In today’s publishing ecosystem, a diverse portfolio of revenue streams is more important than ever. And while many publishers have gotten creative – driving revenue with their own product lines, branded events, or even licensed software – good ol’ reader revenue remains the cornerstone of many publishers’ strategies.

Yes, we’re talking about paid subscriptions.

When done correctly, paid subscriptions can drive both substantial revenue and increased reader loyalty. But finding new subscribers at scale can be difficult.

Enter: the content-based funnel. Unlike the direct response method that aims to immediately convert a user to a subscriber, a content-based funnel engages readers with content in order to move them through various stages of purchase consideration.

Here’s what a content-based funnel might look like:

At the top, you have completely new users. As they read more content, they move down the funnel and become more engaged, eventually qualifying themselves in some way as a reader who is invested in your content (this can be a free registration, hitting a paywall, etc.). The ultimate goal is to get these engaged users to subscribe.

This framework allows you to break down your website visitors into segments, and target them with the right content at the right price. In the early stages, you want to find the right content to bring new audiences into the site, and then keep them coming back. After bringing the right users in for a first time, you can bring them back easily with the most “clicky” content at a very low price. As you move further down in the funnel, you have fewer, more engaged users. You can use your best-converting content and a higher bid in order to bring them back to the site, and hopefully convert them into a paying customer.

Not only does this method often bring down the Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) – meaning the cost for acquiring a new paying subscriber, but it also drives traffic to your site, and has the benefit of scalability. Rather than just targeting more users who are unlikely to subscribe with Direct Response ads, you can fill the top of the funnel and let users self-select.

Rather than just targeting more users who are unlikely to subscribe with Direct Response ads, you can fill the top of the funnel and let users self-select.

If you don’t currently have a content-based funnel in place, no worries; in this blog post, we’ll walk you through the four steps you need to take to build a successful one.

The Four Steps to Building a Content-Based Funnel

1. Analyze your funnel

Before starting any paid campaign to acquire new subscribers, it’s important to understand your current subscribers better. By asking yourself a few key questions, you can better optimize your acquisition moving forward.

Who are you current subscribers? Is there a certain age/gender/lifestyle user that is more likely to subscribe? Are there behaviors that set them apart, like how often they come to the site or how long they stay there? What channels are they coming from? Understanding what features make someone most likely to subscribe can help you target your outreach.

What content is interesting to them? Where do they click first? Where do they spend the most time? Are loyal users over indexing on a certain type of article? You can leverage the content most interesting to your current subscribers to find other qualified audiences.

What stories do people read right before converting? Often, this is in line with the content you’re best known for. This can vary vastly from publisher to publisher. For some, it will be a great sports section, for others, intriguing opinion pieces. This content will be a crucial tool for bottom of the funnel targeting.

What other actions are people taking before converting? Are people reading a certain number of articles before converting? Filling and abandoning their cart three times? Moving between devices? Once you understand the habits of people that convert, you can lead others down that path. You can also use insights from this phase to make the subscribing experience easier and faster. For example, if people seem to be abandoning their carts on mobile devices, adding PayPal as a payment option may help streamline the process.

2. Find new audiences

Once you understand your current subscribers and their journey, you can start thinking about finding new audiences to bring in to the top of your funnel.

The first, and perhaps most obvious step, is to target people who have already been to your website. These people have already shown some interest in your content, so they are a great place to start. Since repeat visitors are already further down the funnel, to find new audiences, you’ll want to focus on the users who have been to the site once and haven’t returned. These users may need a small push to come back to your content. And if you have a particular segment of users you’d like to grow, you can focus your paid campaigns and target just that segment of users.

You can also find new audiences by “mimicking” your current buyers. Facebook Lookalike Audiences allow you to systematically find new audiences that are similar to an existing audience. By creating a lookalike of your existing subscribers, you can find a qualified audience of new users. If you don’t have a big enough pool of subscribers, or simply want to expand your funnel further, you can create a lookalike of other qualified users, for instance registered users, newsletter subscribers, or users who have read 5 stories or more in the past week.

If you don’t yet feel comfortable labeling your qualified audience, or if you’d like to bring in an entirely new type of audience, you can also target people who are interested in your core content or your best converting content using Facebook interest targeting, which allows you to find users with interests in specific things, people, or topics. You can use the subject matter of the content to inform such targeting, or leverage machine learning (or Keywee) to find unexpected audiences that will be interested in your content, and potentially more cost-effective to target.

3. Target those audiences and build a habit

With a content-based funnel, the work doesn’t end once you’ve found your audience. Once someone has come to your site once, it’s up to you to help them build a habit of reading your content, and to make sure they understand the unique value your content provides.

To do this, you’ll want to use the Facebook pixel to retarget people who have already come to your site. By targeting them with relevant content, you can ensure that they read multiple pieces of content in a short period of time and begin to build a habit.

To ease your users into the mindset of a subscriber, you can begin to drive toward actions correlated with subscription, for example signing up for a newsletter, reading 10 articles in a month, or registering for an account on your site.

Once you feel that the users have seen the value of your content, push them with a call to action to subscribe – on site, or with a direct response ad.

4. Measure results

Perhaps the most important step is measuring your results. Acquiring new subscribers is an ongoing process, and one that requires optimization, so having a standard and optimized method of measuring results is key.

At Keywee, we focus mostly on social media traffic, so we look to Facebook for reporting. This is also because the Facebook pixel allows for robust, cross-device tracking and attribution. Even if a user doesn’t convert in the same session or device, or even if they clear their cache, Facebook can track that they are indeed the same user.

Even if a user doesn’t convert in the same session or device, or even if they clear their cache, Facebook can track that they are indeed the same user.

When optimizing these campaigns, we always aim for a target CPA, built on the expected lifetime value (LTV) of a new subscriber. Even if you don’t have a clear idea of the LTV of a new subscriber, you should start with a benchmark CPA to optimize around. For publishers with an annual subscription, the yearly cost is a good place to start. The attribution time frame you use will depend on your business, but the most common window is 28 days.

Keywee works with the world’s top publishers to find new paid subscribers. Schedule a demo to learn more.

To see what this process looks like in action, fill out the form below to watch our webinar: How Star Tribune Uses Facebook to Drive Paid Subscriptions.

About Keywee

At Keywee, we make stories relevant and powerful for the world’s best storytellers — like The New York Times, The BBC, National Geographic, Forbes, and Red Bull.

Today, people aren’t coming to websites to search for content — stories find their audiences in feeds and apps. The upshot? Distribution is now the key for effective storytelling. Keywee’s platform unlocks audience insights using AI and data science, and infuses them into every step of the storytelling process: from topic selection, to story creation, to distribution and optimization. Keywee is backed by leading investors such as Google’s Eric Schmidt and The New York Times, and has been a fast-growing, profitable startup since its inception. To learn more, request a demo here.