How Publishers Can Get Smarter with Their Reader Prompts

chalk drawing of people, one with lightbulb as head

By Rob Armstrong, SVP of Product at Eyeota

As the reality of a soon-to-be cookieless world sets in for publishers, all eyes are on the need to diversify revenue streams and forge deeper connections with readers through insights gleaned from first-party data. For most publishers, reader prompts—whether a registration, login or subscription request—represent the primary gateway to gathering this data in a straightforward and clearly permissioned fashion.

Unfortunately, as we all know, just because you ask a reader to take an action doesn’t mean they’ll do it. The barriers to success with login, registration and especially subscription prompts are high—and getting higher every day, especially as more publishers begin to gate their content. That said, there are steps publishers can take to overcome readers’ login fatigue, and it all starts with a basic shift in approach: Publishers need to stop treating all readers the same when it comes to driving opt-in.

The Needed Shift in Perspective

The observation that people desire personalization is hardly a revelation. It’s been the driving force behind the evolution of the entire marketing industry over the past two decades, not to mention the impetus behind countless ad tech and martech startups and technologies. Marketers understand, on an innate level, that personalization is the only way to break through the noise of a deafening marketplace that’s only becoming more cacophonous as digital platforms proliferate.


The same is true in publishing. Over the past decade, publishers have also leaned heavily into the need for personalization, both in terms of content and advertising experiences on their sites. The ability to customize article recommendations and serve ads based on what’s known about a reader has driven significant improvements in key metrics—everything from time on-site to click-throughs on sponsor messaging.

So why, then, is the emphasis on personalized experiences stopping short of most publishers’ approaches to registration, login and subscription prompt? Given the vital role that these site experiences play in fortifying a publisher’s first-party data position, failing to personalize prompts according to everything that’s known about the individual reader represents a tremendous miss.

The Path Forward on Prompt Personalization

The simple fact is that every reader reacts differently to publisher requests to sign up, log in or subscribe to continue their site experiences. Their reaction is based not only on their own personal attitudes toward media and these kinds of requests but also on their individual relationship with a given publication. Thus, multiple levels of insight should be influencing when and how publishers encourage a person to deepen their engagement.

The obvious question, then, is where publishers should be drawing these insights, particularly when a given user has yet to log in. Fortunately, there are a number of signals that a site’s prediction model for serving registration and subscription prompts can draw on. Some of these are universally available, while others require a deeper user history. For example:

  • Device type: The type of device a person is using, be it a desktop, tablet or phone, can tell publishers a lot about how the user might want to experience their content. For example, a mobile user might be more receptive to a prompt that encourages an app download vs. a standard site registration prompt on a desktop.
  • User session history: The more time a user spends on your site during a given session, especially if they’re cruising multiple pieces of content, the more likely it is that they’re deriving value from your content. Setting a threshold for minimum engagement before pushing for registration or subscription can greatly improve your overall site experience as well as your success in driving opt-in. By testing various engagement level thresholds and monitoring results, you can fine-tune your prompt timing as you go.
  • Type of content being viewed: Users likely perceive the value of your content differently depending on the type of content they’re seeking and how they found it. For example, let’s say your sports news represents a deep investment in an original commentary for your site, whereas your celebrity news coverage is an area of less focus where the content aggregation is your primary approach. It’s likely, then, that readers who are coming to you for sports coverage will be more receptive to opt-in requests than those who are reading content they could easily find elsewhere. Doesn’t it make sense to tailor your ask of these readers accordingly?

The above dimensions hardly scratch the surface of what’s possible when it comes to the personalization of opt-in prompt timing and messaging. As with so many other site elements, the dimensions that a given publisher employs in refining its approach to prompts will depend on the outlet’s goals, content and current readership understanding.

What’s most important is that publishers commit to testing and optimizing their approaches as they go, just as they do with the content that serves as the lifeblood of their organizations. The benefits will be evident not only in your enhanced first-party data assets but also in your enhanced user experience.