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How to map out your reader paywall strategy

There are four main types of paywall strategies that publishers can consider to increase reader revenue. But how do you know which strategy is right for your brand? Online engagement solutions provider Viafoura explains what to focus on to make sure your paywall is a success – with a particular recommendation for niche publishers.

Viafoura’s new guide: Why a paywall isn’t enough.

Reader paywalls are growing in popularity with publishers in a bid to offset the decline in online advertising revenue that many are facing thanks to competition from Facebook and Google

But Viafoura has released a new report, Why a paywall isn’t enough, explaining that paywalls need a robust audience engagement strategy to be a success. 

According to Viafoura, roughly 76 per cent of publishers have a paywall in place, but “only 10 per cent of news publishers report having a thriving digital revenue model”. 

The report states that, while there are many examples of success, 80 per cent of publishers with a paywall have trouble converting anonymous traffic to known subscribers. 

Those that are successful focus on quality content and organic user engagement. Viafoura says this is because: 

  • Publishers can collect rich first-party user data to drive insights and customise content for its readers 
  • Users get a value exchange: in return for providing personal information or money, they receive access to a like-minded community or thoughtful content. 

And it’s this relationship that is set to grow in importance as web browsers move to make third-party cookies obsolete

Choosing the right reader paywall for you 

Viafoura says that it is important to consider how your audience interacts with your brand and content to determine which type of reader paywall is right for you. 

There are four main types of reader paywall. Viafoura explains that each method approaches content offers differently, but the overall intent remains the same – to convince readers to convert. 

  • Hard paywalls: pay before accessing any content 
  • Freenium paywalls: a combination of free and locked ‘premium’ content
  • Metered paywalls: allowing a set number of articles to be viewed before a subscription is required
  • Dynamic paywalls: are data-driven, allowing publishers to tailor the subscription offer to user behaviour or interests. 

Viafoura explains that, while hard paywalls may seem risky, it can be a successful option for niche publishers, particularly if unique or value-added content is provided. 

“Niche audiences such as industry professionals would more likely have interest in consuming content that’s specific to their job or field. In this case, hard paywalls may prove successful – especially when a publisher is already established in a niche market as a provider of quality content.” 

How do you tell if your paywall is a success? 

Viafoura says that your ‘stop rate’ is a key indicator of the level of engagement your content is getting. 

A ‘stop rate’ is the percentage of all digital users who are “stopped” by a subscription prompt, a paywall or meter limit. 

According to the report, publishers with a successful paywall report stop rates of over 6 per cent

“A major hurdle publishers currently face is getting users to engage with their site long enough to trigger a paywall. The majority of publishers have stop rates of less than 1.8 per cent. Translation: most publishers are failing to engage their communities to reach their paywall threshold.” 

So, if we look at the stop rate benchmark again – 6 per cent of your most engaged readers should receive paywall messages to ensure that your online reader revenue can grow. 

How to increase user engagement 

Viafoura suggests focusing on growing and maintaining a group of ‘super users’ – highly engaged readers who return to your website to read and interact with your content. 

“A small percentage of your most engaged readers are the ones that will drive the majority of your revenue.” 

The report cites research findings that publishers can more easily convert website visitors into paying subscribers by prompting users to increase their engagement with the site over time. To do this, Viafoura says that it is important to:  

  • Understand your audience: what stage are they at in their subscriber journey? What is the best way to nurture loyal behaviours? 
  • Understand your content and website: how is content organised? How can users partcipate? 
  • Determine how much you want the community to evolve: how much do you want users to participate?  
  • Select interactive features most applicable to your audience to increase their engagement
  • Select key metrics to measure and improve: number of active users and active engagement.

Most importantly: have a clear vision 

Viafoura says “An optimised paywall strategy starts with a long-term vision of how you want to position yourself in the eyes of your audience. The type of paywall implemented needs to match the experience expected by audiences.” 

“It’s up to you to delight and surprise your audience with valuable experiences. So get into their shots to really envision what their journey looks like on your platform and where you want them to go.”   

Click here to access Viafoura’s guide on paywall options, how increasing user engagement increases user revenue, paywall optimisation strategies, and key metrics to measure. 

Written by Lyndsie Clark

Targeted Media Services Network Founder and Editor Lyndsie Clark has over 12 years of niche publishing experience, working in a variety of roles spanning B2B editorial, sales, operations, events, BD, and management.


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