5 Paywall Tests to Grow App Revenue

Superwall's founder and CEO shares his five pro tips

David Barnard

David Barnard

July 13, 2022

For app developers, the paywall is not a “set it and forget it” affair: A good paywall requires regular testing and iteration to optimize the install-to-paid funnel.

If you can dial in the right combination of placement, pricing, strategy, and content, your paywall can increase subscriber revenue by as much as 250%.

That’s what Jake Mor discovered while striving to optimize both his own app and those he works with at Superwall, a platform that provides developers with an easy way to remotely configure in-app paywalls

Superwall Founder and CEO, Jake Mor

“Users rarely subscribe to your app without a good paywall,” he says, because they don’t yet know what your app does or if it’s worth their while. Offering limited app access via a freemium model can help overcome some of these doubts, but Jake argues that a well-optimized paywall can be even more effective than a complimentary test drive.

We invited Jake to share best practices for building, testing, and iterating to create paywalls that work (Listen to the full conversation on YouTube). 

Here is a detailed look at the five elements that make a fantastic paywall and how to test them to learn how they play into your app’s install-to-paid funnel.

1. Placement: Show the Paywall at the Right Time

“The number one metric that we focus on — that we see almost every app company not focusing on — is what percentage of your users are even seeing the paywall,” Jake says.

Whether or not a user sees your paywall is determined by when in the user journey the paywall appears. There are several options to choose from, including the following:

  • Before onboarding
  • After onboarding
  • Before using a core feature
  • After using a core feature
  • Each time the app opens

Jake experimented with paywall placement in his own app, FitnessAI, moving it to appear before onboarding and adding a video to the paywall. With this one experiment, he immediately increased the number of people who saw the paywall by 50%, since users not previously completing onboarding were now seeing it right up front.

As a result of these changes, plus the video showing off the best features of the app, install-to-trial conversions doubled. 

With a doubling of install-to-trial, you might expect a commensurate drop in trial-to-paid conversions, but that’s not what Jake experienced. Trial-to-paid conversions stayed the same, leading to a doubling of revenue!

Is Up-Front Paywall Placement Too Aggressive?

To test paywall placement in your app, Jake recommends showing the paywall in all the places listed above. After a few weeks, phase out one at a time until your conversion rate stabilizes.

Some may be concerned about one of these items, though: Is showing a paywall when a user opens the app for the first time too aggressive?

Not according to Jake. 

App developers often underestimate the level of intent behind an app install and how fleeting that intent can be. Showing a user your paywall early in the journey can capture that demand while the user’s need is still top-of-mind.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” Jake says. “People feel bad when they’re aggressive with their paywalls, but the truth is that you need money to invest into your app, and the user can always exit out. You’re not forcing them. It’s not as aggressive as you think.”

Pro tip: If your analytics show that your pre-onboarding paywall is scaring some users away, allow them an easy way out. Make your exit button larger, or place it right under your call to action (CTA) with a label like “not right now.”

2. Features: Decide What to Lock Behind the Paywall

Developers have two choices when deciding which app features users will have to pay to access:

  • Specific high-value features (a freemium model)
  • All features (a pay-to-play model)

While freemium apps often work best without a free trial option, offering a timed free trial makes sense for pay-to-play apps, so users can see what the app is about before committing. One exception to this might be a freemium app with paid features whose value is best understood by experiencing them firsthand.

In that case, try offering a timed free trial to access the paid features. If the user doesn’t subscribe at the end of the trial period, send a push notification to remind them that they can still use half of the app’s features for free.

Source: DesignShack

What Model Should You Choose for Your New App?

Jake recommends the pay-to-play option for new apps, locking all features behind the paywall.

“When you first launch your app, it’s the worst it will ever be,” he says. Anyone willing to subscribe to something that new must have a very significant problem that justifies being willing to try such an early version in the hope that it offers a solution.

“Those are the people you want to be building for,” he says. “So, lock out your entire app — at least when you start — and listen to your users. Take their problems as gold and solve for them.”

3. Pricing: Meet Users Where Their Demand Is

When it comes to app subscription pricing, the trick is to show the right price to the right person — or, as Jake puts it, to meet users where their demand is.

For example, if a user downloaded the app a few weeks ago and has made no move to purchase, show a paywall with a lower price. Consider adopting a geographic discount strategy where you offer cheaper pricing to areas with lower conversion rates.

