How to design your subscriber onboarding experience

Toolkit’s Jack Marshall defines subscriber onboarding as the process through which new customers are initiated into a subscription or membership product. He said:

It’s the experience they’re met with in the moments, hours and weeks after their initial purchase is made.

Writing in The Fix, David Tvrdon says that if publishers properly welcome new users and subscribers, they will stay longer. Outlining his experience of developing the onboarding journey for new digital subscribers at Slovakia’s Denník SME, Tvrdon has laid out a four step process for creating a successful subscriber onboarding journey.

There are existing guides to subscriber onboarding at The Wall Street Journal, and from Toolkits and Inbox Collective. But in this post, Tvrdon draws on his own experience of increasing average Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) by 40%.

Tvrdon says that after great content, publishers need habit-building tools – newsletters, podcasts, mobile apps – to monetise via subscriptions or memberships. And, before working on your subscriber onboarding experience, you need an engagement strategy for these products.

It will also help to have insight from the subscriber acquisition team on how they currently promote existing subscriptions and any upgrade efforts they might make.

Features & benefits
It is important to list all of the features that build subscriber habits or the benefits delivered to subscribers. But when communicating these to new subscribers, Tvrdon recommends splitting up introduction emails, making them more visual and always with a clear call to action.

A membership program that publishes new content monthly may also have a weekly newsletter, a podcast, a community and events. Tvrdon says each of these can represent a step in the journey and are worth more than a bullet point in a single welcome email.

He also recommends highlighting features that bring immediate value to subscribers.

  • News notifications in a mobile app
  • Access to exclusive content
  • Podcasts without ads

The onboarding experience
Tvrdon breaks his subscriber onboarding process into 10-steps. He describes the email sent at each step as simple ‘promo cards’ with a call to action at the top. The emails are kept image light.

subscriber onboarding

Onboarding emails from

The 10 emails in the onboarding series run from thanking the new subscriber for payment to newsletter, podcast and app introductions and upgrade offers.

Tvrdon advises making the sender a specific person after testing emails signed by someone from the newsroom leadership. He said:

The results were striking – emails where the sender was a person got a 75% higher open rate.

Tvrdon recommends that someone in the organisation is made responsible for the subscriber onboarding experience. They will keep an eye on features and update onboarding emails accordingly.

He recommends creating a basic dashboard to compare subscribers who have gone through a newly designed onboarding process with overall subscribers or members. He said CLV, churn and how far subscribers got in the onboarding process were key metrics.

Denník SME set up a similar, shorter version of the onboarding experience for newly registered users. Around 5% now become subscribers within five to six weeks, primarily through a strategy that nudges newsletter subscribers to upgrade.

Summing up his work on the subscriber onboarding experience, Tvrdon said:

Obviously, this work is never over, and the number of ways it can be pushed forward is almost unlimited… and even a basic three-step process is better to have than none.

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