Editors Note: Madeleine White is the content marketing manager at Poool, a French startup that helps publishers with audience conversion. In her partner column at The Fix, Madeleine showcases Poool’s study of 42 French publishers that breaks down the building blocks of your engagement funnel


In the post-pandemic, cookieless and customer-focused digital context, publishers have to change the way they monetize their content. Instead of chasing ‘eyeballs’ and advertising revenue alone, you should aim to diversify, monetizing readers directly and in a variety of ways. 

This new reality also requires a shift in performance metrics, where page views are replaced with ARPU, or average revenue per user, as the new north star KPI. This allows you to fully understand the value of every individual user on your site, at each step of the funnel. 

But, of course, not every user will convert to an identified member, and even fewer to a paying subscriber. So, how do you increase reader revenue at every step of the user journey? 

Engagement is the key to unlocking reader revenue potential

There is a direct correlation between engagement and revenue – as you increase one, you naturally increase the other. Consequently, working on user engagement should be prioritized as the means to achieving a higher ARPU for every individual visitor to your site. 

To start, we can segment our audiences into cohorts based on their level of engagement to provide adapted experiences for each ‘type of reader’. Once again, the goal is to increase engagement and move the user through the funnel – towards membership and subscription (i.e. a higher ARPU).

At Poool, our experience with publishers has led to an audience segmentation of 4 parts – Volatiles, Occasionals, Regulars and Fans (VORF), each with an increasing level of engagement. 

From our analysis, Volatiles had the highest bounce rate, visited the least often and had the lowest number of page views per session. Conversely, Fans were more highly engaged, having an average of 19.2 sessions per month and a bounce rate of only 0.47. 

This analysis led us to conclude that Fans are worth 45 times more to you than a Volatile user, and note that this isn’t even someone who registered as a member or pays to subscribe… In fact, given the increased revenue from advertising and the value of data collection, a member is worth 2.5 times more than a Fan and just a single subscriber can bring the same monthly value as 20 members or 300 anonymous users (depending on the cost of your premium offer). 

Clearly, increasing engagement is a worthy project to invest in. It serves both your two business models: advertising, through increased page views, and subscription, via better conversion rates. 

How to increase engagement for each cohort

Volatiles 

Your least engaged users. According to our data, they make up the large majority of your audience (88%), have the highest bounce rate (0.6 average), visit the least frequently (only 1 session per user per month) and visit the least pages per session (1.9 on average per user). 

Firstly, consent to cookies needs to be collected to maintain ad-based revenue. Of course, you can first present the cookie banner to comply with data privacy regulations. But you can also complement this with a Cookie Wall with an Alternative

A cookie wall is presented at the content level to users who click decline on the CMP, asking them to either accept the use of cookies or choose an alternative, cookie-free way to support your business (such as subscription or registration) in order to access content. This has proven to increase the consent rate of our clients by more than 15 points in just 2 months, meaning higher ARPU from even your most volatile users. 

In terms of engagement, the goal here is to form habits, encouraging users to visit more regularly and keep coming back to your content. There are a huge variety of ways to do this, including: 

  • Newsletters are sent on a regular basis to either form a new habit or fit into an existing one (such as for the commute to work or morning coffee)
  • Push notifications (which work especially well for apps, such as BBC News) 
  • Games and quizzes, released on a regular basis 
  • Content series 

You can also consider more ‘conversational’ engagement strategies to help the user feel valued as an individual. This can be achieved through comment sections, forums, debates and encouraging social shares. 

For instance, Le Drenche, a French publisher, produces content based around debates where users can read arguments for and against a question as well as vote and comment based on their views. This helps the reader feel involved in the media, establishing a conversation rather than the media talking ‘at’ their audience. 

Screenshot of Le Drenche‘s debates analysis tool

Occasionals & Regulars 

Occasions are slightly more engaged than Volatiles, visiting your site, on average, 2.4 times a month, 2.3 pages per session and have a slightly lower bounce rate of 0.63. 

We can also add Regulars into this section, as users who visit your site on a slightly more frequent basis (4.9 times a month on average), visiting 2.4 pages and with a bounce rate of 0.59. 

