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User Registration Strategy Builds Audience Insight for Advertisers

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User registration and subscription

User registration is an opportunity to capture specific and useful information about website visitors that will lead to a better product and more revenue.

Registration serves two purposes:

  1. Provide an extra revenue stream from people who pay for access.
  2. Acquire demographic, geographic and psychographic profiles of the users so publishers can create targeted advertising.

The newspaper industry in particular has gone through periods of excitement over the notion of user registration and subscription-based sites.

Many of them allowed their online audience to see the index pages of their sites but then made visitors register with personal information to read the stories.

They also did it because it fit with an existing print model for paid subscriptions, which now accounts for as much as 50 percent or more of total newspaper revenue in many cases.

That wave largely has led to disappointment for many newspaper. After many complaints from visitors and an audience decline for some sites as much as 30 percent (which also cut ad inventory and therefore revenue), the industry mostly gave up on the idea of site registration for a while.

Latest Registration Wave

After a quiet period, the wave returned with a new strategy. Before, all visitors had to register for any and all content. The main thrust of the new wave was making visitors register after reading a certain number of articles.

Loyal visitors had to pay for access. They are typically people who live in the local market and visit the site on a regular basis, sometimes daily or multiple times a day.

Driveby visitors, especially people who came to the site randomly via search engines, got what they wanted for free.

It also solved a problem with the previous approach. Before, all of those pages requiring registration were blocked from search engine spiders and either lost rankings or vanished from the search engines altogether. This time, the search engines could reach and rank every article.

But this paid-subscription strategy also ran into problems. The new approach wasn’t as onerous as the old one, but people still objected to paying for content.

This time a new twist complicated the issue. Newspapers and their sites were losing their previous dominance over local readership.

TV stations, magazines and local startups started providing much of the same information for free. National competitors starting penetrating the local markets. Audiences had more alternatives than ever before.

Some newspapers dropped registration again. Others modified their approach and began offering free registration with a paid newspaper subscription.

Even if they couldn’t generate much or any revenue from paid access, they would still try to develop personal profiles for the sake of advertising.

It became clear that users would be willing to pay for content only if it is unique and high value.

Another Way: Targeted Registration

Site wide and mandatory registration clearly has its limits. But an important variation has strong potential — targeted registration.

People are willing to register if they have a reason to give up their personal information. On a newspaper wUser subscriptionebsite, those reasons include:

  • Submitting a classified or directory ad
  • Subscribing to a publication
  • Taking part in a contest
  • Signing up for an email newsletter
  • Posting a comment
  • Submitting a letter to the editor
  • Submitting an event
  • Buying photos and other products

And so on. A simple but integrated system that requires the same information at each entry point and puts that information into the same database will create a massive and useful list within months if not a year or two.

Many site registration processes are limited to name and email address with an additional step that requires confirming the email address to make sure it is legitimate. Online data collection often results in false information from people reluctant to provide personal data.

In the case of targeted registration, people have a valid reason to provide it. Buying something will require a correct name. Receiving something at home, such as subscribing to a publication, will require providing a home address.

The resulting user registration database will provide market research statistics about local usage that can go into media kits for advertisers.

It also can be used (carefully) for advertiser email blasts and will lay the groundwork for more sophisticated content, marketing and advertising efforts in the coming months.

An integrated approach to targeted site registration takes little effort and yields worthwhile benefits for sites that implement it.

Subscription Model Struggles

Some newspaper websites have had moderate success with a subscription model. Well-know examples include the New York Times and Washington Post. Part of their success is the result of massive content development and high value content that extend way beyond the content of just the newspaper.

Other newspaper sites have not fared well in part because they don’t have content that extends beyond the newspaper brand.

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