As they attempt to forge closer relationships with their audiences – and monetize a portion via subscriptions and memberships – regwalls are emerging as an integral part of many publishers’ product approaches.
For publishers selling subscriptions, the appeal of registration walls lies in their ability to help drive audience engagement and propel readers down the path to conversion. But even for publishers without subscription offerings, registration presents an increasingly attractive mechanism for creating stronger audience connections and collecting valuable first-party data to help drive advertising revenues, product and content development, and other areas of their businesses.
As publishers shake up their paywall approaches, prioritize audience data initiatives, and continue to lean heavily on email to drive engagement and subscriber demand, registration walls are playing an increasingly important strategic role for many.
The benefits of registration walls for publishers
Based on our experience working with a variety of subscription publishers across a range of coverage areas and verticals, registration walls can present a number of benefits and advantages provided they’re implemented thoughtfully. Registration walls can help publishers:
Create a powerful interim step on the path to conversion
Registration offers an effective “soft conversion” step on the path to purchase that can ultimately help fuel subscription purchases. It lowers the barrier to entry for readers who may want to strike up a relationship with a publisher but are not yet ready to commit to a paid subscription, and it opens up opportunities to drive ongoing engagement with readers – which remains the central driver for subscription demand for the majority of publishers. For these reasons, data consistently show that logged-in or “known” users convert to paying users at a much higher rate than anonymous ones.
Unlock access to email inboxes
Email remains a powerful driver of engagement and demand for subscription publishers, and any registration process should endeavor to collect email addresses as a priority. The benefits of engaging with readers via email are well documented at this point: It enables publishers to forge more intimate relationships with readers directly in their inboxes; it’s a highly effective method for driving sampling of premium content and features, and it enables publishers to easily tailor messaging and promotional activity to specific segments of their audiences.
Promote engagement and strong audience relationships
Whether a registered user goes on to become a paying subscriber or not, the act of registering alone can help forge stronger, stickier relationships with audience members. Depending on the value being offered in exchange for registration (more on that below), registered audiences typically feel much stronger connections to publishers and their brands, especially in instances where registration unlocks commenting, community elements, or access to content and features beyond what’s available to non-registered visitors.
Set clear audience expectations
Introducing content restrictions and a value exchange early in a reader relationship helps set expectations that, ultimately, readers will be required to pay for access to certain content and features. For publishers moving towards “freemium” models, setting clear audience expectations is the foundation on which long-term subscriber relationships are built.
Allow for the collection of powerful first-party data
Enable greater personalization and more engaging experiences
Registered user bases open up the opportunity to provide audiences with far more compelling experiences, both on-site and through other channels such as email and text. Behavioral data and user-specified interests and preferences can be used to personalize and tailor content and marketing messages, and to drive much deeper engagement that, ultimately, is far more likely to result in a paying relationship.
Provide a unified view of visitor activity and allows for tighter access control
Tracking user behavior across devices and browsers is an ongoing challenge. Registered, logged-in audiences allow publishers to get a much more accurate and useful view of consumption habits, engagement, tastes, and preferences. They also allow publishers to more tightly control who has access to what content and under which conditions. For example, It can be used to limit metered paywall abuses where users simply refresh their limits by deleting cookies, using incognito mode, or switching to a different browser or device.
Reduce friction at checkout
Registered, logged-in users do not need to go through the account creation process when they’re ready to make a purchase, thereby smoothing the path to purchase. Coupled with easy payment options such as Apple Pay, logged-in users can often convert with a couple of taps or clicks.
Key considerations when implementing registration walls
Registration walls are a powerful driver for many subscription businesses, but they aren’t necessarily a great fit for every publisher or all content. Publishers evaluating whether a registration wall is right for them should consider the following:
Ensure attractive audience benefits and value exchange
The key to a successful registration wall is ensuring that audiences are given ample value to justify their registration. Without a clearly-communicated value proposition and exchange, registration walls can prove counterproductive and serve to alienate or irritate readers rather than build closer relationships with them. Common approaches to audience benefits for registration include:
- Access to additional content or newsletters, either on-site or delivered via email, text, or other channels.
- Unlimited access to portions of content: While we typically advise against promoting “unlimited access” as a paid subscriber feature, 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.
- Timely notifications, such as weather or sports alerts.
- 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.
The impact on traffic and advertising revenue
Any registration wall approach that limits audience access to portions of content must take into account the potential impact on other parts of publishers’ businesses and possible tradeoffs with audience growth and reach. For example, locking portions of content for registered users or limiting anonymous browsing to two or three pieces of content per month will typically result in a dip in page views, which could in turn limit advertising inventory and revenue. For the majority of publishers, the benefits of registration walls outweigh the drawbacks – even as it relates to their ability to monetize via advertising. Nonetheless, publishers should ensure they’re striking a balance that’s best for their businesses, strategies, and goals.
Registration onboarding should be approached in a similar manner to subscriber onboarding, and publishers should have a strategy in place for greeting newly registered users with a process designed to promote engagement and communicate value, but also to begin guiding them towards a subscription purchase. As with subscriber onboarding, this might be achieved via email and text, on-site messaging, and other channels that publishers may have available to them.
Search engine optimization
Publishers that generate inbound traffic from search engines must ensure they’re aware of the potential impact a registration wall could have on their SEO performance and traffic. Careful implementation can ensure that registration walled content continues to generate as much search traffic as possible while affording publishers the benefits outlined above, although some tradeoffs may be required.
Simple registration requirements
To drive adoption and ensure a smooth experience, registration should be kept as simple and seamless as possible. Effective approaches often involve:
- Requiring email addresses only at registration, and using magic links to avoid the need for password creation, at least initially.
- Collecting data slowly over time. While it’s tempting to require audience members to share reams of information at registration, this typically alienates them. The best approach is typically to start with an email address, and then build out a fuller data profile over time. (Although there’s no harm in asking for a few more optional details after initial registration is complete.)
- Using single sign-on tools such as those offered by Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn, can help remove friction in the registration process, where appropriate.
Collect consent to contact
Publishers should ensure their registration processes grant them consent to contact audience members at the email addresses they provide, in order to comply with increasingly strict rules around marketing communications in Europe (GDPR) and California.
Test and learn
Where possible, publishers may wish to test registration walls with a portion of their audience, traffic, or content to begin before rolling them out more widely. Careful testing should allow publishers to understand the impact registration walls might have on their businesses before making wholesale decisions that are difficult to reverse.