How publishers can convert registered users to paid subscribers

14 September 2022 6 min. read
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In the ever-changing media landscape, publishers are turning to subscription models to increase revenue and diversify their revenue streams. For most publishers, the ultimate goal in the subscription space is paid conversion. However, this isn’t the only type of conversion publishers can pursue.

User registration is another path, and a valuable one at that, as long as users don’t stop there. By considering how users behave and what they value in a digital experience, publishers can create conversion-friendly experiences and maintain user satisfaction, thus increasing revenue.

User registration is a data transaction between the publisher and reader: A reader provides their email address to gain value, whether incremental access to paywalled content or a newsletter.

Registered user paid conversion rates

When a user registers for your publication, taking the time to create an account and provide an email address, they have already demonstrated a form of commitment to and engagement with your brand.

For many media companies, user registration can be an important step toward paid conversion. The 2022 Subscription Performance Benchmark Report from Piano revealed that the conversion rate for anonymous visitors is just 0.22 percent, while conversion rates for known users rise to 9.88 percent – making known users 45 times more likely to convert.

The path to paid conversion

Every publication’s audience is different, so media companies need to have data from each stage of the user journey to understand how these conversions play out in practice. In other words, publishers need to know: What pathways do your registered users take on the way to becoming paid subscribers?

Piano’s data shows that a significant number of registered users who later pay for a subscription make that jump quickly. It often occurs during the first 24 hours after registering. Even more convert during the first month. But the biggest portion of paid conversions from registered users – over 40 percent – happens after the first month.


What does this tell us? The bulk of registered users are content to remain free users until a particular offer or lack of access affects their experience. It may just take a promotion or a particularly enticing subscriber-only article to make them hit that subscribe button. 

Testing the conversion path 

Publishers should test out the tactics they use, who they use them on, and how successful they are. Targeting can depend on where the user is on their journey toward subscription, and testing can pinpoint how many steps it takes to get a particular kind of user to convert.

Concurrently, machine learning can help publishers predict which registered users are less likely to subscribe, thereby allowing more precise targeting with special promotional offers, certain high-value content, and more.

Email newsletters are another successful way of bringing registered users back into a site to engage with the content. You can encourage repeat visits, putting users in front of premium paid content that they do not yet have access to. For metered sites, this can move users towards a paywall, and for freemium sites, it can entice them to subscribe.

Through your strategy, you could potentially show anonymous users registration-only offers, or present users the option to register or subscribe for full access, targeting registered users for subscriptions. You can create a sense of urgency amongst registered users by presenting them with a limited time only deal, or free trial periods.

Conversion drop off by device

These deals can not only grab the attention of the audience with the promise of a free experience, but also engage their interest with your exclusive and urgent language.

Or perhaps you can start an email drip campaign when your users first register – starting with a thank you email for subscribing and following up with next steps, checking in and tutorials, and then offering them a promotion. For some publications, users might not respond well to that hard sell and sense of urgency.

Creating a strategy

Based on test results, publishers must create an adaptable strategy that works to convert registered users into subscribers.

You can test a variety of options on registered users to see what gets them over the line to paid subscription and create a repeatable strategy using the data. Using a combination of newsletters, limited access to premium content, A/B testing promotional offers and limited-time offers, and more, you should be able to determine what and how to get your unregistered users to register – and how to get your registered users to subscribe.

Regardless of what strategy you pursue, always minimise friction in the process, and make it easy for users to follow the subscription journey.

As you consider the results over time, you will be able to determine which approach delivers more paid conversions and high customer lifetime value for your site.

Personalise the experience

Registered users must see the value in your content: That is how you will get them to convert to and remain paid subscribers. One rather successful conversation tactic is to personalise recommendations and appealing content to each individual user.

Readers are inundated with content from multiple sources, so there are only a few chances to put the right content in front of the right user. A strong model will help: From trending algorithms to more sophisticated contextual algorithms, determining what readers want to see is a matter of testing and optimisation. You can optimise your approach through machine learning tools, using a mix of multiple algorithms to find the best balance for each user.


And that balancing act pays off. The median click-through rate for auto-optimised content recommendations is more than 60 percent higher than recommendations using manual settings.

Simply having a user’s email address doesn’t mean they’ll automatically convert. On average, approximately 3 percent of registered users convert to a paid subscription within a year of registration, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The best-performing sites can have over 12 percent conversion and the worst performers a little over 0.5 percent, which tells us something important: Pay attention to your users’ needs or lose out on revenue.

Subscription can feel like the finish line, but it’s really just the start of your long-term relationship with your users. Publishers should be constantly proving to registered and engaged users that your offering is worth the paid investment.