How Successful Subscription Based Websites Do Marketing

Successful subscription based websites use email newsletters and social media to market their products.

No publisher can hope to have a successful subscription based website without getting the marketing right. So if you have, or plan to launch, one of our three subscription website business models – a portal, magazine website, or newsletter website – it’s worth studying the winning strategies used by savvy publishers, including, of course, our own clients.

The Mequoda Method for success is something we call ACEM, which stands for:

Attracting visitors to your site via search engine optimization.

Capturing and converting visitors into subscribers of a free email newsletter.

Engaging those subscribers as often as possible with free content.

Monetizing those subscribers by selling premium products or sponsorships.

As you know if you read this blog regularly, all Mequoda systems include a subscription portal, which performs the “Attract” and “Convert” portions of ACEM, that is, driving organic traffic via SEO and converting them via free valuable downloads. Thus a portal in a Mequoda system represents the first two waves of marketing for the site.

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Once a publisher converts those visitors and engages with them regularly, the monetization phase comes into play, which is the next wave of marketing for a successful subscription based website.

Successful subscription based website marketing: the email newsletter

Mequoda clients first monetize their audience via their free newsletter. We recommend sending emails at least five days a week. If you think that’s too much, research shows that subscribers stay subscribed longer to daily emails than to infrequent emails. When subscribers expect your email (and provided the content is valuable), they stay on your list and make reading your email newsletter part of their daily habit.

Don’t believe us? Consider this newsletter retention test:

It was run by a large B2C portal where are the average user is a 46-year-old female.

The control group received 11 emails per week and over a three year period averaged an annual retention rate of about 68%.

The test group received only two emails per week and demonstrated an annual retention rate of about 59%.

The icing on the cake was a 4X increase in spending for the control group over the test group on a per subscriber basis.

If you’ve been delivering them great content every day through email, these readers are more inclined to pay for your magazine or newsletter. That’s where the spotlight email template comes in, which can be mailed once or twice a week and markets your premium products. We recommend creating 12 different spotlight templates:

  • A short one, straight to the point with a super-charged call to action
  • A long one, including bullet points about every benefit they get as a magazine subscriber, and many calls to action
  • One with video, featuring exclusive content only available to premium subscribers
  • One with a large image above the fold that provokes the email subscriber to keep reading to the call to action
  • One that’s highly designed and has more images than text
  • One in the form of a plain-text email from the editor
  • One that polls them on their favorite content from your site (with a more subtle CTA for the premium product)
  • One that includes a “once a year” offer on the rate
  • One that includes reader testimonials
  • One that includes a list of links to premium content that would be immediately available to them, if they signed up for your web edition
  • A free trial offer
  • A “bonus gift” offer

Once you’ve created your 12 spotlight email templates, to satisfy a whole quarter, choose a day of the week, say Wednesday, and roll through them every 12 weeks. Because all of the promotions are so varied, your readers won’t get bored, and your sales should increase.

We also have a few Best Practices that are slightly different for B2B publications. It’s critical to email according to work schedules, generally Monday through Friday during work hours but some B2Bs are now seeing success with emailing on Sundays. Different studies identify different days and times as ideal, and of course we always encourage publishers to test, test, test.

You should also test both long and short copy, but don’t forget your calls to action. In general, the more expensive your product, the longer the copy should be. No matter how long or short your copy, don’t hide your call to actions at the end, place them above the fold, and in the middle too, and play with what your call to action says – “more info” vs. “buy now.”

Of course, for any market, your regular email newsletter should also serve as a marketing tool. You can do this by using shortened premium content as teasers to interest readers in your subscription product, and by including 3C Zone Architecture elements such as OFIEs (order form in editorial), OFINs (order form in navigation, that is, usually the right rail), display ads, floaters and text ads on your portal.

Successful subscription based website marketing: social media

Another powerful online publishing strategy is to generate a robust social media presence as a marketing tool. Mequoda’s Best Practice is to align your social media promotions with the timing of your email promotions, both email newsletters and email spotlights. This is the multiplatform strategy we use to get the most out of our promotional content.

Plan to promote your subscription website often. As a publisher, you’re promoting plenty of content throughout the day, so the ratio of one promotional Tweet to eight or 10 content Tweets is well balanced.

Align your email promotions with your Twitter promotions. If you decide that promoting your subscription website once a day is too much (it isn’t, when it comes to Twitter), then go ahead and align it with your email promotions. If you send promotions for your magazine on Tuesdays and Thursdays, then set up Twitter promotions for them as well.

Come up with new ways to promote your magazine. “Subscribe now!” is not the way to get subscribers, but you don’t need to spend all day coming up with new Tweets, either. Keep a spreadsheet where you’ll save the ones you come up with, use UTM codes to track sales, and set up Goals in Google Analytics so you know which Tweets perform best. Social media sales are easily the most poorly tracked sales out there.

The good news about Twitter is that you don’t have to write all-new promotional copy: Instead, recycle existing sales copy into promotional Tweets. For example, our annual Intensive once used this header which makes an excellent Tweet:

You could become the Steve Jobs of your niche in the next few years.

 This line from a floater at BiblicalArchaeology.org, with one addition, is another great Tweet:

A digital subscription to Biblical Archaeology Review provides instant access to the latest archaeological discoveries and controversies.

You’ve got Tweets just lying around on your website waiting to be used! Meanwhile, here are some other Best Practices for social media marketing:

  • Mix and match content from the pages; you don’t have to excerpt exactly.
  • Collect the email subject lines with your best open rates and recycle them.
  • Recycle the promotional headlines you use in other ads (PPC, print, etc.).
  • Use images in your Tweets to increase click rates.
  • Use hashtags on your Tweets to be seen by a wider audience, even weeks or months from now.
  • Don’t forget to lead with any sales or discounts when you have them.

Come up with new subscription pick up lines and test, test, test!

Successful subscription based website marketing: additional options

Naturally you can pay for banner ads and the like on related websites, or swap ad space with them. And don’t forget Google Adwords campaigns! At the same time, you’re not restricted to marketing your subscription website online. Your legacy print customers should see marketing in their print editions, and also in any paper mail you send them, such as promotions or bills.

What are your favorite subscription website marketing strategies? Have we missed any good ones? Let us know in the comments!

Comments
    Stephanie H.

    Can you provide a citation or link to the research mentioned above where the article says, “Research shows that subscribers stay subscribed longer to daily emails [newsletters] than to infrequent emails. When subscribers expect your email (and provided the content is valuable), they stay on your list and make reading your email newsletter part of their daily habit.” Thank you!

    Reply
      Amanda M.

      Hi Stephanie,

      The newsletter retention test was run by a large B2C portal where are the average user is a 46-year-old female.

      The control group received 11 emails per week and over a three year period averaged an annual retention rate of about 68%.

      The test group received only two emails per week and demonstrated an annual retention rate of about 59%.

      The icing on the cake was a 4X increase in spending for the control group over the test group on a per subscriber basis.

      Thanks,

      Amanda MacArthur
      Managing Editor, Mequoda

      Reply
        Stephanie H.

        Thank you! At my organization we are also concerned about universal opt outs, as we send a lot of emails on different subjects, but this information definitely helps.

        Reply

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