How ELLE is using a dynamic paywall and continuous optimisation to increase subscriber conversion rates 

In 2019 fashion bible ELLE set about establishing a recurring, predictable revenue stream through digital subscriptions without impacting SEO, traffic or their existing ad-based revenues. Four years later and ELLE’s freemium paywall has been a huge success, with ad revenue actually increasing thanks to the publisher’s ability to collect valuable first-party data through subscriptions.  

Key to ELLE’s successful subscription model has been its partnership with Poool, the French start-up focused on audience conversion strategies that gives publishers the tools and expertise to better monetise their content. At the FIPP World Media Congress, Matthieu Atlani, Product UX & Premium Development Manager at CMI France, which publishes ELLE, and Madeleine White, Head of International at Poool laid out how their collaboration has helped increase subscriber conversion rates. 

“With ELLE Premium we have three key strategic challenges,” Atlani said talking about their launch of the paywall. “We need to diversify revenue, we want to enlarge our audience and make them younger and it’s also an additional way to distribute our content and respect our key values.  

“And we have three key pillars: We have to define how much content we put in Premium and on our website and application. It’s served by a strong user experience with an application, a mobile-first approach, and a common SSO. And it’s a data driven, and that’s the most important point. It’s a data-driven project because we wanted to systematise AB tests and that’s what Poool is helping us do.” 

Identifying premium content 

A common problem for publishers is that their premium content often goes unnoticed on their website. Poool has found that, on average, half of visitors will be lost at this stage in the funnel, with people not reaching the premium model or paywall. It’s crucial then that a brand’s subscription offer is more visible to move people through the funnel and get them to discover the value of the premium content. 

ELLE does this by giving a premium article a sticky header with a CTA on it, adding a promotional banner and putting another promotion at the end of the story. A tag clearly identifies it as premium content, which is easily noticeable since everything is one colour. 

Next, it’s crucial that the paywall is easy to find. According to White, 52% of visitors to premium content never see the paywall because it’s too late to load, loads after adverts, or is just not high enough up the page. 

“The key here is to balance frustration and engagement,” she said. “Ultimately, this is what decides whether someone’s going to convert or not. You engage users with your newsletter, with valuable content, the range of UX features, and then you frustrate them just the right amount with a conversion wall to encourage them to give you some value in exchange for some other value.” 

At ELLE, the editorial team ensures the premium article is really eye-catching to make a visitor interested in the subscription offer. Also, moving the paywall up the website by just 10% has had an impact on conversion rates.  

Colour-coordinating paywalls 

Poool has discovered that regular changes to paywalls will positively impact conversions. With that in mind, the ELLE team have continued to run tests and modify their wall design, cleverly changing the colour to reduce habituation and reignite click-through and conversion rate. 

Whether it’s adapting their paywall for summer, for Black Friday sales, or women’s rights, the tweaks strike a chord with readers. 

Another way to boost conversion is adapting the paywall to your user’s level of engagement.  

“This is a brilliant strategy to adapt to the user’s location, whether they’re in France or the UK, whether they’re on mobile or desktop, whether they are accessing content to do with politics, that might be better for conversion rates, compared to just traditional news articles that are maybe less good for increasing subscription,” said White. 

“It’s a real reinsurance for us to know which one of the paywalls is best for which audience,” added Atlani. 

Converting through the paywall 

The final most important step for ELLE to get right is to make it easier for users to convert through the paywall – with each conversion step a potential friction point. To reduce this friction, ELLE has reduced the space between form fields on the registration page and have given the user all the actions to go the next page in one view.  

Registration as the first step in the conversion funnel after clicking on the paywall is incredibly important, with Poool finding that registered users are to 40 times more likely to subscribe.  

Keeping this in mind ELLE have been working on functionality, adding tabs to go easily to registration and a login. Also, putting ‘registration’ in bold has improved the clickthrough rate significantly. 


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