Before Publishers Can Unlock Reader Revenue, They Need to Convert Unknowns
As publishers move to monetize their audiences directly, audience relationships become more important than ever. While publishers invest in targeting and personalization technology that uses data to build these relationships, the elephant in the room remains: publishers typically only have actionable, first-party data for less than 20% of their audiences. For these relationships to develop, publishers must first get to know their anonymous, drive-by site traffic.
Publishing Executive’s webinar “How Publishers Can Convert Unknown Visitors to Known Audience” discussed how publishers can connect with these drive-by visitors and nurture them into dedicated customers. You can watch that webinar free, on-demand here.
Capturing New Audience With Email
With audience attention shifting between different platforms and devices, the email address is uniquely capable of connecting publishers with their readers. When a reader provides their email, publishers are actually receiving an invitation to the inbox, and the right to market long-term. The ability to reach a reader on the publisher’s terms is a critical part of any registration or subscription business model.
This direct link via email drives reader engagement more than any other channel: readers from email consume more than double the pages per session than visitors from social, according to research PostUp conducted with our customers. And because email allows publishers to reach out to readers without falling prey to social noise or algorithms that bury their stories, readers also return far more often. That leads to many more page views over the lifetime of the relationship.
That’s not to say social can’t play a role in the acquisition process. Creative social campaigns grab audience attention, providing a perfect opportunity to drive email signups and paid subscriptions. Social campaigns can bring users back to owned sites, where capture forms prompt them to sign up for an email newsletter. Social should be thought of as the “top of funnel”, a way to get lots of people into a process that converts them into known readers.
Once limited to static forms and subscribe links, publishers increasingly deploy email capture widgets to increase conversions. Time-delayed or scroll-triggered dynamic widgets explicitly invite readers to subscribe without diminishing their user experience. This can be quantified and proven by A/B testing with and without email capture, comparing site KPIs like bounce rate, page views per session, and time on site. Calls to action that are aligned with the content it appears next to can triple conversions by replacing generic invitations with a contextually-relevant offer. Finally, progressive capture -- gradually asking for more information about the reader -- allows publishers to strike the balance between asking readers for too much data and missing an opportunity to know more about the reader.
Using Email Data to Improve Content Strategy
Once the reader hands over the email address, publishers must take advantage of this link to connect audiences with the content they crave. Content distribution through email is especially important for premium publishers because it replicates the physical, habit-forming delivery of print. If publishers can build this habit digitally in their audience, a paid subscription becomes far more likely. The New York Times found that newsletter subscribers were twice as likely to purchase a digital subscription.
The sustained engagement fostered by email also provides insights into audience attention over time. This data might dictate a publisher’s future content strategy, but in the meantime, publishers can also leverage the data to provide readers with more engaging personalized content recommendations. Connecting readers with more relevant content increases the chances that they will see the value of a paid subscription.
Publishers who provide multiple newsletter products can allow readers to self-personalize their content by choosing which newsletters they want to receive. This, too, can be a valuable source of data. By signing up to receive email about a certain content category, readers actively indicate an interest in that subject. This is particularly attractive to advertisers, who can target their products to an audience with a self-declared interest in a specific topic. For example, Lowes or Home Depot pay handsomely to participate in a home improvement newsletter with 200,000 active subscribers. This model is far more attractive to advertisers than an audience broken out by “topic engagement score” produced by an algorithm.
Converting Audiences into Paid Subscribers
For publishers to earn subscription revenue, they must first earn the trust of readers. Audiences who aren’t yet familiar with the content are highly unlikely to pay. For example, how likely is first time visitor from Facebook to open their wallet? Rather than showing these users a paywall, a content wall can ask for email instead of payment. Use newsletter signups or guest passes to offer content in exchange for the email address. This low-hurdle conversion both opens the possibility of future payment and nurtures the reader towards that possibility: you have turned a site visitor that you may never see again into someone that is reachable and marketable.
Going behind a paywall causes concern for some publishers, who fear lost ad revenue from the decrease in traffic. Fortunately, the modern paywall allows publishers to tailor paywalls to the visitor’s appetite for content and willingness to pay, optimizing the experience to generate maximum revenue. For example, social visitors tend to return to the feed as quickly as they left: the typical publisher averages 1.2 page views per visit from Facebook. These visitors probably aren’t great candidates for a paid subscription, but triggering a wall at only 2 or 3 page depth will have negligible effect on advertising revenue.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the paywall. While content personalization is at the forefront of the publishing world’s mind, there’s nothing preventing publishers from also tailoring their business model to individual visitors, even if the only data available for a given visitor is the traffic source. Rigorous paywall testing can provide insight into how audience segments react to the paywall.
As long as quality content exists to back it up, the paid subscription model allows publishers to monetize their audiences directly, free from the diminishing financial returns of ad revenue and platforms. If publishers can connect visitors with the content they want, they can demonstrate value to their audiences and find success with the model.
Collecting more data starts with getting the audience’s attention. Replacing static signup forms with active capture methods (such as sticky footers that scroll up) gives an explicit invitation to the reader, increasing signups. Optimizing your email capture’s call-to-action based on content can also lead to more conversions by providing clear, contextual value to the audience. This could be as simple as changing “Sign up for Our Newsletter” to “Subscribe for Daily Recipes.”
When a reader visits an article, publishers can easily determine the source of the traffic, whether they’re a repeat visitor, and the kind of content they read. Fortunately, that’s all a publisher needs to optimize their email capture and paywall methods to start audience relationships that result in more data and more revenue.