Ongoing global economic upheaval and the rise of revolutionary technologies like AI have presented new challenges for media publishing companies. Simultaneously, decreases in news consumption via direct-to-site traffic and legacy channels alike have motivated a global shift to sustained digital subscriptions as the center of news revenue modeling. In fact, 80% of senior industry leaders in 53 countries told the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism that they now expect subscriptions and memberships to surpass display and native advertising as their top strategic priorities.
Actually realizing returns on these strategies, however, depends on stellar conversion rates.
These remain low for most brands.
The Press Gazette reported that top publishers see higher ratios of digital subscribers to site audiences: “[Of] 166 publishers in 33 countries at the end of last year, the median was 0.6%, while the 25% of brands who performed best had a rate of at least 1.4%.” Only The New York Times and News Corp saw rare rates as high as 10-16% on some products across a mix of paywall strategies.
This high-level revenue generation is not about standardizing a paywall across audiences and branded products, but about making the right data-driven choices to serve the precise customized subscription offers and experiences users actually want. Industry leaders have leveraged these 5 best practices to make the kinds of dynamic, data-driven choices required to successfully convert – and keep – users today.
The most successful audience-centric conversion strategies depend on aggressively testing the user experience. This strengthens conversion across the whole customer journey from early acquisition to late-stage, and lateral to vertical product sales. Data-driven iteration is the backbone of digital subscription success.
Split testing, or A/B tests, enable publishers to build a robust understanding of their users and determine what kinds of forms and paywalls drive the best conversions for various segments and products. A/B tests help answer questions like where, when, how often, and why do various strategies work for each product.
Consistent, high quality iteration powers conversion rates that ensure company success, even despite unpredictable economic and tech industry factors outside publishers’ control.
Whether conversion is measured by soft data capture or hard subscription product payment, digital forms usually define the boundary between a site visitor and a converted user. Customizing these forms throughout each user journey strengthens conversions.
UX strategist Natalie Thomas says forms should diminish friction through efficiency and simplicity; on-site tests matter because what ‘diminished friction’ actually means in practice can vary over time: “A high perceived effort level can cause users to abandon when they feel they don’t want to invest the time or effort required…[We] not only need to concern ourselves with the signup process being easy, but we also want the experience to appear easy.”
Publishers that hone delivery of the right form lengths and fields will meet user effort tolerance and enjoy higher rates throughout conversion stages.
Positive functional experiences stabilize conversion rates and create brand memorability. This means digital forms, paywalls, and products need to be served seamlessly across all devices. Top publishers think multidimensionally about this. For instance, if a user makes a micropayment on a piece of content, it should load quickly in the right language and should not populate a pay field if the user engages it again on a different device.
Optimal paywall visibility is another important functionality metric. For example, publishers should serve paywalls in the ideal size and length. This may differ depending on product, device, field inputs required, and user preferences. Paywalls with partial visibility, for instance, display some teaser content or a headline, whereas pop-up or anti-scroll paywalls may use a full page to block access.
Effectively delivering ideal cross-device functionalities to boost conversion rates depends heavily on having accurate user data insights.
Personalized paywall offer messages and subscription product models are key to serving resonant experiences. Freemium, hard, and dynamic paywalls each provide different benefits, from drip access to unobtrusive engagement. Similarly, paywall messages communicate various value propositions, like information democracy or deep-dive exclusivity.
Though historically a strong opponent of paywalls, The Guardian has crossed the coveted one million digital subscribers threshold, and this is partly by leveraging diverse offer messages and product models to meet precise reader segments. The brand remains agile and responsive, even launching a new on-app subscription offer with different product entry points across user values and engagement levels to increase conversions.
From messaging to product modeling, top publishers iterate to cater to changing user patterns and value perceptions.
Finally, soft strategies are underemployed conversion boosters. Asking for the right information on registration forms helps publishers gradually collect contextual insights they need to deliver highly relevant experiences at the right price.
For example, not all users want to see all content. Those who demonstrate interest in sports or politics should enjoy appropriately timed nudges towards products in multimedia formats they like to consume, like podcasts, video, text, or immersive experiences. Aligning price with customers is equally important here. Conversion rates grow across audiences when content is curated or strategically packaged to make sure products resonate with users’ actual lifestyles.
The Reuters Institute reports that industry evolution no longer depends on digital alone, but on “how [publishers] transform [their] digital content to meet rapidly changing audience expectations.”
Top publishers have proven that optimal conversion and retention rates are powered by data-driven decision making. They use actionable consumer insights to iterate personalized paywalls, registration pages, pricing models, and product experiences that resonate in real time. When users are truly getting what they came for in every single interaction, these publishers enjoy subscriber relationships that last, and as a result, increase conversions.