How to increase subscriber retention

With the future of digital publishing resting on continued subscription-based revenue, the temptation to focus solely on subscriber acquisition is understandable. With the effort required to convert a casual reader into a subscriber, it can feel as though the hard work is done when they click subscribe. However, subscribers aren’t necessarily here to stay, and being sure not to overlook subscriber retention is critical to improving your publication’s bottom line.
Alongside an effective subscriber acquisition strategy, an approach that prioritizes subscriber retention and decreases churn is essential to guarantee the long-term success of your digital publishing business. This blog post walks through 9 actionable ways to increase your subscriber retention and keep customers coming back for more. 

Why is retention so important?

As tempting as it is to focus only on subscriber acquisition, it’s essential to remember that subscriptions are a relationship marathon, not a transactional sprint. Thus, acquiring a subscriber should not be seen as the end of the race but rather the first step to building a long term relationship. Long-term subscriber retention is arguably easier and cheaper to implement than acquiring someone new, costing 4 – 5 times less than the latter. Focusing on retention also ensures you get maximum customer lifetime value out of your existing subscribers.

How do I increase my subscriber retention?

Invest in your onboarding process

Subscriber retention strategies should be in play as soon as someone subscribes. In fact, the first week of subscription is the most critical period of retention. And research shows that ‘it’s important for publishers to engage with new subscribers daily’ to encourage habit-building. Hence, 87% of publishers place a high value on welcoming, engaging and comprehensively onboarding new subscribers.
The onboarding process should not only welcome new subscribers but ensure they know exactly what they can get out of their subscription. 78% of publishers surveyed by the American Press Institute (API) send a specific welcome email that highlights features of their subscription. Ideally, your onboarding process should seamlessly push new subscribers to sign up for additional content offerings such as specific newsletters that align with their interests. 

Build habits in your readers

Build a product that readers really need, not just one that is nice to have. Once readers start regularly and habitually interacting with your content, it becomes an indispensable part of their routine. Building reader habits could involve releasing your content at the same time every day, or releasing certain types of content on specific days. In this way, the reader anticipates your content and comes back each time to read more.
Some digital publishers also employ variable rewards to create long term habits in readers. Akin to a slot machine, users can start to crave the thrill of ‘pulling the lever’ or doing a certain action on your site to see what gift they will get. For example, you could offer a free daily podcast download that’s only accessible once a user clicks a button on your site. Users won’t know what the podcast will be until they click the button, but the sense of reward can be incredibly addicting, and keep them coming back day after day.
The strength of this habit building can often be the difference between subscriber retention and churn. Indeed, according to Twipe, subscribers who read ten times a month are 50% less likely to churn. For digital publishers, habit building is intertwined with leveraging the habit loop of triggers, cues, actions, investment, craving and variable reward to create loyal subscribers. The most obvious example is timely push notifications that encourage a subscriber to tap through to a specific article.

Maximize email newsletters

Email newsletters are at the core of an effective subscriber retention strategy. Newsletters are high-value assets because they lie firmly in the ‘habit zone’ – everybody checks their email every day – and it’s a far more intimate platform for readers. If leveraged well, newsletters are a vital forum for cultivating a close relationship with your audience.
It’s no surprise that according to the API, 90% of surveyed publishers leverage email newsletters to cultivate long-term relationships with their subscribers. Indeed, Elizabeth Goodridge, the New York Times’ editorial director of newsletter, points to a direct correlation between newsletter readership and digital subscriptions. 

Create quality content and subscriber experience

It goes without saying that subscriber retention relies on your continuous output of quality and engaging content. However, high-quality content alone is not enough. It must be in combination with a quality subscriber experience through which your subscribers can draw true value from your content.

Analyze user behavior

By leveraging zero and first-party data, you can maximize your subscriber retention strategy. You’ll be able to understand individual subscribers, gaining insight into the content they’re reading and how frequently they interact with your website. With these insights, you can track deviations from the norm, enabling you to determine when there’s a drop in engagement, and whether that constitutes a risk of cancellation. Vitally, using your data insights, you’ll be able to mobilise a hyper-personalised user experience that keeps your subscribers coming back for more and stops unengaged readers from falling through the cracks.

Launching a campaign to combat cancellations

Cancellations are inevitable but not unavoidable. That’s why 72% of publishers conduct campaigns to win back recent cancellations. The first step is to identify subscribers at risk of cancelling by honing in on users that aren’t regularly engaging with your content. You can then take steps to mitigate against cancellation by promoting other content or services you offer or reminding them of features of their subscription. Even downselling an unengaged user keeps them on board and makes it far easier to reconvert them to full subscribers later down the line.
If you’re unable to tempt them back, recent cancellations are a rich resource that should be tapped into for future growth. Send a survey asking why they canceled and learn from their feedback.

Subscriber-exclusive content

Giving your subscribers access to exclusive content and benefits can increase the perceived value exchange received through subscription. The prospect of losing access to this content can be enough to convince a subscriber to continue for the long term.

Actively encourage renewal

Subscriber loyalty should not be taken for granted. 85.5% of publishers said that explicitly reminding close-to-lapse subscribers to renew was extremely valuable. Renewal campaigns can take many forms but could consist of personalized messages that focus on services that an individual subscriber enjoys.
Campaigns like these go hand in hand with an easy renewal payment process. It’s no use having a great campaign if customers give up with a complex payment form. Digital publishers need to make sure it’s as simple as possible for subscribers to renew their subscriptions to reduce any friction that might cause them to hesitate.

Address involuntary churn

Though some subscribers genuinely want to terminate their relationship with you, others may inadvertently lapse due to changes to their payment information. This is what is known as ‘involuntary’ or ‘accidental’ churn and is a significant problem that 65% of media companies struggle with. To address accidental churn, publishers should consider sending a payment detail update email or opt for software that automates the process.

Subscriber retention: a marathon, not a sprint

Subscriber retention is a long-term strategy, not something that can be achieved in one-fell-swoop. Mobilizing a multi-pronged retention strategy that focuses on maximizing user experience, building habits, and mitigating against cancellations is crucial to leveraging your existing subscription base. Most of all, re shifting perspectives to view customer relationships as a mutual value exchange rather than a simple transaction will make all the difference.

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