August 23

How to Leverage Gated Content in Search Engine Marketing for Higher Ed


In any digital marketing plan, gated content is the crown jewel. It’s a little elusive. Almost a secret. One so good, your audience might even pay to see it.

(Not that you’ll be asking for money. We’ll get to that.)

I wouldn’t blame you if that description seems contradictory to your search engine marketing goals. 

Shouldn’t content be freely discoverable, you ask? 

Isn’t it hard enough to drive traffic to your content without putting up a barrier to it?

Good questions.

Basically, gated content is not (and can’t be) at the front end of your digital marketing strategy. But it’s a potent place to direct it.

It’s a strong strategy for turning all that traffic into what you’re really after in enrollment marketing: qualified student prospects.

Let’s get into why gated content works and how to utilize it.

What Is Gated Content?

Unlike blog posts and social media content that is open to the web, highly discoverable and available to all, gated content requires something from the visitor to access it.

Essentially, they have to “pay” for it. But we’re not always talking about money.

Examples of “payment” include:

  • Filling out a contact form and opting into receiving communication.
  • Creating a free account with a username and password.
  • Subscribing to a paid user account for a monthly fee.
  • Making a one-time purchase for the gated resource.

It’s all the same, really. With gated content, you’re saying, “We’ve offered you lots of information and asked nothing in return elsewhere. This is different. This is special and highly valuable.”

Your goal is to offer something so valuable, your ideal student (or a parent of theirs) would seriously consider paying for it.

If you can do that, their email address (and possibly a name and phone number) seems to be a small price to pay. 

But make no mistake. It is a cost. Your prospect is paying you with access to their email inbox. This private space is as precious as money. Maybe more.

This means your gated content has to be good. The best you’ve got. It has to provide worthwhile value to your prospect.

If you can do that, there’s no question that the “transaction” will provide a huge amount of value to you in your enrollment marketing efforts.

Why Gate Content

Gated content is the lead generation engine of a strong content marketing strategy, which 72 percent of marketers swear by.

To be clear, we’re talking about a small minority of the content you produce to inform, educate and inspire prospective students. To be special (and effectively generate qualified leads), gated content must be rare.

It comes into play only after you’ve done the work of driving traffic to your website with open content.

You’ve attracted a lot of attention.

Now, your goal is to isolate the strongest leads and nurture them.

When your prospect (sometimes referred to as a “suspect” at this early stage) fills out a form to access your special resource, they’re telling you something.

At the very least, they’re saying, “The information you have is valuable to me.”

But they may also be saying, “I trust you with my contact information because I want to develop a relationship with you.”

So you see, beyond the “gate,” you have a wonderful opportunity to nurture this prospect. 

Ushering them through it is magical for enrollment marketers. It marks a clear transition from a stranger you’re marketing to into a new friend you’re in a position to help.

Where Gated Content Fits In the Strategy

Gated content is part of a robust “content conveyor belt” designed to carry prospects from initial exposure to application and enrollment.

Here’s how your prospect experiences the ride:

  • Exposure to open content. 

Your blog posts, videos, articles, etc. should be promoted on social media to get in front of users. In addition, it should be optimized for Google search (i.e. search engine marketing) to get in front of searchers.

  • Consumption of open content. 

They’re going to your website to read or view the full, core content or additional content which is relevant to their questions about college.

  • Visiting a landing page. 

This is the “front door” to your gated resource, which they discover via links and/or buttons you’ve embedded in your open content. (Google typically does not get them here organically. It gets them to open content. YOU get them to the “gate.”)

  • Accessing your gated resource. 

They enter an email address (possibly phone number, too) to proceed through a portal, download a PDF, etc., and agree to receive emails (and/or texts).

  • Exposure to email/text content. 

Now that you’re in their inbox, on their phones, you have a world of opportunity to maintain their interest with information, build their desire to apply with stories, and drive them to action (to apply!). 

Remember, after the gated resource, they’re “in the club.” You know them now, at least as an acquaintance. That means the tone has to change. It should be warmer. More like the way you would talk to a friend.

For this reason, it’s best to utilize responsive email marketing strategies to personalize what you’re sending them automatically. 

Before an admissions counselor takes over the one-on-one interaction, your prospect should at least feel as though they’re not lost in the system. They should feel to some degree seen. Known.

One key to accomplishing this is acknowledging what changed. Make references back to the gated content they asked for. Keep answering those questions and more.

Examples of Gated Content

If you’re worried that you’ve already “given away the farm” with your open content and have nothing more to share, don’t be.

Gated content isn’t necessarily 100% unique. It’s just presented in a unique, useful and attractive way.

You can often piece together great gated content by curating and summarizing your own blog posts, articles, videos and other open content. Putting it all into a single, easily digestible guide is often exactly what families need.

That’s why, when putting together a basic gated resource like an ebook, these general topic areas are always a great place to start:

  • Application process. Give step-by-step instructions, provide tips and explain how decisions are made.
  • Financial aid. Walk them through what might be available, and how to apply.
  • Choosing a major. Discuss the declaration process, when it happens, and provide info on outcomes for graduates.
  • Freshman survival kit. Give them a glimpse into campus and dorm life and assuage their fears by telling them what to expect.

You might also consider including actionable resources, like a template for admissions essays or a financial aid checklist. 

You could also get a little fancy and gate some interactive resources, like a game that introduces families to campus, or a major decision tool. 

(Here’s an example of a quiz we helped Anderson University put together, which in this case is open for you to check out. The open/gated decision depends on the overall strategy.)

Need help creating awesome gated content for your school and a strategy to put it in place?

I would love to discuss it with you.

We’ve helped lots of schools, from small, private colleges to schools within larger universities, put together gated content that is as attractive as it is useful to prospective families. 

We love using these strategies to go beyond driving traffic to your website into generating strong leads.

So if you want to attract more of your ideal students to your college, university or K12 private school, let’s talk

Looking for Enrollment Marketing Content that Works?

You’re in luck! We’ve curated 25 awesome ideas inspired by top higher ed institutions across the country and put them in one handy guide: 25 Ideas for Great Admissions Content.

25 Ideas for Great Admissions Content In this popular resource from Caylor Solutions, you’ll get…

    • 25 enrollment marketing content ideas you might never have considered before
    • Guidance on how to use each one for best results
    • Brief discussion on why they work to help you sell these ideas to your team

Get inspired.
Get enrollment results.
Get 25 Ideas for Great Admissions Content.
Download your copy today!

Featured image by momius via Adobe Stock

What We Do




Who We Are








Download Your Copy Today!

Fill out the following form to get instant access to our ebook, Guide to Planning an Education Website Redesign

Caylor Solutions eBook

Download Your Copy Today!

Fill out the following form to get instant access to our ebook, #Hashtags: Your Social Media Secret Weapon

Download Your Copy Today!

Fill out the following form to get instant access to our ebook, Writing for the Web: 7 Secrets to Content Marketing Success for Education Marketers

Download Your Copy Today!

Fill out the following form to get instant access to our ebook, Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.

Download Your Copy Today!

Fill out the following form to get instant access to our ebook, 25 Ideas for Great Admissions Content.

Looking for other higher-ed content and resources from Caylor Solutions?

Subscribe to The Higher Ed Marketer podcast today!

Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts

5 Crisis Management Tips for Higher Ed Marketers

In the face of a crisis, higher ed marketers must proactively protect their institution’s brand. By emphasizing preparation, planned responses, and transparent communication, you can enhance resilience and trust within your educational community.