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Ten Ways to Jumpstart your existing Digital Subscription Strategy

Already have a paywall? Here is how to increase the uptake


Lee Enterprises recently relaunched digital subscription sales in 49 markets across 29 states. At the helm of the project is Bridget Sibthorp-Moecker, Corporate Director for Digital Subscriptions, a 13-year employee at Lee who was named “Top 25 under 35” newspaper executives by Editor and Publisher in 2017.

Their efforts group subscriber page visits to 150% in 90 days and 1,300% in one year. Digital subscriptions alone increased by 78% during that time.

Here are Sibthorp-Moecker’s “Ten ways to jumpstart your digital subscription strategy” for publishers who already have a paywall, from the 2019 Mega Conference.

1. Start asking people to subscribe

“One of the things we realized, because digital subscriptions was not a focus, was that we did not have a digital subscription link in the navigation bar or as an ad.”

“Buying a subscription better be easy to find on your article pages. Look at the site as a user to see what are you missing,” she said.

“Don’t wait until the website is perfect.”

2. Know your data and challenge your own assumptions.

Sibthorp-Moecker advised circulation managers to use Google analytics e-commerce to track subscription purchases. “Use the UTM codes to examine and optimize digital subscription campaigns. When you don’t know the data you make a lot of assumptions,” she said.

“There are going to be a lot of disagreements between people [on the team] about what will work, but if you have data it will help guide what to fix and prioritize.”

“One of the things we realized is that we were asking for a full address on the registration page.  We got rid of the address and just asked for an email and a password. Digital subscriptions increased immediately.”

3. Research the “why subscribe” value proposition

“If you think you know your value proposition, think again,” Sibthorp-Moecker advised. She suggested using reader surveys to optimize the text on digital marketing promotions and meter messages.

“We had been using the same marketing lines promoting unlimited access for years but did nothing to tell people why they needed to subscribe. We used Google surveys to help us write them. “

4.  Use Email offers

“Email is the most important thing you can do. It is the #1 tactic for growing subscription sales,” Sibthorp-Moecker said. “You can also use ads within your other email and newsletters. People do respond.”

5. Grow email lists

Growing the email list is a priority for long term success and email collection should be an ongoing effort. “Put sign-up widgets on your website. Develop email newsletters. Run tests and giveaways. Ask for website registrations,” she advised.

6. Run sales

Another successful tactic is using sales and fear of missing out (FOMO) to drive subscriptions.

“Our Black Friday sale generated 2.5x more start-ups than a regular offer,” she said.

“Start the sale early, run the sale then extend the sale. We started on Black Friday then used a “Sale extended to Cyber Monday” offer. It does not matter if the sale does not end on time. I’ve never had anyone complain about that.”


7. Run targeted ads

The team at Lee is now starting to use targeted ads in addition to what the meter is set at to send specific messages to abandons and other segments.

“We take the analytics for a segment that had hit our meter or visited the subscribe page, and put that into the advertising DMS so that we can target them with an ad that encourages them to ‘finish subscribing.’ We got an immediate response and a 1.86% click-through rate."

8. Make it easier to buy

One key takeaway from both Sibthorp-Mocker and other circulation presenters is to become an expert on User Experience and keep working on making it easier to buy.

“Reduce friction and focus on optimization for all users before honing in on specific segments,” she advised. “Keep asking ‘What is the goal?’ and ‘What are we missing?’"

“In our case, we redid our meters to have less text and to make them mobile friendly.”


9. Give subscribers options

Most of Lee’s landing pages have three options.

“Subscription landing pages should be clean and simple. Reinforce special pricing and the best offer with consistent promotional designs that highlight the best offer,” she said.  

10. Celebrate wins

Often overlooked are simple leadership skills that help motivate all the people working on the project throughout the organization.

“Get everyone in the organization involved to create a culture focused on data, performance and asking the right questions. What do I mean by celebrating wins? Just telling the IT person ‘Thanks for setting that up. Because of you, we sold 3,005 more subscriptions. This is a really exciting thing. This is the future for us.”


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