How publishers can convert casual website visitors into paying subscribers

The challenge: converting casuals to paid subscribers

Today I want to talk to you about the number one question I get from our publisher customers, and that is:

How do you convert a casual website visitor into a paid subscriber?

The answer is really pretty simple, but you have to do it the right way.

The challenge is that you have a lot of traffic – some of you have loads of traffic – and you’re trying to figure out how do you get that traffic to convert into a paid subscription?

What your Google Analytics will tell you, is that one, a visitor hits your website and reads maybe one or two articles and then disappears. Will they come back? Maybe. Are they sticky to your website? Are they naturally coming back? No, generally you have to promote hard to get them back and that’s time and money.

So, going away is really not a great outcome for that visit.

The opportunity: your email list

So what are the opportunities here? Instead of going away, why not have that casual visitor join your email list, and then you would be sending your newsletter to this casual visitor, right? That’s the start of a relationship between you and the casual visitor.

And the data suggests that if you’re doing the right job sending your newsletter to this new casual reader, that you have about a 10x chance of converting them as a paid subscriber. And then down the road, once you bringing them through this funnel of sorts, they’ll have an opportunity to sign up for other products or events or promotions that you have down the road.

That’s your secret sauce for this process: email starts the relationship with your casual reader.

Small Boats: a 20% increase

Now let’s start with a story that we just experienced with an all-digital, online magazine, Small Boats Magazine based up in Maine.

And what happened with them, is that they were letting the general public, the casual visitor, read two free articles and then once the visitor went to the third article to read it, they prompted them to pay and subscribe. And the visitors generally wouldn’t do that, not the casual visitor.

So what they did instead, just a few months ago, is they allowed the first two articles for free, without any effort from the casual visitor. But when they went to the third article, they prompted that casual visitor to register for free in order to read that third article.

So it works like this: The free registration prompt promises that they can read the article for free, which works better than a pop-up, because they’re on a piece of content that they really want to read. And what this publication is saying, “Yeah, sure you can read it. You can read it for free, in fact, but we just want you to register.”

Now what happened? The free registrations came in, because ‘free’ sells pretty well. And they have been seeing, month over month, a 20% gain in their email list growth and in their paid subscriptions. And that’s a pretty amazing result for a very simple change on their website.

The framework for success

Okay. Now what I’m going to show you here is a framework that we’ve come up with. We call the Subscription Accelerator™, and it essentially shows the path from the casual visitor that lands on your website, usually through a Google search or social sharing, and you want to take them all the way to the final step, the paid subscriber.

The email signup and newsletter
So the first step, is to grab that email address and do it through a registration form.

Get them on your step two: a newsletter, that you diligently send out to this free registered subscriber. The newsletter has titles and excerpts, not all the content. They click it and they end up back on your site.

And this cycle happens over time, especially for the casual reader. They’re generally not going to pay for a subscription right up front. They’re going to get your newsletter, it could be daily, could be weekly, could be monthly, and they’re going to see what they want to read. They’ll click into it, and then they’ll say, “Oh, well, I have to pay to read this one. Okay.”

The free registration level
Now you can set up your free levels. Your first registration level can offer more than one free article, if you want it to. In fact, we have publishers that offer maybe three free articles or five free articles per month, if you’re a news publisher with a fair number of articles being published every day.

But the idea is that it’s kind of like farming, you need to get that visitor to register and make the commitment to getting on your newsletter and getting logged into your website, and then sending them back to your website over time, pestering them with that request to pay for a full subscription to get full access.

And that works. That’s what bumps the take-up rate about 10 times.

New products
Now, the last step is new products. Once you get your subscription flow going from attracting the casual reader, submitting and registering with their email address, getting the newsletter, and then finally paying, is that now you have your best audience member. That’s a fully paid subscriber.

And you have opportunities to sell them premium articles, premium products, and events. We have publishers that sell archive access if they have deep archives. Of course you can sell bulk subscriptions, gift subscriptions…there’s really a lot you can do with that new subscriber that you have, and the free level subscribers as well.

Better than a pop-up

So now people say, “Well, we have our pop-ups on our site and people can easily add themselves to the list. We’re not really sure it works well.”

First of all, when you make somebody go through a registration form, it’s an effort. They have to fill in their name. They have to put in their email, choose a password, and hit submit. There’s a little bit of work there. If they’re going through that, they’re pretty interested in your content, and so it’s a nice sort of screen for who’s really interested.

They’re essentially opting into your list that way.

The recap

Okay. So let’s recap here:

  1. Get a registration form going on your website. Something with a little bit of friction, not too much, no credit card required, gives the new visitor access to a little more content. So that builds your email list.

  2. You get your newsletter sent to all the new free registered subscribers, as well as paid subscribers. That will actually drive your site traffic up.

    It’s another thing that we hear: “Geez, if I put a paywall up, it’s going to reduce my traffic to my site, which affects my advertising revenue.”

    Well, no, it’s actually the opposite. When you build a free registration, you will attract quite a lot of people that are registering for free. And then you’re driving them back to the site, which is essentially your direct marketing to them through email, sending them back to your site and voila! Your traffic goes up.

    We’ve seen publishers double their traffic, just simply by bringing on their best content and taking on free registrations. Increase your chance of subscriptions by 10% and increase your future revenues.

And if all this sounds pretty interesting to you and you want to dive in a little deeper, just grab our Subscription Accelerator™ guide, and enjoy. And get in touch if you have any questions. We’d love to talk to you.

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