Hearst-owned newspaper The Houston Chronicle has launched an all-paid subscription content site, HoustonChronicle.com, with what may be the smallest homepage “subscribe” button we’ve ever seen.The paper’s main original site Chron.com, which currently attracts 12 million unique visitors per month, will continue as a completely free news source. Chron.com is typical of newspaper sites – loaded with clutter and advertising. When you compare its design with the new paid HoustonChronical.com’s layout, you can see the design team had a wonderful time with the freedom to reinvent what a newspaper homepage could look like. The new site, built in HTML5, is super-clean, with eye-friendly big type, smoother navigation. And it looks equally great whether you view it on your PC, tablet or iPhone.Unfortunately, no one on the team seems to have focused on design factors that actually sell subscriptions.For example, the free site’
s homepage features this subscription offer for the print edition positioned in the top left corner — which according to eyetracking studies is a must-view area. It’s in black and white, easiest for eyes to see, in a comfortably readable type size.
Strangely the paid site’s homepage subscribe button is not only far smaller, but it’s positioned in the far top right corner — the least viewed area of any site. It’s also in reverse type, which makes it harder to read. And the single-word call to action is hardly compelling. We scrolled up and down the homepage several times looking for some other button, house ad, offer, or anything really that would indicate that visitors should take action and buy. Zilch.Lead generation forms, such as a free newsletter offer or overlay asking for email opt-in, are also completely missing.99% of visitors won’t know they are on a premium site until they click through on one of the headlines to read the whole story. And then they still may not know since they’ll first have to scroll down past the headline, social media sharing offers, a story summary, a current member log-in form to get to, at long last, the subscription offer…
… which doesn’t have any button or overt blue text-link at all. Nor does it have a form field to ask for an email address. And we’re not even going to mention the complete and utter lack of benefit copy.Sadly, this is precisely the type of subscription marketing skill we’ve seen displayed across most newspaper paywalls.Actually HoustonChronicle.com is better than most. At least there are no distracting advertisements on the page.As we’ve said many times, paywall conversions are a well-documented science. Why do newspapers continue blatantly to ignore best practices that directly impact their bottom lines? Could they subconsciously be averse to selling online subscriptions? Because they’re sure acting like it.