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Should You Require Users to Register in Return for Content?

More publishers are requiring that readers register for accounts before accessing content on their websites. Is this a savvy strategy, or does requiring registration details turn visitors away? Keep reading to find out.

When Reuters Institute polled media executives as part of its annual journalism report last year, the organization uncovered a surprising trend. While journalism executives continue to bet strongly on reader revenue—half of those publishers polled in the survey said reader revenue will be their main income stream going forward—they are also soliciting readers in some interesting ways.

According to the Reuters Institute’s survey, more websites are expected to demand registration details from visitors in exchange for content in 2020. That comes on the heels of reduced cookie support from popular browsers and an overall tightening up of privacy regulations. Publishers say they plan to push ahead with registration and log-in strategies, despite new data privacy regulations and restrictions on cookies.

The hope is that if the value proposition is right, publishers will be able to incentivize readers to register for accounts on their websites in exchange for content. With user registration data in hand, publishers can then re-target those readers via advertising and email marketing campaigns.

Registration Wall vs. Paywall

If the goal is to get readers to subscribe for access to a website, then why offer content for free after a simple registration? While it would be nice if every website visitor signed up for a paid subscription, the reality is that the vast majority of readers will not pay to access a news website. Some readers will bounce, and some will find loopholes or other ways to gain access to the website without paying a dime. These sorts of scenarios are difficult for publishers, and they present a real obstacle to financial sustainability.

Requiring registration for access to content is one way that publishers can collect contact information and other data from visitors who would otherwise leave their websites without subscribing. With the data from their registrations in hand, publishers have enough information to launch email marketing campaigns and fuel advanced online retargeting strategies.

The New York Times put up a hard registration wall after extensive testing last summer. Visitors who reach now are instructed to create a free account to keep reading articles, or to login to an existing New York Times account.

The Times’ decision to create a registration wall occurred shortly after Google’s release of Chrome 76. Chrome 76 closed a loophole that allowed publishers to block visitors from browsing in Incognito Mode. Since the release of Chrome 76, The Times, The Washington Post, and the Boston Globe have implemented various programs designed to block visitors from accessing content while in private browsing mode.

Successful Registration Strategies

Publishers have the most success requiring visitors to register for accounts when they do two things. First, publishers must emphasize the word “free” throughout the registration process. People will not register for an account if they think they are going to be charged. Publishers need to design all forms and other marketing materials in a way that emphasizes the value proposition—namely, that readers can access content for free if they register for a free account.

The second step that publishers must remember is to keep track of all the information they collect through their registration forms. Every piece of data should be cataloged in a CRM platform. Some of the data can be used right away. For example, registering for a free account should trigger a “Welcome” email from the publication to the reader. Other data, such as phone numbers and addresses, can be saved for future use.

Beyond marketing, publishers can use required registration to enhance the experience on their websites. When visitors are logged in, publishers can personalize the reading experience and promote the types of content that specific users are most likely to enjoy. Offering a personalized reading experience increases the likelihood that a user will pay for a subscription in the future.

Savvy publishers understand the value in data and customer information. If you would like more information about how to setup a registration page on your website, contact our web development specialists at Web Publisher PRO.