Digital Innovation Digital Publishing
4 mins read

Publishers: Test these 3 things for small steps toward big conversions

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Picture this: Your digital subscription service is, by all considerations, a success. You have an engaged user base that’s consuming multiple pieces of content per session; they share articles with their personal networks outside your owned digital properties; they’re automatically renewing. And people continue to come to you to sign up for paid access.

If this sounds familiar, then congratulations are in order. But your work is really only beginning. If your product is already performing well, how can you continue to outdo your achievements?

Santu Dev, who heads User Acquisition, Digital Subscription Revenue & Partnerships at Gulf News, has an answer: testing, testing and more testing. During his conversation with Piano’s VP of Product Marketing, Allan Stormon, he called it the best part of the subscription business.

Here’s how Gulf News uses small, frequent tests to make a big impact on their subscription strategy.

A culture of teamwork and testing

At Gulf News, Dev’s team reports to the Executive Editor to ensure that their strategy is in lock step with the overall editorial vision as well as day-to-day decision making. For Dev, working directly with the newsroom helps him make better choices about what to test across the customer journey, and the newsroom stays apprised of the content that leads more readers to click or otherwise engage.

Dev leads a team of four that’s committed to converting free users to paid subscribers. Each day, the team commits about two hours just to conduct tests and document the results of tests that have run their course. Every test is run for 30 days for the dataset to be statistically significant enough to derive patterns.

After the conclusion of a test, Dev and his team identify which variant had the better conversion rate. From there, the winning variant is split into its own test, enabling Gulf News to get granular with what, exactly, signals their diverse audience to move through the funnel or ultimately sign up for a subscription.

Three small tests for big impact

Every single touchpoint a person has with a brand can break or build trust. Dev and Gulf News understand just how important the art of nuance is when it comes to subscription strategy, but not every brand has the same internal bandwidth to dedicate to testing.

However, Dev mentioned three buckets of tests that can be performed to make small tweaks to the customer journey that can ultimately lead to big improvements in conversions.

Copy: Which words convince users to convert?

A business might know the exact content they want to feed a potential subscriber at every click. But what about the words that should be convincing those people to move along in the journey designed for them?

Every word within a user experience matters, both for alignment with the overall brand and also to persuade towards taking a desired action. Consider the difference between these two pieces of copy:

  • “Subscribe today for full access to news.”
  • “Don’t miss the latest news—subscribe today!”

The former is direct and straightforward, offered in plain language. The latter attempts to evoke fear that the reader is actually going to lose valuable information without a paid subscription. Only comparing the two in an A/B test can confirm the more successful version.

Both introductory and call to action (CTA) button text variations should be tested for accuracy—and for more precise language that drives better results.

Format: What shapes make the most impact?

We’re of the mind that content is king—but the format is the queen. Even if a team has written beautiful copy that’s supported by data from tests, its appearance has to be equally appealing.

It’s inevitable on the internet to come across sites that offer full screen pop-up messages that cannot be ignored. But other messages can be subtle, like prompts to subscribe to a newsletter within the body of an article or a special offer that appears as a banner at the bottom of a page after a user gets to a certain point in reading.

Should your brand offer all of those variations? Just one? Or something else entirely? Experiment with both the size and the position of these messages across your digital properties to discover how your audience would prefer to be propositioned.

Creative: Which images and colors are appealing?

Creative takes the format a step further and offers specific color and imagery combinations to elicit a response. Remember, brands don’t pick a color at random to represent the organization: it’s a very specific choice meant to align the business with a certain emotion or category.

The everyday creative presented to users should be similarly thoughtful. A good place to start with testing color is with a brand’s standard palette compared to its complements. Do audiences respond better when it’s clear the message is part of the overarching brand, or does the visual contrast make them more likely to act? Anything from background to text color to CTA button can be altered, so consider testing all separately for best results.

Use results of color tests to then inform imagery. First, determine if illustration or photography is the best fit for users, then make adjustments to the winning variant with palettes from color tests. For example, if illustrations wind up converting more users to paid subscriptions, and bold, bright hues were the winning color palette combination, try testing bold and bright illustrations against illustrations with more muted tones.

Conduct tests with speed and ease

As of this writing, Gulf News is about 9 months into its experience with digital subscription products. Dev and his team continue to test variants in order to drive more of their large, disparate audience to convert to paid subscriptions. Once the publication feels comfortable with its customer base, they plan on turning an eye toward retention by optimizing the paid user experience with similar testing methods.

Subscription success doesn’t happen with a “set it and forget it” model: it must be constantly optimized and tweaked for improvement. 

This article was first published on the Piano blog and is republished with kind permission. Piano helps the world’s biggest media companies build dedicated audiences and increase revenues.