Paywalls dynamiques : quel UX writing sur les sites de presse ?

When readers come across a paywall, its wording impacts their experiences. Review of publications websites.

The paywall experience, a real challenge

Since 2010, ever more publishers have put paywalls on their articles which block the so-called premium content and encourage readers to pay for the content to read.

Example of a paywall (French newspaper Le Point)

What is at stake with paywalls is huge: promoting subscription most of the time, paywalls are at the core of publishers’ business models. Yet, they aren’t always understood or accepted by readers.

Why am I blocked on this particular article and not on another one?

What does “premium” mean?

What is the difference between “registration” and “subscription”?

Paywalls raise also deeper questions for readers on accessing information in general:

Why should I have to pay for information?

Why should I subscribe to a single publication when I am used to reading articles of several publications?


In addition to these questions, the variety of paywall types can destabilise readers who are used to visiting several publications websites. The three main types are:

  • “classic” paywalls blocking content called “hard”
  • paywalls counting the number of articles read called “metered”
  • paywalls collecting datas called “datawalls”
  • or more flexible still, dynamic paywalls that allow not only to implement all this but also to suggest other options to unblock the paywall according to the reader’s profile.

To sum it up, various questionings and legitimate obstacles have been listed here. They must be both listened to and undone by working simultaneously on different issues - the publication’s value proposition but also communication, pedagogy… and users' experiences!

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I focused on the choices made by different publications concerning the texts written on dynamic paywalls. What is there to retain? Are there good practices that must be singled out? What impact does UX writing have on readers’ experiences?

The interest of UX writing

UX writing - a slightly barbaric term - means choosing words to integrate to readers-oriented interfaces. You know, it’s these expressions that you find in action buttons (“buy now”), those title sections of a navigation menu (“contact us”) or these confirmation messages after having bought an item (“confirmation of order”).

So the aim of UX writing is to write for ‘the design’ and to use words serving a definite aim. This expertise differs from content strategy (marketing aim), concept writing (storytelling context, brand content) and Web writing (SEO aim).The art of UX writing is keeping into account the context of the user - their expectations, problems and diverse feelings - to deliver them the right message at the right time and with the expected effect.

The art of UX writing is keeping into account the context of the user - their expectations, problems and diverse feelings - to deliver them the right message at the right time and with the expected effect.


Some guidelines of UX writing :

Concision

Each word must fulfill a definite aim. Text blocks that are too long make it difficult to skim read content.

The WSJ uses the simple sentence: “Continue reading your article with a WSJ
The paywall of French business magazine Les Échos isn’t concise, notably because it integrates a whole form.


Simplicity

UX writing must facilitate understanding. There are hacks used to strengthen clarity - for instance, using specific verbs, not using technical terms or double negations, using numbers rather than letters…

French pureplayer Mediapart chooses an easy-read writing the numbers “1€” / “15 days”.

French newspaper Le Monde counts on 2 reading levels: a short sentence to block content + a bigger block listing the benefits of a subscription

French sports magazine L’Équipe chooses a simple layout of their offer: numbers, logos and the “+” symbol.


Emotion

UX writing is a means to convey a message or else to position the brand of the product or the service in a certain context. This can make a process more human or funnier...

French newspaper Libération grants you three more reads, displaying their value proposition meanwhile.
The NYT inserts an ad in their article and takes advantage of this opportunity to reinforce their position and include the reader.
The Telegraph explains to ad blockers that their choices are harmful for the publication - the storytelling being here reinforced by the cartoon.

Belgium newspaper L’Avenir also explains that “quality news has a cost”.
Les Échos highlight their journalists’ work which must be paid for.

Usefulness

UX writing must be useful for the user. If the user has to do something, then their aim must be clearly enunciated. If the system sends an error message, the error must be clarified. Thinking about “user story” or “job story” is then very efficient!

French regional daily newspaper Sud Ouest states the problem (ad blockers), the solution (desactivation) and the benefit (free access to the article).
French business publication Challenges visually informs the reader that the article is now available.
The paywall of French newspaper Le Figaro facilitates subscription by integrating a single field of the subscription form.
After a dynamic unblocking of the article, Capital Finance reminds the reader of the reading context and therefore creates a bridge towards subscription.

Consistency

UX writing contributes to the creation of a consistent universe where similar actions have similar wordings. Paradoxically, the aim of consistency can lead to differentiate wording according to context - for instance, on mobile phones where users can be encouraged to “swipe” (among other things).

The Washington Post identifies registration for subscription thanks to the blue colour but also thanks to a permanent wording: “Subscribe now”.

We just went through main features of UX writing. These features are well shared, but they still result from a personal interpretation. MailChimp created their own list of UX writing features on their dedicated website “Voice and tone”:

In order to achieve those goals, we make sure our content is:Clear.

Understand the topic you’re writing about. Use simple words and sentences. Useful. Before you start writing, ask yourself: What purpose does this serve? Who is going to read it? What do they need to know? Friendly. Write like a human. Don’t be afraid to break a few rules if it makes your writing more relatable. All of our content, from splashy homepage copy to system alerts, should be warm and human. Appropriate. Write in a way that suits the situation. Just like you do in face-to-face conversations, adapt your tone depending on who you’re writing to and what you’re writing about.

UX writing on dynamic paywalls… is there a need for ‘surgical’ precision?

A picture is worth a thousand words:

Location of the paywall on 4 publication websites

The space occupied by the paywall is tiny compared to the full page - obviously, the paywall zone must be continually worked upon to improve its efficiency. How to attract the reader’s attention, calm their frustration, offer them action means and make them feel like wanting to come back in just a few words? That’s exactly what is at stake with UX writing.

Yes, but…

If the paywall is generally the symbol of the subscription experience, it is far from being the only feature of the subscription experience as the images above illustrate it. So, fear the oversimplification! The reader experience has to be considered as a whole.

“Bridges” rather than “walls”

At Poool, we don’t really like the notion of “wall” that characterise classic paywalls. We’d rather consider these spaces as bridges between readers and publishers and as so many opportunities for publications to facilitate access to their content!

Changing our conception of paywalls (and eventually adopting the reader’s viewpoint) means shaping a new perspective for the way we display and word paywalls. Access, our dynamic paywall solution, enables us to adapt content: on the dashboard of Poool, it is possible to modify the wording of different widgets of the paywall.

One of our clients embraced this logic and A/B tested 2 paywall headlines:

  • “This article is for subscribers only”
  • “Need to read this article for subscribers only?”

Guess which wording turned out to be a success. 😉


Content initially published by Yuna Orsini on our former Medium platform "Poool Stories".