Paywalls and subscription strategies are currently taking center stage in the discussions about digital publisher's revenue models, and it's easy to see why.

By converting readers into subscribers, you develop a predictable and recurring monetization stream that's significantly more reliable that ad-only models.

One of the first steps in establishing this strategy is integrating a paywall into your content. And, although this leads to high conversion rates in the first few months as your most engaged users become subscribers, the majority of publishers see this number plateau after some time.

This is definitely a trend amongst publishers and entirely normal, but there are some techniques to employ to reignite conversion rates and optimize your paywall strategy:

  1. Increase paywall visibility rates
  2. A/B testing
  3. Regularly modify wall design
  4. Employ a dynamic strategy
  5. Soft conversion steps
  6. Integrate other steps in the funnel into the wall

Quick question: How do you choose which content to leave 'open' and which to make premium by blocking with a paywall?

Paywall success comes down to finding a balance between engagement and frustration.

On the one hand, engagement directly correlates with revenue and is essential to persuading readers to click-through the conversion funnel and subscribe. A certain amount of content should therefore be left open to allow for value discovery, as well as to support your SEO strategy (essential for audience acquisition).

On the other hand, a certain amount of frustration is needed to put just the right amount of pressure on readers to click on your CTA button and continue through the funnel to be able to access content.

Based on Poool's benchmarks, we’ve found a correlation between wall visibility and conversion rate, but only when <40% of your users are hitting the paywall. After this point, the correlation doesn’t appear to be true anymore, although this doesn’t mean that you can’t go beyond 40% - it depends on your business model and strategy. As always, testing is required to discover the optimal paywall visibility rate for your website and audience.

This can be achieved in two ways - either by blocking more of your content with a paywall (i.e. increase the ratio of premium to free content) or by placing premium content 'higher' on your home page, in the newsletter, etc, ensuring that these articles have a high visibility rate (meaning more users will see the paywall). We'd recommend testing both of these strategies to discover the best balance of engagement and frustration for your audience.


Discover the best paywall examples of 2022:

Best Paywall Examples of 2022.
Benchmark examples from some of the most successful content producers currently employing a paywall.

How to optimize your paywall conversion rates

  1. Increase the paywall visibility

This refers to the visibility of your paywall on the content itself - i.e. the number of people who visit this page and actually see the paywall.

It may appear that a high wall visibility rate will mean more conversions, but (as mentioned) you need to balance engagement and frustration - place the paywall too low down on the page and user's won't be frustrated enough to click-through and subscribe, whilst a highly visible paywall may prevent content discovery which is essential for engagement.

Overall, the strategy depends on your business model and testing is required to find the most optimal approach for converting your specific audience.

However, hard paywalls with high visibility are becoming increasingly common and are often very effective in encouraging users to support the publisher by paying to access content.

This 'sticky' wall strategy employed by The Boston Globe means 100% wall visibility rate - readers can't view more than the title nor scroll down the content.

Optimize your paywall strategy
The Boston Globe paywall

FT is well known for it's hard wall strategy, only showing readers the title of an article and blocking the rest of content with a paywall.

Optimize your paywall strategy
Financial Times paywall


🧮 KPI to measure = Paywall visibility (percentage) `


2. A/B testing

Every publisher is different, with their own content, audience and business model. So, although you can read endless tips and advice online about how to optimize conversion rates, testing is the only way to find the best strategy for your content.

There's a variety of aspects of your paywall that can be tested:

  • Wording

Including the heading, value proposition points, CTA button wording, etc.

  • Design

Such as the colors (and which colors where), CTA button placement, font, etc.

  • Scenario

The user journey prior to the paywall, such as integrating soft conversion steps, employing a metered strategy (allowing access to a quote of articles) or opening up more content before blocking users

  • Paywall visibility

Blocking just underneath the title or after a paragraph

Example: Le Journal du Dimanche tested paywall color on mobile devices to discover if this had an impact on conversion rates.

Optimize your Paywall Strategy
Le Journal du Dimanche A/B tests 

How to best determine the tests you need to run?

  • Consider what makes a user convert
  • Analyze data about content & wall impressions, including general analytics and more granular data
  • But you can start with simple tests and learn as you go along

🧮  KPI = comparison of click-through and conversion rates between the two hypothesis (but, partly depends on what you're testing)

You may also be interested in:

A/B Testing 101 - How to Optimize your Conversion Rates.
Everything you need to launch your A/B test!

3. Regularly modifying wall design

Poool research has shown that conversion rates plateau when readers get habituated with paywall design.

As this graph demonstrates, conversion rates on this publisher's site were reignited after each design optimization.

Optimize paywall conversion rates
Click-through rate on the 'Subscribe' button

Ideas of changes to design:

  • Adapt to seasons and national/international holidays, such as Easter, Christmas, etc.
  • Alter design during sales
  • Modify colors, CTA button placement, wording and key value proposition points

Above all - AB test!

🧮 KPI = Click-through rate


4. Dynamic strategy

With the amount of personalization online today, it's now an expectation amongst users in their experience on your site. And a paywall is no exception.

