Putting content behind a paywall can turn off both visitors and potential advertisers. But, there are ways to build both your subscriber base and entice advertisers for your subscription site. 

For many businesses looking to pivot to a subscription model, this decision is often made as a means to provide an ad-free experience to paying subscribers. However, the power of serving ads to an exclusive community is often overlooked. 

As should always be the case, focusing on quality and not quantity is the main concern. Serving high-quality and relevant ads to your subscribers can enhance their experience and drive new revenue.

What Is a Subscription Model?

A subscription business model is one of recurring revenue generated from customers who pay a weekly, monthly, or yearly subscription for products or services. Lifetime subscriptions also fall within this category. 

They tend to be more profitable in the long term than a one-off payment for two reasons. They are more of an enticing proposition with a lower cost entry barrier and less risk for prospective customers who may not yet trust the consistency and quality of content production. 

This model is reliant on creating a strong client relationship where customer satisfaction is paramount and it is mutually beneficial for both parties. Customers benefit from a convenient and always accessible service, while a business retains customers with monthly recurring revenue, and brand awareness increases through word of mouth.

Creating a subscription model is not as complicated as you might think. 

While examples of the New York Times website and Dollar Shave Club are commonly thrown around, the scale of these businesses should not deter you from thinking that your business could also benefit from a subscription model.

The most important question is, will your business benefit from offering subscriptions? 

This model needs to make sense for the products and services you offer. It’s a good option for sites whose customers require constant access such as software products, exclusive media, and outsourced services. Equally, for physical products that require frequent top-ups or daily delivery, a subscription model would be beneficial for both users and the business. 

Can I Serve Ads to Subscribers?

One of the methods that often gets discussed is providing a subscription model to a site so that users do not see ad content. While this is a viable approach for some businesses, if you are able to convince your visitors to disable their ad blockers with the quality of your content, it is a much more effective way to grow your client base.

Tech firms have adopted this approach to great success with Software as a Service, or SaaS. This has added benefits to both companies and the consumer such as market-driven costs for the services, more payment options, and increased security.

Let’s take Wired as a good example. Visitors can access four free articles per month before a paywall goes up. Medium, the online publishing platform, uses a similar model. 

It allows publishers to strike a balance between providing content to attract visitors and ensuring a consistent revenue stream. This way they can grow their digital advertising reach and build a subscriber base. 

Building a strong subscriber base puts you in a better position to sell ad space to noncompetitive and relevant online businesses. 

As with advertising on any website, users are likely to be put off content if the ad experience is intrusive and irrelevant. Serving ads to paying subscribers can therefore feel like playing with fire. 

Learning from how sites like Wired and Medium display ads is a good place to start, but being aware of digital advertising best practices and focusing on the quality of your content will mitigate the chances of a negative response from visitors. 

So the big question is, how can you include ads and keep your subscribers happy?

Use Ads to Keep Subscription Fees Down

Your subscribers are already invested in your brand and have come to expect a high level of content production. However, as time goes on it is inevitable that the stream of content can stagnate, production costs might increase, and a business may need to hire more content creators to increase the rate of production. 

All of these scenarios will incur an increase in costs for the business. Costs will inevitably be absorbed by the consumer, resulting in an increase in subscription fees. This may not be (initially) for existing subscribers, but certainly for new ones. 

So what is the alternative?

Revenue generated from ads can provide the necessary capital to support business growth and fill gaps in profit margins. Subscribers will also benefit from an increase in perceived value because they will have access to more content for the same fee. 

As always, the relevance and quality of your ad content are crucial.

Not All Ads Are Considered Equal

There is a common misconception that all users hate ads. This idea tends to be exacerbated by statistics (like this one) that show an increase in ad blocker usage year-on-year. 

However, users are increasingly understanding that businesses rely on ad revenue. So much so that in 2021, 54% of American ad blocker users have whitelisted websites. 

By creating a loyal community of subscribers, your business will retain a powerful asset that can be leveraged with advertisers to serve your subscribers the highest quality relevant content. If you then implement ad placement best practices, it will create a non-intrusive experience. 

