Saturday, March 31, 2012

How the Washington Post Uses Data to Crack its Registration Problem

By now readers of free online publications understand that registration is an unfortunate necessity of the business model. Begrudgingly, we accept that registration information is used to deliver better targeted ads, which boosts revenue and keeps the paper free. Even though we know it’s a pretty good deal and we’re sick of those pesky pop-up reminders, most of us just don’t get around to registering.

This is a big problem for free publications like the Washington Post.  Not only do we not register, but when we are given the ultimatum of register or be denied access, we almost always leave the site.  This means the registration prompt is a pivotal moment for Washington Post’s business model – a fork in the road to profitability. 

The challenge for the digital team at then, was to make the value exchange of “registration for access” more appealing to consumers. 

To figure out how to do this, Washington Post implemented technology in order track how people use their website. This transformed readers’ behavior into valuable data.

The data revealed a counter-intuitive conclusion: It turns out readers are more likely to register deep within an article (for example, in between pages 3 and 4) than after clicking on a headline or exceeding an article allowance. 

This discovery disproved a golden rule of online media: Never disrupt the user experience. 

It turns out that disrupting the user at the pinnacle of engagement (meaning deep within an article), is actually the best way to get the reader to register. The key insight is that the reader finds the proposed value exchange of “registration for access” more appealing when it includes the added benefit of being allowed to finish an article s/he is deeply engaged with.

With this model the reader actually has a much better experience than the one who has to “x” out and be turned away from an article.  

The disruption helped Washington Post achieve its business objective and improved the user experience. 

This is a case study for how data can unearth insights that are contradictory to marketing best practices, even common sense. It’s also a testament to the open-minded and innovative culture at Washington Post who had the conviction to implement this optimization.

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