With the release of Google Panda 2.2, web sites are now forced to pay attention to site health metrics like bounce rate, page views per visit, average time per visit and social sharing. Without going into huge amounts of detail (watch this video if you need that) it is fair to say that you can no longer just publish great content and make it available to Google. Your users have to validate your content by clicking through to multiple pages, staying on site longer, and letting their friends and family know that you are a site worth visiting.
This new paradigm throws a monkey wrench into the works for sites that operate on a subscription model. Prior to Panda, a subscription based site operated by leading the user to a decision point to buy or not to buy by presenting a free trial option and otherwise limiting/blocking the available content after the trial ended. Post-Panda, that model probably is not going to work very well unless you have an extremely strong brand, an intensely loyal (or large) following already or a good mechanism to attract users that isn’t dependent on Google such as a print magazine or book that provides a touchstone for users to find your online presence. With the changes wrought by Panda, subscription sites that rely on Google to send them new users are in a different and sometimes difficult position.
Those businesses that previously relied on the limited free trial need to have a new option to allow users to move about their site and share content with their social networks. Fortunately, there is already a tested and successful model: Freemium. In a freemium model, you offer a free, albeit limited, version of your product or service and it remains free (and limited) forever. If your user wants more or better features they have to pay to get them.
With a freemium model you still lead your new users to a decision point, but now the decisions are:
- Buy (yay!)
- Not Buy (leave…boo!)
- Delay decision (create freemium account…yay!)
So while the site does not get the subscription fees for users who delay the purchase, they do gain some very important benefits from having these users around. Number of pages viewed per user should increase. Those users will be more likely to recommend the site via their social networks. Time spent on the site should increase. These factors will help your site rise or stay high in Google search results and that should not be discounted.
Freemium also serves as an excellent “gateway drug” to your brand and services. Your challenge as a business is to find that balance of how much access to allow encouraging your users to move from the free version to the paid version. 37Signals does an excellent job with their suite of products: Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack and Campfire as does Harvest with their time-tracking and invoicing service. While it is not immediately obvious that a free version of those products exists (you need to look for the fine print on the Plans and Pricing pages), once you find it and start using the systems for any length of time you are almost assured to upgrade to a paid version. Balancing what you get for not paying versus your need for more is almost perfectly achieved in those products. I strongly encourage subscription-based businesses to review these models.
What do you think? Sound off below…