Collectif Top Stories
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Best practice in registration, metering and digital subs

Carolyn Morgan is Founder of Speciall Media, working with small and mid-sized specialist publishers to develop digital strategy and establish new revenue streams. In this feature, written for Mx3’s Collectif, she outlines what publishers need to evaluate and implement in their overall digital subscription strategy.

How can you tune up your online funnel and convert more of your causal readers to paying subs? As the free to air display ad-funded model starts to unravel, more and more publishers are developing registration and metering with a view to moving to paid digital subscriptions. Whether you are new to this or simply keen to optimise your digital revenues, here are the key steps to consider. [Earlier this year I ran a benchmarking survey with several publishers which provides some pointers. I also share tips from my recent client projects].

1. Analyse and segment your audience

Online audiences for niche publisher websites are extremely diverse. In B2B they may range from CEOs to early career executives, suppliers and advisors, government and regulators, students or even members of the general public. In specialist consumer they may work in the sector, be highly expert or a complete newbie. All are using your site for different purposes. Only a minority will be sufficiently committed to register or subscribe. If you can identify those segments, you can focus your online marketing and content proposition.

2. Understand what content is valued – and where the gaps are

This is a cliché, but it’s not all about page views. There is often a correlation between the most casual visitors and spikes in traffic. Get forensic and work out which types of articles draw the attention of your most committed readers. Engagement, scroll depth, time spent provide clues to the stuff that is valued by the committed. Use research to identify content that your core audience wish you covered. It’s always easier to add a reg wall to new content than apply it to stuff that was previously free.

3. Decide where to set your registration wall – and what stays free

Some content belongs in the free, unregistered part of your site. If you promote it heavily on social media, it is optimised for search, or is sponsored client content, keep it free to attract new visitors. But content that is unique, hard to find, provides value and insight, and appeals to your core segments, should be behind a reg wall. You can always offer a metered allowance of one or two articles a week to allow new entrants to sample.

4. Track what prompts visitors to register and optimise sign up rates

Now you have a reg wall you can analyse what is prompting registration. A key measure is your stop rate – the proportion of visitors who hit a reg wall. If this is lower than 5-10% you need to make your reg wall more visible, by limiting the amount of free content or tightening the meter or simply tweaking your design so free visitors see premium content.

In my survey, some B2B publishers were achieving stop rates of 20% or 30%. The basic rule is that the more people who are stopped the more will sign up.

In the same survey, the registration rate ranged from as low as 0.2% to as high as 1% or more per month. This would mean that over a year, if you had 100,000 visitors, 12,000 would register, which would be very impressive. Remember that around 80% of your site visitors are casuals who are very unlikely to subscribe.

5. Understand what your registered visitors value

Take the time to research your reg visitor base to understand which elements of your content they value. Sometimes it’s not the carefully crafted opinion piece, it’s an aggregation of information that they would find it time-consuming to research themselves. And a well curated newsletter that directs them to the good stuff is equally valuable. Ensure your reg wall highlights the real benefits and isn’t just a list of content.

6. Craft an enticing subs proposition

Researching your reg database will provide clues to the elements that you could charge for. Maybe a library of webinars, or a comprehensive database of companies in your sector, or a buyer’s guide, or a series of interviews with leaders in the field. Every market is different, and by carefully targeting your audience segment and focusing on the benefits of subscription, you will improve your chances of success.

7. Track and optimise conversions

Once you have a basic subs proposition in place, the analytical fun begins. Once again, track your stop rate – if it is below 10% then you need to tighten up your meter or put more content behind the paywall. Some publishers in my survey enjoyed conversion rates of 30% or more. Make it easy for customers to sign up: offer a short free trial, or a discounted intro rate. Variations on the “12 weeks for £12” are still working well. Even in B2B, more publishers are offering monthly payment options which reduces the upfront commitment. Conversion rates (from reg to paid) in the survey ranged from 0.2% to 0.5% a month, with some achieving as much as 5% a month.

8. Nurture new digital subs to maximise retention

The first few weeks are crucial to establish a habit, so build a welcome/onboarding series and ensure that your onsite navigation is clear. Monitor the number of times subscribers visit, as if this falls off you may need to re-engage them. Each market is different, but if paying subscribers are using the site less than once or twice a week, you may be in trouble at renewal time. Monthly subs are easier to cancel if customers feel they aren’t getting value for money.

Most publishers in my survey were enjoying annualised volume renewal rates of 70-80%, with value renewals 5-10% higher. If you are below this level, you need to consider remedial work on the subs value proposition and your engagement strategy.

Even if you already have a functioning registration and digital subs funnel, your work is never done. Markets evolve and competitor offers change. So you need to keep tracking conversions and engagement at each stage and tweaking your online presentation and your marketing emails. It’s worth it all once you have a steady stream of recurring revenue.

If you’d like to discuss the results of the benchmark survey in more detail, and how you could optimise your own registration and subscription funnel, please get in touch:


Speciall Media is a partner of Mx3’s Collectif Network, a strategic partner community that brings together industry technology leaders and media advisors to benefit from various exclusive initiatives and to add their voices to wider industry conversations. Carolyn researched and wrote MX3’s report on European Specialist Media Innovators.

Carolyn also runs an invite-only community of over 250 media leaders – the Speciall Media Group – request to join here. More free resources and advice for niche publishers on her blog.