Podcast: Paywall Optimization with David Torchiano

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webmaster-radio-1.jpgIn this episode of Landing Page Optimization, SiteTuners CEO Tim Ash speaks with David Torchiano, co-founder of SocketDigital and Director of Online Optimization at The New York Times, about subscription-based content and test prioritization. 

Different Paywall Approaches

David explains that different businesses have different approaches in incorporating paywalls. He says, The Wall Street Journal, for example, tends to put up a much harder wall- you can only access a few articles then you’ll need to log in and subscribe to their site. The New York Times takes a more lenient approach and allows about ten articles prior to the visitor having to log in and become a registered subscriber.

He expounds that the balance comes in with pricing – understanding the customers’ price sensitivity as well as the company’s value proposition. People still feel that news is free, and it’s free to create. However, David notes that a lot of people are recognizing the need to be able to support quality journalism in whichever format you might want to read it. He says they’re starting to see a change in the industry and are reaching a steady state, unlike when they first launched when there was a lot of backlash of people saying they’d never pay.

Tim agrees that investigative coverage in news bureaus in foreign capitals requires a lot of infrastructure that has to be supported by paying members.

Paywall Content and Testing

David says that before they get into testing, they try to understand the behavior, the pain points, and the interest of the users on the site by looking at both the quantitative and qualitative data. He identifies understanding the value proposition and understanding the price expression as the main levers they use to positioning one product versus another. They also look at the user experience and they try to reduce the hurdles and make it easy as possible.

Tim asks how they try out offers and find the right business model, and David explains that there’s not a lot of variance available - it’s really whether it’s the entry-level offer or the higher-end promotion. What they do have to work with is availability across multiple devices, so there’s web and smartphone versus all-inclusive digital access, and that’s where you can move the needle on the conversion rate.

David shares that when The New York Times launched a few years ago, their paywall content showed photos of people using an iPad on the couch or on the subway reading on their phones. They later realized, however, that people subscribe to them because of journalism. So, instead of highlighting the ability to read on tablets and smartphones, they started highlighting the journalism-centric content, and on every single creative, they had over a 20% lift.

Contextual Differences

Tim and David tackle device-specific behavior next, and David notes that the main value proposition can change based on the device being used to access content.

Tablet users, for instance, tend to like really immersive interactive content. Smartphone users, in contrast, just need mobility. So for that latter group, the functionality they require is to download the content locally to the phone in the morning, so that even if the users lose their signals on the subway, they still have access to the content.

The Importance of Analytics

Tim asks David to cite an example of how SocketDigital used data for clients, and David shares a story about how one e-commerce client was known for one product, and trying to expand, as well as get visitors to return. Based on the purchasing behavior, they noted that lot of the people who were purchasing the iconic products were also buying a lot of disposable products that the company was providing as well.

So, they tried bundling and promoting that to everyone who came to the web site. They found that a lot of people were actually more likely to take the bundle because they had a better value with it. Additionally, this made other customers aware of the disposable products. People returned more because of the disposable products when it was time to replace those.

David notes that you need to be doing both tactical tests (colors, headlines, and other things of that nature) and strategic tests (big tests that can move the needle, and impact the business model). The key is to tackle them in a methodical way, and lean on analytics heavily so you don’t blow your bread and butter up.

First Air Date: March 3, 2014

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