According to an excellent NiemanLab story last year, when The Wall Street Journal put together a cross-functional group "to identify retention-driving actions and reinvent the way [they] promote those habits to [their] member base"—calling it Project Habit—they started by making an "an exhaustive list of all the things a member could do on our site."
That included "actions from Email Article and Play Puzzle to Build Watchlist and Comment." Next—and this gets a bit heavy—they borrowed from medicine and applied the Kaplan-Meier estimator to member retention. This looked at those members who engaged and those who did not in the first 100 days—"and how it affected retention in 30-day increments over the course of their first year of tenure."
Their major finding was that it wasn't one particular action that affected retention, but that members could engage in a number of ways. Three characteristics—rather than actions—stood out:
Loyalty: Your audience keeps coming back to a specific section or writer. "The particular area or author didn't matter—as long as they were loyal to it."
Cadence: "Those who read content that publishes with a regular and obvious cadence stayed in at an above-average rate. When readers know exactly when to expect something, they come to rely on it and read it."
Play: As serious and financial-based as the WSJ is, they found "that lean-back content and features drive retention too."
I was referred to this information by another article about a study on what gets readers hooked. Here are a few takeaways from that study by Twipe:
Market your benefits. In their early days with you, make sure that readers know all that's available to them, both in terms of site services and the daily flow of content.
Reduce load time. The Telegraph in London found that reducing loading time from 9 to 5.5 seconds led to a 49% increase in subscriber conversion from those who visit the homepage. Their WhatsApp service proved successful too; users who regularly listened on WhatsApp were 12 times more likely to become paid subscribers.
Run engagement tests. New York Times Co. CEO Mark Thompson said last week that giving digital teams the autonomy to "continually optimize" by having "parallel tests running in the background" was the "single biggest reason" behind their recent success with digital subscribers.
Hop on the gamification wagon. If you have a popular feature, add encouragements for readers to read/play it every day. "The Times' popular Crosswords product encourages readers to play every day through various 'streak' features and shares successes on their Wordplay Twitter account."
Offer rewards. In The Economist's digital-only Espresso, people who read all of the articles in that day's edition are rewarded with an inspirational quote at the end. The Economist can even track readers who might read only the depressing news stories of the day and possibly offer a positive story at the end. Also on the table: Readers who invest their time in the Economist brand could be rewarded with credits to share premium content with friends/colleagues.
Send welcome letters/packages. The Guardian found that subscribers who open the welcome communications tend to stay longer. Educating readers about the product is key here. "The Guardian found that the majority of their subscribers use less than three features, but that the more features a subscriber uses, the lower their risk of churn."
Be more personalized in your onboarding. Schibsted, a large media site in Norway and Sweden, learned the importance of a proper onboarding strategy. They created a "newsroom onboarding guide to welcome subscribers in a more personalized way. Now new subscribers can choose one of their renowned editors or journalists as a guide through the onboarding period. These personalized onboarding mails have a higher unique opening rate: 63% versus 38% for the standard onboarding process. The retention rate after the first renewal is also five percentage points higher."