Employing a dynamic wall strategy that's adapted to the user is therefore hugely beneficial to conversion rates. This can be achieved in a variety of ways:

  • Adapted to location

This could be in terms of language, promoting more 'regional' content in your premium value proposition, etc.

Optimize paywall conversion rates

  • Adapted to context

This contextualizes the wall based on the specific content that a user is reading (e.g. sports), allowing you to attract this individual's interests and adapt the value proposition points accordingly (e.g. watch live sports events).

  • Adapted to device

I.e. mobile vs desktop - your paywall should be adapted to the device, not only in terms of reactivity but you can also test design and wording on different devices as conversion rates might vary.

  • Adapted to a user's engagement level

This is Poool's central way of segmenting audiences, based on how engaged a user is. Users are split into 4 groups: Volatile, Occasionals, Regulars & Fans.

Volatiles are the least engaged and have a low propensity to subscribe, whilst fans are highly more engaged in your content and much more likely to convert into a subscriber.

This audience segmentation strategy is therefore hugely valuable to you - by adapting the journey to your user's engagement level, you'll be able to present the paywall at exactly the right moment, when you've found the perfect balance between frustration and engagement.

For instance, blocking a Volatile user with a paywall when they first arrive on your site will likely lead to them leaving your site. However, if you present them with soft conversion steps, such as registration or newsletter sign up, you'll increase engagement and reduce frustration when they later get presented with the paywall.

Fans, on the other hand, can be presented with a much tougher paywall strategy that will frustrate them just the right amount to encourage this user to convert.

Optimize your paywall strategy
Data taken from Poool averages 

5. Soft conversion steps prior to the wall

As mentioned above, soft conversion steps prior to a hard paywall can help optimize conversion rates through increasing user engagement.

Optimize your paywall strategy
Hard paywall vs soft conversion steps pre-paywall

Instead of immediately asking for subscription, you lead users through an engagement journey to gradually increase their propensity to subscribe.

These soft steps, such as registration, also support your advertising model - you de-anonymize your audience and collect first-party data that allows for ad targeting and increased ARPU.

Registration:

Members who have created an account on your site have a significantly higher conversion rate than anonymous users thanks to their increased level of engagement.

ELLE employed this strategy on their site with Poool's solution to allow non-subscribers to discover premium content and form habits around consuming ELLEs content before the publisher asked for subscription.

optimize your paywall strategy
ELLE Registration Wall

Newsletter sign up wall

This is hugely valuable for establishing content consumption habits in your user's life, making sure that you become essential to their every-day life.

La Croix International employs a newsletter wall on all content to increase user engagement and, ultimately, propensity to convert into a subscriber.

optimize your paywall strategy
La Croix International Newsletter wall

🧮 KPI = ARPU of paywall alone compared to soft conversion steps prior to the paywall (although, note that leading users through an engagement journey is an investment and takes more time, but will pay off in the long run, including supporting retention/high CLV)


6. Integrate other steps of the funnel into the wall

With every step of the funnel, you risk users abandoning the process, especially when you lead them through multiple steps and require them to fill out many form fields.

To combat this and reduce the number of clicks/steps needed to subscribe, you can consider integrating some of these into the paywall itself.

Payment:

Alternatives Economiques uses Poool's Stripe integration feature to collect payment directly in the paywall itself, making subscription easy and ensuring this vital step in the funnel is completed early on.

Optimize your paywall strategy
Alternatives Economiques paywall Poool


Email collection/form fields:

Collect important data points in the paywall, such as email address. This way, any users who abandon the subscription process can be targeted by email to help convince them to convert (e.g. through special offers).

Optimize your paywall strategy
Netflix paywall

Offers:

Present your subscription offers in the paywall and allow users to select which offer to subscribe to, meaning you can remove a step from the funnel.  

Optimize your paywall strategy
Digiday paywall


Hybrid wall:

Alternatively, take the approach of EBRA who employ a hybrid wall - promote subscription (with a subscription CTA button) whilst asking those who aren't yet ready to subscribe to sign up to the newsletter (increasing engagement and propensity to subscribe).

Optimize your paywall strategy
EBRA Paywall with Poool

Another option you can consider is asking users to create a free account prior to the paywall, via a registration wall, in order to collect email address and name in advance. This progressive data collection makes for a smoother user experience and requires less effort from your audience.

🧮 KPI = click-through rate at each step of the funnel / drop-out rate at every step of the funnel


You may also be interested in:

KPIs to Follow for a Successful Paywall and Subscription Strategy.
The ultimate list of the KPIs that you should be measuring to make your digital subscription strategy a success!
How to Increase Engagement: Convert, Retain and Monetize
Find out why engagement is so important, how to track it and how to increase it, all in this white paper!
Optimize your Conversion Funnel to Turn Users into Subscribers
How can you optimize your conversion funnel? We look through every stage in the user journey towards subscription, with examples from 11 publishers and best practices to apply to your strategy.