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How smart paywalls can help publishers boost subscription rates

October 21st 2021

Mike Austin

By Mike Austin

CEO & Co-founder

How smart paywalls can help publishers during COVID-19 and beyond - featured image

The impact of coronavirus has proven to be a double-edged sword for media businesses. On the one hand, many titles enjoyed an unprecedented peak in website traffic as readers looked for updates on the constantly evolving situation. At the same time, publishers were hit by a sharp drop in advertising revenue as many brands slashed their budgets, with data signaling the strongest quarter-on-quarter fall in total marketing expenditure since 2009.

But even before Covid-19, many publications were facing dwindling revenue streams. Gone are the days of someone walking down to a local shop to pick-up a newspaper, with more people opting to go online to get their free dose of headlines.

These developments mean that media houses are battling to ensure they are getting the biggest bang for their buck when it comes to content. The Guardian, for example, appeals for public one-off donations and memberships through website banners and at the end of each article.

For many others, this has meant abandoning or limiting free content and adopting a paid subscription model. Typically, this involves a publishing site only allowing users to read the first few paragraphs of an article before blocking their access. While it’s certainly an effective tactic in preventing a reader from consuming the full piece for free, it doesn’t provide a positive user experience. More often than not, it might cause the user to abandon the site altogether, instead typing the topic into Google to find an alternative media outlet offering the content for free.

Dynamic paywalls

So what is the answer for media houses? At a time when online news consumption is higher than ever, publishers should be looking at more sophisticated ways to approach monetizing their content, and tailor how, when and where they are offering subscriptions.

Rather than simply blocking content at the same generic point in an article, publishers should be taking a smarter approach. By providing the same relevant and personalized experience that many consumers already enjoy when engaging with brands in the retail or travel space, they can ensure their paid offers get maximum exposure to those people who are most likely to be interested.

Just like personalized eCommerce marketing, dynamic paywalls can target readers based on a number of contextual factors, including their geolocation, the device they’re using and the channel that brought them to the website. This can be further enhanced with behavioral data, such as whether they are a first-time visitor or returning reader, and what content they click on, to build a more accurate picture of the user – and target offers accordingly.

In leveraging what is known about the individual, it can be determined when it’s the right moment to interrupt the reader’s media consumption and present them with a targeted message. This doesn’t necessarily have to come in the form of a paid subscription request; you could ask for a donation or promote your free newsletter.

What’s critical is understanding the right moment to step in and what content to display to each visitor. For example, the pop-up message could appear blocking access to content only once someone has gone on to read a second article, at which point the consumer is more engaged and therefore more likely to provide their details or sign up to become a paid subscriber.

The Washington Post uses such a metered paywall. They give a reader access to any three articles they click on, before blocking them from further content. This provides the reader with a taster of the type and style of content they will get access to before cutting them off. Also, the publisher doesn’t tell the reader how many free articles they have access to, so the paywall interrupts them when they’re most likely engaged, increasing the chances of success.

Don’t let the pop-up content be an afterthought. Does the visitor read local news? Entice them to subscribe to your newsletter by mentioning their geolocation, for example “Get the latest news about Birmingham straight to your inbox.” Or tailor the imagery and text of the subscription offer to their favorite category, such as culture or sport.

The benefits of dynamic paywalls are similar to browsing an eCommerce site: consumers get more comfortable spending money once they’ve seen and experienced what’s on offer. With the uncertainty remaining around what the new normal will look like, there hasn’t been a better time for publishers to adopt a smarter monetization strategy for their content. Not only will it improve revenue streams, but also put media houses in a better position to engage with their readers during this unprecedented time and beyond.

Book a demo to find out how Fresh Relevance could help your media business create dynamic paywalls.

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Mike Austin

By Mike Austin

CEO & Co-founder

Mike Austin is co-founder and CEO at Fresh Relevance. Recognizing the challenge of data aggregation in the ecommerce space, Mike launched Fresh Relevance in 2013 with co-founders Eddy Swindell and Pete Austin to solve this need and optimize the customer journey.