Two Truths

Digital paid subscriptions have been a bit of a trial-and-error gig since the invention of the internet.

But two seemingly unrelated things have become indisputably clear:

  1. The reader needs to be in control of their browsing experience
  2. Email marketing is still the number one acquisition and retention channel for digital publishers

So what paywall strategy gives your readers control and builds your email lists without complicating your workflow?

The answer is a metered paywall.

Here’s the background:

Back in the old days of early web-based publications, the only way for publishers to protect their content was to hide it behind a hard paywall which restricted all your content.

Publishers would then carefully hand-select what content readers could see for free. They had to choose which articles they thought would best appeal to the subscribers they were trying to attract – without giving away everything of value.

And this was all made worse by the fact that a hard paywall didn’t just block out casual readers or content thieves – it blocked out search engines and social media sharing.

No sharing a paywalled article on Facebook.

No popping up on the Google results page, even if someone searched a direct quote from one of your articles. Not if it was hidden behind that hard paywall.

Alas. Poor early publishers. What choice did they have?

Meet the Metered Paywall

The creation of the metered paywall has become a game-changer for digital publications.

It works like this:

The publisher sets a “meter” on their content – two articles a day, three articles a week, five articles a month, etc. When readers visit the site and choose an article, the meter starts counting.

Did you catch that? The reader chooses the article. Any article. Whatever tickles their fancy.

They can read the article in its entirety. They can share it to a thousand folks on social media. They can email it to their friends and everyone can read the full article..

Then they can pick another one. They have free run of the publication…until the meter runs out.

When they hit the meter limit, the reader is offered full access by purchasing a digital subscription.

Wait, they didn’t go for it right away? No problem. Email to the rescue.

Searchable, Shareable, Versatile

The metered paywall comes with a lot of benefits.

Google can see all your articles in their entirety. Thus, it will rank every article in your publication fully in search results.

Which means that if people are looking for answers that you have, they will find you.

They’ll visit your site. They’ll read your article. They’ll share it with their friends. They will read more. And when the meter runs out…they might subscribe.

And since now you’re shareable, you get an extra surge in your searchablity. Social markers are a huge part of how Google decides your place in their results.

Plus, the best metered paywalls will also allow you to meter just about everything.

Easy and Flexible

Before we start talking email, let’s take a minute to talk about how publishers achieve all this subscription bounty.

You ready? Here it goes.

  1. Install a metered paywall.
  2. Set the number of free articles you want to give away every day, week or month.
  3. The end.

It really can be that easy,

Of course, there are things you probably want to do.

Publishers should experiment with the meter by restricting or increasing the global free article allowance. Many of them have had success by tightening the wall during peak seasons and letting it leak a little more during slower traffic times.

You can get as fancy as you want and lock down or open up specific articles – but a metered paywall takes a big burden off your shoulders.

By giving the reader control of their experience, you’re offering them a ‘try before you buy.’ This model works. From software to content, potential customers need an unrestricted trial period.  Your reader can enjoy what they want, increasing their chances of subscribing.

Because here’s another funny little fact:

Contrary to what you might think, it’s often the lowest trafficked articles that bring the highest number of subscription conversions. It’s not the crowd favorites that convince your reader to buy a subscription.

Take out the guesswork. Let the reader decide what’s important to them and let the meter do the work.

The Glorious Marriage of Emails and Your Paywall

The email address you collect is yours. The content that you deposit directly into a reader’s inbox is yours. Neither can be lost in Google’s search or Facebook’s social algorithms.

Your email is targeted to an audience that has already expressed an interest in you and what you have to offer.

And it keeps your name at the forefront of their memory.

Bottom line? Readers on your email list are ten times more likely to become subscribers.

Ten. Times. More. Likely.

Yeah.

So let’s look at how this works:

Since your meter gives casual readers some amount of free content, you can ask them for an email address in return for delivering all your content excerpts into their mailbox (a slide-in popup works well).

Popup copy example: “Don’t miss an article! Sign up now to get every article delivered to your mailbox… and enjoy 2 full premium articles every week.”

You send out an automated newsletter (daily, weekly, monthly) with headlines, teasers, and links back to you new articles.

The reader clicks the links in the email to read the content on your site that appeals to themtheir choice. The meter runs out, they’re prompted to subscribe.

Maybe they do. Maybe they decide not to, this time.

But next time they get another email with more new content and links back to your site. Eventually, they’re going to hit the meter before they’ve read their fill.

And over time, boom! Their likelihood of paying for a subscription jumps 10 times.

It’s a gentle cycle of natural pestering with big results. We see paid subscriptions increase 30% just by implementing this email building sales funnel.

Bonus: Increasing the Value of your Email Ad Spots

Your emails can be another source of revenue as well: ad space.

Think about it.

The metered paywall helps you build your email list.

With more recipients, your email list becomes more valuable to advertisers. Not only will your paid subscriptions increase, but also the value of your email list’s sponsored ads.

Yes, it’s time to get serious about your email strategy.

Make it Happen Automatically

The best part is that, as mentioned, this process can be completely automated.

Sending your email news to a list can be a set-it-and-forget-it process. A service like MailChimp that has an RSS-to-email feature can easily automate your email collecting and sending.

A metered paywall like our Leaky Paywall also automatically adds new paid subscribers to a MailChimp group.

And So…

What does every paid digital publication need?

More reach. More readers. More revenue. Less work. Less wrangling. Less stress.

All of this is made possible by starting with a metered paywall.

Want to see what we can do for you? Get in touch. We’ll talk.