The Journey from the Anonymous Reader to Subscriber


Many publishers will know that building strong relationships with your audience and making the user experience as personalised as possible are becoming more and more important nowadays, especially as the digital publishing market becomes ever more competitive. However, many publishers struggle to do this for anonymous visitors, which becomes a significant issue when you consider that over 98% of website visits are anonymous.

You can sum up how to convert anonymous visitors to subscribers in just one word – data. In order for you to effectively sell your content, you need to know who you’re selling it to. Without using data to build a profile and analyse the behaviour of said visitor, you can’t have a good enough idea of who your visitor is to try and sell to them. According to a white paper by Cxense, ‘…(if) you give your online users what they want… they will return to your site more often, be more engaged with your content and buy more products and/or services.’

STEP 1 – Building The Profile

Before you can start to personalise what you provide to the reader, you need to have a basic profile about their online activities. From this, you can gain a surprisingly good indication of what sort of person your anonymous visitor is.

But how can you do this from knowing absolutely nothing about the person? Looking at second or even third party data is a good place to start (what sort of content they read on other websites, and what the visitor’s broad background and demographics are). While this won’t give you enough information to start selling or fully personalise their reading experience, it can give you an indication of what sort of content they could potentially be interested in reading, particularly if you compare the anonymous reader’s demographics to those who have similar in your database.

STEP 2 – Analyse Behaviour

At this point, you should have a rough idea of the visitor’s background courtesy of the anonymous user profile that has been created, but aren’t fully sure exactly why they are expecting from your content. This is where data becomes really essential. You can very quickly find out:

  • What content the anonymous user is looking at (this becomes easier if advanced tracking technology is used, like tokens). From this, you can start to personalise the user’s experience by recommending the more relevant content.
  • How long they are looking at your content for. It’s beneficial to see what particular topics or types of content the user is engaging with more, so you can more accurately predict what content they are more likely to enjoy and come back for.
  • What other sites they are looking at while on yours. This may at first seem unnecessary, but being able to see what other content the anonymous visitor is looking will not only give you a better indication of what topics they are interested in, but also provide a far better insight into their online behaviours (if they like to read longer articles or prefer watching videos, for example).

The ability to analyse the anonymous user’s behaviour in real time is the only way you can confidently predict what the user’s intentions are, and thus know exactly how best to personalise that particular user’s experience.

STEP 3 – Personalisation

There is little point in collecting all the data on what the anonymous visitor likes to read and do on your site if you are going to do nothing with it. Furthermore, people are not going to subscribe (or even return) to your site if they’re not 100% certain that their experience will be tailored in some way to them. Therefore, developing a relationship with anonymous visitors by constantly personalising their experience with appropriate content, ads and (eventually) offers in real time is of paramount importance.

Now forgive me for backtracking slightly, but while it is undoubtedly essential to gather data and personalise the anonymous user’s experience accordingly, it is also just as essential not to personalise the experience and try and sell your subscription to the user too quickly. The idea of personalisation is to gradually develop a relationship with the user, and if they see a fully personalised page on their first visit to your site, it is easy to see why some would begin to feel a little uneasy. The same goes for trying to sell straight away, many find it very off-putting if you are confronted with a sign-up form on your first visit.

The personalisation phase is probably the hardest to get right. It can take time for a good enough relationship to develop with the anonymous user so that you can feel comfortable stating the benefits of a subscription to them without them being put off.


Publishers don’t find it easy to convert anonymous visitors to paying subscribers, and the reasons why are completely understandable. To effectively act on the data you gather in real time is difficult. The process also requires a lot of effort and patience that some don’t have. But the key behind the process is data and what you do with it.


Contact us at Evolok for more information.

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