What Is Gated Content, and How Can Higher Education Leverage It for Lead Generation?

Discover the ins and outs of gated content, and learn how higher education can leverage it to generate more leads and applications.

By: Melissa Bischoff

Missed opportunities are everywhere. The business idea you didn’t act on, the dream job you forgot to apply for, or the vacation you’ve been putting off for years. Don’t let your content marketing be just that — an opportunity for growth that you didn’t fully take advantage of.

Although 55% of marketers list blog content creation as their top inbound marketing priority, only a small portion of those companies have a solid plan in place to measure the ROI of these efforts. That’s a big deal. In a research report, Hubspot found that the less companies know about their KPIs, the less likely they are to meet their revenue goals. In fact, 74% of companies that weren’t exceeding revenue goals didn’t know their visitor, lead, MQL, or sales opportunities.

For higher ed marketers seeking to implement a true inbound marketing strategy, it’s important to track lead generation efforts at every stage in the student journey to gauge how your content is performing. Your work as a marketer doesn’t end the moment you hit “publish.” Similarly, the user journey doesn’t end after a student reads through a blog article. At least it shouldn’t.

Are you providing a compelling next step for students to take at every stage of the decision making process? By adopting an approach similar to Netflix, higher ed institutions have the opportunity to keep users engaged longer and put them on a path to conversion. Using targeted calls-to-action throughout your content, you can connect students, parents, alumni, and donors with content that is meaningful to them and better track the effectiveness of your content marketing efforts as a whole.

What Is Gated Content?

Gated content, or premium content (as HubSpot so lovingly refers to it), is designed to turn anonymous web visitors into leads by asking users to fill out a form in exchange for valuable information. By including these premium content offers as “calls-to-action” throughout your ungated content, users will know exactly what you want them to do next — and therefore, will be more likely to do it.

Related: Why is nobody clicking on your CTAs? eCity’s Account Director Stephen App explores common CTA mistakes that could be hindering your conversion rates, and how to avoid them.

The goal of premium content is to provide value to prospective students while helping you learn more about where they are in the college application process. Gated content can be anything that goes beyond the information found in a blog post and provides a more in-depth look at a topic of interest. eBooks, whitepapers, and webinars are just a few of the most popular formats for gated content. Recently though, we’ve seen more and more organizations experimenting with interactive content like surveys, calculators, and assessments.

A Note About Ungated vs. Gated Premium Content: Before we dive into the benefits of creating gated content for higher ed, let’s address the elephant in the room. Isn’t the goal of content and inbound marketing to freely provide valuable information to your audience in order to build brand awareness and trust? Does putting the most valuable content behind a form go against everything content marketing stands for and make the user experience noticeably worse?

For a long time, HubSpot best practices dictated that premium content should be gated; the rationalization being that in exchange for content of significant value, prospects would be willing to give up some small value in order to obtain it, such as their name and email address. However, things have changed since then. Because premium content is so thorough and useful, it carries with it a significant amount of potential SEO value; value that is wasted when the content isn’t crawlable by Google’s bots.

As inbound marketing has evolved, the notion of premium content has changed with it. Today, premium content comes in many forms, some gated and others freely available. By making some of your most valuable resources ungated, you can capitalize on search engine traffic and provide greater value to casual prospects who may not be ready to fork over their email address quite yet.

The Benefits of Gated Content for Higher Ed

Choosing a college is a big decision — one that involves extensive research, a healthy dose of emotions, and a sizable deposit. As students explore their options and move through the applicant’s journey, their pain points and content needs change. If the only calls-to-action on your website are “Visit,” “Apply Now,” “Request Information,” and “Donate” you’re missing out on a whole subset of conversion opportunities earlier in their decision-making process.

Gated content is important for colleges and universities because it provides a next step for prospective students who aren’t yet ready to apply. By providing these opportunities for micro-conversions, you’ll learn more about where your prospects are in the applicant’s journey and create opportunities to nurture them towards your primary conversion goal of enrolling in your college or university. It’s a win-win scenario: prospective students will receive highly personalized and relevant information to aid in their decision-making process, and you gain greater visibility into every stage of the student journey.