Send users to your website, where they can check out on the web, instead of making the purchase in-app. Using RevenueCat and Stripe together makes this easy to test. Without Apple taking a cut of the revenue, you can offer users a lower price while actually keeping more of the profit.

Because you’ve already paid for the user to install the app — whether through advertising or the work required to make your app discoverable organically — it’s best to try to recoup any amount of that investment you can. Offering these kinds of discounts can easily amount to a 20 to 30% increase in revenue over time, Jake says.

Other Pricing Variables to Test

Like every other aspect of your paywall, there are plenty of opportunities to experiment with pricing to see what resonates with your customers.

  • Large Price Jumps: Instead of testing $30/year against $40, test it against $90 or $140. “I know it sounds crazy,” Jake says, “but it’s your job to figure out how you can generate the most revenue.”
  • Offer a Lifetime Subscription: Start at 1.5-2× lifetime value (LTV), and keep track of how that metric shifts over time.
  • Offer Sales on Every Holiday: Black Friday, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.
  • Vary Trial Lengths: Experiment with three, seven, 14, or 30 days

As you’re trying new things with pricing, pay close attention to your refunds. 

“You might move to a three-day trial from a seven-day trial and jack your price up only to realize that all of your gravy is being lost to refunds because people are unhappy,” Jake says. “So, keep an eye on that.”

Pro Tip: While you can test showing one, two, or three subscription products on your paywall, Jake says that limiting your offer to a single annual product usually performs best. If you want to give users access to all the options without cluttering your paywall page, add a button for “other plans” underneath your primary CTA.

4. Visuals: Provide Valuable Context

Paywalls tend to be text-heavy by default, which offers an opportunity to mix things up, visually speaking. Here are some of Jake’s suggestions:

Source: Blinkist
  • Charts and infographics convey meaning about what the app offers or about how your trial period works. Blinkist famously instituted a “free trial timeline” on its paywall after exit survey respondents told the company they weren’t subscribing because they didn’t know when they would be charged. Many apps have since emulated Blinkist’s approach.
  • Videos with high production value build trust in the product. The video that Jake added to his FitnessAI paywall showed the app in action without any sound or text — just a concise demonstration of the product. Jake recommends the Rotato app for turning simple screen recordings into a shiny product showcase.
  • Q&A sections answer users’ questions and objections. These are commonly used on web-based paywalls and could be used more in apps.
  • Real reviews from the App Store provide social proof and generate trust. You can use an API like Appfigures or a live web view to pull in the latest reviews — be sure to always include a name and a date.

One user experience best practice to put to work on your paywall: Make your CTA or purchase button the only colored element on the page. What color you choose is not important, but be sure you’re drawing users’ eyes only to where you want them to tap.

Need inspiration? Browse Superwall’s database of 5,000+ paywall screenshots from leading apps to find visual inspiration for your next paywall iteration.

5. Copywriting: Explain the “Why,” Not the “What”

Paywall copy is an important element to include in your optimization workflow because it is the cheapest change you can make, and it can have a big impact.

If advertising, try out the same messaging that you use in your top-performing ads. If you don’t know where to start, look at the best reviews that users have left in the App Store.

“That is literally, in a user’s words, why they love your app,” Jake says.

Remember that humans are emotional decision-makers: This is the foundation beneath the marketing wisdom that preaches focusing on outcomes over features. How will using your app make the user feel? How will your app change their life?

Jake encountered this when setting up his paywall for FitnessAI.

“There’s all this thought you could put into figuring out why FitnessAI makes more sense than a personal trainer,” he says. “The truth is that doesn’t work. What works is selling the outcome of, ‘you’re going to look your best and feel your best, and you’re going to save so much time that you don’t have to spend that much time at the gym.’

That works much better than ‘this is 20 times cheaper than a trainer.’”

Wrap It Up: Test and Test Again

Jake and the team at Superwall have seen time and again that optimizing these five elements — placement, features, pricing, visuals, and copy — leads to significant increases in revenue across all app categories. That said, testing so many possibilities is no easy feat, especially when you begin to stretch your assumptions.

“When you’re setting up experiments like this,” Jake says, “the first thing you need to do is to accept that you’re going to test some things that you’re uncomfortable with. But the reason you’re doing it is that you need to understand what your bounds are.”

With an app people care about and a marketing plan to drive downloads, your paywall just may be the best lever for increasing subscription revenue, so don’t be shy testing and iterating on that paywall.

This article is based on the RevenueCat webinar “Paywall Optimization and Best Practices.” Watch the full conversion on demand for free. 

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