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Reducing churn in the first 100 days at Wall Street Journal

By Ian Tucker

The Wall Street Journal

New York


With more than 2.6 million paid members, The Wall Street Journal is the biggest it has ever been. We were the first to create the dynamic paywall, and, since then, have been increasing our focus on churn reduction.

The biggest driver of churn reduction amongst new members is the creation of early habit formation. Through a great piece of work by our data science team (the habit project), we found day zero for a new member is the most important time for habit formation. As soon as we acquire a new member, the clock starts ticking. Every minute that passes, that member’s willingness to adopt new habits within our product declines dramatically.

While a period extending out 100 days from purchase provides many opportunities for introducing new habits to members, none are as effective as the onboarding experience directly following a purchase, in the first few minutes of our new relationship. With every new day that passes, the chances of the member adopting new habits declines.

New reader habits are most likely to occur early in the subscription process.
New reader habits are most likely to occur early in the subscription process.

Onboarding: what we did

By applying this insight to months of continuous experimentation and Big Data projects, we’ve become increasingly sophisticated at using the data we have on habits to drive adoption within WSJ.com. We achieved this with a laser focus on the onboarding experience and journey which goes from day zero to day 100.

These are some of the psychological principles that have driven our success throughout The Wall Street Journal onboarding flow:

  • Each habit should be presented on its own so a user can focus on engaging and completing that habit — 125% uplift in actions per user. 
  • Use link texting for app downloads — 450% uplift in app downloads.
  • Ensure habits can be completed within the onboarding flow — 200% uplift in actions per user.
Some of the onboarding cards The Wall Street Journal uses.
Some of the onboarding cards The Wall Street Journal uses.

Onboarding: findings

Adding this onboarding flow past the moment of purchase has increased the percentage of our base that adopts new habits. This equates to an increase of 223%. When we aggregate the number of new habits formed as a result of our new onboarding journey, we generate 986,000 new habits across a year, which include downloading an app. 

These are some of the actions and percentage change we have seen during the onboarding process:

  • Download app: 400%
  • Play a puzzle: 2,253%
  • Build watchlist: 1718%
  • Read opinion review: 332%
  • Play video: 650%
  • Go to podcast platform: 1,100%
  • Subscribe to alert: 1,900%
  • Submit interest: 1,100%

As a result, we have seen better retention rates. The retention rates of new members entering onboarding is 18% higher than those that don’t. We also see a positive relationship between retention and the number of actions a user completes within onboarding.

The increase in the length of onboarding does not impact completion rates. The flow has grown from five to 15 cards; however, 50% of new members still make it all the way through. This shows a high appetite to learn about our expansive product benefits and no information fatigue.

Creating a second chance to onboard

Once members complete the onboarding flow, they can still return to it at any time by visiting the “member benefits” link in the member dropdown. This in-life onboarding, which is across all Wall Street Journal pages, drives more habit adoption than new member onboarding because it’s available to the entire base at all times (1.5 million visits per year by members).

We also use this page as a tactic for re-onboarding members who have just been saved in the customer call centre. By promoting the onboarding flow to members who have been saved on their current offer, or a new offer, we can continue to drive home the value of a Wall Street Journal membership.

What’s next?

With 48% of new members providing data on their content interests, the next phase of onboarding experimentation will focus on how personalisation can improve engagement rates of existing cards. Our ultimate goal is to continue to apply our data and experimentation rigor to determine the onboarding flow that prompts new members to complete as many actions as possible, thereby reducing their likelihood to churn.

About Ian Tucker

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