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3M+ registered users: How The Telegraph acquires and retains readers

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The Telegraph had earlier set a goal of reaching 3 million registered users by the end of 2018; it beat the target by half a million and is confident of reaching the 10 million milestone in a few years.

A key component of the strategy that helped drive growth was shifting from a metered paywall to a hybrid one, and gating 20% of the content for starters (the rest being available to all users freely).

The amount of gated content has now gone up to 35%. This is in line with the French publisher Le Monde’s strategy. It was able to increase subscriber conversions by 46% after placing around 37% of its best content behind a paywall.

Under the new model, registered users of The Telegraph can access one premium article per week. While exact figures were not revealed, according to the publisher, the move led to a tripling in the number of daily subscriber acquisition.

Registered users: “Far more valuable”

The Telegraph began shifting from going after mass-reach audience numbers to building a base of registered users over two years back. The benefits were clear: registered users are generally more ripe for converting into paying subscribers compared to flyby readers, and the publisher would have more detailed first-party audience data for advertisers to improve campaign targeting.

According to News UK, people need to come into contact with a brand seven times before subscribing. It is easier to track registered users and map out their reader journeys to offer them a personalized experience.

It can also help in retaining existing subscribers. For example, if someone calls in to cancel their subscription and the person taking the call is informed from the caller’s data that he is a football fan. The subscriber can then be reminded of an upcoming football event and how the publisher plans to cover it to persuade him to continue the subscription.

Chris Duncan, Managing Director, Times Newspapers Ltd at News UK, told Digiday last year, “Times retains more than half the people who call to cancel a subscription, partly thanks to good product knowledge. Rather than convincing readers to stay with discounts, informing them of what they’ll miss out on in the future is a stronger deterrent to unsubscribing.”

“Nurture the customer experience”

Another tool that has encouraged reader registration, as well as engagement, is the My Telegraph app which the publisher introduced last year. The app allows registered users to save articles, follow specific journalists and customize their feed according to their interests.

Speaking to Digiday earlier this month, Chris Taylor, Chief Technology Officer at The Telegraph, said the app works as an acquisition and retention mechanism. For example, when unregistered users use the app to follow specific topics or journalists, they are prompted to register. Registered users, on the other hand, engage with the app investing time to develop their own feed and setting up alerts which “creates strength in retention,” comments Taylor.

The Telegraph’s paywall uses machine learning to tailor itself according to a user. The rich data on registered users’ browsing habits helps it determine the stage a user is in, and the content that is best for converting them.

We do different offers for different types of visitors, such as what we refer to as the ‘intelligent paywall.’ Users are segmented to a granular level, and then we use the segment they’re in and the content they’re reading to put forward the best creative and/or commercial offer we think will appeal to them most.

Chris Taylor, Chief Technology Officer at The Telegraph speaking to Digiday

Personalization and segmentation are a key part of The Telegraph’s strategy for acquiring and retaining users. For example, a new registered reader needs to know about the different products and services on offer, while someone who’s been around for a year would care more for relevant content.  

According to Taylor, it’s very easy for publishers to get “distracted by new features and trends.” But he recommends doing “fewer things and doing them as well as you can.” In his experience, customer and user experience has been one of the most important places to invest time.

He says, “I would encourage publishers to nurture the customer experience. If you’re unique and take care of the customer experience, then people will subscribe to it and provide a reliable, repeatable revenue scheme.”