February 2022 | 10 min read
- A small North American publisher was seeking to grow subscriptions and engagement through the launch of a registration wall.
- Mather advised the publisher on best practices, tracked performance using Listener™, and provided analysis and recommendations.
- After one year, the registration wall increased known users by 5.8X and subscriptions grew by 60%, largely attributable to the registration wall.
- Though the net result was a strong success, there was a lag-time of three months before the registration wall yielded measurable subscriber growth.
- Monthly page views were not impacted but paywall channel attribution declined.
The Benefits of Knowing Your Audience
Paid content strategies are now common for many news media outlets and are being seriously considered (and adapted) by magazines. However, converting anonymous readers into loyal paying subscribers does not happen overnight. A key step in the customer lifecycle is growing engagement and boosting known users.
A registration wall is one of the many tactics in the publisher’s toolkit to directly impact the “middle of the funnel” and boost engagement. A previous analysis by Mather Economics indicates that on average, known users are 4X more likely to subscribe and have a greater lifetime value (3.5X) compared to anonymous users. The first-party data collected from known users enables personalized online and offline marketing campaigns to directly reach prospective buyers.
Beyond the purview of this article, growing known users will be key for any first-party data strategy and have long-term impacts in digital advertising in future revenue models.
Publisher Case Study: 12 months since registration wall launch
- Known users grew 5.8X
- The percent of known users online grew from 1% to 4%
- Active digital-only subscribers grew 1.6X
- Total monthly conversions increased 3X
- Monthly paywall hits declined, and conversions attributed to the paywall dropped by 22%
- 30% of users hit the registration wall with 3.14% registering per month
- No impact on monthly page views
Case Study Detail
The publisher engaged Mather on digital strategy and implementation seeking to grow subscriptions and optimize audience/content strategy. Averaging 1.5M page views per month, any friction to the user experience was a risk but after a thorough review, business case modeling suggested good ROI from introducing a registration wall.
This publisher automatically opted in users for newsletters and breaking news notifications as part of the registration onboarding, creating a direct link between the newsroom and the newly registered user.
After twelve months from launch, known users grew 5.8X.
The percentage of known users online increased from 1% to 4% after twelve months.
Anonymous users coincidentally grew 1.7X due to other market dynamics and audience development tactics unrelated to the registration wall.
Figure 1: Growth in Active Known – Registered Users
Nearly one-third of the audience encountered the registration wall over the twelve-month period (about 30% of unique users hit the registration wall) with 3.14% of those users registering on average (registrations/reg wall hits). The chart below shows the index of these performance metrics over time along with the cumulative total registrations by month.
Figure 2: Cumulative Registration & KPI Impacts (% Change)
One key observation of the registration wall is the delayed impact on new digital subscribers. Within the first 12 months, total monthly active digital-only subscribers grew by 60% compared to the month prior to launch. Initially, the publisher allowed full site access for a long period of time in exchange for a user’s valid email address. However, at month 3 post-launch, the strategy was shifted to only allow one additional article upon registration. Making the paywall more aggressive had an immediate positive impact to accelerate digital subscriber growth.
Figure 3: Digital Subscriber Impact
Some publishers are hesitant to experiment with a registration wall, fearing negative impacts on traffic, paywall hits, and paywall conversions. However, page view risk can be mitigated by setting the registration wall at the appropriate level. In this case study, the registration wall was shown on a reader’s second article attempt, offering one additional free article in exchange for registration.
Overall traffic and page views were not impacted by the addition of the registration wall because the strategy set the registration wall at the original paywall position in the user’s journey. In fact, this placement encourages a lift in engagement because users who are willing to register are offered an additional article, extending the opportunity for engagement that the paywall might normally have ended.
As expected, the publisher observed a decline in the number of paywall hits and paywall conversions. Despite this, publishers should avoid the pitfall of overvaluing paywall sales attempts while discounting building a robust known user base. In this case, the decline in one channel was offset by the growth in registration wall hits and a surge in conversions not directly attributable to the metered paywall. Total monthly conversions increased by 199% on average due to a surge in subscriptions from the voluntary (subscribe button) and email channels, which offset losses from the paywall channel.
The chart below shows the index of conversion volume, paywall hits, and conversions attributable to the metered paywall.
Figure 4: KPI Impacts
Prior to the registration wall launch, this publisher heavily relied on the paywall to convert anonymous readers into paid subscribers. However, in the first two months post-launch, voluntary subscriptions rivaled the conversion numbers seen by the paywall, and after the update to the incentive strategy three months post-launch, voluntary email subscriptions boomed.
Figure 5: Paywall vs. Non-Paywall – Shifts in Conversion Volume by Channel
Keeping One Step Ahead of the Moving Target
Newsrooms are scenes of concurrent change and adaptation. As success metrics shift from advertising and pageviews to a focus on subscriber acquisition and retention, the way the digital product operates must also evolve. The registration wall should not be seen as an adversary of the paywall or audience growth, but rather as a key component of a healthy digital strategy.
Mather Economics continues to collaborate with the Publisher to further refine and leverage the benefits of their registration strategy.
Mather’s team of experts can help craft an intelligent registration wall strategy that mitigates risks and generates net positive returns to lifetime value. In addition to sharing best practices and scenario forecasting, Mather’s audience segments can be used to facilitate dynamic A/B testing of the strategy, enabling publishers to “try it on for size” before committing to a sitewide implementation.