Are you hiding your business behind a paywall?

What’s a paywall?

If you’re not familiar with the term, you will very likely be familiar with the concept. A paywall is used to restrict free access to your store or content. These days, they are most often used by newspapers or content providers who want you to pay or sign up for their stuff. But some stores use them too, and not always to good effect.

I’m just browsing!

I recently asked for recommendations for the best local Christmas cakes. I got lots of recommendations from various sources, but I was surprised at just how many of these businesses were hiding their stuff behind paywalls.

When businesses use Facebook groups and personal pages to sell their products or services, they are inadvertently hiding their goods behind a paywall. Asking your customers to make a commitment to you, such as send a friend request or join your group, is no different to asking someone to create an account or sign up for your newsletter.

As a early stage consumer, I was very much at the research phase of the buying process. I was just checking out my options and learning about all the different businesses that were available to me to buy from. At this stage of the buying process I was just being nosey. Almost all consumers go through this stage, they browse a shop, scroll a page, or visit a website.

They don’t usually sign up, join up, or commit to anything until they know they are at least vaguely interested in the business, and what’s for sale. Today’s customers can be impatient things. They don’t want to wait until they are let into a group, or their friend request is accepted. Even if they do send the request, it’s likely they’ll have checked out other options in the mean time. And it’s very possible they’ll have made their buying decision by then too.

Privacy Concerns

People are also very personally aware. I certainly don’t send friend requests from my private profile, or join Facebook groups just to find out if a business has what I want. And I’m not the only one. As we realise how dangerous social media platforms can be, people are becoming much more aware of how they share their data, and who they are connecting with.

If you are old enough to remember shopping in the 00’s, you’ll be quite familiar with the membership system. Some stores still do this, such as Bookers and Costco. But many, including Matalan, have moved away from the system due to the restrictive nature of them.

As people have become more and more private about their data, the membership store model has become harder and harder to sell, even to customers that might be familiar with the brand. We have far too many options, that we just don’t need to deal with such barriers. We’ll just go somewhere else that encourages and welcomes browsing.

Clarity is king!

Online stores often implement paywalls in their checkout process. How many times have you seen “shipping calculated at checkout” or something similar, and then found out you have to make an account to get that far. The next thing you know you are getting intense marketing and you only wanted to figure out the final price.

It get’s worse than that. Let talk about Hunt-a-Killer. This is a subscription based business for the hobby detective. They send you regular bundles of evidence to examine, and by the end you should be able to solve the case. But, before you can even enter their website you have to undertake a series of tests! They aren’t difficult but it took me 13 button clicks just to get past their paywall. I also had to give up my name, email address, and city, before I was allowed to find out more info about the product and prices.

As a browser, I found this incredibly irritating. Imagine being asked if you could cook before being allowed into Tesco, or being made to give up your email address before they’ll let you wander round Next!

Restricting access to content

Very often news articles and content are hidden behind paywalls. This is a popular way to sell educational content such as videos and online course materials. It is also very popular with news sites. You might have to pay to see get full access, or you just need to make an account or sign up for a newsletter. In these cases, the content is restricted.

There is nothing wrong with this, we do it ourselves with our course content. But, given the way we like to share content, I wonder how useful it is to newspaper sites. How many times have you seen a news article shared on Facebook and clicked on it only to find that the article is restricted to account holders. Did you sign up or back out and read the comments instead. These paywalls can be really annoying, sometimes you just want to look!

The Times newspaper saw a massive reduction in visitors to their website when they first introduced a paywall. Their paywall put off a whopping 90% of their visitors.

Is there an alternative?

Advertising is an alternative, if you are seeking to make money from your content. But as we’ve seen, getting this wrong can cause people to abandon websites! A popular middle ground is to offer a choice, and allow people to see the content for free plus ads, or subscribe and go “ad free!”

How long would you persevere with this site?

How long would you persevere with this news story?

Exchanging value

If you are exchanging value then paywalls are great. Asking for someones email address in exchange for an article or a free sample is perfectly fine. As is asking someone to pay for valuable content.

If you are only allowing people in to browse your store, then remember that The Times saw a drop of 90% of its visitors because of it’s paywall, and they offer value in exchange, not just access to a shop!

The Times had an excellent reputation and was well respected amongst it’s readers. They were able to charge their subscribers enough to make up for the massive reduction of customers. But, imagine putting off a possible 90% of your clients just because they weren’t encouraged to be nosey!

Curiosity leads to buying

Curiosity often turns to buying. But if people can’t be nosey at your stuff, they’ll be nosey at someone else’s.


Do you want to get away from paywalls?

Don’t pick through conflicting and confusing advice. We’ll support and guide you so you can make clear, confident decisions for your business.

Book a discovery call with us now and find out how we can help you create a strategy that’s right for your business, and we’ll help you get seen online too!