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4 things the best paywalls all have in common

Admin | 2 December 2021 | Read time: 8 minutes
Topics | Paywalls

Publishers cannot treat their paywalls as an afterthought. The advent of new, digital media has sparked a real desire for readers to get their content online and has necessitated that publishers be able to provide that content profitably. This demand should not be understated: as of 2020, 24 online publishers hold more than 100,000 subscribers, with 5 having unique subscription numbers in the millions. With this rise in digital content subscribers, comes the need to monetise using paywalls- else lose out on growth. To be successful in the new media market, publishers must rely on paywalls to both control access to (and earn revenue on) their content. 

However, choosing to implement a paywall is only step one. A publishers’ real challenge lies in deciding what kind of paywall to implement and what features to install. Paywalls have a vast impact on how readers interact with content and, ultimately, whether or not they convert to subscribers. Gone are the days of just having to choose between a hard or soft paywall strategy; the best paywall examples used by publishers today are all dynamic paywalls

Dynamic paywalls have 4 key features that set them up for success: data-driven, personalised, adaptable, and patient. Read on to explore their critical importance for the modern publisher.

#1: Data-driven

As the single most important building block to intelligent paywalls, First-party data must be insightful and usable so that all paywall behaviour and strategy can be built on it. Critically, the importance of first-party data will only become more profound as browser developers end support for cookies in 2022. 

First-party data is gathered directly from users, giving great insight into their profiles and their behaviours. By knowing the character of your reader, you can predict their future behaviour. Which enables you to hit your users with triggers, offers, and ultimately the chance to purchase at a time that makes them most likely to convert. Timing is essential in paywalls, and a mistimed paywall can leave a bad taste in your readers holding them back from becoming a paid subscriber and throwing away the investment you already put into them. 

#2: Personalised 

Dynamic paywalls are defined by their ability to alter conversion strategy depending on who is interacting with them. Personalisation demonstrates to the reader that your publication can provide them with uniquely engaging content- content which they will want to return to. Your paywall should employ a different strategy for each unique user based on reader behaviour to persuade them to subscribe. 

This strategy revolves around effective communication between platform and reader. Triggers and offers are essential for this communication. Each reader must be served the right calls to action, content, and offers at the appropriate time if publishers seek to incentivise subscription. For example, it is useless to put Tech news at the top of a feed for someone just interested in Politics. Or to email a reader with an offer for which they had already signed up for just moments ago.

#3: Adaptable

The best paywalls do not attempt to enact the same strategies on readers repeatedly. 

Instead, intelligent paywalls iterate differing strategies to ascertain the optimum way to convert each reader into a loyal subscriber. The best paywalls not only use data to create strategy, but also collect more data. These accumulations give insight into how readers reacted to past paywall strategies, including feedback to offers and communication, and ultimately explain how likely that strategy is to convert a similar reader if used again. A/B testing, past strategies can be compared to present ones to ascertain which elements convert readers.

Take a simplified example: say one strategy involves showing 18-34 year old, London-based women 2 offers and 5 free articles before showing them a hard paywall. Let’s say this strategy has a 40% conversion rate. Now imagine we build a second strategy, where the cohort still receives 2 offers, but this time, they receive 6 free articles. Say the conversion rate jumps to 55%. 

Having the data to compare these two strategies directly, the publisher can discover the impact of more unrestricted content in increasing conversion and implement the optimum strategy.

This experimentation is made even simpler through a powerful subscription experience platform with an intuitive rules builder for paywalls

#4: Patient 

Content accessibility is crucial. Ensuring that readers can adequately preview your work and see its value is central to converting them into subscribers. Readers won’t commit to a subscription without knowing whether the media appeals to them. Of course, this varies from reader to reader, sounding back to the importance of a personalised experience.   

Metered, hard, and freemium paywalls all have their place, but the intelligent paywall takes elements of all these to appear at a unique time for each reader. The revenue lost in allowing one reader to see more content for free in the first place is made back in full, and usually moreover when they see the definite merits of the content and commit to a long-term subscription. 


Effective paywalls have one, central, focus: driving conversions. The best ones are intelligent and use data to persuade audiences through personalisation and convert them through strategy that responds to reader behaviour. Therefore, a dynamic paywall is the key to growing every publishers’ subscription base and ensuring they don’t get left behind in the media landscape.

Want to see the impact of flexible paywalls? By using Zephr to modernise their offering, SCI was able to maintain a 100%+subscriber renewal rate- read how they did it here.


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