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Oct 09, 2008
How To

Should You Position Your Blog Behind a Subscription Barrier? 5 Guidelines

SUMMARY: Blogs can generate leads, boost search-engine rankings and support an advertising strategy for publishers. So does it ever make sense to place your blog behind a subscription barrier?

We spoke to a publisher who made his blog available only to subscribers of premium content. Here are tips on analyzing a blog in the context of your business model, target audience and the type of content you intend to publish, to determine whether a premium model is an option.
Most subscription content sites use blogs as an alternative to their premium content. Blogs can provide SEO benefits, a lead-generation channel, or new inventory for online advertising.

But in September, 2007, Jack Ciesielski, Publisher, The Analyst’s Accounting Observer, shifted away from the typical blogging strategy. He made his blog available only to subscribers of his financial accounting research service.

The move, he says, fitted the type of content he wanted to publish in his blog and the audience he was trying to reach. “I’m happy with having done that,” says Ciesielski. “I feel like it cements my relationship more with the paying subscribers.”

Placing a blog behind a subscription barrier certainly isn’t for everyone. So we asked Ciesielski to describe the pros and cons of the move he made. Here are five tips to help you decide if you want to keep your blog open to everyone or limit access to paid subscribers.

-> Tip #1. Evaluate where you blog fits within your business model.

Even when operating a free blog, Ciesielski’s team wasn’t using the channel for many of the reasons that other publishers do. For instance:

- The blog never accepted advertising.
Ciesielski felt that ads would turn off his primary audience – institutional investors looking for unbiased insights into the financial accounting industry.

- The blog was not used to boost traffic or search engine rankings.
Instead, the blog was used as a way to communicate with existing subscribers and provide content that wasn’t necessarily worth a complete article in the primary product.

- Writing a daily blog was distracting.
Ciesielski also found that his blogging schedule -- posting at least once a day -- was beginning to distract him from writing for the premium product. “I wanted my efforts on the blog to benefit subscribers – people who pay for my services.”

For these reasons, he saw little negative impact to switching to a subscriber-only blog model.

-> Tip #2. Analyze your blog audience.

Many publishers use blogs to reach out to prospects who aren’t yet paying customers. But Ciesielski monitored his blog traffic and realized that many of his readers weren’t the institutional investors he sought for his subscription product.

“It was kind of like using marshmallows to troll for sharks,” he says. “Institutional investors are finicky about what they read. They’re not looking for insights from non-professional investors, and they might associate blogs with non-professional investors.”

He also noticed that most of the blog readers who signed up for free trials of his premium product were not members of the qualified audience he was trying to reach. Because the blog was not a strong lead-generation channel, it made the team’s decision to place it behind a subscription firewall easer.

-> Tip #3. Determine whether premium blog offers new content strategies.

Operating a free blog alongside premium content requires publishers to keep those products separate. You don’t want subscribers to feel like free readers are getting access to content that they’ve paid for the rights to read.

But when Ciesielski made his blog available only to subscribers, it allowed him to write more posts that referred to content in his team’s proprietary reports. He also was able to add links to premium articles that wouldn’t be appropriate to share with non-paying customers.

“It's become a bit more integrated with our basic research product, something that didn't make sense when it was open to all.”

That said, Ciesielski still felt compelled to maintain a regular posting schedule (at least once a day) that demonstrated to readers that the blog was a significant benefit of their subscription.

-> Tip #4. Prepare for changes in your blogging platform.

When operating a free blog, Ciesielski’s team used software from WordPress. But moving to a premium blog required a new platform.

At the time they made the decision to switch, the team was in the middle of a website redesign. So, they had a new blogging platform developed that would integrate with their subscription database and website login features. Now, subscribers must enter user names and passwords to view the content.

That change resulted in some sacrifices. Adding posts and embedded links is not as easy as it had been with WordPress, says Ciesielski.

-> Tip #5. Consider occasional free posts to maintain a broader reach.

If you’re wary of shutting out an entire audience of readers, you can split the difference between a complimentary blog and a premium blog.

Although the blog is now available only to subscribers, Ciesielski and his team developed a policy of creating at least one free blog post per week. The tactic allows them to maintain the broader reach of a free blog – while maintaining its focus on serving subscribers.

- Free posts never include links to premium content.
Instead, Ciesielski’s free posts focus on broader-interest topics, such as comments on current events in the financial accounting world, or op-ed-style commentary.

- Free posts are always added on Mondays.
The regular schedule allows non-subscribers to get into the habit of checking the blog once a week.

- Archives from the free blog are still available to all readers.
Ciesielski’s team maintains open access to all posts written before September 2007, when the blog was made a premium product.

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from the Analyst's Accounting Observer Blog:

The Analyst’s Accounting Observer

See Also:

Comments about this How To

Oct 09, 2008 - Tom Baker of Open Field Partners says:
Interesting case study but I would like to have heard more about how they came to a pricing decision, and what their results have been in terms of circulation. Is there any additional information about this?

Oct 09, 2008 - Sean Donahue of MarketingSherpa says:
Tom, I'm not sure if this is exactly what you meant about pricing, but the blog isn't priced as a separate product. It is included in the price of a regular subscription to the Analyst's Accounting Observer. So, if you're a subscriber, you get access to the blog, too. It's looked at more as a value-added feature of the main product.

Oct 09, 2008 - web designer Kathaperumal of says:
5 points discussed here are very very effective. Thanks for this article

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