On-site content recommendations are often treated as an afterthought by publishers, or viewed as an unnecessary or suboptimal use of on-site or in-app real estate. But for publishers placing subscription and membership products at the center of their businesses, content recommendations present a powerful and often underutilized tool for driving audience engagement, pushing readers down the path to conversion, and boosting subscriber loyalty and retention.
Specific tactics related to what content to surface, where, and to which audiences will vary from one publisher to the next depending on the nature of their products and broader subscription strategies. But based on Toolkits’ experience working with publishers, many could be employing more effective approaches than they are. In some cases improvements and optimizations may yield subtle results, but in other instances relatively simple changes in approach can generate significant upticks in audience engagement and incremental subscription revenue.
Content recommendations can help drive subscription businesses in five primary ways: Directing traffic to valuable and high-performing content, exhausting meter limits and driving paywall stops, showcasing a product’s features and breadth, boosting engagement and retention among existing subscribers, and emphasizing important product and brand “moments.”
Directing traffic to valuable or high-performing content
Any publisher should be able to identify which pieces of content – or at least which broad content types – are driving the most audience engagement and conversion activity across their properties. Recommendations present a powerful opportunity to steer traffic towards content that’s driving action among audiences, either by using automated systems or manually controlled widgets and on-site placements. In some cases, behavioral data might be used to tailor recommendations to specific audience segments or specific users based on their interests and their propensity to engage with certain content types. Optimizing content recommendations purely for conversions risks alienating users and degrading their experience, however, so ensuring some content variation and diversity is advisable.
Exhausting meter limits and driving paywall stops
For publishers operating metered paywalls, effective content recommendation strategies can help significantly increase content consumption, exhausting more readers’ meter limits and boosting the number hitting paywalls as a result. For sophisticated publishers that optimize their paywall stop rates to a specific range or have other revenue streams to consider, content recommendation approaches might be tweaked intermittently in order to strike a balance between maximizing paywall performance and, for example, generating ad impressions.
Showcasing product features, breadth, and depth
In instances where subscription products offer a range of content types, features and/or other benefits, content recommendations can be used to educate audiences and build awareness of the nature of the content and features their products offer. As many publishers attempt to lure subscribers with broader packages and product promises, showcasing breadth and diversity is a growing priority.
Where applicable, content recommendation can also be used to demonstrate depth. For example, publishers that lean on “evergreen” or utility-driven content might see value in demonstrating the depth and comprehensiveness of their archives. Personalized recommendations can prove particularly powerful in these instances, assuming publishers have behavioral or user-reported signals to inform them.
Boosting engagement and retention among existing subscribers
Ongoing and repeat engagement remains the strongest indicator of whether a subscriber is likely to renew. In general, the more engaged a subscriber is, the less likely they are to cancel (although this dynamic shifts a little for sleeper subscribers who continue to pay for products they don’t use.) Content recommendations can help promote deeper subscriber engagement, reinforce purchasing decisions, and demonstrate ongoing value. Personalized recommendations can prove especially effective when targeted at existing subscribers, assuming publishers are aware of their needs and interests both at the individual level and as a collective.
Emphasizing important product and brand “moments”
For publishers with strong and well-defined brands and editorial missions, content recommendations can help emphasize important content or product “moments” that demonstrate and reinforce publishers’ identities. Examples might include in-depth investigative reports, special packages, campaigns, magazine issues and more. Many publishers are now moving beyond the idea of simply selling access to content, and are now beginning to position their subscription products more firmly around unique and differentiated sensibilities and points of view. Content recommendations can be used to help demonstrate and reinforce when those points are view are being expressed.
How, where and when content recommendations should be optimally presented to audiences will inevitably vary from one publisher to the next based on site and product design, technology, brand considerations and level of sophistication. Regardless, publishers that aren’t factoring content recommendations into their subscription approaches and conversion strategies may find they are leaving valuable engagement opportunities and incremental revenue on the table.