Here are three additional benefits of adding gated content into your school’s content marketing repertoire.

Benefit #1: Increased Lead Generation

Most students don’t decide to attend an institution during their first visit to the website. Rather, students conduct extensive research before narrowing down their list of top schools and ultimately deciding to apply. What if there was a way to know who these students are and what they’re interested in before they sign up for a campus visit or start the application process?

Gated content is important for colleges and universities because it provides a next step for prospective students who aren’t yet ready to apply.

Downloading a piece of gated content is the intermediary step that tells you someone is a lead rather than just another visitor. It also tells you more about the person depending on what content they download or interact with. Once a prospective student is entered into your CRM, you can track their subsequent behavior and send targeted communications to nurture them into enrolled students.

Related: Discover how schools can use personalized content to speak to students on a much more personal level, using targeted messages designed to increase engagement and guide them down their own unique path towards enrollment.

Benefit #2: Acquiring Prospective Student Leads Earlier in the Sales Funnel

Using gated content means that your content marketing strategy is working ‘round the clock to generate leads and fill your applicant pipeline all year long. Rather than scrambling to generate applications each year through name buys, or running an expensive ad campaign right before an application deadline, why not create educational, valuable information that students will seek out and download months, or even years, before they’re ready to apply? This approach to lead generation will put you ahead of schedule and help you more accurately forecast how your marketing budget can best be spent.

Benefit #3: Starting Yield Earlier

Gated content not only helps you generate leads earlier in the funnel, it also enables you to jumpstart yield season by doing so. Rather than relying on your website to generate student leads primarily through bottom-funnel offers such as “Request More Information” or “Apply Now,” premium content gives you the opportunity to create content geared towards students who are still in the early stages of choosing a college. By acquiring these leads earlier, higher ed marketers have the opportunity to start nurturing them earlier rather than waiting until shortly before they need to make a decision. This gives you more time to get your message across to and build a relationship with your prospective students.

Examples of Gated Content for Higher Ed

Your gated content offers will vary greatly depending on what stage of the applicant’s journey students are in. In order to create relevant content offers, it’s important to consider what prospective students are looking to achieve at each stage. How do you know what students’ pain points are throughout the applicant’s journey? Creating student personas, conducting keyword research, and talking to prospective students are all great ways to discover content ideas that will appeal to the exact students you’re looking to attract.

Related: Our free, customizable persona template will let you easily organize your research to create your very own personas. With this template, you can create well-formatted personas that you can share across your department or school.

An image of the applicants' journey displaying the awareness, decision, and consideration phases

Awareness Stage Content

In the awareness stage, prospective students are seeking out educational content that will answer their questions and help them make one of the biggest decisions of their lives. At this stage, it’s important to keep content offers high-level, non-promotional, and above all, honest.

Gated Content Ideas for the Awareness Stage:

  • The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a College Major
  • The Top 20 In-Demand College Majors of 2019
  • How to Afford College as a First Generation Student

Consideration Stage Content

In the consideration stage, prospective students have answered their first wave of questions and are on the hunt for schools that fit their desired criteria. At this stage, it’s OK to mention things specific to your college or university, but the content should still be mainly educational in nature and not overly salesy.

Gated Content Ideas for the Consideration Stage:

  • Guide to Writing a Winning College Essay
  • Navigating the Financial Aid Process
  • Interactive Financial Aid Calculator

Decision Stage Content

In the decision stage, students are actively comparing their options and weighing the pros and cons of each. At this stage, it’s important to not only get into the specifics of what you’re selling but also differentiate your college or university from the competition. Students in the decision stage want to see how they would fit into your school and what impact it might have on their careers and lives. Since we know emotions play an outsized role in any decision-making process, it’s important for your content to connect with prospective students on an emotional level and elicit a reaction.

