Hosting for Blogs and Subscription Online Magazines: Navigate Between Paywall and Advertising - 🏆 Managed Server
May 25, 2023

Hosting for Blogs and Subscription Online Magazines: Navigating Between Paywalls and Advertising

How to properly implement a Paywall on a WordPress blog or online publication.

Online publishing has undergone a radical transformation in recent years, with the emergence of an increasing number of blogs and online news organizations. At the heart of this revolution is WordPress, a content management system (CMS) that has proven to be a formidable ally for anyone who wants to share information, news and stories with the world.

WordPress offers a complete set of intuitive tools, which allow you to easily manage every aspect of your site, from design to content to SEO. Its scalability and the thousands of plugins available make it suitable for both small personal blogs and large newspapers.

A case in point is the New York Observer, one of the most influential newspapers in the United States, which has chosen WordPress for its site. TechCrunch, one of the world's leading technology news sites, also uses WordPress to manage its vast flow of content.

Our role in this scenario is fundamental. Our company operates many WordPress-based online publications, with some of these sites generating traffic of over 50 million visitors per month, up to well over hundreds of millions. This exceptional result is the result of our constant commitment to providing reliable, secure and performing hosting, and to supporting our customers in managing their WordPress sites.

Our experience and expertise in the field of online publishing allows us to offer a hosting management service of the highest quality, able to meet the needs of our customers and to face the challenges that online publishing presents today.

JetPack Stats High traffic WordPress site

Publishing Crisis and the New Challenge of Online Publishing

The crisis in traditional publishing, aggravated by a number of elements including the rise of digital technologies and the evolution of consumer behaviour, has triggered a massive shift towards online publishing. Despite the change of perspective and the transfer of content on the net, the persistent problems in the sector have not evaporated with the adoption of digital.

In the past, online advertising revenue was the economic backbone of blogs and news organizations. This source of income, however, has shown signs of decline over the last few years. The growing use of tools such as ad-blockers by users, the escalation of competition for consumer attention, together with the application of ever stricter regulations on privacy and handling of user data, have eroded the stability of revenues from advertising. These factors, combined, have made advertising targeting increasingly complex and less profitable.

In this context, the approach that focuses exclusively on advertising as the only monetization model is proving increasingly unsustainable, particularly for newsrooms with high operating costs. Although many websites are able to generate a considerable volume of traffic, advertising revenue is often not enough to cover operational costs. As a result, many online publications have found themselves needing to explore new business models.

The post-2020 era has presented a series of unprecedented challenges for online publishing. Faced with an ever-changing environment, where challenges are not lacking, digital news organizations have had to devise new strategies to generate income, without compromising the quality of content and reader engagement. This need has spurred the adoption of innovative forms of monetization, such as paid content and the implementation of paywalls.

These methods represent a radical change in the income generation perspective for online newspapers. The paywall, for example, offers the ability to create a more stable and predictable revenue stream than advertising, while still granting readers unrestricted access to high-quality content.

The online publishing landscape is therefore transforming, becoming more diverse and resilient. The goal remains to find the right balance between revenue generation, content quality and user experience, ensuring the sustainability of the sector in the long term.

Monetize a WordPress Blog with Advertising

A traditional way to monetize a WordPress blog is online advertising, an industry dominated by platforms such as Google AdSense, Evolution ADV, TakeRate, ProjectADV and the like. These services allow you to place advertisements on your site and earn money based on the number of views or clicks.

A fundamental indicator in this sector is the RPM, or Revenue Per Mille, a term that indicates the average earnings per thousand advertising impressions. The RPM is a widely used indicator in the advertising field because it allows you to estimate the revenues that can be obtained for every thousand views of an ad on your site.

black Advertsing

RPM value can vary significantly based on several factors, including the quality of site traffic, geographic location of users, ad format, and most importantly, site topic. Generally, it can be said that the RPM value fluctuates between 1 and 3 euros, but this strongly depends on the topic of the blog. Sites that specialize in more lucrative topics, like finances or insurance, can see significantly higher RPM.

However, it's important to note that while RPM provides a useful indication, monetization through online advertising isn't always stable or predictable. With the ever-changing dynamics of the online ecosystem, blogs and news organizations need to look beyond traditional advertising to ensure a more reliable and long-lasting source of income.

The problem of accepting cookies and monetizing advertising

In the current digital landscape, privacy policy and cookie management have assumed a leading role, significantly influencing the monetization strategies of websites, especially those based on advertising. With the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and related cookie regulations, users of a website must give their explicit consent to receive personalized advertisements. This change has had a major impact on the economic performance of online advertising.

