One-third of subscriber churn happens in the first 24 hours

The first 24 hours are critical to engage with your new subscribers while a multi-channel referral approach is a key to conversion.

If subscriptions businesses think that once a consumer signs up they can ‘set it and forget it’, then they are mistaken, new research reveals.

In fact, new subscribers are among the higher groups for churn, with almost a third (32.8%) of active churn happening in the first 24 hours, making early engagement and onboarding critical to ensure retention.

Digital experience platform Piano’s 2022 Subscription Performance Benchmark Report also found another high risk group for subscription churn – revealing that more than 40% of subscribers for the average subscription site are ‘sleepers’ – active subscribers who haven’t visited the site over the preceding 30 days.

Re-engaging with ‘sleepers’ is a delicate task

“It’s not enough to sign someone up and assume they’ll consume your content. You’ll need a thought-out plan using proven tactics to start forming habits early,” the report said. 

“Email newsletters, a welcome letter from the editor, a mobile app download, podcasts, subscription benefits reminders and/or a series of reminder emails over the first week and month have all proven successful with audiences.”

Piano’s data from hundreds of organisations garnering more than 140 million page views each month highlighted sleepers to contribute a third of active churn in a given month. While 90% of sleeper subscribers will remain dormant, when they wake up again, having not consumed the subscription, churn creeps up.  

To avoid ‘waking them up’ without risking that churn, Piano advised capitalising on a major news event or particularly appealing content to drive reengagement. But regular engagement, ensuring a site is “part of their regular routine” will decrease the odds of users “ever falling asleep,” it added.

Those that go direct are your most active subscribers

The research also found that once a subscriber has converted, certain channels will increase regular engagement than others. Those coming to their subscription from search or social were likely only to visit a couple of times a month, and email fares slightly better. But direct visits to the website encouraged six days of activity a month on average, higher than any other channel.

The report recommended a mixed-channel approach to keep up with the expectation of great user experience, highlighting that this is just as important once a consumer becomes a subscriber as on the route to converting them in the first place.

Conversion much lower on mobile

Piano also found that the device consumers use can act as a barrier to subscription. 

Despite making up 65% of digital audiences, mobile visitors convert at a much lower rate – at 19.7% – than desktop users (42.4%), despite relatively similar click rates before a subscription is completed. One reason, the report suggests, is that mobile users are more likely to abandon the checkout process at the first sign of “friction” – but considering specific user experiences on mobile and optimising this can help conversion.

Similar to engagement, social media was found to drive low levels of conversion, trumped by users who come directly from a home page. 

But this is only a part of the story, according to the research, as the ability to refer users through many channels is a stronger predictor of conversion rather than considering each channel in isolation. A user who comes from social and search, for example, is likely to have a conversion rate ten times higher than a user referred by just one channel.

Michael Silberman, SVP, Strategy at Piano, said: “As subscription programs mature, publishers need to adopt more sophisticated tactics in targeting users for both acquisition and retention. When we analyse the customer journey for digital subscriptions, we’re looking at how organisations can drive engagement – and in turn, increase user value – as they move through that funnel.”