The goal at this stage is to develop stronger relationships with your audience, increase loyalty and optimize user experiences to encourage returning visitors who turn to you over competitors. 

This can be achieved by converting these users into members, allowing you to collect reader IDs and other first-party data points to personalize user experiences and offer additional value to your audience, with the goal of increasing engagement. 

To maximize this strategy, we recommend employing a Registration Wall, blocking an article and asking users to create a free account in exchange for access to content. 

The key to success in a registration strategy is providing value to your members. This should of course depend on your goals and content, but here are some ideas: 

  • Exclusive content or access to more content in a metered strategy (just like Harvard Business Review
  • Access to interactive content, such as games and quizzes
  • An account space and synchronize content consumption across devices
  • For entertainment publishers, a dynamic home page that personalizes based on content consumption (think of your Netflix home screen compared to your colleagues). Note that this isn’t always recommended – news media sites, for instance, will want to show the latest headlines and keep the user’s view of the world open
  • UX functionalities that allow users to save content for later, resume where they left off or follow topics and authors (such as The Globe and Mail

Fans 

The most loyal, non-subscribed users! Our research shows a huge increase in sessions per user (19.2 on average per month), with an average of 3.2 pages per session and a bounce rate of 0.47. 

These users should be fairly engaged already, consuming your content on a regular basis and feeling a part of your community of members. So, now’s the time to convert them into a subscriber to establish a predictable, recurring revenue stream (remember how just a single subscriber is worth the same as 20 members). 

A Paywall is an optimal way to achieve this and, thanks to your engagement development strategy and soft conversion steps, these users will be significantly less frustrated by the wall and highly more likely to convert. 

You could choose to employ a hard wall strategy, where the user is blocked from all content unless they pay to subscribe, or alternatively a metered strategy where the user gets access to a certain amount of content for free before the paywall block. 

The best option, as always, will be unique to your audience and business, meaning that testing is required to find the best-performing wall strategy.

At this stage, we’d also highly recommend working on retention strategies. As you’re likely aware, it’s more expensive to acquire a new subscriber than it is to retain one and, seeing as you’ve nurtured these fans through the engagement funnel, you want them to remain as loyal consumers of your content. 

This is where data that you’ve collected from encouraging registration can be put to use: 

  • Build a strong onboarding journey that lasts more than a few seconds and covers multiple channels. For instance, you can send a welcome email, encourage users to download your app and newsletter, explain what they now have access to, send a follow-up email a week or so later as well as offer easy-to-contact support if needed – see the example of Newsday’s multi-channel onboarding below 
Screenshot off Newsday‘s multi-channel onboarding
  • Discover where users see value in your content to ensure you continue to put efforts into producing more
  • Analyze common user behavior prior to churning to put preventative measures in place that increase retention rates
  • Ask unsubscribers to fill out a questionnaire or provide a ‘reason why’ they chose to end their subscription

ARPU above all else

In conclusion, with reader revenue being the new goal for digital publishers, strategies should be put in place to increase engagement, and ARPU, at every step of the user journey. 

But, of course, every user is different and not every visitor to your site will subscribe. However, by segmenting audiences based on level of engagement, you’ll be able to provide adapted experiences to each cohort, maximizing ARPU and aiming to develop each user’s engagement level to lead them to membership and, ultimately, subscription. 

Poool, the all-in-one Membership and Subscription Suite, working with over 140 digital publishers to convert, manage and retain their members and subscribers.

With our solution, your marketing team has complete autonomy to drive conversion strategies through segmenting audiences, building adapted journeys, AB testing and continuously optimizing for long-term growth. Poool additionally provides expert consultancy services to accompany clients in developing successful conversion strategies to monetize their audience. Discover how ELLE, the digital fashion magazine, increased their subscriber base by 250% thanks to an engagement journey built on the Poool platform.  

Data Disclaimer: Poool’s study analyzed the digital audience of 42 French publishers producing a variety of written content, including regional and national press, pure-players, and entertainment content publishers.

The data collected from visitors to the publisher’s site was then divided into 4 cohorts based on the user’s level of engagement, namely Volatiles (who made up 88.9% of the overall audience), Occasionals (7.07%), Regulars (1.70%) and Fans (2.32%).

Photo by Sam on Unsplash