Guest Columns
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“The most effective strategy to optimise conversion rates”: How to make a hard paywall dynamic

The Audiencers’ Madeleine White outlines how media organisations can transform their paywall from a rigid, inflexible barrier to one that is far more cognisant of user needs and their potential to subscribe. The end result? More conversions and increased revenue.

Making your paywall dynamic means being audience-first, adapting the conversion experience to a user’s profile or context thanks to audience segmentation. It’s the most effective strategy to optimise conversion rates.

And being dynamic isn’t just reserved for “freemium” or “softer” models… Even if you’d like to block all content for all readers (a “hard” paywall model), you can still employ dynamic strategies to increase conversion rates. Here’s 6 examples of how to do this.

1. Adapt to the reader’s location

You can go further than simply adapting the currency to a reader’s location – personalising images and messaging is an essential strategy to ensure you’re considering this specific audiences’ needs. 

For instance, the Financial Times has a different value proposition depending on whether the reader is in the UK or US. As a British publisher, the reasons for someone subscribing are of course different depending on their location – for example, why should US readers subscribe to the FT instead of an American business-focused title such as the Wall Street Journal? 

The Financial Times has chosen here to focus on the ‘global perspective’ that they can provide, on ‘the US and beyond’, comparing the FT subscription to global citizenship.

2. Adapt to the source of traffic

I don’t need to explain why readers from your newsletter act differently to those from social media or paid advertising. But how can you treat them differently? 

For readers coming from a news aggregator site, such as upday, perhaps a soft conversion journey that seeks to collect data and increase engagement, like Journal du Dimanche in France.

3. Adapt to the content type

A reader’s navigation on your site can say a lot about their interests, so why not use this to adapt messaging to target this audience?

Although a newsletter wall rather than a paywall, Semafor promotes a different newsletter according to the topic of each article. In the examples below, we first landed on an article about African business growth, and on the second visit, on an article about US politics.

A paywall example: Le Figaro

For news articles, “Free to subscribe. Free to unsubscribe.”

Le Figaro dynamic paywall

The focus is on the user’s flexibility to come and go as they please. This could be due to the fact that news content is more widely available online, but the key ‘differentiator’ for Le Figaro is the ease of subscribing/unsubscribing.

On political content, “Cultivating your freedom is cultivating your curiosity.” (It sounds better in French..!)

Le Figaro dynamic paywall

A reader who faces the paywall on political content will see a value proposition that focuses more on self-development (curiosity: an eager desire to learn) as a primary gain from subscribing.

4. Adapt to a reader’s propensity to subscribe

The obvious case study here would be to offer less engaged readers the opportunity to read an article for free before being blocked by the paywall, whilst engaged readers are blocked on their first visit. This is a technique being increasingly employed by publishers such as the FT, The Washington Post and The Economist who, having previously employed fairly hard paywall models, are now offering a few articles for free to registered members.

The “double wall” offers a month’s free trial or the option to register for free to continue reading this article.

However this dynamic approach can go further, for example by targeting registered members, ex-subscribers or your most loyal fan readers with adapted messaging or offers.

For Journal du Dimanche readers who have previously entered into the subscription funnel but haven’t yet subscribed, a dedicated value proposition highlights the ease of converting “in a single click” and the fact that they can “cancel anytime”, factors that might otherwise cause friction.

Even better – how about a wall for ex-subscribers adapted to the reason why they unsubscribed?, in Switzerland, tested adapting registration wall messaging to their most loyal reader group, which increased conversion rates by 800%.

5. Adapt to a reader’s revenue potential

There’s various ways that this can materialise, but it’s based around the idea that likely only 1% of your overall traffic will ever subscribe. Given this, the user experience, messaging, subscription offers and pricing can be adapted to each reader to provide the best possible chance of increasing revenue from this specific individual.

Mather Economics, for instance, talks a lot about the power of dynamic pricing, not only for acquisition but also for overall higher lifetime value. 

Below, although talking about price increase for existing subscribers, an example use case compares a 10% price increase across the board vs. a 5%, 10%, and 15% targeted price increase to 100,000 subscribers paying $50 monthly.

With a one-size-fits-all price increase of 10%, you can expect to have 4,000 subscribers churn, representing $200,000 a month in lost revenue and about $2,400,000 in annual loss revenue. Just from this price change alone.

With targeted pricing however, you can reduce price-related churn by almost half, reducing the lost monthly revenue to $100,000 and the annual loss to $1,200,000. 

If we apply these learnings to acquisition, we can imagine the value in targeted pricing. 

The Atlantic, for example, now adapts the price of subscription based on a reader’s propensity to subscribe, determined by their behaviour on the site.

6. The essential, most fundamental: adapt to device type

Data has proven that there is significantly more traffic on mobile than on desktop, but conversion rates are still higher on desktop. There’s a variety of reasons why this is the case, but it highlights the different context that the user experience needs to adapt to – a smaller screen, the user likely being on-the-go, might have come from social media, etc. 

Some strategies to adapt your paywall to mobile: 

  • Consider offering more enticing subscriptions on mobiles, such as free trials or reduced cost for the first month
  • Reduce steps in the conversion funnel by integrating them into the paywall
  • Ask for less information in forms on mobiles and ensure fields are auto-filled
  • Provide e-wallet payment options such as Apple Pay to instil trust and facilitate payment 
  • Make use of a user’s existing accounts on Apple, Facebook or Google to facilitate account creation
  • Reduce the amount of text, more brevity, but make sure to forefront your value proposition
  • Remove distractions – attention is hard to grab on mobiles
  • Make a bold CTA button the centrepiece of your wall

Find benchmarks of paywalls on-app on The Audiencers.

Madeleine White
Editor-in-Chief, The Audiencers

The Audiencers is the B2B media and community for digital publishing professionals by Poool, the Membership and Subscription Suite. With a focus on engaging, converting and retaining your audiences, The Audiencers is a leading voice for reader revenue models, with operational and inspirational expertise on their website, at their events and in their WhatsApp community.