Dynamic Paywalls Explained

Last updated on Dec 26, 2022

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Dynamic Paywalls Explained

Paywalls are a great way for publishers to boost revenue while reducing dependency on Ads. The death of third-party cookies is likely to impact ad revenue further strengthening the need to reduce publisher dependency on ads. A paywall is a great solution to supplement the dipping ad revenue. Publishers earlier put their entire website behind a hard paywall which meant that every reader had to pay a subscription fee to access content. While this ensured that publishers got paid for their content, first time site visitors were unsure of what they were paying for. The alternative, a soft paywall, allows readers access to a few pages before restricting access to content. 

A Dynamic paywall offers a middle ground with the best of both the worlds by combining AI/ML to limit access as per user behavior. Dynamic paywalls alter article limits based on user behavior and display customized subscription prompts to readers who are likely to subscribe. Dynamic Paywalls are also referred to as Propensity Paywalls and Intelligent Paywalls, the underlying principle is the same. Now that the definition of a dynamic paywall is well established, let’s address the next question that pops up.

New_york_times_paywallSource: New York Times

How does a dynamic paywall work?

Dynamic paywall offer a different experience to every visitor based on the information it has gathered on them over time. It uses machine learning to understand user behavior and analyzes it against what it has learnt from other users in the past.

Some of the user attributes that influence this are but not limited to

  • Content category preference of the user 
  • Time on website
  • Time spent reading a specific article
  • Frequency of website visit
  • Recency of visit
  • Depth of read
  • Time of day during the visit
  • Devices used to access the website
  • Amount of content read, watched, or listened to
  • User demographics

According to WNIP, The Wall Street Journal, one of the early adopters of paywalls currently has a sophisticated dynamic paywall that tracks reader activity across 65 variables, allowing it to target the right audience effectively.

The machine learning algorithm takes into account all these factors of a user and compares it against the data of other users it has served in the past. There are two types of machine learning algorithms that process this information.

Next Best Action

The dynamic paywall can use the Next Best Action framework to deduce the next best action to carry out for a particular user. 

For example, if the reader is a regular website visitor and spends a considerable amount of time on the website, the software can put a hard paywall on the article they are reading to urge them to transact and subscribe. Alternatively, if the reader is new and hasn’t interacted with the website in the past, the dynamic paywall will allow them to access more content while keeping a tab on their behavior. These algorithms are customisable and the publishers can add weightages to the decisions taken by the machine learning algorithm. 

Real-Time Machine Learning

Real-Time Machine Learning allows the dynamic paywall to better understand first-time website visitors and uses their in-session behavior to display a suitable offer to them. Real-time machine learning is gaining importance by the day as the death of third-party cookies makes it harder to profile users. 

Also Read: How New York Times uses Machine Learning for its Paywall

Will a Dynamic Paywall Affect my Website Traffic?

Short answer, Yes. A paywall can affect traffic in the short term. However, a well implemented paywall will help convert this small dip in traffic into long-term gains by monetizing loyal and engaged users.

Unlike a hard paywall that has the potential to kill website traffic drastically, a dynamic paywall automatically adjusts the article limit allowing low-intent users to access more content while the loyal and engaged users are urged to convert into subscribers. This ensures traffic from first-time, low intent visitors aren’t hampered and the publication can still monetize them using ads. 

Paywall Specific Content

A dynamic paywall allows publishers to paywall certain kinds of content. A publisher can choose to keep general news open to all visitors while detailed reports, and investigative journalism pieces can be put behind a paywall. This puts content behind the driver’s seat and helps convert audiences with high intent into subscribers. 

Also Read: 17 Best Paywall Solutions For Publishers In 2022

Paywalling such content also opens up avenues for microtransactions where a subscriber can pay for just the article they wish to read. Publishers such as The Ken paywall investigative pieces from their audience. 

Is it possible to add a Dynamic Paywall to a WordPress website?

Absolutely Yes!. In fact, there are multiple plugins that are available just for this. We’ve covered the best paywall plugins for WordPress, so do take a look there. 

Who should consider implementing a Dynamic Paywall?

Should you? It is lucrative to have a fresh revenue stream by monetizing your content. But just adding a paywall will not benefit everyone. There are certain factors that need to be considered before implementing a paywall. 

  • Do you have a sizable chunk of direct and repeat visitors on your website? Checking analytics will help you estimate your loyal readers. If the number of such visitors is significant, a fraction of these can be converted into paying subscribers. 
  • If you publish high quality unique content that isn’t available for free elsewhere, then you can consider putting such content behind a paywall. Publishers publishing investigative stories will find paying subscribers.
  • Publishers with an active following on social media websites are more likely to convert these followers into subscribers.
  • Publishers who cover a niche and don’t have much competition will find it easier to monetize their content using a paywall.

Medium and enterprise publishers are in a better position to experiment with a paywall since they bring in a decent amount of ad revenue to cover their costs. Enterprise publishers can also leverage their brand and reputation to convert their visitors into subscribers.

Dynamic paywalls offer publishers a great opportunity to become less dependent on ad revenue. They also help publishers nurture their loyal visitors and monetize their content. 



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Aditya Shenoy
Aditya Shenoy
Aditya Shenoy is a Senior Manager for Content Marketing at iZooto. At iZooto he's helping publishers retain their hard earned audience. He has spent 8 years in the digital publishing space as a consumer technology reviewer. He has worked with Gadgets 360, India's best technology website creating content across different formats. During his stint with NDTV he reviewed nearly 300 gadgets including smartphone, tablets, and wearables. Aditya was anchoring a show called Daily 360 that used to be streamed live on the Hop Live app.

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