Gated Content Ideas for the Decision Stage:

  • Virtual Reality Tour
  • FASFA Checklist
  • Have student ambassadors host a webinar where they answer commonly asked campus tour questions

Schools That Are Succeeding With Gated Content

Sometimes the best way to grasp a new marketing concept is to see examples of peer institutions that are already succeeding at it. Here are four colleges and universities that are doing an excellent job using gated content offers to boost lead generation and help students and professionals navigate the college search process with ease.

Haas School of Management

One of the biggest pain points for potential MBA students is finding the balance between work, life, and school. That’s especially true for students who want to earn an MBA while working full time. Questions also arise for those seeking to earn a full-time MBA while working part-time. Berkeley Haas does a great job easing prospective students’ worries with this eBook featuring six tips to help students stay sane while earning a part-time MBA, working full-time, and tending to personal commitments.

Berkeley Haas does a great job with this eBook featuring six tips to help students balance work, life, and earning their MBA.

This eBook makes it clear to prospective students that they don’t have to sacrifice their personal lives or career success to earn an MBA. It discusses ways to make going back to school seem less daunting, and positions the Evening & Weekend MBA Berkeley MBA Program as the perfect solution for busy professionals on the fence about committing to a full-time MBA program. Quotes from alumni are used throughout to reinforce key points and offer an unbiased opinion.

Northeastern University’s Graduate Studies

Northeastern’s eBook on How to Break into Global Studies and International Relations is a great example of an in-depth guide for people who are considering changing careers or are interested in bringing an international focus to their current role. The guide is laid out nicely and features a wealth of information such as the average salary and projected job growth in roles ranging from Foreign Service officer to director of international programs.

Higher Education eBook Image - Gated Content Example
Northeastern’s eBook is a great example of an in-depth guide for people seeking to learn about how to break into International Relations.

The great thing about this eBook is that it’s perfect for someone who is just starting to consider earning a master’s degree in global studies and international relations. It presents a compelling case for earning an advanced degree, backed up by anecdotes, statistics, and career outcomes. The CTA at the end of the eBook compels prospective students to learn more about the program and directly connects them with a wealth of resources to do so.

University of Wyoming

What’s not to love about the University of Wyoming’s Senior Year of High School Calendar? After submitting the form to download, rising high school seniors receive a detailed roadmap of important dates and deadlines to keep in mind throughout their senior year as they prepare for college. Applying to college can certainly feel overwhelming at times, and this piece of gated content does a great job breaking down the process into manageable steps. Plus, it’ll keep UW top of mind as it’s hanging on the fridge or saved on a desktop all year long.

Gated Content Example
The University of Wyoming does a great job at guiding senior high school students by offering them a detailed calendar with important dates.

Siena College

Siena College’s Junior Jumpstart Guide targets students at the very beginning stages of the college search process. The guide walks high school juniors through the process of choosing a school, making campus visits, and crafting the perfect college application. By engaging students early on, Siena College is able to get on their radar and position themselves as a helpful resource and trusted advisor.

Higher Education - Gated Content Example
Siena College’s Junior Jumpstart Guide targets students at the very beginning stages of the college search process.


Hopefully, you’ve come away with a solid understanding of how gated content can help colleges and universities better serve prospective students, generate more qualified leads, and track the ROI of content marketing efforts throughout the student lifecycle. Without thoughtful premium content offers, it’s likely that your content marketing efforts could be generating web traffic without impacting your school’s bottom line. Now is the time to invest in content that converts.

If you’d like to gain a more in-depth understanding of how premium content fits into the inbound marketing methodology, check out our complete guide to Inbound Marketing for Higher Education.

Melissa Bischoff

Melissa Bischoff

Content Marketing Specialist

Melissa Bischoff is a Content Marketing Specialist at eCity Interactive, a content-first digital agency. At eCity, she strategizes and implements a variety of digital marketing campaigns for the agency and its growing roster of clients. When she’s not busy blogging for work, Melissa enjoys hiking, traveling, and blogging for fun. You can connect with Melissa on LinkedIn.

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