design will show users the way to click through to your offer.
A giant wall of text will stop readers in their tracks. Realize that many visitors will want to skim your text and design the page accordingly. See our post on how to chunkify your content.
Keep Forms as Short as Necessary
Users are more likely to leave your site if filling out your lead generation form is a daunting task. Only ask for as much info as you need.
Should This Content Be Gated?
Deciding which content to leave in the open and which to put behind a form
The point of content marketing is to grow your brand and build trust with potential customers. For that reason, it seems like putting content behind a form is counter to this goal of reaching more people. While this is valid in some sense, gated content is not like normal blog posts, videos, and social media. Jon Miller, VP and Founder of Marketo said that gated content “is the bait.” This content is meant for people closer to buying.
Say your company does managed IT services and you’ve written a whitepaper about computer security for law firms. Someone who is searching for that information is likely to be a pretty qualified lead. You want their contact information. They might be planning on hiring a company like yours in the next 6-12 months, and you should reach out to them.
On the other hand, if you write the blog post “The Biggest Security Mistake Small Businesses Make,” you want it to be shared widely. This is content that is meant to build the brand and the people reading this are much less likely to be qualified leads.
You have a great piece of content, your form is set up and your landing page is ready to go, but where are the visitors? Crafting a compelling offer is only part of the battle. The promotion can be equally, if not more, difficult. Here are a few ideas for how to drive traffic to your offer’s landing page:
Linking in blog posts
Say you’re the managed IT services company that just wrote a great blog post. Before you publish it, add a note at the bottom that says, “Are you looking for security help for your law firm?” with a link to your whitepaper. Or, you can simply have a box at the bottom of each post where users can put in their email to get an alert when you realize new content!
Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are all great places to post about your offer. Try different versions of posts to see which variation drives the most engagement.
Send it to your email list
If you have an email list, let them know the good news! You’ve just released something would be valuable to them.
Find a company with a similar audience and write a post about your area of expertise for them if you can include a link back to your offer.
Go forth and grow your business!
Your content should be generating leads, but it’s tough to do that without offers. Using the strategies outlined in this post, you will be on your way to getting more leads, and more qualified leads. If done well, this will take your content marketing and business as a whole, to the next level.