Dow Jones hit 3 million paying subscribers across its portfolio of brands this year, thanks to its data-driven, customer-focused paywall strategy, says Alex Halen, global paid search and programmatic manager at Dow Jones, speaking at MediaPost's Publishing Insider Summit on Monday.
Dow Jones, which oversees The Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch and Barron’s, among other brands, worked to rebuild the paywall, which was a “one-size-fits-all approach dictated by content” for over 20 years, Halen said.
“If we have something that is just a hard paywall, it is hard to sample that content to users,” he said. The “guest pass” feature, for example, allows visitors to sample content for a limited period of time.
Dow Jones used subscriber data to understand “when a subscriber subscribes. It looks at 65-plus variables and determines who’s ready, who needs warming up,” Halen said. “We haven’t had pushback because it hits customers when they’re ready to buy. It treats each customer individually.”
The media company is able to pinpoint specific times of the day or week when readers are coming to its sites.
The paywall can open and close based on advertising demand. It can be personalized based on machine-learning, reader behavior and historical patterns, such as who is more likely to subscribe.
In 2016, Dow Jones brought media-buying in-house. The move was made in 2017.
“Getting closer to our data meant getting closer to our customers,” Halen said, giving the company a “better understanding of how customers move through our acquisition funnel.”
These changes “helped us to grow mid-funnel audience. We see them as more valuable prospects,” he added.
In fiscal year 2018, Dow Jones had a 25% increase in orders coming from paid media channels, with a 4x lift in wsj.com's onsite conversion rate, according to Halen.