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Essential Paywall Retention Tips for Online Publishers

More and more online publishers are introducing subscription plans. Declining revenue from advertising has made it a high priority for many brands who might otherwise have never considered it.

Persuading readers to pay for content which they have previously enjoyed for free is no mean feat.  For established publishers, this is an entirely new and nuanced challenge. 

But even for publishers that have always offered a premium tier of access, or operate exclusively on a paid model, it’s not a walk in the park.

Through our work with publishers around the world, we’ve seen firsthand the level of personalised engagement and intelligent nurturing that is often required to nudge through the paywall for the first time.

And having converted a reader the last thing you want to do is lose them.

Yes, there will always be a percentage of readers who, for whatever reason, don’t renew their subscription or end up cancelling it prematurely. However, we know there are plenty of strategies and campaigns you can implement to retain readers for longer through intelligent engagement and personalisation.

So here are our essential paywall retention tips for publishers.

Onboard new subscribers and develop positive routines

Right now, you more than likely have an automated welcome or thank you email that’s sent to readers when they subscribe. That’s a great start, but there’s more you can do to create a better onboarding experience.

Your primary goal during these crucial first few hours, days and weeks is to ensure that a new subscriber understands the value of being a paid member. Educational campaigns informing them about the various content available to them or membership perks (discounts at partner brands, member-only events etc) that they may not be aware of, should be sent as early as possible.

But you also need to encourage a pattern of behaviour and engagement, where the reader is checking in at least once a day to view content.

We recommend you actively nudge new subscribers into the app or onto your website at key times (in morning before their workday starts, at lunchtime and in the late evening) and quickly establish that habit of checking in at least once a day, if not several times.

If you have an app, then app push notifications are a hugely impactful way to proactively engage with subscribers, especially in the early days, and encourage them to start a session.

Using personalisation to retain paywall subscribers

By the same token, web push notifications can be used to alert subscribers to breaking news or recently published content of interest to them.

In the example above, the push notification calls attention to the fact this is exclusive content, available only to subscribers. If you have multiple tiers (even if it’s just paid and unpaid) it’s important to remind them that their subscription is unlocking high-value content. 

Ideally, your publication must become an important part of the fabric of their day, one that they would ultimately hate to lose. Yes, that is an ongoing challenge but it begins from the moment they enter their credit card details.

What’s vital here is that you identify which subscribers are not making use of their membership. If a customer has only opened the app or visited the website a handful of times within their initial 30 days then that is a strong indicator that they are unlikely to renew or may actively cancel their subscription.

Naturally, you don’t want to let it get to that point.

We recommend developing multiple automated customer journeys that deliver personalised campaigns on a customer’s first and second days, and at key intervals over the course of their first week and first month.

It can be useful to set a goal for the number of visits/sessions or number of articles read in the first couple of weeks. If a new subscriber isn’t meeting these goals, then an automated series of nudges will be hugely beneficial.


How has RTE driven record volumes of traffic to their website?

Transition monthly subscribers onto long-term plans

There should be an ongoing strategy to transition as many of your subscribers on a month by month plan to a yearly (or even 6 month) plan.

The crucial aspects here are to a) identify the right audience to ask and b) get the timing of the offer right.

Obviously, if a reader isn’t making use of their subscription then asking them to upgrade their plan at best is likely to annoy them and at the very worst, may accelerate their departure.

And hand in hand with this, you don’t necessarily want to ask someone who has only just started their relationship with you. It’s better to wait and let them experience what the content you’re creating.

Once you’ve got the right segments of readers who you think are primed to take out a long-term subscription, it becomes a matter of communicating the value of the offer on the right channel.

In terms of your messaging, it can be powerful to put the potential savings in a clear way, as in the example below.

Encouraging paywall subscribers to renew long-term

This is an on-site message delivered to a reader coming to the end of their first year as a subscriber. In terms of segmentation, it’s only shown to readers who are a) on monthly plan and b) are very active users. This is an audience that is likely to be interested in taking out a yearly subscription, if they can be persuaded about the benefits of doing so.

The call-to-action in the message above takes the reader directly to the subscriptions page where they update their plan themselves. 

If they don’t take out a yearly subscription there and then, it’s worth following up with them in a few days, or week, to ask them again.

Of course, you might also want to implement similar campaigns at the 3 or 6 month marks as well. It all depends on what you feel is appropriate for your brand.

The multichannel engagement playbook for the publishing industry

Personalise your engagement at every point

When you’re paying for a premium subscription then you expect the publisher to know who you are and what you prefer.

Using customer data to personalise the campaigns you send is vital. We’re not just talking about injecting first names into the copy, of course, although that is definitely a good thing to do. 

For publishers, the biggest prizes come from being able to segment readers in terms of their interests, activity levels and longevity. 

Preference data can be potentially gathered at the point of sign-up and should be used to create personalised newsletters (daily and weekly) that gather together all of the relevant and recent content you’ve published.

These subscribers may also have certain writers and content creators that they particularly enjoy. Again, this is very useful information to understand and use.

In an ideal scenario, you’d initially collect this preference data with a form once they’ve taken out a subscription. But a “preference page” will allow readers to curate for themselves what they want to hear about from you over time.

You can also “back-fill” this information, in a way, by analysing their behavioural data. For example, you might create multiple audience segments based on how often they read particular categories of content (news, sports, entertainment). 

And lastly, it can be worthwhile to understand who your VIP subscribers are, the ones that have been with you for years. This is a segment that should be treated well. 

A free month might be a stretch too far, but delivering them additional content or even inviting them to an exclusive event may be a fitting reward for their loyalty.

How can you deliver these use cases?

If you’re interested in bringing any of the use cases mentioned above to life, then we encourage you to get in touch with us.

The Xtremepush platform is the leading customer engagement, personalisation and data platform. We’re working with publishers around the world to help them connect with their audiences and drive core business goals through better reader experiences.

We’d be happy to show you what’s possible for your brand to achieve at speed and scale.

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