Native ads seamlessly integrate with your content and can actually serve to break up long blocks of text with relevant advertising. Polling suggests that 68% of consumers trust native ads seen in an editorial context, compared to 55% for social media ads.

Subscribers Are Already Used to Seeing Ads

It is worth checking what your competitors are doing because it is likely that they too are serving ads to their subscribers. It is not a new concept, and many of the biggest names in subscription models are already doing so. 

Newspapers like the New York Times and The Washington Post are known for including in-article native ads to keep subscription costs low while generating the revenue they need.

Wired also continues to include in-article ads for their subscribers, instead focussing on other selling points such as offering print editions of the magazine as part of the service, and free merchandise. 

Providing an “ad-free” experience is becoming less of a selling point. Users are looking for value and the statistics show that they are prepared to view ads for that privilege.

How Do You Create a Subscription Site?

Creating a subscription site is easier than you might think. You can start entirely from scratch or create a login portal for subscribers on your current site. Whichever path you choose, it is important to follow these steps to ensure a quality experience for your subscribers.

1. Establish your goals and objectives

One of the hurdles in starting a subscription service is determining how much to charge customers. It is best to start with your business goals and what level of client you are hoping to attract. 

Are you targeting small-business owners or high-value clients? Do you want to boost sales for a certain product or focus on building a loyal customer base? Your pricing strategy should reflect who your target customers are and what they would be willing to pay.

You need to determine what content and benefits are available to different subscribers. This could involve creating subscriber levels such as basic and premium memberships, or simply differentiating between free access and a subscription.

Providing free access to content can still expand your subscriber base if you require that all users create an account to view content. An example of this would be creating a preview of articles with the main body hidden behind a free paywall. To continue reading content, users then need to submit their email addresses. 

2. Domain Name Hosting and Accepting Payments

If you are starting from scratch, you will need to find and register a domain name that is descriptive of or relative to your business and products. 

Any website wanting to accept payments or ask users to sign in requires an SSL certificate. This assures visitors that the website is authentic and it is safe for them to share private information. Without it, users will see your website tagged as “not secure” which is a major deterrent.

If your business already has a domain name and website that is an HTTPS (the secure version of HTTP) an SSL certificate will be required to encrypt traffic.  

3. Group Site Content and Set Limits

Let’s consider two membership paths, a paywall, and a tiered membership.

The paywall involves allowing users to view (or preview) a set number of pieces of content before reaching a paywall. It is advisable that the limit be set monthly even for sites that publish in high volume. At the paywall, users can subscribe to unlimited content for a fee.

The second is creating a pricing plan with different membership levels. Each level—for example, basic and premium—will grant subscribers access to more content tagged according to their tier. 

Tagging is easy within WordPress. Creating these categories will save time later on when protecting your content.

4. Choose a Membership Plugin

There are various WordPress paywall, membership, and LMS (Learning Management System) plugins on the market. We have had particular success using MemberPress. It combines all three into a system that is easy to set up and optimize for different subscription types.

MemberPress can be added to any WordPress site. So, whether you are creating your brand from scratch or are looking to monetize your existing content, the functionality is the same.

Using the plugin, businesses can create membership plans and start accepting payments. Content access and “rules” are created using conditional logic. Tagging makes the process of filtering content for different subscription levels even simpler.

Other features include the ability to add a signup and login link from your website menu, create a pricing table, set subscription renewal reminders, and create coupons. 

Use AdSanity to Boost Subscription Site Ads

AdSanity gives you all of the tools you need to place the correct-sized ads anywhere on your website. AdSanity also makes it easy to filter your ad content based on a user’s subscription level.

With the User Role Ad Visibility Add-on, you are able to hide ads based on the role of the visitor. This can be determined by tiers of subscribers from free accounts to different levels of paid subscriptions. A user will need to be logged in for their role to be acknowledged by the site.

If you continue to provide some level of free access to content for visitors who do not want to subscribe, using Ad Block Detection can ensure that your ad content is still generating impressions. There is some finesse required which is why we wrote this post – convince users to turn off their ad blockers.

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