Preparing for the journey: Poool’s Madeleine White on the importance of publishers finding the right audience conversion strategy

When it comes to a publisher’s audience conversion journey, a small change can reap huge rewards. Take the case of 20 Minutes, the free daily newspaper aimed at commuters in France. When the publication decided to put the comments section on its website behind a dynamic registration wall, audience engagement skyrocketed by 99%.

Guiding 20 Minutes on its journey to find and retain new readers is Poool, the French start-up (and FIPP member) focused on audience conversion strategies that gives publishers the tools and expertise to better monetise their content. 

We caught up with Madeleine White, Head of International at Poool, to talk about the company’s history, the success of its clients and why having the right audience conversion strategy is more important than ever for publishers.

Madeleine White, Head of International, Poool

Take me back to the beginning when Poool was founded. What were your goals back then?

Poool was launched in 2016 by our four co-founders with the ultimate goal of making access to content easier. When we say this, we mean both for readers and for publishers. So, at the time, paywalls had already started to come into effect across the industry, but mainly with the big players, and there were only really two options: subscribe or not. The goal at Poool was therefore to allow publishers to build soft engagement journeys that build up towards subscription, but also offer other options to access content, such as watching an advert, creating a free account, signing up to your newsletter or even simply a free trial. This allows readers to have other ways of accessing content whilst also supporting the publisher who can also better engage and monetise all of their readership rather than simply the ones who are going to subscribe.

So, you set out to provide flexibility, basically?

Flexibility based on a reader’s profile or context, exactly, and this was quite a new idea at the time in 2016. It’s still very fundamental to what we want to offer to publishers, but it has changed slightly since then. So, the goal of Poool right now is to be able to offer publishers the opportunity to convert anonymous readers into leads, members and subscribers – but adapted to each reader, because ultimately only roughly 1% of a publisher’s overall traffic is likely to ever subscribe, which is quite a scary number. This means that by blocking all content to all readers (a one-size-fits-all approach) you’re cutting off 99% of your audience, likely frustrating them and causing them to find their information elsewhere. Ultimately what we want to allow publishers to do is to build the perfect journey for each reader based on their behaviour and their context. Poool allows you to segment your readers based on their level of engagement, the source of traffic, device type, location, or content type. So maybe sports content doesn’t convert as well, but it’s great for traffic acquisition, so you can leave all that content open. Your more in-depth reports are great for conversions because they show off the quality of your work and the product, so you could place those behind a paywall, but maybe offer less engaged readers access to one article for free.

Tell us a bit more about adapting to the user

Ok, say someone comes to your website from social media, they’ve maybe never heard of you before, they just saw that you’re talking about a subject that interests them. So, you want to offer this article for free. While someone who’s coming from your newsletter, they already know you, they’re already interested in you. What you can do is lead them through a very specific journey that maybe offers that first article for free with a pop-up saying: saying: “Thank you for being a valued newsletter reader, we’d like to offer this to you for free” and maybe the second article is blocked by a paywall. But dynamicity can go even deeper – the paywall can be personalised to that newsletter for instance. Say they came from a fashion newsletter, thanks to this source of traffic, you know that this reader is interested in fashion and can adapt the value proposition accordingly, ensuring you have the greatest possible chances of converting this specific profile. The idea is that Poool allows you to go very deep in your personalisation of the user journey, adapting to not only their behaviour and context, but also their monetisation potential.

How closely do you work with your clients?

As a company we work with 150 publishers and are very hands on. We’re not a technology that signs a client and then leaves them to do their stuff. We work very, very closely with each of our clients. We want to be the expertise and the tools and the inspiration. No point in having the tools if you don’t have the expertise and vice versa. We’ve also learned a lot with each of our publishers, each of whom we’ve supported at different stages of their digital transformation journey. I’ll add that we also work with clients who don’t (and may never) have a digital subscription model – but converting readers into newsletter subscribers and registered members is still incredibly important for other revenue streams.

In 2022 you launched The Audiencers, which provides expert advice to publishers. What made you go down that road?

