More Money From Paid Content

Online publishers must continually employ new tactics and analysis to improve marketing results. A diverse group of content providers, from established media companies to start-up entrepreneurs, shared what’s they’re doing at the recent Selling Subscription to Internet Content Summit.

Packaging and marketing existing content to generate additional revenue is a continual challenge for publishers. Constant testing and analyzing of both offerings and merchandising enables them to prove what improves a site.

A/B testing is the most common method. It’s easily implemented in-house by selecting a variable to test, such as button copy, and having Web pages differing only by that one variable served to two randomly chosen segments. Other types of analysis yield different business insights. MarketingSherpa Publisher Anne Holland recommends using multiple testing methods, including multivariate, eye-tracking, click path and usability, to achieve optimal results.

Areas in which testing is practical and useful include:

  • Improved landing pages to increase conversion. Test landing pages to ensure they’re optimized so visitors perform the desired actions. The A/B method tests only one element at a time, so it can be time consuming to test a large number of variables. Motley Fool used Optimost‘s multivariate analysis platform to conceptualize their landing page as a set of variables (such as headlines, copy blocks, copy order, buttons) that can be simultaneously tested. Starting with a potential one billion permutations, multivariate methodology statistically reduces the number of options and tests them to yield the optimal component configuration. Motley Fool’s new landing page increased the clicks-to-order ratio by 39.5 percent, and subscriptions improved 36.4 percent. Based on eye-tracking study learnings, Holland streamlined MarketingSherpa’s landing pages, resulting in a 64 percent conversion improvement.

  • Streamline Forms. Attracting consumers to your landing page or site is sufficient for some, but premium publishers need consumers to complete a form and enter credit card information. This means testing ways to streamline forms and their presentation. Forms tend grow longer to collect more information over time. To determine the optimal length and offer process, SQL Server Worldwide User Group used a variety of tests, including A/B testing, and ran an informal usability survey. They learned that well-placed customer testimonials allayed concerns about the form.
  • Simplify Pricing. Subscriber tenure averages about six months, so up-selling full year subscriptions can increase revenues. Simplifying pricing aids customer conversion. Targeting college sports fans, Rivals.com converts users to a $99.95 annual subscription through price presentation ($8.33 per month for the annual, versus $9.95 for a monthly subscription) on their order form while testing different variables and incentives. HighBeam’s Open House helped shift monthly to annual subscriptions by 56 percent.

Since testing and related improvements yield only incremental increases, publishers must also find new ways to extend offerings in a mature market. Revenue expanding opportunities include:

  • Add or expand advertising to paid content. Clients often believe “paid content” means “ad-free,” particularly when their paid subscriber base is highly qualified for advertisers. The Wall Street Journal and The Economist have run advertising on their paid subscription sites since their inception. Alternately, publishers like MarketingSherpa and Beernet.com use paid content only to promote their own products.

  • Throw an “Open House” Allow a broader audience to sample paid content for free for a limited time. This can increase revenue with added subscribers, boost advertising with incremental page views and create sponsorship opportunities. Both The Wall Street Journal and HighBeam opened their content for a week. Both increased their house email lists, subscriber bases, advertising, sponsorship revenues and press coverage. WSJ Online Marketing VP Jennifer Singer said, “The promotion drove an over 40 percent increase in page views and nearly 1 million additional unique visitors, resulting in 10,000 incremental subscriptions specifically attributable to this promotion.”
  • Offer new products to existing customers. B2B publisher Beernet.com serves a small target market with a high-priced annual email newsletter. With a list that contains the beer industry’s Who’s Who, Beernet.com needed new products to diversify its revenue stream. Among the new products are an annual industry review and a conference.
  • Third party offerings. Tap into opportunities to partner with third party marketers.
  • Add Google AdSense to place contextually relevant advertising on your site.
  • Offer co-registration for complementary, non-competitive content after visitors register on your site. Trade registrations with another publication, or receive payment for placement.
  • Rent your email list. In today’s market, this means sending offers for third party products.
  • Build house lists by offering free content as “bait.” A house list is one of your strongest marketing tools and can be used to merchandise additional products. Premium content sites, particularly those with highly-priced print counterparts, must grapple with how much content should be free. Best known for SouthBeachDiets.com, Waterfront Media advertises to grow its lists, and carefully tracks performance. To entice registrants, the company offers free email newsletters that contain relevant content and generate revenue as third-party advertising vehicles.

To ensure these strategies achieve desired results without cannibalizing existing revenue streams, analyze the following:

  • Track revenue results from these initiatives. Ensure they generate sufficient revenue to warrant the effort.

  • Monitor existing revenue streams to track potential cannibalization. At minimum, overall revenues should be higher.
  • Examine consumer feedback to determine if any of these initiatives have unforeseen impact that may damage your site or brand.

Think in terms of incremental improvement. Continually seek new ways to expand your revenue streams. Meanwhile, vigilantly test and analyze current marketing to increase efficiency. While they may not be sexy or yield big hits, in aggregate the small improvements in revenue efficiency are often what separate the winners from losers in the long run.

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