25 Essential Subscription Conversion Tactics

Understanding the details of subscription marketing for trial offers can make a huge difference in the conversion rates and the lifetime value of your

Subscription marketing is a world unto-itself, and understanding the details, no matter how small, can make a huge difference in conversation rates and the lifetime value of your subscribers.  The following are 25 tactics we have learned from years of testing for maximizing conversion rates on your subscription trial offers:

The Offer

1. Email Collection: Ask trial participants for an email address at the very beginning of the registration process, before they click any button. Email collection should come before a name or a credit card number is entered, which should be done on step two of the registration process.

2. Form Design: After you obtain an email address, keep your form to one column and put as much of it above the fold as possible. Visitors shouldn’t have to scroll and jump between both columns. Keep it really simple and as brief as possible.

Free Trial3. Button Design: Create a button with drop shading, a three-dimensional look and a contrasting color from the site design. It should stick out and your eyes should be drawn towards it. It’s also important to have a positive Call-To-Action button copy that gets people engaged, like “Get Started,” “Get Instant Access Now” or “Join Now,” avoiding words with a negative connotation, like “Submit.”

4. Artificial Deadline: Imposing an artificial deadline on your trial offer (or promotional offer) compels visitors to register sooner rather than later.

5. Testimonials:Testimonial quotes from customers on the registration page are another great tactic to increase trial signups. Another way to foster credibility is to include member logos whenever possible. However, be mindful to make the logos grayscale, because the last thing you want is a bunch of colorful logos that take away from your own site and clash with one another. Include social sharing as well. For instance, Facebook provides a plugin that allows a visitor to see how many people and how many of their friends “like” your business’ page.

6. Lightbox Overlays:Use a lightbox overlay that pops up after a visitor has been on your page for a certain amount of time. The amount of time can be determined by checking your analytics to see how long visitors are on your site.

Offer Terms and Conditions

When it comes to terms and conditions, there are four standards to be used by a business, especially one operating online to display transparency, demonstrate legitimacy and convey trust with your future subscribers.  A good trick to remember is the four P’s:  Prominence, Presentation, Placement, and Proximity.

7. Prominence: Your terms and conditions should be large enough, clear and easy to read, and above the fold. All disclosures should be written in a way that consumers can understand.

8. Presentation: Your terms and conditions should not be hidden behind a hyperlink. Your privacy policy can be, but you want to make your terms and conditions spelled out in plain text and directly above the registration button.

9. Placement: Avoid distracting animation or advertising or anything that would take away from visitors spending the time to read your terms and conditions.

10. Proximity: It’s optimal to have the copy for your terms of use and service above the registration button.


11. Honor Promises: If a person signs up for a trial, they must get access for the period of time that was promised. If a ten day trial is promised with instant access and a password is needed, email the password immediately. You can’t email it to them two days later and then charge them on day 10 because they really only had 8 days of access to your site.

12. Make it Clear: Trial participants need to know exactly what they are signing up for. A terms of service notice must be present before they click, where they explicitly agree to a free trial that will convert to a monthly or yearly subscription unless cancelled.

13. Language Usage: The language used in offering a discount as part of a paid trial is quite important as well. For instance, word an offer this way:  “Get our service for 30 days for $1. That’s 90% off a regular price!” It needs to be clear that you are offering a percentage discount and that normal charges will apply after the trial period. In the case of a $1 trial, it may not even make the most sense to indicate a 90% discount. Instead, say: “Get access to our service for 14 days for $1. After that period of time you will be charged a monthly rate of X.” Be sure to also clearly disclose your refund policy.

14. Disclose Total Cost: In the same vein, it is imperative to disclose the total cost of your subscription. If for any reason your service has an installation fee, tax, or any sort of variable fee, it all needs to be disclosed. If you’re going to be sending the billing information to a third party, using a payment processing server like Chase Payment Tech or a merchant account, this must all be disclosed as well.

15. Cancellations: Include the details of the cancellation process and make it very easy to cancel on your site. Though it is true that most subscription owners don’t want trial participants to cancel after they sign up for a trial offer, in the end a cancellation is much better for your business than a customer issuing a chargeback.

Conversion Tactics

16. Email Communications: Use the email addresses you obtained at registration for your marketing purposes. Set your email service provider to send auto responders with a thank you note the minute they sign up for the free trial, along some first steps to access your best resources, features or tools on your site.

Email communications with trial subscribers should be sent between 9AM and 3PM with the following recommended frequency for a seven-to-ten day trial:

    • At sign-up
    • Three days into the trial
    • Six days into the trial
    • 24 hours before the trial is over

The email send 24 hours before the trial is over should contain a reminder that the trial membership is about to expire and their card is going to be charged.

As always, test which email tactics work for you. Sending an email reminder can be a very powerful tactic to improve conversions, but may not work every time. If people sign up for a trial and then cancel, create a separate email list for them,  you can still send marketing emails in the hopes of winning them back.

