It's unusual for most digital publishers to have a user seek out their brand without having had any prior contact. Unless the brand is very well known and established, paid subscribers usually begin at some point as a passing visitor or anonymous user. They usually visit the website via a search engine, social media, or even by chance.
Knowing this gives a whole new perspective to the value of anonymous users. Since the majority of loyal audiences start here, it could actually be considered one of the most important steps in the subscription funnel.
In fact, in order for a subscription funnel to be effective and long-lasting, there must be a continual stream of anonymous users who later convert into regular subscribers. Without these essential interactions, subscription revenue would eventually dwindle if churned users weren't replaced.
In this article, we'll outline five ways you can increase the value for anonymous visitors accessing your site, so you don't miss out on additional revenue. Making the most out of these initial interactions could be the key to sustaining a successful subscription business.
1. Leverage their data
Even for anonymous users, there is a wealth of passive behavioural information that may be used to better understand readers. These users have first-party data too, although it’s not deliberately and explicitly shared. This might include information such as the device they're using, their referral source, their browser, and their on-site behaviour.
For example, a publisher might know that a user reads content from the homepage on a tablet during the lunch hour. Or visits links solely from social media after business hours. Or reads a new sports story each day early in the morning. Just because a user has not filled out a registration form or explicitly shared their content preferences, doesn't mean publishers can't start building a useful picture of their audiences.
Having the right tech to be able to track device type and on-site behaviour etc will go a long way towards developing key insights.
Publishers can effectively use data to build user profiles and make valid assumptions about audiences. Once a publisher has identified some trends or patterns, appealing to these users becomes easier with personalised engagement tactics.
2. Personalise the on-site experience
Offering a personalised experience for each user who visits a publisher's website is an excellent step forward in developing engagement and brand loyalty. For anonymous readers, this is particularly challenging, since publishers don't have any information on their preferences. One way around this problem is to use contextual data to personalise their experience.
For example, if someone reads an article about an event in a particular location, publishers can start to build a picture of where this user might be located. From here, the publisher can then suggest articles featuring nearby locations in the 'recommended reading' section to boost the chances of engagement.
This contextual data can extend to country-related topics (depending on which site they access), or demographic-related content depending on which articles they read. Publishers can even suggest content based on the device being used to access their site. e.g. If the anonymous visitor is on mobile, the publisher can show summarised articles, videos, and mobile-friendly content.
3. Encourage the next step
While it might seem counter-intuitive, it's actually better to show your best content to free and anonymous users rather than reserving it solely for paid subscribers.
At the anonymous stage, the goal is to provide as much value upfront as possible so the user feels like they gain a lot of value by interacting with the brand, thus encouraging them to continue to deepen their readership.
This means demonstrating some of your most popular or best articles before showing a paywall. A simple way to do this is by metering your content. Metering is the process of allowing a user to read a certain number of articles for free before they’re prompted to subscribe. The key is to not be too forceful - publishers want their users to feel like they’re in control and can make the decision to subscribe when they’re ready.
The New York Times, for example, allows users to view 10 articles per month for free before they need to pay for a subscription. An effective strategy for enticing long-term reader relationships by allowing them enough time to read some of the best content.
4. Increase digital touchpoints
A lack of engagement with this major category of users can drive down the overall conversion rate and cost millions in unrealised revenue. According to the Braze CER findings, engaging with an anonymous user on just one other channel increases their likelihood of purchasing by 5.3X and the chance of repeat purchases by 64%.
This is why it's important to build a strong social presence across different platforms, covering a range of content types. Leading publishers push users to sign up for newsletters and subscribe to email lists to get updates. By focusing on delivering timely, personalised and valuable content across every touchpoint - whether that’s email, social media, web push notifications or in-app messages, publishers can ensure they maintain a regular subscriber relationship with users. The goal is ultimately to keep your brand top of mind and develop a habit of the reader coming back to your site.
5. Use a welcome series
As mentioned in point 4, email is a big strategy publishers use to increase engagement and interactions with new users.
One way to regularly get new users to open emails and visit your website is to build a welcome series. A welcome series is a group of email messages sent to new subscribers over a period of time. The main purpose of a welcome series is to introduce the new subscriber to your brand, build rapport and trust, and start forming a long-term relationship.
A welcome series can be as simple as 3-5 emails sent out over the course of a week or two. The key is to focus on delivering value in every email. A good welcome series will introduce the subscriber to different content types, such as blog posts, infographics, videos, guides, etc. and include a mix of both evergreen and timely content.
At the end of the welcome series, a publisher might choose the opportunity to prompt a user to take the next step and become a paying subscriber.
Test and refine your tactics
By implementing the above steps, it becomes possible to establish engagement and learn more about new users in order to maximise their value.
As with all stages of the subscription journey, the work doesn't just stop after initial implementation. With a strategy in place to engage anonymous users, split testing can help you determine which tactics are driving the results you’re looking for. e.g. when to send a notification or email, when to promote or offer paid subscriptions, how to show a paywall, how often to send welcome emails, and which social channels work best for engagement.
Adopting a mindset of constant improvement sets the stage for testing, adjusting and optimising your tactics to keep them fresh and effective. Over time, these small tweaks add up to big improvements in user engagement, pushing anonymous visitors further down the funnel.
A worthwhile investment
As unpredictable changes to data collection continue, anonymous users could become an even larger section of a brand’s reader base. With a rapidly shifting perspective on customer relationships in the industry, it pays to be prepared and have a robust strategy for the future. And while anonymous users might not seem beneficial to subscription revenue, remember that the majority of loyal paid subscribers once started here.
Building new reader relationships takes effort and persistence, but it’s a worthwhile investment when considering a lifetime of value from a satisfied customer. To see how some of the leaders in the publishing industry are aiming to make the most out of their audiences in the future, download our report “The Future of Audience Monetisation”.