Publishers are stepping up efforts to turn audiences into registered user bases as they hunt for ways to maximize revenue and attempt to future-proof their businesses.
Registration has played an increasingly important role in publishers’ subscription strategies in recent years, thanks to its ability to unlock reader engagement opportunities and move audiences down the path to conversion. But building logged-in user bases has quickly become a strategic imperative across publishers’ broader businesses, as their ability to help drive advertising, commerce and non-subscription revenue streams becomes increasingly clear, and as Google’s planned deprecation of third-party cookies in 2024 looms.
This shift towards a “registered web” – which will require audiences to be registered and logged in to view significant portions of many publishers’ sites – looks set to accelerate as the year progresses, and as publishers view registration as increasingly essential for the sustainability of their businesses.
Registration drives revenue
Logged-in user bases offer a variety of tactical and strategic benefits across various elements of publishers’ operations, but data are beginning to emerge suggesting they help drive the metric that matters most: revenue.
Research by FT Strategies featuring over 450 news publishers around the world found that publishers with large logged-in user bases are more likely to have profitable businesses than those that don’t. 68% of “very profitable” publishers reported logged-in audience rates above 7.5%, but just 12% of loss-making publishers had built registered bases of that size, according to George Montagu, head of insights & senior manager at the consultancy.
“The continued and growing popularity of digital subscription models and a wider acknowledgment that reader revenue and advertising can (and should) coexist has put registration top priority for many,” Montagu told Toolkits.
From a subscriptions standpoint, the benefits of registration and their potential impact on revenue are now well understood. It provides a “soft conversion” step on the path to purchase, lowering the barrier to entry for readers not yet ready to commit to a paid subscription and opening up opportunities for publishers to develop closer relationships with their audiences. Data consistently show that logged-in or “known” users convert to paying users at a much higher rate than anonymous ones as a result.
But moving beyond subscriptions, registered user bases and first-party data are now helping to fuel many aspects of publishers’ businesses.
Meanwhile, publishers that generate direct audience revenue via events, commerce, and other non-subscription streams say registration helps them monetize their audiences more effectively by better understanding their behaviors and needs and meeting them with the right products and services.
Revenue aside, registered user bases are also helping publishers to develop more valuable and engaging content and features by enabling them to understand their audiences more intimately. Behavioral data and user-specified interests and preferences can be used to personalize and tailor content, but perhaps more importantly it provides them with invaluable insight into the needs, interests and pain points of their audiences. Larger registered user bases result in larger, more meaningful data sets which can be used to inform content and product development.
As their focus on registration becomes sharper, publishers are now thinking more creatively about the value they can offer audiences to justify registration. However, without a clearly communicated value proposition and exchange, registration attempts risk alienating readers and can prove counterproductive if not executed carefully.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to registration, therefore, and publishers will experiment to find the value exchanges that are most appropriate for their content, audiences and business needs.
Benefits offered to audiences in exchange for registration often include:
- Access to additional content or newsletters, either on-site or delivered via email, text, or other channels.
- Unlimited access to portions of content: audiences are often receptive to the idea that they will be required to register with a site after reading a certain number of articles in a given period.
- Personalization features, such as the ability to tailor content to readers’ specific interests and needs, location, circumstances, and more.
- Ad-free or ad-lite experiences. Logged-in users can often be delivered a more relevant and considered ad experience than anonymous ones, which often results in greater revenue for the publisher and requires less aggressive ad tactics to reach a similar yield.
- Community features, such as the ability to leave comments on articles, or to interact with other registered users via forums, messaging platforms, etc.
Striking a balance
Any registration approach that limits audience access to portions of content must take into account the potential impact to other areas of publishers’ businesses, and possible tradeoffs with audience growth and reach. Locking portions of content for registered users or limiting anonymous browsing will typically result in a dip in page views, for example, which could in turn limit advertising inventory and revenue.
Publishers remain wary of the impact registration approaches could have on their short-term revenues, therefore, and say they’ll tread carefully.
Regardless, many believe a broad shift to the “registered web” is now inevitable, and are willing to evaluate any options that will help them make that shift faster.