Cookie Banner Demo

In practice, it has been found that a considerable percentage of users, ranging between 40% and 70%, choose not to accept tracking cookies, thus limiting the ability of websites to monetize through advertising. This leads to a drastic drop in the earning potential of banner ads and advertising in general, highlighting a non-negligible problem in the context of online monetization.

Let's take as an example a website that generates 3 million page views per month, with an RPM (Revenue Per Mille, or the earnings per thousand views) of 3 euros. Before the introduction of the cookie policy and the GDPR, such a site could have generated around 9.000 euros per month. However, with the current cookie rejection rate, the same amount of traffic can produce a much smaller profit, between 3.000 and 4.000 euros per month.

This decline in revenue highlights the importance of adopting new monetization models that can address these limitations imposed by privacy and cookie regulations. Now more than ever, online news organizations need to be innovative and flexible, ready to adapt to an ever-changing environment.

Monetization via Subscription: Exclusive Content for Members

In the ever-changing landscape of online publishing, one form of monetization that is gaining traction is subscriptions to exclusive content. This model, also known as a freemium model, offers a combination of free content for all users and premium content exclusively for subscribers.

The principle behind this model is simple but effective: to offer tangible value to users willing to pay for an enhanced reading experience. This may include access to exclusive content, removal of advertisements, early access to new content, more in-depth articles, and more.

This form of monetization is emerging as an effective solution for many online media outlets facing the harsh reality of declining advertising revenues. Newsrooms enjoy a more stable and predictable source of income, allowing them to focus on what they do best: creating high-quality content.

The New York Times is a successful example of this strategy. The popular newspaper implemented a digital subscription model in 2011, and has since seen a steady increase in the number of digital subscribers, who now account for a significant portion of its total revenues.

New York Times Paywall

However, implementing a subscription model can come with challenges. The first is to convince users to pay for content in a world where much information is freely available. To overcome this challenge, it is essential to offer high quality content and unique added value that justifies the cost of the subscription.

A second challenge concerns technology. Implementing a subscription system requires tools that can handle payments, content access, and subscriber management. This is where WordPress comes in with its wide range of plugins, such as MemberPress or Restrict Content Pro, which make it easier to implement a membership system on your site.

The subscription model can also be used in conjunction with advertising, providing a dual source of income. Free users can continue to see ads, providing a source of advertising revenue, while subscribed users can benefit from ad-free reading.

As the publishing crisis continues to put pressure on newsrooms, the adoption of subscription models represents a light at the end of the tunnel. Online publications that are able to offer high quality content and excellent user experience have the opportunity to create a sustainable and resilient business model, ready to navigate the future of digital publishing.

The Paywall in Online Publishing: A Valid Monetization Tool

A paywall is a monetization method used in the online publishing world that restricts access to certain website content to only paying users. It is a powerful tool that helps online publications generate stable and predictable revenue, overcoming the limitations of traditional advertising-only monetization methods.

There are various types of paywalls, each with its specificities:

  1. Hard Paywalls: This is the most restrictive type of paywall, where all website content is restricted to paying users. This approach is usually taken by news organizations that offer high-quality or niche content, such as the Financial Times.
  2. Soft Paywalls: In this case, part of the website's content is available for free, while other content is only accessible to paying users. This model is used by many highly successful publications, such as the New York Times.
  3. Metered Paywalls: This type of paywall allows users to access a certain number of articles for free each month, after which a subscription is required to continue reading. This approach is used by many newspapers, including the Washington Post.
  4. Freemium Paywall: In this model, some selected content is reserved for paying users, while the rest is accessible for free. This allows you to attract a large audience with free content, while offering exclusive content of value to your subscribers.

A paywall serves several purposes in an online news outlet. First, it generates a direct and predictable source of revenue, helping to mitigate ad revenue dependency. Second, it helps build a community of loyal, engaged readers who are willing to pay for access to high-quality content. Additionally, a paywall can help support your newsroom business by allowing you to invest in the production of original and in-depth content.

However, it is crucial to implement a paywall in the right way. Introducing a paywall must be accompanied by clear communication of the value users will receive in return for their subscription. Also, it's important to find the right balance between free and paid content, so as not to alienate a part of the audience.

In conclusion, a paywall can be an important monetization tool for online publishing, if used correctly. It can help create a sustainable business model capable of supporting the important work of newsrooms in an increasingly competitive digital world.

Hosting Management of an Online Newspaper with Paywall: Technical Aspects and Challenges

Implementing a Paywall system on an online publication may seem like a simple task from the end user's point of view, but in reality it involves a series of server-side technical and operational challenges. One of the main things to consider is caching management, along with making sure your content is properly indexed by search engines.

Cache Management with a Paywall

A caching system, like Varnish, is essential to ensure optimal performance and fast loading speeds on your website, by storing static versions of pages to quickly serve them to users. However, implementing a paywall introduces a new complexity: you need to be able to serve different versions of the same page depending on whether the user is a free visitor or a subscriber.