We noticed a huge gap in the market for sharing the expertise and supporting publishers in more ways than simply providing the tools. That’s why we launched The Audiencers in autumn of 2022 to be able to provide that second half of the puzzle, to not only provide tools, but also the expertise. I think The Audiencers has not only been valuable for our prospects, clients and the publishing industry as a whole, but also for our team to continuously benchmark, speak to publishers around the world, and really understand the key challenges and trends in the industry that we can then apply to our product and share insights with our clients.

The next Audiencers’ Festival takes place in London on June 21st 2024 – Find out more and register here!

To what extent is a successful audience conversion journey about striking a balance between frustration and engagement?

It’s almost the foundation of who Poool are and what publishers should be keeping in mind when they are employing their audience conversion journeys. Ultimately, each reader has a different level of engagement, so we need to counteract that with a different level of frustration. We can increase engagement with newsletters, with quality content, with games or apps, for instance, and you can never have too much engagement – it’s essential for success, but not the reason someone subscribes. It’s being ‘frustrated’ that triggers a reader to finally convert. However, if engagement isn’t high enough to counteract the frustration, a reader will simply leave and find content elsewhere. Hence why the level of frustration (caused by wall blocks, pop-ups, etc) needs to be adapted to each reader and their level of engagement. So, if you have a really engaged reader, you can present them with quite a hard paywall strategy. As they already see the value in your work, they won’t likely leave, but instead they might be convinced of your product and engaged enough to want to subscribe to access the rest of the article. A successful conversion – getting a reader to partake in a value exchange, which is when you ask someone to subscribe in exchange for access to content – is all about balancing that level of engagement and frustration. And this is ultimately what building a conversion journey should be all about, because if readers all have different levels of engagement, you need to present them with different conversion journeys. There are two important things to balance in a successful digital reader revenue model.

Could you share some of the successes your clients have had?

We work with 20 minutes for instance, a French and Spanish magazine you get for free when you get on the Metro. Online, they monetise only from advertising as they’re well recognised, and valued, for being free. But of course, ad revenue has been fairly unstable, and it’s still important to increase engagement despite not having a subscription model. The team has therefore worked with us to lead readers through a registration journey. To ensure they don’t block volatile readers who only come to the site maybe once a month, or discover the publication through social media, they block their fourth article with a registration wall. These logged readers are significantly more valuable to 20 minutes – they consume two times more pages-per-visit and spend four times more time on site. They’ve also added commenting, so if you want to comment on an article or if you spend too long on the comment section, you’ll get blocked by a registration wall as well. Blocking comments, a community development strategy, they’ve increased community led registrations by 99%, which is incredible. Commenting in itself helps to increase that engagement even further. Readers are logged, they’re known on every visit, you have first-party data collection, higher levels of engagement, and they’re more likely to come and interact with other members of the community, which naturally supports reader loyalty and helps retain other members. Given that all of this boils down to more eyes on page, it’s easy to see how registration is valuable for their advertising model.


What are some of the big missed opportunities when it comes to audience engagement?

I think the biggest missed opportunity for publishers is not testing continuously. We talk about no one-size-fits-all for readers, and there’s equally no one-size-fits-all for every publisher. We can’t go out and say, OK, every publisher needs to have this reader journey for this reader with this message. Sadly, there’s no magic formula. Instead, a publisher should continuously AB test their strategies, both in terms of the reader journey and the paywalls themselves. While one paywall might work for X readers, other readers might react differently and you’ll never know unless you test. It’s all about being ‘audience first’. A test, ultimately, is asking your readers: which one do you prefer? By continuously testing and experimenting, you’re learning, improving and optimising on a loop.

What is the importance of having a very good audience conversion strategy in place?

I think everyone in the industry understands the importance of digital reader revenue models by now. But the industry’s answer to sustainability doesn’t lie in subscription for every reader. Instead, it’s about being able to maximise the revenue potential of each individual that comes to your site. To achieve this, you need the expertise, inspiration and a dynamic tool to segment your audience, to AB test, to continuously optimise and also to be able to do all of that as a marketer and not having to turn to your tech team every two minutes. And with Poool, you have exactly that!


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