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In a nutshell
A series of membership messaging tests on The Local’s website that has emphasised the voice of its journalists and helped them reach 7,000 members in 12 months.
- Founded in 2004, The Local is an independent company and the largest English-language news network in Europe. It has 20 staff members working across six countries, a wide freelance network, and a centralised business and commercial team based in Stockholm, Sweden.
- It operates 10 news and lifestyle websites (nine editions are country-specific and one is Europe-wide) serving an internal community.
- In November 2017, The Local switched from being solely advertising funded to asking readers of the Swedish edition, followed by the German and French, to become members for €5 a month. It has since launched membership across all nine countries, and it has been experimenting with messaging, pricing and design to increase conversion to purchase.
- In August 2018, The Local had 4,000 members and by December 2018, it had 7,000 and was named best digital publisher of the year in the Popular Press category of the Swedish Magazine Publishers annual awards. By March 2021, The Local passed 40,000 members.
How did they do it?
- The team used paywall provider Piano and a tool called Get Site Control to customise widget messaging and vary how and when the target messaging appears. For example, they set up rules to ensure casual visitors are exposed to messaging far less than regular readers.
- Maria Opanasenko, The Local’s membership manager, worked with James Savage, the managing director, and other members of the editorial team to come up with ideas to test. In the last 12 months, they have tested long vs short (140 vs 40 characters) messaging, messaging with portraits vs without portraits and emotional appeals vs transactional ones.
- At any one time, the team was running at least two tests, but sometimes up to four. They looked at the impressions, conversions and net revenue of each test in Piano. Generally, around 1.5% of users click on the homepage messaging to learn more about membership offers.
- As well as the homepage tests, The Local also looks at Google Analytics and Content Insights to see which articles are converting people to membership. Everyone in the editorial team has access to these tools, although not everyone uses them regularly.
- Paul O’Mahony, The Local’s managing editor, receives a report every Monday and shared 3-4 interesting examples of stories that have performed well for membership with the wider team. These insights are also discussed in weekly editorial meetings as well as daily on Google Chat, which they use for internal communication.
- The publisher has also done A/B testing on their offer page (which users click through to from the homepage) where they have experimented with different designs and price messaging.
What did they learn?
- The more emotive wording worked better than transactional wording and saw ‘a significant uptick’ in conversion (The Local couldn’t give exact numbers). Messaging around being a small, independent publisher in a tough climate and having to compete with Google and Facebook seemed to resonate more with readers.
- Adding journalists’ names and headshots also improved the conversion rate to membership (again, they couldn’t give numbers). The team believes seeing the journalists’ face adds a level of accountability and trust.
- Different pricing strategies have worked in different countries. In Sweden, people have been happy to pay full price while more people have questioned the pricing in France. In Italy and Spain, the editorial team is smaller and the team didn’t feel comfortable asking full price so they have used half price offers to tempt people to try out the product.
- The types of articles that convert well tend to be practical advice. For example, a beginner's guide to buying an apartment in Sweden or how to manage your pension in Sweden. Very few people converted to membership via sports coverage so the publisher has scaled that back on some sites.
- There are also some different trends in each market. In Italy, for example, a higher number of people are converting from The Local’s popular ‘word of the day’ series which they put down to having a large readership in the US, many of whom aspire to live in Italy.
- The Local identified that more of the team’s focus needed to be on their products, so in the new year, Paul O’Mahony, the managing editor, will revert to a new product-facing role with the aim of creating value for members. The Local’s France editor, Ben McPartland, will take over as managing editor.
In their own words
Paul O'Mahony, managing editor, The Local
“We want to humanise our product and show there are real people behind the keyboard producing this material day in, day out and we want people to forge relationships.”
How would you improve it?
“We’re interested in developing more community interest apps. For example, our readers in France are older and educated but not interested in social media so how do we cater to them? We’re also looking at creating a jobs app for members because people come to us looking for jobs when they arrive in a country. We think that’s where we can give members value.”
Now try it for yourself
- ‘Recently moved to the area’ and ‘job/life’ changes were two highly cited consumer reasons for subscribing to a publisher, according to a report published in February. Also, 45% of respondents cited a discount as a trigger for subscribing to a publication.
- Helpscout have done a good guide to consumer behaviour, with some easy to implement ideas for your subscription messaging.
- The API also has created a Reader Revenue Toolkit with tips and tricks to make the registration page convert users more effectively (tip: use bullet points and highlight the value) The Membership Puzzle Project created a guide to help news organisations improve their value and pricing proposition through co-design (check out the financial sustainability header)
This case study was updated in March 2021 to reflect that The Local has passed 40,000 paying members.