A four-step approach helped a German publisher increase conversions in early subscription trials by ten per cent.
In an INMA ideas blog, data scientist Marielle Egert and paid content product manager Philipp Rapp detail the changes they made to tackle one of their biggest challenges: that engagement dropped after the first day of subscribing.
“Imagine you are on your way to a date,” she says. “And not just any date; it’s a date with your all-time crush, who you always wanted to go out with. This is your one chance to impress and show your best side.
“What would you do? Would you arrive late? Would you talk all night long about yourself? Would you dress in your oldest clothes?
“Of course you wouldn’t! Not if you’re interested in building a long-term relationship.”
While acknowledging that this may be “a bit of a weird comparison”, Egert says Zeit Online wants to enter into a long-term relationship with subscribers, and wants them to come back after our first date and our first impression.”
That’s why the first day of the subscription is the “first date” with subscribers, and why it’s so crucial. The challenge we face is that engagement drops on the first day and subscribers lack orientation.
“Every day we, as a product, have hundreds of ‘first dates’ – a pretty big advantage if you want to work on your first date performance,” she says. “So we took a deep dive into our data and we found something interesting:
New subscribers make heavy use of their subscription on the first day. But by day two, engagement levels off and leads to lower retention in the trial phase. “We knew that we were not quite making the right first impression, but we didn’t really know why.”
Zeit Online looked at the excitement of subscribers over time and tried to break down the user journey when starting a new subscription. They decided to talk to our users and discovered a key problem in onboarding: Most subscribers are highly motivated to explore their subscriptions within the first day, but the high number of articles and options then overwhelms them, causing frustration.
“We had just made the biggest mistake in dating,” says Egert. “We had our crush right in front of us and talked way too much about ourselves. In the end, we didn’t have enough empathy to understand what was interesting for the other person.
“So we came up with a new key objective to give our dates a better experience.”
The publisher looked to make better use of the high engagement on the first day and provide better guidance for new subscribers. Several new approaches designed to solve the problems.
They included a ‘first-step guide’ with five tips to get started with the new subscription, answers to which were used as the basis of a recommendation for one of Zeit Online's apps and newsletters.
By asking subscribers about their personal preferences, Zeit Online was able to recommend an app and a newsletter, with recommendations to help users to develop their daily routines. Initial suggestions on how to make the most out of the subscription – such as by linking apps – were included with the regular confirmation email, sent out directly after the subscription sale is completed.
With the app a strong driver for engagement and retention, Zeit Online not only tries to to convert more subscribers to it, but also completely redesigned the app for a fresh, more user-friendly interface. “We anchored a subscriber section in our new app to give new subscribers a better point of orientation,” she says. “This new area features all subscriber-only articles, games, and sections.”
Egert says the results speak for themselves: Overall achievements include increases in engagement on the first days of the trial phase by ten per cent and in retention – conversion from trial to paying subscriber – of 12 per cent. That equates to more than 7,000 new paying subscribers a year.
“We concluded that we should try to impress readers on the first days of their subscription, and not overwhelm them.
“So overall this isn’t rocket science. We just tried to better understand our subscribers and have empathy for their experience of our first date. These interventions led to an increase in engagement in the trial phase and ultimately to higher retention. We tried to focus on some key messages we wanted to deliver.
“Now our dates last longer and we have enough time to really get to know each other.”