If emails don’t help to convert your trial subscribers into paying subscribers, you may need to revisit your marketing copy, or consider a different free offer such as an e-book, webinar, or white paper.

17. Form Abandons: Of course, because you offer a trial or an incredible promotion doesn’t mean everybody’s going to take it. Sometimes you’re going to have form abandons, where people submit an email but don’t fill out the rest of your form. Most businesses have a form abandon rate of above 20%. Having a form abandon rate lower than 20% is phenomenal.

Tracking form abandons is important to gain an insight into how visitors are interacting with your registration process. There are two types to track: Initial and Final form abandons.

“Initial” abandons are those who abandon the cart or the sign up page at some point in the process, but return to complete it within 30-60 days. “Final” abandons are those who give up on the process altogether and never come back. Most sites can usually save up to 20% of their abandons with email communications, among other methods. When sending an email to abandons, always remind the subscriber of what they are going to be missing.

Another way to use email to save form abandons is to opt for a two-part trial form. The first part of the form is an email opt-in, and the second part of the form asks for credit card information. While it is always recommended to take credit card information at the point of the trial offer, the downside is it will immediately lead to form abandons. Splitting up the registration process ensures that even if a visitor abandons at the credit card stage, you’ll still have an email for marketing purposes.

The shopping cart is not the only place you want to attempt to save form abandons. It can also be done during the post-trial cancellation. First, try to extend the trail at the first cancellation attempt, or accept the cancellation and cross-sell another product. Even if you can’t get the subscription renewal, attempt to increase your revenues by selling one-off products.

18. Debit & Prepaid Cards: Stay away from debit card pre-authorizations on free trials because some banks will place a hold on the funds until the payment is settled, leading to angry calls from trial participants who will want to cancel and get out completely. If your payment processor or the banks that are connected to your payment processor are placing holds, there are two ways to deal with the situation. The first is to get someone at your processor or the banks to release them. The other option is to convert everyone to a $1.00 trial. In this case, it will save you from the hassle of pre-authorizations and you will still have credit card information on file.

When it comes to prepaid cards, proceed with caution and try to upsell them as soon as possible. It’s very difficult to renew an account that was paid for with a prepaid card. When the renewal time arrives, there’s a real risk that the card may not have enough money on it. If you are able to determine when somebody is using a prepaid card, send them a one-time upsell offer. It can be an annual membership or a lifetime membership – it just needs to be something where you can get the most out of that card.

Services like Vindicia, Recurly and others can tell you not only it’s a prepaid card, but also how much money is on that card, so you can then make an offer that’s tailored to that amount. It’s important to not just ignore prepaid cards and assume that most of your users won’t use them.

Upselling Tactics

When it comes to upselling people into annual subscriptions or other offers, there are a few ways to make the offer much more effective:

19. Weekly vs. Annual: Change the wording to reflect the weekly price instead of the annual price. If an annual subscription costs $199, wording the offer so that it reflects the weekly price of $3.85 will help with conversions.

20. Discounted Yearly Offer: Make a one-time discounted annual plan offer to customers who chose a monthly subscription plan.

21. Targeted Marketing: Try targeted marketing and don’t be afraid of telemarketing. Look at your analytics and either call or email the most loyal subscribers or the most frequent users of your site.

22. Combine Sales and Trials: When a product is purchased on the eCommerce portion of your site, make an offer to begin a trial during the checkout process. Charge the credit card that’s used to make the product purchase once the trial is over. However, you can’t do this if you have one company handling your products and another handling your subscriptions. You’ll need one company with the same merchant account to do this, otherwise it will be considered a “data pass” and will run you afoul of the Federal Trade Commission.

23. Combine Trials with Events: Offer attendees to your events a key or coupon code to obtain access to your site. Then create a series of special welcome emails to remind people that they entered into this trial subscription because they attended the event, and that after their trial is over, you will be charging the same card they used to pay for the event ticket. Always remember in a situation like this to make an equal offer to your current subscribers. If your current subscribers are attending the event, give them a discount on the event ticket or extend their subscription by a comparable term to the trial offer. Retaining customers is always easier than finding new ones.

24. Don’t Over-extend Guarantees: If you offer 100% money-back guarantee, it doesn’t matter how long the person subscribes with you, or how far away it was from the point of purchase, you have to give that money back. Always stick to a limited term, like a 30-day money-back guarantee. Also, stay away from offering risk-free guarantees. Risk-free means a lot more than just giving the money back, it also means you would have to refund any taxes or shipping and handling and other costs if the subscriber cancels. It’s better to say exactly what you’re willing to give back as part of the guarantee, rather than saying that your trial is risk-free in any way.

Rinse and Repeat

25. TEST, TEST and TEST:  Successful subscription conversations are about constant testing and tweaking.  Do not, we repeat … DO NOT … EVER … Fall into the “we tested that before and it failed” trap.  Always retest, you would be surprised what has changed!  Always challenge your assumptions, always retest, always be testing.

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