Since launching their paid content model in May 2020, El Confidencial has garnered an impressive 30,000 active subscribers as of September 2021. This feat was achieved by constant experimenting, testing multiple variants of branding, optimising the offer and keeping it dynamic.

“We are known in Spain for having a strong focus on innovation and product development. Using an agile framework we deliver more value to our users,” said Jose A. Navas, Product Owner, El Confidencial, during WAN-IFRA’s recent Digital Media Europe conference.

El Confidencial was founded in 2001 and today has 20 million unique visitors each month. Until a few years ago, the bulk of its revenue, about 90 percent, came from advertising.

It now follows a hybrid approach consisting of a freemium model and a dynamic paywall that works based on the propensity of the reader to subscribe. Thanks to the new strategies, El Confidencial saw an additional growth of 60 percent in 2021 alone.

For the publisher, this has essentially been driven by its optimisation team, which Navas calls “the most innovative thing inside El Confidencial.”

The team, with its goal of improving subscriber acquisition and retention, helps to convert more users into subscribers by personalised offers. 

“It is a team of people with very different skills. We have UX people, product management people, data analysts, a developer, one person from the newsroom and also one person from customer support,” he said.

“This multi-skill aspect is one of the reasons that it is very valuable, because you are adding very interesting and different points of view. For example, having a journalist allows you to experiment with editorial content that will be very difficult otherwise,” he added.

Using data to aid optimisation

El Confidencial’s optimisation team starts with analysing the data and trying to find different aspects of the publisher’s website or native apps that could be optimised.

“We also do research when we have the resources, but it’s not always possible. Two months ago we did quantitative and qualitative research among our subscribers and found significant aspects that could be optimised… We are working right now on that,” Navas said.

The next step is exploration where the team tries to think of ideas and hypotheses to fix the problem. Hypotheses are prioritised according to their importance and experiments are launched to test out the ideas. After running the experiment long enough to collect enough data, the team evaluates the results. 

“When we obtain positive results we implement these changes in our product. If the results don’t look good, we restart the process,” Navas said. “Sometimes we iterate the experiment, making some changes and trying to validate other hypotheses about the experiment. Or we discard the experiment if we don’t see a way forward with that.”

Prioritising ideas

According to Navas, one of the most challenging things for the optimisation team is prioritising from the ideas and hypotheses launched during the brainstorming sessions. What could be best for the business needs to be given top priority.

The team goes about this process by assigning a score between zero and 10 to each idea or hypothesis based on three criteria variables – potential, importance and ease. The one with the highest average score gets top priority.

“Potential” indicates how much improvement can be made in a certain area, while “importance” indicates how valuable is the traffic to the elements in question. “Ease” signifies how complicated the test will be to implement.

“The less time or resources you need to invest will result in a higher number,” said Navas.

Experimenting with premium content

According to Juan Jurado, Data Scientist at El Confidencial, segmentation is key. 

“Targeting the best users with the correct price of the correct properties is fundamental for us to increase the number of subscribers,” he said, speaking at the session. The experiments conducted by the team have been significant in this aspect. Jurado elaborated it further with the examples of three experiments the team conducted. 

One of them was about how to tag premium content. Before the experiment, the landing page of El Confidencial displayed its premium content with the tag “EC Exclusivo” with a “lock” icon next to it.

However, doubts surfaced if the “lock” tag was stopping users from getting to the paywall. If the users don’t get to the paywall and see it, then they won’t convert. 

The hypothesis was that changing the icon, removing the “lock,” would increase the CTR (clickthrough rates.) And the experiment was to create different types of tags to indicate an article was premium. The team tried out different alternatives – texts, such as “EC Exclusivo” and “Para Suscriptores,” icons like a lock, a star and no icon at all. The winner was “EC Exclusivo” with no icon at all. The variant got 7 percent more subscribers than the others.

Experimenting with landing page, special offers

Another experiment was around the subscription landing page.

The idea was to test a new landing page with a new design that conveys the publisher’s value proposition to potential subscribers.

The team created two variants – one focused on images and big cards, and the other focused on text and small cards. The latter, which had clearer information and prominent call to action, showed better results with significantly better CTR and 3 percent more subscribers.

Another experiment looked at segmentation and special offers. 

“The idea was could we offer a special price for those loyal users who do not convert with the current price,” Jurado said. “We saw that some segments were very loyal, but they were not willing to pay the normal price or the current price. The hypothesis was to target these loyal users with a limited special price and to see if this action increased the number of subscribers.”

The experiment was to create a small pop-up offering limited spots to try and evoke the “fear of missing out” in the users. The pop-up offering a subscription for 65 euros instead of the original 89 euros appeared on the right corner of free articles. The experiment ran for only a few days but brought in 25 percent of the subscriptions during that period.

‘Ask questions all the time’

The team has continued to do several such experiments that have offered important lessons. 

“The main learning is that data is very important,” Jurado said. “Take time to evaluate and select the best KPIs. We have to be patient because some experiments take time. You have to think out of the box and ask questions all the time to improve your results.”

It is also crucial to document the results, he said. 

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