Varnish-Cache-Schema

This need can easily lead to a Varnish cache bypass. For example, if a non-subscribed user visits a page and it is cached, when a subscribed user visits the same page they may receive the non-subscribed version, denying access to premium content. Conversely, if a subscriber version is cached, a non-subscriber may have access to content that should be blocked by the Paywall.

Another potential problem is server overload. If the Paywall causes a cache bypass for most of the requests, the server could be overloaded from the need to dynamically generate each page, leading to slow performance or even a server crash and making the content unusable.

502 bad gateway nginx

Search Engine Indexing and Paywalls

When implementing a Paywall within a website, one of the crucial aspects to take into consideration is the indexing of content by search engines. Google and other search engines need to be able to access, analyze and index your site's content to determine its relevance and, consequently, its position in search results.

However, the presence of a paywall can be an obstacle for search engine crawlers. In fact, these robots could find themselves facing a "wall" that blocks access to paid content. This issue can cause pages on your site to drop in indexing, resulting in reduced visibility in search results. This can lead to a drop in website traffic and potentially a decrease in subscriptions.

google-bot

To address this challenge, many publishers resort to methods such as "First Click Free" or "Flexible Sampling", promoted by Google. These strategies allow search engine crawlers to access paid content, but limit users' free access to a fixed number of articles. In this way, it is possible to create a balance between the need to generate income through paid content and that of maintaining excellent visibility on search engines.

Managing this delicate balance requires careful planning and strategy. Publishers must carefully consider how much content they make accessible for free, trying to ensure a positive experience for users, and at the same time ensuring a sustainable economic return. In this sense, choosing the most suitable monetization technique can make the difference in the success of an online newspaper.

Technical Solutions

The technical management of a Paywall system on an online platform requires a holistic approach that is not limited only to server-side configuration or system engineering. The application part also plays a key role in the implementation of the Paywall, placing itself as a central element to ensure the effectiveness of the system as a whole.

Very often, the problem lies precisely in the quality of the software or plugins used to implement the Paywall. In particular, in the context of platforms such as WordPress, there are multiple commercial solutions that promise to facilitate the management of a Paywall. However, experience teaches us that these solutions do not always live up to expectations, especially when the number of subscribed users begins to grow.

In fact, it has emerged that many of these plugins have design flaws that compromise their efficiency, especially when the system is put under stress by a large number of simultaneously active subscribers. These design errors can negate the benefits of using a static cache by causing excessive resource consumption such as CPU cycles for PHP and MySQL. This could lead to site slowdowns or, in the most serious cases, to a real server crash.

In these scenarios, it therefore becomes essential to review the entire architecture of the system, starting with the Paywall software or plugin and moving towards a tailor-made solution, designed to effectively manage the traffic and subscribed users of a large site. This could involve designing a multilevel caching system, which leverages cookies or user agents to distinguish between different types of users and serve the correct version of the page to each of them.

For example, it might be necessary to create a specific cache level for subscribed users, separate from that of non-subscribed users, to ensure that each gets the correct version of the page. Likewise, you may need to implement specific rules for GoogleBots and other search engine crawlers to ensure they can access and index site content correctly.

Page metadata, such as HTTP response tags or HTML head tags, may also need to be managed at the application level to ensure it is sent correctly to browsers and search engines.

In summary, managing a Paywall system on a large online publication is a complex task that requires constant attention not only to the server-side systems, but also to the application. Only through a balanced combination of solid technical skills, a deep understanding of web dynamics and careful system design, it is possible to ensure the effectiveness of a Paywall and the success of a website.

Do you want to implement a paywall on your online magazine?

If you are thinking about implementing a Paywall on your online magazine, you are in the right place. Our experience in the digital publishing sector and our technical expertise allow us to offer you high-level advice and active support in implementing this solution.

Introducing a paywall can be a complex process involving many facets, both technically and strategically. It's important to carefully evaluate the uniqueness of your audience, the type of content you offer, and your monetization expectations.

On a technical level, we take care of the configuration and optimization of the Paywall, making sure it is designed to handle high volumes of traffic and to offer the best possible experience to your users. We'll work closely with your team to ensure a smooth transition and to implement best practices for maintaining search engine indexing.

We also understand the importance of efficient server-side management, especially crucial when it comes to managing traffic spikes and optimizing site performance. Our team of expert systems engineers is able to provide customized solutions, implementing server and cache optimization strategies to ensure fast loading times and smooth navigation.

It doesn't matter if you're a large publisher or a small blog, our goal is to help you effectively monetize your content without compromising user experience or search engine visibility. Contact us to find out how we can help you navigate the world of online publishing and successfully implement a Paywall on your publication.

 

 

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