subscriber churn

How to Deal with Subscriber Churn

These are the best strategies to prevent subscriber churn.

Fewer clicks, less engagement, less frequent website visits — you know when a subscriber is about to cancel. Once a reader has started losing interest in what your publication is offering, your shot at keeping them as a subscriber begins to fade quickly.

According to some estimates, as much as half of all new subscribers will churn in the first three months. Publishers who can keep readers hooked for that long have a much easier road ahead, with long-term churn rates in the 1% to 2% range.

Why are readers most likely to leave during those first few months, and how should publishers keep paying subscribers enthusiastic and engaged beyond the period after the initial sign-up?

In many cases, readers will lose interest for reasons that are beyond the publisher’s control. Maybe the reader was confused about what the publication offered before he or she signed up. Maybe the reader’s financial situation has changed in the time since he first subscribed. There’s not much a publisher can do about those things.

There are things that publishers can do to dissuade subscribers from leaving for most other reasons, though. That’s what we’re going to talk about today.

How to Deal with Subscriber Churn – 5 Key Strategies

1. Publish anti-churn content.
2. Remind readers why they subscribed.
3. Make it easier for people to unsubscribe.
4. Don’t lose subscribers because of technology errors.
5. Test to see what keeps people from churning.

1. Publish anti-churn content.

Certain types of content are what’s referred to as “anti-churn.” That means the publisher has looked at the analytics and discovered that specific topics are best for reader retention. Obviously, the specific topics or types of articles that are most likely to prevent subscriber churn will vary depending on the publication’s niche and its individual audience.
Broadly speaking, anti-churn content is content that’s emotionally engaging. This is the kind of content that readers can’t imagine not having access to.

People love seeing the names of their kids and neighbors in print. For a local news publisher, that might mean youth sports stories or articles from the education beat will keep subscribers sticking around. Niche magazine publishers may find that certain features or sections see a high volume of traffic from existing subscribers. Keep an eye on your metrics to understand what content is engaging to existing subscribers and then keep producing that content as frequently as you can.

2. Remind readers why they subscribed.

Why do people subscribe to your publication to begin with? If it’s for the high-quality journalism, then don’t be afraid to remind them of that. If it’s for your breaking news content or your weekly podcasts, remind them of that. Bragging is OK when you’re doing it with a purpose.

Send existing subscribers an email before their subscriptions are set to renew with a look back at the most popular stories you’ve published since they subscribed. You could also send a special message thanking them for subscribing and offering a discount if they decide to renew. This is part of the overall experience that people are looking for when they decide to subscribe to an online publication, and it’s something publishers should plan to offer if they hope to remain competitive.

3. Make it easier for people to unsubscribe.

It sounds counterintuitive, but making it easier for people to unsubscribe will actually help you keep subscribers around for longer. How does that work? Publishers should assume that a certain percentage of subscribers never intend to stay for the long-term. These are people who subscribe so they can access a certain article, or so they can listen to a podcast series. After their reason for subscribing is through, they’ll usually bounce.

Somewhat surprisingly, research has shown that these subscribers will usually come back. Each time they return, they tend to stick around for a little longer, until at last they decide to stay loyal and continue their subscriptions for the long-term. Publishers who make it easy for people to cancel their subscriptions create feelings of goodwill, and that eventually leads to more loyal audiences when you take the long-term approach.

4. Don’t lose subscribers because of technology errors.

We’ve all had situations where we accidentally unsubscribed from a service because of a credit card processing error or a glitch in the checkout process. This is known as accidental churn or involuntary churn. Some publishers have estimated that credit card failures are responsible for as much as 62% of all digital subscription churn. The right technology can decrease the chances of this happening.

With the proper systems in place, publishers can automatically send email reminders to subscribers whose credit cards have expired before it’s time to renew. Publishers can also take an active approach by implementing pop-up warnings that remind subscribers to update their billing information while reading articles on the website.

5. Test to see what keeps people from churning.

It’s not easy for publishers to keep a hold of subscribers, especially those that haven’t quite reached the three-month tipping point. Thankfully, most publishers already have access to the data they need to prevent subscriber churn.

Publishers that have the resources should consider building propensity-to-churn models that will identify subscribers who are about to leave. Using website analytics and A/B testing, publishers can toy with pricing models and use basic business marketing strategies to keep people from leaving before their subscriptions are set to renew. Sophisticated operations might even switch their pricing structure for subscribers who are likely to cancel, possibly offering a heavy discount or a free month in exchange for renewing early.

To learn more about keeping readers engaged and preventing subscriber churn, read 8 Ways to Get More Digital Subscribers.